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

Brigadier-General G H Gater

 

George Henry Gater, CMG, DSO and Bar, is perhaps the best example to show that great Soldiers are not made but born. Whilst only a Brigade commander in the Great War, it is not where he was but where he came from and where he would have risen too if the war had continued on for another year! For Gater was a civilian at the outbreak of the war and was apparently next in line for a division at the wars end.(1)

Born on 26th December 1886 to W H Gater, whom was a solicitor, Gator was a former teacher who took up a more administrative role in 1911 of  Director of Education for Nottinghamshire County Council. He had been educated himself via Winchester and New College Oxford. Being in Nottingham it is not surprising to see that he enlisted in the local regiment, the Sherwood Foresters. Gater was 27 years of age on enlistment and his papers show that he was 5'11" and weighed in at 11st 4lbs. He travelled to Gallipoli with the 9th battalion of the 33rd Brigade, 11th (Northern) Division. Whilst at home he was selected and completed the Company officers training course at the Staff College Camberley. He also trained a unit of Bombers when they first came into being. Before they shipped to Gallipoli he was promoted to Captain.

Landing at Sulva he was soon involved in the heated battles of that Gallipoli Peninsula and his expertise and leadership were early recognised by promotion to Major. He was evaquated from Sulva and the battalion was returned to Europe and France after spending sometime at Imbross (18th Dec 1915-28th Jan 1916) and Egypt (Feb 1916-June 1916). Whilst in France he was rewarded with a DSO, in October 1916, for service on the Somme.  In October of the same year he was promoted to Lt-Colonel and given command of the 6th Battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment.His service in command here at Messines saw him sustain a wound in the mouth and ear by a shell splinter but remained on duty, for this he was awarded a bar to his DSO with the citation saying 'conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty'. He stayed in command and by able judgement to dispositions and a good eye for ground he was able to minimise casualties to his men.

With the death of Brigadier-General C G Rawling on the 28th October 1917, Gater was the man chosen to take command of the 62nd Brigade on November 1st. A brigade of the new army commanded by a new army officer! Something not often seen in the British Army of WW1. It was a measure of his ability and the respect he was held in by those above him. At the age of 31 and only three years as a soldier he had defied all standard practice of command promotion, yet three years of the Great War was like twenty years of 'normal soldiering'.

In 1918, during the German offensives, he was once more wounded but continued on and commanded some 'collections' of troops, mainly stragglers, after his brigade was surrounded. He led these men and then after the worst of the German attacks had petered out he helped rebuild the Brigade for its involvement in the crashing, almost breath taking advances of the BEF in the 100 days of late 1918 and its final advances that saw Germany finally capitulate.

He was awarded the CMG and the French Croix De Geurre and officers of the  legion of honour for service with the French Army, for services whilst seconded during the German attacks of 1918, with the French forces.

With the war over, Gater returned to civilian life in January 1919 and went to lancashire as a Director of education. Later on he would become a Whitehall Mandarin and Warden of Winchester and was knighted in 1941.  He died in the 1960's.

George Gater is considered to be one of the finest Brigade commanders produced by the British Army during the war.

 

Notes

1..The Divisional Commander Major General Campbell's recommendation read as such, 'A Brigadier of the highest class and throughly qualified to command a division. Has proved himself to be an excellent organizer, trainer and fighter. A very remarkable man as with only four years service he has proved himself well fitted for a higher command. He is most popular and has the absolute confidence of all serving under him. A very good disciplinarian. Very active and energetic.'

2...This force consisted of troops from all three brigades of 21st division and some support units as well as sixty-six Lewis guns of the 4th Tank Brigade.