John Dill

Field Marshall Sir John Greer Dill CMG DSO GCB (25 December 1881 - 4 November 1944) was a British commander in World War I and World War II who played a significant role in the formation of the special relationship.

Born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland in 1881, his father was the local bank manager. Always intended for a career in the services Dill attended Cheltenham College and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. In 1901 he joined the 1st battalion of the Leinster regiment and was posted to South Africa to see out the Boer War.

Promoted Captain in 1911 he was studying at the Staff College in Camberley on the outbreak of the First World War when he became brigade-major of the 25th brigade (8th division) in France where he was present at Neuve-Chappelle, Alvers Ridge and Bois Grenier. By the end of the war he was a Brigadier-General, had been wounded in action and mentioned in despatches eight times. Dill's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography makes clear that he was a typically excellent British officer of the period: he was handsome, charming, inspiring, noble and just a bit dim.

After the war he gained a reputation as a gifted army instructor. In 1929 he was posted to India and in 1930 was promoted to Major-General before returning to appointments at the Staff College (for in fact the third time) and then to the War Office.

Dill commanded British forces in Palestine (1936-7) but at the outbreak of World War II Dill initially had to watch younger, junior offices be promoted over him. Seen as something of a dinosaur and poorly regarded by both Winston Churchill and Leslie Hore-Belisha, Minister for War, Dill was eventually posted to the 1st Army Corps in France (1939-40). On returning to the UK, Dill became Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff under the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Later in 1940, Dill became ADC General to King George VI.

By the time Churchill inherited him as Chief of the Imperial General Staff it was clear how poorly the two men got on. Dill gained a reputation as obstructive, unimaginative and overanxious and indeed the stress made him ill. Keen to get him out of the way Churchill posted him to Washington as his personal representative in 1941 where he became Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission, then Senior British Representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff. This turned out to be the point at which Dill found his feet.

He showed a great flair as a diplomatic military presence. In 1943 alone he attended the Quebec Conference, the Casablanca Conference, the Tehran Conference and meetings in India, China and Brazil. He also served briefly on the combined policy committee set up by the British and United States governments under the Quebec Agreement to oversee the construction of the atomic bomb.

In the United States he was immensely important in making the Chiefs of staff committee - which included members from both countries function, often smoothing ruffled feathers in the clash of cultures which followed. He was particularly friendly with General George Marshall (the man with a plan) and the two exercised a great deal of influence on President Roosevelt who described Dill as "the most important figure in the remarkable accord which has been developed in the combined operations of our two countries". He was also friendly with the famously unpleasant Admiral King who was initially very suspicious of cooperation with the British but who was presumably won over by Dill's charm and impressive military record.

Dill died in Washington in November 1944 and was posthumously awarded an American Distinguished Service Medal in 1945 as well as receiving an unprecedented joint resolution of Congress appreciating his services. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Preceded by:
Sir Edmund Ironside
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
Succeeded by:
Sir Alan Brooke

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