Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Francis George Carter MC
Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, Temporary CO of the 15th Battalion, Leeds Pals
You are unlikely to see the name of Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Francis George Carter on the list of Commanding Officers of the Leeds Pals. However, a letter dated 24th July 1918 sent by him to the War Office, justifying his rank of Lieutenant Colonel*, stating “I commanded 15th WY (31st Div & 93rd Bde orders) from 11th Feb till 17th Feb 1918” proves he did command the battalion for one week. It was temporary command in the absence of Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Taylor who was preparing for promotion to Brigadier General prior to taking command of the 93rd Brigade on 15th March 1918. Lieutenant Colonel Carter had assumed command of the 18th Battalion (2nd Bradford Pals) on 2nd July 1916, a post he held until their disbandment on 15th February 1918; he then took command of the 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry until wounded in action at Mayenville on 27th March 1918 (five times from his shoulder to his left ankle) and evacuated home. (*In fact he remained a Substantive Captain, Brevet Major and Temporary Lieutenant Colonel).
Herbert Carter came from a military family, his father was General Francis Charles Carter. He was born on 2nd August 1885 at Dalhousie in the East Indies (India) where his father was serving as a Lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. Herbert had strong links with West Yorkshire through his mother, a Thornhill of Fixby Hall, Huddersfield. The Thornhills were Yorkshire gentry back to the middle ages. Their wealth grew in the industrial revolution when coal was found on their land. He also joined another well-to-do family when he married Hermione Grace Guinness, born on 25th May 1898, daughter of Gerald Seymour Guinness and Eleanor Grace de Capell Brooke, on 26th June 1918. Her family lived at Dauntsey Park, Chippenham in Wiltshire. Herbert was therefore well connected and was sufficiently well known to the royal family for a member of the King’s staff to write enquiring after his health when he was taken seriously ill in Russia in 1919.
Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Carter was educated a Wellington, entered Sandhurst in 1903 and was commissioned into his local Regiment the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) in 1904 at the age of eighteen. He was an intelligent and capable young officer who achieved rapid promotion to Lieutenant and was made Assistant Adjutant of the 2nd KOYLI shortly after his twentieth birthday. He spent some time in Crete which gave him a taste for foreign travel and he left the Battalion to complete language courses, after which he served in the British Embassies as a Military Attaché in Russia and Japan as he was one of the Army’s few first class interpreters in Russian and Japanese. When war came in 1914 Captain Carter returned to join the 2nd Battalion KOYLI in Belgium, arriving at the front on 25th October 1914. He took part in the desperate defence of the Messines Ridge where casualties were heavy and within six days he was the only surviving officer in his battalion. He was wounded at Hooge 17th November 1914 and became the first KOYLI officer to be awarded the Military Cross, for gallantry on the Ypres Messines Road on the 31st October 1914.
After recovering from his wounds Herbert Carter spent time in Gallipoli as ADC to General Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston with the 29th Division but returned to England when General Hunter-Weston was evacuated out of Cape Helles with sunstroke and exhaustion in July 1915. He joined the newly formed 31st Division at Ripon as a staff officer under the new command of General Robert Wanless-O’Gowan who had been his Brigadier in Flanders. Herbert was serving as a Staff Officer at GHQ on the 1st July 1916 and following the disastrous attack on the Somme (one of the casualties being the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Kennard) was given command of the 18th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment on 2nd July. Following the recovery of survivors of the failed attack the Battalion could only muster 60 men. He commanded the Bradford Pals 2nd Battalion until its disbandment in February 1918. He will, however, be remembered for a decision he made in September 1916 when two men under his command, Privates H Crimmins and A Wild, deserted. After these men were arrested they were tried by Court Martial and sentenced to death. Lieutenant Colonel Carter signed their death warrant and the men were ‘shot at dawn’ on the 5th September 1916 and are buried at Vielle-Chapelle New Military Cemetery in France. Some questioned his decision to sanction the death penalty.
During his time as a Military Attaché he undoubtedly had connections with the Intelligence Services and was a fluent Russian speaker. This resulted in a posting to the British Military Mission, Vladivostok in 1919 where, as Senior British Training Officer, he helped to train the White Russian forces. This posting was short-lived as Herbert Carter died of double pneumonia following influenza on 28th February 1919, in the American Red Cross Hospital, Russian Island, Vladivostok, Siberia in Russia. He is buried in the Naval Cemetery in Vladivostok. Interestingly, the War Office notified Lady Neville Chamberlain of the death of Herbert Carter, stating that it was Colonel Carter’s wish that ‘his wife should not be informed till after her confinement expected in six weeks’. Buckingham Palace also wrote to the War Office on 6th March 1919 requesting that the death should not be published in the press as the family ‘was anxious to keep the news of his death from his wife’. However, Grace was eventually told of his death by her mother and gave birth to a baby daughter. She re-married in May 1923 to Air Marshal John Cotesworth Slessor, one of the architects if British air strategy during and after the Second World War. She died on 14th September 1970 age 72.
For his service Herbert was awarded the Military Cross, 1914 Star with clasp, British War Medal and Victory Medal with MID (he was Mentioned in Despatches five times 17th February 1915, 28th January 1916, 25th January 1917, 22nd May 1915 and 21st December 1917. His widow also received a bronze Memorial Plaque and a Scroll which were given to all bereaved families. The announcement of the Military Cross was published in the London Gazette on 18th February 1915 although there was no citation.
The National Archive – Service Record and Graduation Lists
Ancestry – Censuses
India Records – Birth Records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Cemetery Records
Infantry Battalion Commanding Officers of the British Armies in the First World War
Bradford Pals, 2005, Pen & Sword Military, David Raw
Various Peerage websites
Researcher: David J Owen
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
- Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.