graduate

Pownall, Henry Royds (1887-1961)


Photograph of Henry Pownall

Imperial War Museum. Via Wikimedia Commons

Henry Pownall lived as a young child in Japan before being sent back to England to attend boarding school. He graduated as an artillery officer from the Royal Military Academy in 1906 and served in France throughout most of the First World War. He also had combat experience on the Northwest Frontier of India.

Pownall was chief of staff with the British Expeditionary Force in France in the early months of the Second World War. His immediate superior, Lord Gort, became involved in a controversy with the War Secretary, Hore-Belisha, over construction of pillboxes that probably masked a deeper resentment over Hore-Belisha's Army reforms. Pownall, who evinced the casual anti-Semitism so regrettably common in the British upper classes of the day (he once referred to Hore-Belisha as a "Jewboy" [Palmer 2014]), worked through connections in London to discredit Hore-Belisha, who was eventually forced out of the government.

Pownall was knighted for his service during the evacuation from Dunkirk. After the fall of France, he served in various staff positions in England, rising to Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, before being sent to Singapore to relieve Brooke-Popham as commander, Far East. He made a strong impression as a capable soldier, but could not halt the retreat down the Malay Peninsula, and was reassigned as chief of staff of ABDA when Far East Command was absorbed into the Allied headquarters.

Following the dissolution of ABDA, Pownall held various rear area commands in southern Asia before finishing the war as chief of staff of Southeast Asia Command. He understood his role to be "supplying a steadying
influence [to Mountbatten] as his chief of staff" (quoted in Palmer 2014). He was mostly successful in this role, in spite of poor health from kidney stones.

Postwar Pownall prepared rough drafts of most of the key military actions for Churchill's History of the Second World War, which Churchill then edited into final form.

Pownall was a protege of Gort and Brooke, but was described by Montgomery as "completely useless" (Palmer 2014), perhaps because of his orthodox views on mechanized forces. His diaries, published after his death, reveal a thoughtful and intellectual officer who believed Britain's involvement in any second European war was inevitable, would require a total effort, and even then could well be lost.

Service record

1887-11-19      

Born at London, England
1906-12-20
Second lieutenant
Royal Horse Artillery
1909-12-20
Lieutenant

1914-10-30
Captain

1915-1-18

Commander, "C" Battery, 20 Light Division
1917
Major
17 Division, France
1922

Staff College Camberley
1924-4-1

Instructor, Artillery School
1925-12-31
Lieutenant colonel     
Instructor, Staff College Camberley
1930-1-20

Northwest Frontier, India
1932-1-19

Imperial Defense College
1933-1-17

Assistant secretary, Committee of Imperial Defense
1935-5-1
Colonel

1936-9-15
Brigadier
Commandant, Artillery School
1938-3-26
Major general
Director of Military Operations & Intelligence, War Office
1939-9-4
Lieutenant general
Chief of staff, British Expeditionary Force
1940

Home Guard
1940-7-11

Knighted
1940-10-1

General officer commanding, Northern Ireland
1941-5-19

Vice chief of the Imperial General Staff
1941-12-23

Commander, Far East
1942-1-15

Chief of staff, ABDA
1942-3-7

Commander, Ceylon
1943-2-17

Commander, Persia and Iraq Command
1943-11-16

Chief of staff, South-east Asia Command
1945-9-8

Retires
1961-6-9

Dies at London


References

Ammentorp (2000; accessed 2015-11-25)
Palmer (2014-3-4; accessed 2015-11-25)



Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional