GeneralHenry Seymour Rawlinson, 1st Baron Rawlinson, GCB, GCSI, GCVO, KCMG (20 February 1864 – 28 March 1925), known as Sir Henry Rawlinson, 2nd Baronet between 1895 and 1919, was a senior British Army officer in the First World War who commanded the Fourth Army of the British Expeditionary Force at the battles of the Somme (1916) and Amiens (1918) as well as the breaking of the Hindenburg Line (1918). He commanded the Indian Army from 1920 to 1925.
Rawlinson was born at Trent Manor in Dorset on 20 February 1864. His father, Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet, was an Army officer, and a renowned Middle East scholar who is generally recognised as the father of Assyriology. He received his early formal education at Eton College.
After passing through commissioned officer training at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Rawlinson entered the British Army as a lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in India on 6 February 1884. His father arranged for him to serve on the staff of a friend, General Sir Frederick Roberts, the commander-in-chief in India. Rawlinson and the Roberts family remained close friends throughout his life. When Roberts died in November, 1914, Rawlinson wrote, “I feel as if I have lost my second father.” His first military experience was serving in Burma during the 1886 uprising.
In 1889, Rawlinson’s mother died and he returned to Britain. He transferred to the Coldstream Guards, and was promoted to captain on 4 November 1891. He served on General Herbert Kitchener‘s staff during the advance on Omdurman in Sudan in 1898, and was promoted to major on 25 January 1899 and to brevet lieutenant-colonel on 26 January 1899.
Rawlinson served with distinction in a field command in the Second Boer War from 1899 to 1902, earning promotion to the local rank of colonel on 6 May 1901. He was in Western Transvaal during early 1902, and led a column taking part in the Battle of Rooiwal, the last battle of the war (11 April 1902). Following the end of hostilities in June 1902, he returned to the United Kingdom together with Lord Kitchener on board the SS Orotava, which arrived in Southampton on 12 July. In a despatch dated 23 June 1902, Lord Kichener wrote of Rawlinson that he “possesses the qualities of Staff Officer and Column Commander in the field. His characteristics will always ensure him a front place in whatever he sets his mind to.” For his service in the war, Rawlinson was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the April 1901 South Africa Honours list (the award was dated to 29 November 1900), and he received the actual decoration after his return home, from Edward VII at Buckingham Palace on 24 October 1902.
Rawlinson had received the brevet rank of colonel in the South Africa Honours list published on 26 June 1902, was promoted to the substantive rank of colonel on 1 April 1903, and named as commandant of the Army Staff College.
Rawlinson was the first of three reforming Commandants who transformed the Staff College into a real war school. The curriculum was modernised and updated, the teaching given a new sense of purpose and instructors became ‘Directing Staff’ rather than ‘Professors’, emphasising practicality. Major Godwin-Austen, historian of the college, wrote: “Blessed with an extremely attractive personality, a handsome appearance, high social standing, and more than an average share of this world’s goods, he was one to inspire his students unconsciously to follow in his footsteps.” Promoted to temporary brigadier-general on 1 March 1907, he was made Commander of 2nd Infantry Brigade at Aldershot that year and, having been promoted to major-general on 10 May 1909, he became General Officer Commanding3rd Division in 1910. In manoeuvres in June 1912, he showed an appreciation of the use of artillery, the Times’s correspondent noting approvingly, “An operation of altogether unusual character took place yesterday on Salisbury Plain when Major-General Sir Henry Rawlinson’s 3rd Division practised combined field firing on a scale, which, so far as the writer can recall, has never been attempted before.” The historians Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson praise Rawlinson’s foresight in considering combining infantry with the fire-power of machine-guns and artillery. After handing over the division to his successor in May 1914 Rawlinson went on leave, returning on the outbreak of war to briefly serve as Director of Recruiting at the War Office.