Field Marshal Harold Rupert Leofric George Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis KG OM GCB GCMG CSI DSO MC PC PC (10 December 1891–16 June 1969) was a British military commander and field marshal, notably during the Second World War as the commander of the 15th Army Group. He later served as the last British Governor General of Canada.
In 1931, Alexander married Lady Margaret Bingham, younger daughter of the 5th Earl of Lucan. The couple had two sons and two daughters (of which one was an adopted daughter).
Alexander was the youngest lieutenant-colonel in the British Army during the war. During his service on the Western Front he was wounded twice in four years of fighting. He received the Military Cross in January 1916 and the Distinguished Service Order in October 1916. His DSO citation read He was also awarded the Legion of Honour, and by 1918 was an acting brigadier.
Rudyard Kipling, who wrote a history of the Irish Guards in which his own son fought and was killed, noted that, "It is undeniable that Colonel Alexander had the gift of handling the men on the lines to which they most readily responded . . . his subordinates loved him, even when he fell upon them blisteringly for their shortcomings; and his men were all his own."
In 1919 - 1920, as a temporary lieutenant-colonel, Alexander led the Baltic German Landeswehr in the Latvian War of Independence, commanding units loyal to the Republic of Latvia in the successful drive to eject the Bolsheviks from Latgale. He later served in Turkey and Gibraltar. In 1922 his temporary rank was made substantive when he was appointed to command the 1st battalion of his regiment. From January 1926 he was released from his regiment to attend Staff College, Camberley.
In 1928 he was promoted Colonel and appointed Commandant of the Irish Guards and its Regimental District, a post he held until January 1930 when he attended the Imperial Defence College for a year as a student. Following his course Alexander had staff appointments as GSO2 and GSO1 before being made a temporary brigadier in October 1934 and given command of the Nowshera Brigade on the Northwest Frontier in India.
In 1936 Alexander was made Companion of the Order of the Star of India and mentioned in despatches for his service in the Loe–Agra operations on the Northwest Frontier between February and April 1935 and was also mentioned in despatches during operations in Mohmand Province between August and October.
In 1937 Alexander was made ADC (Brigadier) to the King and in this capacity rode in the State Procession in London during the coronation of King George VI in May. He was also made Honourary Colonel of the 2nd battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment, He also
Alexander was promoted major-general in October 1937 and leaving India in January 1938 took command of 1st Infantry Division in February 1938.
Alexander took the 1st Infantry Division to France in 1939 as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). After successfully leading his division's withdrawal to Dunkirk in late May 1940 he was appointed to command I Corps on the beachhead shortly after Bernard Montgomery had been appointed to command II Corps. He left the beach in the early hours of 3 June having ensured that all British troops had been picked up. Alexander was mentioned in despatches in recognition for his services in the field from March to June 1940.
Having been confirmed in the rank of lieutenant-general in July 1940 Alexander was made GOC-in-C Southern Command, responsible for the defence of the south-west of England.
In February 1942, after the Japanese invaded Burma in January, Alexander was promoted full general and sent to be GOC Burma, commanding what was later to be the Fourteenth Army. He left the tactical conduct of his army to his Corps commander Bill Slim with himself handling the more political aspects of dealing with Joe Stillwell, the commander of the Chinese forces nominally under his command. With his promotion to general came a knighthood when he was made KCB.
By July 1942, the British and Indian forces in Burma had completed their fighting retreat back into India and Alexander, having been mentioned in despatches for his Burma service, was recalled to the United Kingdom. He was at first selected to command First Army which was to take part in Operation Torch. However, following a visit to Egypt by Winston Churchill and General Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, in early August, Alexander flew to Cairo on 8 August to replace Claude Auchinleck as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Middle East Command which was responsible for the overall conduct of the campaign in the desert of North Africa. At the same time Auchinleck was replaced as as General Officer Commanding Eighth Army by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery.
Alexander presided over Montgomery's victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein and the advance of Eighth Army to Tripoli for which his knighthood was promoted to GCB. After the Anglo-American forces from Torch and the Eighth Army converged in Tunisia in February 1943, they were brought under the unified command of a newly-formed 18th Army Group HQ commanded by Alexander and reporting to Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean (AFHQ).
After the surrender of the Axis forces in Tunisia in May 1943, Alexander's command became 15th Army Group and under Eisenhower, was responsible for mounting the Allied invasion of Sicily in July, once again controlling two armies: Montgomery's Eighth Army and George S. Patton's U.S. Seventh Army. After Sicily 7th Army headquarters was replaced by U.S. Fifth Army headquarters under Mark Clark for the Allied invasion of Italy.
Alexander was very popular with both US and British officers, and was Eisenhower's preference for the ground command of D-Day, but Alan Brooke applied pressure to keep him in Italy, considering him unfit for the assignment. Alexander remained in Italy as commander of the 15th Army Group, with the US Fifth Army and British Eighth Army under his command. His forces captured Rome in June 1944, thereby achieving one of the strategic goals of the Italian campaign. However, US Fifth Army forces at Anzio, under Clark's orders, controversially failed to follow their original breakout plan that would have trapped the German forces escaping northwards from Cassino in favour of an early and highly publicised entry into Rome two days before the Allied landings in Normandy.
Alexander remained in command of 15th Army Group and its successor, Allied Armies in Italy for most of the Italian Campaign, relinquishing his command to Clark in December 1944 when he took over as the Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean having been promoted field marshal. His promotion was backdated to the fall of Rome, on 4 June 1944, so that he would once again become senior to Montgomery, who had been made a field marshal earlier in the year, on 1 September 1944, after the end of the Battle of Normandy.
Montgomery, who was both a long-time friend and subordinate of Alexander in Sicily and Italy, said of him, "Alexander....is not a strong commander...the higher art of war is quite beyond him." He advised his US counterparts, Mark Clark and George S. Patton, to ignore any orders from Alexander with which they did not agree.
Sir Harold Alexander was created Viscount Alexander of Tunis, of Errigal in the County of Donegal, in 1946 for his leadership in North Africa and Italy. In December 1946 he was made a Knight of the Garter.
He saw his role as a vital link between Canadians and their head of State, and was eager to convey that message wherever he went. He travelled Canada extensively, eventually logging more than 294,500 kilometres (184,000 miles) during his five years as Governor General.
On his first major visit to western Canada, he was presented on 13 July 1946 with a totem pole made by Kwakiutl carver Mungo Martin, to mark his installation as an Honorary Chief of the Kwakiutl, the first white man to be so honoured. The totem pole remains a popular attraction on the front lawn of Rideau Hall. During a later visit in 1950, he was made Chief Eagle Head of the Blackfoot First Nations.
Alexander's term - the post-WWII years - was an era of change for Canada. The post-war economy boomed in Canada, and a new prosperity began. In Letters Patent of 1947, King George VI allowed the Governor General to exercise almost all of His Majesty's powers and authorities in respect of Canada on the King's behalf. The document continues to be the source of the Governor General's powers today. In 1949, at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference, the decision was made to use the term "member of the Commonwealth" instead of "Dominion".
That same year, Newfoundland entered Confederation, and Alexander visited the new province that summer. But by 1950, Canada was once again embroiled in war, as Canadian forces fought in Korea against communist North Korea and the People's Republic of China. Alexander visited the troops heading overseas to give them his personal encouragement.
Alexander hosted various dignitaries, including Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, who came to Canada for a Royal Tour in October 1951, less than two years before the Princess became Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. Lord and Lady Alexander hosted a square dancing party which the Princess and the Duke attended. Alexander also travelled abroad on official trips, visiting President Truman in the United States in 1947, and paying a State visit to Brazil in June 1948.
Generally, though, Lord and Lady Alexander led an informal lifestyle. He was an avid sportsman, enjoying fishing, golf, ice hockey and rugby. Fond of the outdoors, he enjoyed attending the harvest of maple syrup in Ontario and Quebec, and personally supervised the tapping of the maple trees on the grounds of Rideau Hall. He was also a passionate painter, and in addition to setting up a studio for himself in the former dairy which still stands today at Rideau Hall, he organised art classes at the National Gallery of Canada. Lady Alexander became an expert weaver while in Canada, and had two looms in her study.
Alexander encouraged education in Canada. Many Canadian universities gave him honorary degrees, and he was also appointed an Honorary Doctor of Laws by Harvard and Princeton Universities in the United States.
In early 1952, after his term was extended twice, Lord Alexander left the office of Governor General, after Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, asked him to return to London to take the post of Minister of Defence, after Sir Winston Churchill had found that age and infirmity made it hard for him to perform both jobs as he had done during the Second World War. He was temporarily replaced by an administrator (Chief Justice Thibaudeau Rinfret) prior to the appointment of diplomat Vincent Massey as the new Governor General. For his service as Governor General Alexander was made an Earl which conferred upon him the name and style of Earl Alexander of Tunis and Baron Rideau of Ottawa and Castle Derg in the County of Tyrone. In 1952 he was appointed to the organising committee for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and carried the Royal Orb in the State Procession on that occasion in 1953.
At that time, each of the three armed forces was still run by a separate department and represented by a separate minister in the Cabinet, with the Minister of Defence as a co-ordinator; Churchill tried unsuccessfully to have other departments co-ordinated by such "overlords". Lord Alexander served as Minister of Defence until 1954, at which point he retired from politics.
Canada remained a favourite second home of the Alexanders, and they returned often to visit family and friends. In the Queen's 1959 New Year's Honours List Alexander was appointed to the Order of Merit.
Lord Alexander of Tunis died of a perforated aorta on 16 June 1969. His funeral was held on 24 June 1969 at St Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle, and his remains are buried in the churchyard of Ridge, near Tyttenhanger, his family's Hertfordshire home. Lady Alexander died in 1977.