Edgar Williams

Brigadier Sir Edgar Trevor "Bill" Williams CB CBE DSO (29 November 1912 – 26 June 1995) was a British Army officer who played a significant role in the Second Battle of El Alamein in World War II. He was a Fellow of Balliol College and Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford, and Editor of the Dictionary of National Biography.

Sir Edgar Williams
"Bill" Williams
Birth nameEdgar Trevor Williams
Born(1912-11-20)20 November 1912
Chatham, Kent, England[1]
Died26 June 1995(1995-06-26) (aged 82)
Oxford, England[1]
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Service number92594
Unit1st King's Dragoon Guards
Battles/warsWorld War II
Other workCompanion of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in dispatches (3)

Early life

Edgar Trevor Williams was born on 20 November 1912, the son of a clergyman. He was educated at Tettenhall College, Staffordshire[2] and then at King Edward VII School in Sheffield from 1928 to 1931. He obtained a Postmastership at Merton College, Oxford, and took a First in History in 1934.[3] After a lectureship at Liverpool University he returned to Merton in 1937 as a junior research fellow.[3][4]

World War II

Williams was Chief of Intelligence to General Montgomery in his North African Campaign against the German army under Erwin Rommel in 1942. He first encountered a vehicle of the Afrika Korps at Agheila in Tripoli, Libya in February 1942 (both fired and both missed), though his report that there were now German as well as Italian forces in North Africa was initially doubted.

In his memoirs (1958, Da Capo) Montgomery describes how Williams pointed out a crucial weakness in the deployments of the German and Italian troops, exploited in the decisive Second Battle of El Alamein. Williams remained with Montgomery as his Intelligence Chief for the rest of the war.[2] He was mentioned in despatches three times during the war, as well as being awarded the DSO in 1943, appointed CBE in 1944 and CB in 1946.[1]

Later life

Williams was elected a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford in 1945.[3] From 1949 to 1980 he was joint editor (with Helen Palmer and later with Christine Nicholls) of the decennial supplements to the Dictionary of National Biography. He went on to become warden of Rhodes House in 1952,[3] a position which he held until 1980.[5] As secretary to the Rhodes Trustees from 1959,[3] he was also concerned with the selection and subsequent well-being of nearly 200 Rhodes scholars per annum (one of whom was Bill Clinton, 1968-1970).[4]

Williams worked for the United Nations Security Council Secretariat in New York from 1946 to 1947.[3] In 1959 he was a member of the Devlin Commission on Nyasaland,[3] and in 1980 an observer at the Rhodesian elections.

At Oxford, Williams was a member of the Hebdomadal Council, a Curator of the Chest (or finance committee),[3] and latterly a Pro-Vice-Chancellor. He also served as a Radcliffe Trustee, as a member of the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust,[1] and as chairman of the Academic Advisory Board which planned Warwick University. He served for many years as senior treasurer (and in 1966 to 1968 as president) of the Oxford University Cricket Club. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Oxfordshire in 1964, and was knighted in 1973.[1]

Williams was married twice. In 1938, he married Monica Robertson; they had a daughter. In 1946, he married Gillian, younger daughter of Major-General M D Gambier-Parry; they had a son and a daughter.[2][3]

A portrait of Sir Edgar Williams hangs in Rhodes House, Oxford.


  1. Nicholls, CS (May 2011). "Williams, Sir Edgar Trevor [Bill] (1912–1995)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/57959. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  2. Obituary in the Daily Telegraph, 28 June 1995
  3. Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 230.
  4. Obituary in the New York Times
  5. "The Warden of Rhodes House". The Rhodes Trust. Archived from the original on 16 March 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2016.

Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir Carleton Allen
Warden of Rhodes House, Oxford
Succeeded by
Robin Fletcher
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