SIR EVELYN WOOD
NEXT to the beloved “Bobs,” probably the most popular officer in the British Army is the present Adjutant-General, and the fact that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he is alluded to simply as “Evelyn Wood” is in itself no bad proof that his personality has gained a real grip upon the affections of all and sundry. We ought to call him Sir Henry Wood, and, anyway, we ought never to omit the “Sir.” But there is one kind of familiarity that never breeds contempt. Everyone knows that the A.-G. is a great and gallant soldier, everyone respects him as a sagacious, level-headed administrator, everyone admires him as a sound and true-hearted man. But it is really too much to expect us at this time of day to call him anything else but plain Evelyn Wood, and even when he is raised to the Peerage, as he certainly will be some day, a good many of us will stick to the old name.
It is a very engaging personality, that of this fine leader, excellent tactician, and none the less expert “office official,” who holds what, next to the Chiefship, is the most solidly influential position the British Army contains. Always a rare fighter, always alert, prompt, and resourceful, the principal charm of Evelyn Wood is the solid fact that he is something more than a born commander and organizer, and that is a human man. He has not the grim strength of Buller, he has not all the intellectual force of Wolseley, but he can see where these two are blind or indifferent, and he knows, or rather it comes to him by instinct, that the real chain which binds at any rate our Army together is the chain not of discipline, not even of sentiment, but of humanity, and that he is greatest soldier who is man first and soldier afterwards. In specific cases, specific virtues may be all-sufficient. But to be able to make the most of the British Army its leader must be, as the old Latin phrase so happily puts it, toti, tereles, atque rotundi. Of such is “Bobs”; of such is Evelyn Wood.
Born in February, 1838, young Wood, as all the world knows, spent the first three years of his career in the Royal Navy. He served with the Naval Brigade in the Crimea—of which he has published some delightful reminiscences-and, after being present at the battle of Inkerman and the bombardment of Sevastopol, was severely wounded at the assault on the Redan. Youngster as he was he was twice mentioned in Dispatches, and by the time he was transferred as a cornet to the 13th Light Dragoons, in 1855, was quite an experienced fighting man. In 1857 he left the 13th to join the 17th Light Dragoons, now the 17th Lancers, and in the following year did splendid work as a leader of Irregular Horse in the Indian Mutiny, winning the V.C. for gallantry displayed in the Sironj jungles, and two more mentions in Dispatches for conspicuous good service. His next campaign was in Ashanti, in 1874-5, in which he raised and commanded “Wood's Regiment,” and was present in a leading capacity in two important engagements.
In 1878-81 Evelyn Wood was called to yet. more important work, both military and political, in South Africa. Right through the Kaffir, Zulu, and Transvaal campaigns he served, always active and continually, wherever an opportunity presented itself, dealing hard blows.
Some idea of the work that he did in this period may be gathered from the fact that for this war alone he was mentioned no fewer than fourteen times in Dispatches. This is not the place to discuss the Transvaal campaign of 1881, but it is sufficient to say that, at the time when Mr. Gladstone decided to “give in,” Wood unquestionably had the Boers at his mercy, and, if things had been left in his hands at that critical juncture, there would assuredly have been no Second Boer War.
In 1882 Sir Evelyn Wood commanded a brigade in the Egyptian Expedition, and in the following year was appointed Sirdar of the Egyptian Army. Under his wise supervision the foundation was laid of the fine force which Kitchener afterwards consolidated and led to Khartoum. In 1884-5 Wood was in command of the Base and Lines of Communication in connection with the Nile Expedition. From 1886 to 1888 he was Major-General Commanding the Eastern District, and on January 1st, 1889, he became Lieutenant-General Commanding at Aldershot.
At Aldershot, Evelyn Wood was in his element. An enthusiastic tactician, he practically revolutionized the system of training at our greatest military centre, and superadded to the field-days a system of “palavers” of the highest interest and educational value to the leading officers concerned. His ubiquity and energy were proverbial, but, though he worked the division hard, it thoroughly liked and respected its chief, and the whole Army was sorry when he left Aldershot in 1893 to become Quartermaster-General to the Forces. The latter appointment he held until 1897, when he was made Adjutant-General, a post which he still holds with that mixture of transcendent good sense and sure self-reliance which made Evelyn Wood a strong pillar as well as a fine ornament of the British Empire.
Commander Charles N. Robinson, R.N., editor, Celebrities of the Army, London, 1902
Lewis P. Orans, 2002