Beauchamp Duff

General Sir Beauchamp Duff GCB, GCSI, KCVO, CIE, KStJ (17 February 1855 – 20 January 1918) was a Scottish officer with a distinguished highly decorated military career in the British Indian Army, rising to political ranks ultimately serving as Commander-in-Chief of India during the First World War, he was one of the most senior general officers. His role in the disastrous expedition to Mesopotamia was criticised helping to end a long career at the end of the Victorian era.

Sir Beauchamp Duff
Born(1855-02-17)17 February 1855
Turriff, Scotland
Died20 January 1918(1918-01-20) (aged 62)
London, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Indian Army
Years of service1874–1918
Commands heldCommander-in-Chief, India
Chief of the General Staff (India)
Battles/warsNorth-West Frontier
Second Boer War
First World War
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire
Knight of Justice of the Order of St John

Early life

Duff was born to an aristocratic family in Turriff, Aberdeenshire. He was destined for the army from an early age. Duff was educated at Trinity College, Glenalmond before attending the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which he graduated in 1874, and thence being commissioned straight into the Royal Artillery. Two years later Duff married Grace Maria, daughter of Oswald Wood of the Punjab Uncovenanted Civil Service. They had two sons and a daughter.

He served with his regiment in the Afghan War from 1878 to 1880. In 1881, he was transferred to the Indian Staff Corps and, was gazetted to the 9th Bengal Infantry. The change of name to 9th Gurkha Rifles much later was symbolic of the shifting priorities from a land based imperial defence force, to mobile more specialized mountain units. Duff was highly intelligent, brave and diligent leader of men. His abilities and an outstanding officer marked him out for the army's elites. Thence he attended the Staff College from 1887 to 1889 from which he passed out in first place. Immediate transfer to the staff in India as Military Attache.[1]

Army Career in India

He was Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General at the Indian Army Headquarters from 1891 to 1895, then served as a Brigade Major in the Isazai Expedition in 1892. He was Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General during the Waziristan Expedition from 1894 to 1895, fighting in the action at Wano, twice mentioned in despatches (MID), and made a Brevet Lieutenant-colonel.[1]

From 1895 to 1899 he was Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief Sir George White in India, to Sir Charles Nairne and then to Sir William Lockhart, before being appointed Assistant Military Secretary for Indian Affairs in the War Office in 1899 to Lord Wolseley. However, in September 1899 he aided Sir George White to Natal to take part in the South African War of 1899 to 1901. He was present at the sieges of Ladysmith, as well as at the actions at Elandslaagte and Rietfontein. He served as Assistant Adjutant-General on Lord Roberts Staff during the actions at Vet River and Sand River, the surrender of Johannesberg, and then the subsequent occupation of Pretoria. He was twice mentioned in despatches for the Boer War, was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB), and received the Queen's Medal with five clasps.

Upon returning to India in April 1901, he took up the position of Deputy Adjutant-General at the Indian Army Headquarters, and acted as Adjutant-General twice while the actual AG served in South Africa (April-Nov 1901) and was on leave in England (September–October 1902).[2] He was appointed in command of the Allahabad District with the rank of a brigadier-general in early 1903.[1]

With the appointment of Lord Kitchener as Commander-in-Chief of India in November 1902, Duff quickly rose in ranks, serving first as Adjutant-General, India from June 1903 to March 1906. He was required to file a secret memorandum on the deployment of forces in the event of Russia invading India, as Chief of the General Staff in India from March 1906 to 1909, and promoted Lieutenant-General being created K.C.V.O. In 1907 he became K.C.B. Following Kitchener's departure, Duff served as Secretary in the Military Department of the India Office from 1909, promoted General 1911, and created G.C.B. at the king's coronation.[1] In 1913 he was announced as Commander-in-Chief, India.

On 22 October 1913, Duff reached the top position when replacing General O'Moore Creagh as Commander-in-Chief, India.[1] His appointment was a change to normal practice as the post was normally held by a British Army officer rather than Beauchamp Duff who was part of the Indian Army and it was the first time it had been done.[3] Charles Monro took over the post in June 1917, but remained Colonel of his regiment the 9th Gurkha Rifles.

First World War

In 1914, he was appointed as ADC General to HM the King, and was in this significant political role when war broke out on 4 August. Indian Viceroy Lord Hardinge asked Duff to make a military assessment as to the feasibility of an operation in Mesopotamia. Duff decided in short order that it was not possible. The Ottomans had 15,000 badly armed troops that would grow in numbers. A single brigade could if careful, take Baghdad, as long as it had friendly Arab support. He guessed that an occupying force would be at Baghdad for at least a fortnight before river transport could bring reinforcements. A division might garrison Baghdad, so long as the Russians held down the Turks in Armenia. His conclusion was that Baghdad was of little military value. The India Office in London was not keen either. They were sceptical of being holed up in Basra without action for an occupying force into the interior. But the talented Indian political department had a whip hand, were a source of information supplied, and impressive to the cabinet.[4] But the laws of Order of Precedent applied, so any decision had to be vetted by the Imperial government in London. The Mesopotamian Campaign was under the responsibility of the Indian Army, but even after Townshend's brilliant capture of Amara he did know where were his strategic objectives. Falling very sick in summer 1915, he returned to India to recover. Duff entertained the general advising that on no account could a weakened force advance any further beyond Kut, until made up to "adequate strength." General Barrow was also present at these Simla meetings.[5] The question remained however that Townshend wanted to retreat - Aziziyeh, was untenable, and in any event concurred with Duff's instructions, not too over-extend. Yet the chain of command remained confused: responsibility for reinforcements, which Townshend refused from Nixon, would later be blamed on the Indian Commander-in-chief.

Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force

The campaign started well with Fao Landing near Basrah in November 1914. Duff was determined that it was an Indian Army operation, advised by Sir Percy Lake, chief of staff, and GOC, Sir John Nixon there were adequate numbers of troops, 35, 000 to carry out all operations. The march on Baghdad began well: 9,000 troops of the 6th Indian Division commanded by Major-General Townshend in 1915 ended in catastrophe when the remnants of the British invasion force, cut down by heatstroke and disease, were defeated at Ctesiphon, and then surrounded in Kut El Amara. Duff set the final date for a possible rescue attempt before the floods, agreed by Lake to be 15 March 1916. But already the two men had fallen out; which was later reflected in the Commission of Inquiry's apportionment of culpability.[6] Duff was reluctant to sack Lake telling Robertson that he was sure he "had his reasons," when Sir Percy finally went in July 1916.[7] But by this time Robertson and the War Office had assumed responsibility for all military commands by-passing India.[8]

Three attempts to relieve the trapped British and Indian troops led by General Aylmer, and then General Gorringe also ended in failure, at the cost of 23,000 lives.[9] The surrender on 29 April 1916 was described as one of the worst military disasters in the history of the British Army. Duff could not have known how bad the prisoners were treated, as news began to filter back in September 1916. Colonel Braddon in The Siege alleged that Duff had ordered returning officers and men to remain silent on their own experiences in captivity; that they lacked food, and sufficient medical attention for the blistering sun of 130 F. He remained sanguine about these conflicting opinions. The Viceroy had asked Duff to investigate the lack of supplies and provisions. As soon as Viscount Chelmsford had replaced Lord Hardinge, he had called on the new Viceroy. Duff promised a rigorous investigation into "the actual facts".[10] Unfortunately the answer came back that everything was going to plan. That was in December 1915, when he embarked on another in inquiry in February 1916: Duff was astutely aware of public opinion, investigating before pushed by London. In July, the reported lack of hospital and transports ships, nominally General Nixon's command responsibility had not been discharged by Duff, as Force D Medical staff were all under India. The political pressure mounted on Duff in the Commons. However Conservative Lord President of the Privy Council, Bonar Law argued that any disclosure of Inquiry details during the war could only help the enemy and undermine morale.[11]

Consequently, Duff was relieved of command on 1 October 1916. The Mesopotamia Commission of Enquiry was damning in its conclusions. While General Townshend was exonerated, the Commission was harsh towards the Government of India and Duff together with the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge.[9] Cmdr Josiah Wedgwood reflected that his condemnatory opinion pushed the general to take his own life. India had not only refused to raise new armies for war, they had given all their rifles to the Imperial army.[12] Duff had declared Indian troops 'quite unfit for frontier work' Kitchener had reported in 1915 "if we lose it will be worse for India than any success of internal revolution or frontier attack... held unpatriotic in a private citizen ... and in men in the positions occupied by Lord Hardinge and Sir Beauchamp Duff it has been a calamity for England."[13] Colonial Secretary Lord Curzon called it "official blundering and incompetence" on a scale not seen since the Crimean War. When finally published 27 June 1917, it had been thoroughly discussed and agonised over by the cabinet, and on 3 July, MPs had their chance to debate.General Nixon, the Commander-in-Chief of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force, was also held responsible for the failed campaign "it looked as if India were trying to lay down a policy behind the back of the Secretary of State and the Cabinet."[14] Both men were found in the dissentient [sic?] report from Cmdr Josiah Wedgwood to have shown little desire to help... some desire actually to obstruct the energetic prosecution of the war.[15] Unable to live with the shame, Duff took to drink, committing suicide on 20 January 1918.

He left wife Grace and two sons. Their middle son Evelyn Douglas (1877–97) pre-deceased him. The eldest was Beauchamp Oswald Duff (1880-1914),[16] and army officer with 1st Gurkha Rifles, who married Mary Lander; and the youngest son, Douglas Garden Duff (1886-1968)[17] who was a solicitor in the London firm Torr & Co.



    1. Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
    2. "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36898). London. 14 October 1902. p. 7.
    3. "Commander-In-Chief In India." Times [London, England] 22 Oct. 1913: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.
    4. Military Secretary, India Office, minute, 27 Nov 1914. 'Persian Gulf Operations'
    5. Sir Edmund Barrow, 'The Mesopotamia Question in its Military Aspect', 4 Oct 1915. BL IOR L/MIL/5 752.
    6. Duff to Hardinge, 10 March 1916. Hardinge Papers 91/1/166.
    7. Duff to Robertson, 18 Aug 1916. LHCMA, Robertson MSS 8/1/45
    8. Robertson to Duff, 11 July 1916. LHCMA Robertson MSS 1/3/2/1.
    9. First World War disaster general's medals go under the hammer The Scotsman, 8 July 2006
    10. Duff to Hardinge , 30 Dec 1915, 22 Feb 1916. Hardinge MSS 90/1/422, 91/1/110.
    11. General Sir Beauchamp Duff, Memorandum Commission Report, Cd 8610, 1917, Appendix 1, paras. 131, 135, 164.
    12. Separate report by Commander J.C. Wedgwood, para. 14
    13. Wedgwood report, para.41-3, 45
    14. Wedgwood Report; Townshend, p.100
    15. Report of the Mesopotamia Commission of Enquiry, p. 123
    16. Memorial to Capt Duff.
    17. Grave of Douglas Garden Duff.


    • Goold, Douglas (1927). Lord Hardinge and the Mesopotamia Expedition and Inquiry, 1914-1917. London.
    • Latter, Edwin (1994). "The Indian Army in Mesopotamia 1914-1918". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. I, II, III (72).
    • Mobberley, Frederick J. (1923–1927). "The Campaign of Mesopotamia 1914-1918". Official History of the Great War. London. 4.
    • Nunn, Vice-admiral Wilfrid (1932). Tigris Gunboats. London.
    • Tayler, Alasdair; Tayler, Henrietta (1914). The Book of the Duffs. Edinburgh: W. Brown.
    • Townshend, Charles (2010). When God Made Hell: The British Invasion And The Creation of Iraq 1914-1921. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571237197.
    Military offices
    Preceded by
    Sir Edmond Elles
    Adjutant-General, India

    April 1901 – November 1901
    Succeeded by
    Horace Smith-Dorrien
    Preceded by
    Horace Smith-Dorrien
    Adjutant-General, India
    Succeeded by
    Alfred Martin
    Preceded by
    New Post
    Chief of the General Staff (India)
    Succeeded by
    Sir Douglas Haig
    Preceded by
    Sir O'Moore Creagh
    Military Secretary to the India Office
    Succeeded by
    Sir Edmund Barrow
    Preceded by
    Sir O'Moore Creagh
    Commander-in-Chief, India
    Succeeded by
    Sir Charles Monro
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