Field Marshal Julian Hedworth George Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy GCB GCMG MVO
(11 September 1862
– 6 June 1935
) was a British Army
officer who served with distinction during World War I
with the British Expeditionary Force
, in the Battle of Gallipoli
of the Dardanelles
campaign, as commander of the Canadian Corps
, and as commander of the British Third Army
Known to friends as "Bungo", Lord Byng later became the twelfth Governor General of Canada. The Canadian Government's eventual response to his actions in the King-Byng Affair led to a marked redefinition of the role of Governor General in constitutional matters for Canada and for the other dominions of the British Empire.
Early life and career
Byng was born at Wrotham Park, Barnet
, the seventh son and youngest child of George Byng, 2nd Earl of Strafford
, entitling him to the style "The Honourable". He was educated at Eton
, but did not enter the sixth form
. Despite their rank, his family were not well-off and could not afford to obtain a regular army commission for their youngest son, and at the age of seventeen he was instead commissioned Second Lieutenant
in the 2nd Middlesex Militia
(later 7th Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps
) in December 1879. He was promoted Lieutenant
in 1881. However, Byng's father was an old friend of the Prince of Wales
, who obtained a place for him in his own regiment, the 10th Royal Hussars
. He transferred into the regiment as a Lieutenant in January 1883 and in March joined them in Lucknow
. It was an expensive regiment to belong to, but Byng managed by buying polo ponies
cheaply, training them (he was an excellent horseman), and selling them for a profit.
En route home to Britain in 1884, the 10th Hussars were diverted to Sudan to join the Suakin Expedition. Byng rode in the charge at the Battle of El Teb on 29 February 1884 and had his horse killed under him at the Battle of Tamai on 13 March 1884. In October 1886 he was appointed regimental adjutant at Hounslow, a post he held successfully for four years. He was promoted Captain in 1889. On 20 January 1892 he commanded the pallbearers (who were from his regiment) at the funeral of Queen Victoria's grandson, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. In 1894 he graduated from the Staff College and was appointed a squadron leader. In 1897 he became Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General of Aldershot Command. In 1897 he was promoted Major.
Staff officer and commanding officer
In November 1899 Byng went to South Africa
as Provost Marshal
, but was instead immediately tasked to raise and command the South African Light Horse
with the local rank of Lieutenant-Colonel
. He served in the front line throughout the Second Boer War
, ending up in command of a group of columns and returning to England in March 1902. He was promoted Brevet
Lieutenant-Colonel in November 1900 and Brevet Colonel
in February 1902 and mentioned in despatches
five times. He married Marie Moreton
in April 1902, was appointed Member of the Royal Victorian Order 4th Class
(MVO) in May 1902, and was immediately sent back to India to command his regiment, the 10th Hussars, at Mhow
. He was promoted substantive Lieutenant-Colonel in October 1902. Several miscarriages
resulted in Marie being unable to bear children. In January 1904 Byng broke his right elbow
so badly while playing polo
that he feared he would have to leave the army, although after four months' treatment in England he was pronounced fit for duty.
In May 1904 he became the first commandant
of the new Cavalry School at Netheravon
. In May 1905 he was appointed commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade
with the temporary rank of Brigadier-General
, being promoted to the substantive rank of Colonel at the same time. He was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath
(CB) in 1906. In April 1907 he took over the 1st Cavalry Brigade
Byng was promoted Major-General in April 1909 and placed on half pay. During this period he edited the Cavalry Journal and became first Boy Scout district commissioner for North Essex. He bought a house, Newtown Hall, in Dunmow, Essex, the first home he had ever owned. He took command of the East Anglian Division of the Territorial Force in October 1910 and in October 1912 he became commander of British troops in Egypt.
World War I
When the First World War broke out, Byng was recalled to Britain to command the 3rd Cavalry Division. He went to France with the British Expeditionary Force and handled his men well at the First Battle of Ypres. In March 1915 he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) and in May 1915 he was given command of the Cavalry Corps as a Temporary Lieutenant-General. Three months later he went to Gallipoli to command IX Corps and supervised the successful British withdrawal from the ill-fated campaign, for which he was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1916.
In February 1916, after spending some time commanding the Suez Canal defences, Byng returned to the Western Front in command of XVII Corps. Three months later he took over the Canadian Corps and was promoted substantive Lieutenant-General for distinguished service. With his subordinate, Major-General Arthur Currie, he gained his greatest glory with the Canadian victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, an historic military victory for Canada that inspired nationalism at home.
Following this victory, Byng took command of the Third Army in June 1917 with the temporary rank of General, where he conducted the first surprise attack using tanks at Cambrai, considered a turning point in the war. For these services he was promoted to the substantive rank of General. He remained in command of the Third Army, the largest of Britain's armies, until the end of the war.
After the war he was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in the 1919 New Year Honours and raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Byng of Vimy and Thorpe-le-Soken, in Essex, on 7 October 1919. Although offered the Southern Command, he instead opted for retirement in November 1919 to Thorpe Hall, which his wife had bought at Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex while he was in Egypt in 1913.
Byng as Governor General
Lord Byng was appointed Governor General of Canada on 2 August 1921
, having been appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
(GCMG) in July 1921. He was very popular in Canada, and during his travels across the country throughout his term of office he was enthusiastically greeted by the men he had led in wartime. His appointment was far less controversial than that of his predecessor, the Duke of Devonshire
. This was partly due to his popularity, but also because he was appointed following direct consultation with the Canadian government.
Lord Byng took to the office enthusiastically, further entrenching many of the traditions established by his predecessors. He also broke with tradition and was the first Governor General to appoint Canadian aides-de-camp. One of them was Georges Vanier, who later himself served as Governor General from 1959 to 1967.
He was always passionate about sport, and both he and his wife particularly loved ice hockey; Lord Byng rarely missed a game played by the Ottawa Senators. In 1925, Lady Byng presented the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy to the National Hockey League, which, to this day, recognises sportsmanship and excellence in play.
Lord and Lady Byng also travelled more than any of their predecessors, making extended trips to Western Canada and the North, taking the opportunity to meet with many Canadians. Lord Byng established the Governor General's Cup at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, and Lady Byng created a rock garden at Rideau Hall, which still delights visitors today.
The King-Byng Affair
The most notable issue during Lord Byng's term of office was the "King-Byng Affair", a political crisis that arose between the Governor General and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King
. It was watched closely by both the Canadian and British governments, and led directly to the redefinition of the role of Governor General, the Balfour Declaration of 1926
, and the Statute of Westminster 1931
Life after Rideau Hall
Following his term as Governor General, Lord and Lady Byng returned to England, where he was created 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy
in January 1928. He served as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police
from November 1928 to September 1931, instituting many reforms and reorganising the force. He introduced a system of promotion based on merit rather than length of service, improved discipline, retired inefficient senior officers, abolished the regularity of policemen's beats
(which had allowed criminals to work out the system), introduced police boxes
, greatly extended the use of police cars
, and established a central radio control room. He was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal
in July 1932, finally retiring with his wife to Thorpe Hall, where he died suddenly of an abdominal blockage in 1935. Lady Byng returned to Canada during World War II
to live with friends and died there in 1949.