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John Lindesay Keir
Nickname Matador
Born 6 July 1856
Died 3 May 1937
Place of death Leamington
Allegiance Flag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1876–1918
Rank Lieutenant General
Unit Royal Artillery
Commands held 1st Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry
6th Division
VI Corps
Battles/wars Boer War
First World War
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Mentioned in Despatches
Medaille Militaire
Order of the Crown (Belgium)

Lieutenant General Sir John Lindesay Keir KCB (6 July 1856 – 3 May 1937) was a British Army officer during the Boer War and the First World War. After early service in the Royal Artillery, he commanded the 6th Division in the British Expeditionary Force when it was mobilised in 1914, and was later promoted to lead VI Corps on the Western Front. However, he was relieved of command in 1916 after a personal spat with his commanding officer, and forced to retire.

Early careerEdit

After being educated at Wimbledon School, Keir studied at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from where he joined the Royal Artillery in February 1876. He was posted to a Royal Field Artillery battery in India, and after six years was awarded his "jacket" and transferred to the Royal Horse Artillery. In 1884, promoted to captain, he returned to the RFA. He had become a skilled rider in the artillery, and whilst he was too heavy to compete in traditional horseracing, he participated in point to point racing and similar events. After attending the School of Gunnery he entered the Staff College in 1892, and passed out, newly promoted to major, to command a field battery in England. He later transferred back to the RHA, where he was commanding a battery at the outbreak of the Boer War in October 1899.[1]

His battery was not sent out with the expeditionary force, and he remained at home during the early stages of the war. However, in early 1901 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and offered command of the 1st Battalion of the newly formed Imperial Yeomanry, volunteer mounted infantry being raised for service in South Africa. He commanded the battalion for several months along the Orange River, and in December 1901 was assigned to command the Royal Artillery Mounted Rifles, a similar force drawn from regular artillerymen; he remained with this unit until the end of the war, receiving a brevet colonelcy.[1] For his services in South Africa, he was mentioned in despatches as well as awarded the Queen's medal with five clasps.[2]

After the war, he was posted to India, where he was formally promoted to colonel and appointed an Assistant Adjutant-General. In 1907, he was given the command of a brigade at Allahabad, promoted to major-general in 1909, and returned home in 1911. In July 1912 he was given command of the South Midland Division, part of the Territorial Force, and remained with them until July 1914, when he was transferred to take command of the 6th Division, a Regular Army formation based in Ireland.[1]

Senior commandEdit

Keir had hardly been in command of his new division for a month when the First World War broke out, and it was mobilised as part of the British Expeditionary Force for service on the Continent. However, the original plan of sending six divisions to France was altered due to fears of German landings in the United Kingdom, and the 6th spent the first month of the war in reserve in East Anglia. It landed in France in September, and immediately saw service at the Battle of the Aisne; later in the year, he commanded it at the Battle of Armentieres. In mid-1915, he was appointed to take command of the newly formed VI Corps (United Kingdom),[3] which saw some action during the Battle of Loos in September. In December, his corps was attacked with phosgene, the first time this form of chemical warfare was used.[1]

On 8 August 1916, he was relieved of his command; whilst officially described as due to exhaustion or illness, the cause of this was a personal dispute between Keir and Edmund Allenby, his commanding general in Third Army; Allenby was notorious for his overbearing manner, and had gained the nickname "the Bull" for the manner in which he treated his subordinates. Keir had finally complained to Douglas Haig, commander of the Expeditionary Force, and as a result was nicknamed "the Matador" - the man who could handle "the Bull". However, Allenby took his revenge by officially complaining about Keir's front-line preparations; Haig supported Allenby, despite Keir's threats to appeal to higher authority, and Keir was sent home in some disgrace.[4] He was never given further command, and spent the remainder of the war fulminating about the role of privileged "cavalry generals", who he argued held a disproportionate amount of senior posts when compared to infantrymen, artillerists or engineers.[5] He formally retired from the Army in July 1918, and published his memoir of the war, A Soldier's-Eye View, the following year.[2]

As well as his knighthood, which he had received with his promotion in 1915, he was awarded the Medaille Militare and appointed a Grand Officer of the Belgian Order of the Crown. In retirement, he served as a Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for Warwickshire.[1]

NotesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Obituary, The Times
  2. 2.0 2.1 Who Was Who
  3. His obituary gives May 1915; Who Was Who gives June.
  4. MacDonald, p. 506
  5. Harvey, pp. 357–358

ReferencesEdit

Military offices
Preceded by
Alexander Thorneycroft
General Officer Commanding the South Midland Division
1 July 1912 – 27 July 1914
Succeeded by
E. R. C. Graham
Preceded by
William Pulteney
General Officer Commanding the 6th Division
1914 – 1915
Succeeded by
Walter Congreve
Preceded by
New formation
General Officer Commanding the VI Corps
1915 – 1916
Succeeded by
Aylmer Haldane

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