21st Division 1914-18...a divisional history

Major-General Sir Claude Jacob


Claude Jacob is perhaps best defined as the silent General of the Great War. Quietly getting on with his job, moving from GSO1 Merut Division, of the Indian corps, in 1914 to Corps Commander in 1916 in time for the Somme. Yet little is written about the man who would retire as a Field Marshall in 1926.

Born November 21st 1863, of an old Kentish family, in Mehidpore, Bombay. The family had for over a century been associated with India. He passed out of Sandhurst via Sherbourne school where he was a keen Rugby player making the first fifteen and into was commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment in 1882.

The Worcesters were stationed in Quetta and Jacob obtained a transfer to the Indian army. A move that was to see him see his first active service in the Zhob valley expedition of 1890 and later he commanded the Zhob levy corps who were tasked with keeping control of the Waziristan and southern Afghanistan border.

Jacob married in 1894 the daughter of Reverand J L Wyatt, a missionary and student of oriental languages. Claude and Clara Pauline had one son, who would become Major-General Sir E I C Jacob, KBE, CB, who was to be the assistant secretary of the war cabinet throughout the war years of 1939-45 and went on to be controller of European services of the BBC. Their only daughter Aileen Swinton, was born 5th August 1895, but regretfully died 14th January 1907.

In 1901 he fought the Masuds in Waziristan and three years later in formed the 106th Hazara pioneers who worked on frontier communications. It was a long stay in command of these men before in 1912 he became GSO1 of the Meerut division.

So with 1914 and the outbreak of war approaching, his career had been one of competent but not ‘showy’ performance. With his stay on the frontier he had much experience but little recognition. He had not yet passed through either Indian or British staff college which was the normal for advancement in the British army. But as the war raged on an Indian corps was sent to France and Flanders and the Meerut division formed part of that.

In under two years he would move from a staff position to corps commander, under normal circumstances impossible yet this was the western front.

He helped to steady the Indian corps line in late 1914 when it looked as though the Germans would break through and was rewarded with a promotion to command of the Dehra Dun brigade

He took over the command of 21st division in November 1915 after the men had been sent into the maelstrom of Loos. Their moral was low their reputation lower, yet Jacob managed to rally the men, build up their self esteem, seemingly taking an interest in minor things that perhaps previous commanders had over looked. This helped to lift the Kitchener volunteers and restore some pride.

He relinquished command of 21st division to David Campbell prior to the Somme offensive to take over command of II Corps, a position he held until the end of the war.Under his command II was involved in actions on the Somme and the following year in most of the major actions of 1917. Jacob even had the trust of General Sir Hubert Gough, who reputation has it, found many of his commander wanting in ability. But Jacob was not a yes man and was a competent and diligent General as we have already seen.

He was promoted to Lt-General in 1917 and after the war his rank enabled him to take up command of an army corps of the Rhine before he returned to India to the position as chief of the general staff in 1920. He returned home in 1924 but once again returned in November to take up the northern command and when Sir Henry Rawlinson died the following year he held temporarily the position of commander in chief, but even though many thought he would gain this position officially it was given to Sir William Birdwood.

On returning home in November 1925 he returned to England and to the appointment of secretary to the military department of the India office. He remained at the India office until 1930, succeeding to the exulted rank of Field Marshall in November 1926. As a senior officer of repute he was colonel of three regiments, starting in 1916 as colonel of the 1st/4th Hazara pioneers (formerly 106th) until its disbandment in 1933, much to his regret. Secondly in 1927 came the Worcestershire regiment and then a year later the 2nd/10th Baluch regiment. His tenure as colonel of the Worcesters was specially extended in 1930 in his 70th year.

His final official appointment was as Constable of the Tower of London from 1937 to 1943. Claude Jacob died on 2nd June 1948 after an operation in hospital at the age of 84.