Evelyn Wood VC: Pillar of Empire

Author: Stephen Manning
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military (November 2007)
ISBN-10: 978-1844156542

While First World War studies continue to flourish, relatively little is now published on the Victorian army. Yet there are still significant gaps. One ‘gaping hole in the historiography of Victorian generalship' was the absence of a recent biography of Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood VC (1838-1919). He had an extraordinarily varied, action-packed life, serving in the Royal Navy, cavalry, infantry, and irregular units, in the Crimea, Indian Mutiny, Ashanti War, Zulu War, Transvaal War, Egyptian campaign, and Gordon Relief Expedition, and repeatedly narrowly escaping death. He was a notable, if limited, troop-trainer and military reformer, and in the 1890s was quartermaster-general then adjutant-general at the War Office. A protégé of Wolseley - who later turned against him - a favourite of the Queen - to whom he wrote ‘extraordinarily sycophantic letters' - latterly friendly with Roberts, and a patron of Haig, Wood's career showed the importance of patronage in what Tim Travers has rightly called ‘the personalized army'. He was involved in controversial episodes both military, including Hlobane and the aftermath of Majuba, and familial, with an acrimonious inheritance dispute. Now finally he has a new biography, Evelyn Wood VC: Pillar of Empire by Stephen Manning. The author is a graduate of London and Kent universities, and has contributed to periodicals including the Journal of the Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society, and to the recent Victoria's Generals, also published by Pen & Sword. Researched from the National Army Museum, the Royal Archives, and elsewhere, Evelyn Wood VC has a foreword by Saul David, maps, endnotes, bibliography and fourteen monochrome illustrations.

Evelyn Wood VC covers its subject's family background, education, and long and varied career, and contains much of importance and interest. Wood was brave and suffered much. He was also vain - reportedly he had his medal ribbons edged with black to accentuate their effect - selfish and devious, and had a mixed active-service record. The book admits his faults but is, overall, favourable to its hero. There are some errors and omissions, the latter possibly the result of word-limitation. For example, adjutant-general was not a rank, guardsmen did not wear busbies, and Milner was not a colonial leader. The book states that, preparing for Staff College entrance, Wood crammed with ‘a Captain Lendy'. In fact Lendy was ‘the Doyen of private military teachers' and subsequently had an entry in the old DNB. The attitudes of Wolseley and Kitchener towards war correspondents were not as simple as the book states. In 1899 it was the ZAR, not British, ultimatum which started the Boer War. The book does not mention Ian Beckett's exemplary article on Wood in the Oxford DNB, which includes information missing from the book

Praised by Saul David in his foreword as ‘impeccably researched, fluently written and judiciously honest', Stephen Manning's Evelyn Wood VC is a welcome addition to the historiography of the Victorian army and colonial warfare, and well worth reading.

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