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Nevil Macready

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Nevil Macready

The Right Honourable
Sir Nevil Macready, Bt
Lt-Gen Sir Nevil Macready, circa 1915
Nickname(s) Make-Ready
Born 7 May 1862
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England.
Died 9 January 1946 (aged 83)
Knightsbridge, London.
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1881 - 1923
Rank General
Unit The Gordon Highlanders
Commands held 2nd Infantry Brigade
Belfast District
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath

GCMG, KCB, PC (Ire) (7 May 1862 – 9 January 1946), known as Sir Nevil Macready and affectionately as Make-Ready (close to the correct pronunciation of his name), was a British Army officer. He served in senior staff appointments in the First World War and was the last British military commander in Ireland, and also served for two years as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in London.


  • Early life 1
  • Regimental career 2
    • Boer War and South Africa 2.1
  • War Office 3
    • First World War, Ireland and Adjutant-General 3.1
  • Commissioner of Police 4
  • Ireland 5
    • Administration of justice and reform of the police 5.1
    • Impending martial law 5.2
    • Reprisals and the Black and Tans 5.3
    • The Anglo-Irish Treaty leads to civil war 5.4
    • What role Macready played in the Civil War, if any 5.5
  • Later life 6
  • Death 7
  • In film 8
  • Styles 9
  • Footnotes 10
    • References 10.1

Early life

Macready was the son of the prominent actor William Charles Macready.[1] He was born in Cheltenham and was brought up in the bohemian circles frequented by his parents (his mother, Cecile, was the granddaughter of the painter, Sir William Beechey), and was educated at Marlborough College (for two years, before falling ill) and Cheltenham College. He later claimed that he was far too lazy to pursue an artistic career himself, and although he expressed an interest in a stage career, his father, who loathed his own profession, expressly forbade it (although he continued to be involved in amateur dramatics all his life and was also a talented singer). He therefore joined the Army, passing out from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and being commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders in October 1881.[1]

Regimental career

He joined the 1st Battalion at Malta, and in 1882 went with them to Egypt, fighting at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir.[1] He stayed in Egypt, and in 1884 was appointed garrison adjutant and staff lieutenant of military police at Alexandria.[1] In 1886, he married Sophia Geraldine Atkin (died 1931), an Irishwoman; they had two daughters and a son.[1] Macready remained in Alexandria until early 1889, when he returned to England to rejoin his regiment, and then served in Ceylon and India.[1] He was promoted captain in 1891.[1] He was transferred to Dublin in 1892, and in 1894 became adjutant of the regiment's 2nd Volunteer Battalion in Aberdeenshire.[1] In 1899, he was promoted major and returned to India to join the 2nd Battalion, which was sent to South Africa in September.[1]

Boer War and South Africa

Macready saw active service in the Second Boer War, serving in the besieged garrison at Ladysmith from October 1899 to February 1900.[1] As a captain, returning from bringing in wounded, he first met Major-General John French on the battlefield of Elandslaagte, giving him a cup of coffee which he had looted from the Boers.[2] He was mentioned in despatches twice and promoted Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in 1900, and in June 1901 headed a commission investigating cattle-raiding in Zululand.[1] He stayed in South Africa in a series of staff posts, including Assistant Provost Marshal at Port Elizabeth (1901), Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General of the district west of Johannesburg (December 1901–1902), Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief Staff Officer of Cape Colony (1902–1905), and Assistant Quartermaster-General of Cape Colony (1905–1906). He was promoted Colonel in November 1903.[1] He was appointed Companion of the Bath (CB) in 1906 and returned to England in October 1906.

War Office

In 1907, Macready was appointed Assistant Adjutant-General in the Directorate of Personal Services at the War Office in London, and helped to form the Territorial Force.[1] He commanded the 2nd Infantry Brigade at Aldershot from May 1909, being promoted to Brigadier-General, and in June 1910 returned to the War Office as Director of Personal Services, responsible for a variety of personnel matters.[1] Also having responsibility for military aid to the civil power, he played a large part in a series of labour disputes and in deploying troops to Ireland in anticipation of disturbances there.[1] Unusually for an army officer of the time, he had marked liberal tendencies, believed in the right to strike, and supported Irish home rule. He was contemptuous of politics, socialism, communism, pacifism and capitalism (unless the employers treated their employees very well).

He was promoted Major-General in October 1910, and in November he took direct command of troops deployed to deal with a possible miners' strike, in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales,[3] insisting that his troops remained subordinate both to the police and to the Home Office and not answerable to the panicking local magistrates. This policy probably helped to avert serious unrest in 1910 and again in a similar situation in 1912. A civil CB was added to his military CB in 1911, and in 1912, he was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Bath (KCB). After the Curragh incident in Ireland in March 1914, Macready was made General Officer Commanding Belfast District and was nominated as military governor-designate of Belfast in the event of civil war breaking out, something averted by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. At the War Office, civil servants as late as 10 April 1916, still believed there was no cause for concern:

"I do not believe leaders mean insurrection," wrote Sir Matthew Nathan, "or that the Volunteers have sufficient arms to make it formidable if the leaders do mean it."

In December 1915, Macready was warned by Special Branch of the impending violence and volunteer recruitment, and from March 1916, daily police reports. The British underestimated the intent of the Irish leaders.[4]

First World War, Ireland and Adjutant-General

Macready was immediately sent to Adjutant-General to the Forces, one of the most senior staff appointments in the British Army.[1] Macready's experiences of the front opened his eyes to the possibilities of open warfare in Ireland: he advised General Maxwell (whose courts martial condemned the leaders of the Easter Rising to death) not to delay, and not to be afraid of overstepping authoritory.[5] He was promoted Lieutenant-General in June 1916 (although he was already temporarily in that rank).

An enthusiastic proponent of the employment of female labour to free men to go to the front. Macready also abolished the compulsory wearing of moustaches by British soldiers, and immediately shaved off his own, which he had hated[6]

During the final stages of the Third Battle of Ypres, Macready warned (4 October 1917) that the BEF could be kept up to strength if it suffered no more than a further 50,000 casualties before the end of the year, but the total exceeded this. The BEF suffered an alarming rise in drunkenness, desertions and psychological disorders; reports were gathered of soldiers returning from the front grumbling about "the waste of life" at Ypres.[7]

In 1918, Macready was promoted full General and raised to Knight Grand Cross of St Michael and St George (GCMG). He had been mentioned in dispatches four times during the war, been made a Grand Officier of the Légion d'honneur of France (1915), and a member of the Order of the Crown of Belgium, the Order of the Crown of Italy, and the Order of the Sacred Treasures of Japan.[8]

Commissioner of Police

In August 1918, Macready somewhat reluctantly took the post of Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, head of the London Metropolitan Police,[1] to which Prime Minister Asquith had intended to appoint him before war broke out in 1914. Morale was low, and many men were currently on strike over pay and trade union recognition.[9] Macready got them back to work by granting a pay rise and promising the introduction of machinery for collective bargaining. He was popular among the constables and sergeants, whom he got to know far more than his predecessors had done. He abolished the system of punishment by deducting fines from men's pay over a period of months or even years. He also abolished the shilling a day deduction made from the pay of men on sick leave. He had an intense dislike of trade unions, and never took the short-lived National Union of Police and Prison Officers seriously, which partly led to the strike of 1919. Only a small percentage of the men went out on strike, and they were all dismissed, although Macready wrote a good reference for every one who asked.


Administration of justice and reform of the police

In April 1920, Macready was sent to command the troops in Ireland as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) British forces operating in the counter-insurgency role against the Irish Republican Army in the Irish War of Independence (alongside Hamar Greenwood as Chief Secretary).[1] Macready and Greenwood insisted on restoring the powers of the Chief to impose proper authority, which was lax and enfeebled. Macready was experienced at crisis management.[10]

He had already written to Ian Macpherson on the latter's appointment as Chief Secretary of Ireland in January 1919: "I cannot say I envy you for I loathe the country you are going to and its people with a depth deeper than the sea and more violent than that which I feel against the Boche". He later claimed in his memoirs that only loyalty to his "old Chief" Lord French made him accept – he demanded a higher pension than his predecessor and an increase in "table money" (entertainment expenses) from £500 to £1,400 as well as £5,000 "disturbance allowance". He was unimpressed by the administrative chaos in Dublin and the "crass stupidity which is so often found among police officers who have not been carefully selected".[11] Nevertheless, he was a good and dynamic commander, increasing morale, improving policy, and securing additional troops and equipment. He refused to also take command of the Royal Irish Constabulary, however, which reduced coordination between the police and Army. Major-General Hugh Tudor, a distinguished artilleryman, was appointed Police Advisor in May 1920, then Chief of Police in November 1920.[12]

A month after taking up official duties, Macready came to London to demand eight extra battalions of infantry and 234 motor vehicles. Sir Henry Wilson only learned of the request the evening before the Cabinet meeting and thought Macready "a vain ass" for not seeking his advice first. The cabinet agreed on 11 May 1920 to supply the vehicles and as far as possible the extra technical personnel requested, but on Wilson’s advice agreed only to hold the extra battalions "in readiness".[13] But Macready was aware of the religious tensions: in July an argument with Catholic Archbishop Gilmartin, led him to exclaim that men could not be tried in Tuam, because nobody was willing to come forward for Jury service, "the people at least indifferent".[14]

With the army stretched very thinly by the deployment of two extra divisions to Iraq, and the threatened coal strike in September 1920, Macready warned that the planned withdrawal of ten battalions would make peacekeeping in Ireland impossible (unless the Army was given a free hand to conduct purely military operations, which the politicians did not want) and large portions of the RIC would probably change sides. Macready opposed the formation of The Specials, announced by London on 20 October. The Specials were subsumed totally by Protestants clubs, such as the Cromwell Clubs. Dublin Castle wrote Bonar Law urging the Conservatives ban any recruitment from the UVF, an unreliable gang of paramilitaries.[15] The government pressed ahead with recruiting auxiliaries, whose numbers peaked at 1,500 in July 1921.[16] A military committee of review appointed by the Cabinet, which he chaired, did oppose the recruitment of the Black and Tans and Auxiliary Division, and he continued to be a strident critic of these bodies.[17]

Macready had been initially impressed by Tudor and thought he was getting rid of "incompetent idiots" from senior police positions. According to Tudor's Weekly Summary [19]

Macready had come to support martial law as he was worried that army and police discipline might otherwise collapse. They are hopelessly out of date, he warned We are sitting on a volcano. If they were turned into an unarmed police force they would fulfill their functions in time of peace a good deal better than at present, he told Sir John Anderson.[20] He advised that ad hoc reprisals by the Black and Tans were not stopping the "murders".[21] After the killing of sixteen Black and Tans in an

Military offices
Preceded by
George Browne
Director of Personal Services, War Office
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Sir Henry Sclater
Adjutant-General to the Forces
Succeeded by
Sir George Macdonogh
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Shaw
General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Ireland
Succeeded by
Last incumbent
Police appointments
Preceded by
Sir Edward Henry
Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis
Succeeded by
William Horwood
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
(of Cheltenham)
Succeeded by
Gordon Nevil Macready
  • The Times
  • Campbell, F, 'Who Ruled Ireland?' Irish Administration, 1879-1914' The Historical Journal (Cambridge 2007), vol.50 (3)
  • Coogan, Tim Pat, Ireland in 20th Century (Arrow 2003)
  • Doherty, M.A., 'Kevin Barry and the Anglo-Irish Propaganda War', Irish Historical Studies 32 (Nov 2000)
  • Fido, Martin & Skinner, Keith The Official Encyclopedia of Scotland Yard (Virgin Books, London:1999)
  • Flewelling, L.J, Ulster Unionism and Americas, 1880-1920
  • Jones, Thomas, Whitehall Diary, vol.III
  • Lowe, W.J., 'The War against the RIC, 1919-21', Eire-Ireland 57 (2002)
  • McDermott, Jim, Northern Divisions: The Old IRA and the Belfast Pogroms 1920-22 (Belfast 2001)
  • O'Donoghue, Florrie, No Other War (Dublin 1954, 1986)
  • Townshend, C, British Campaign in Ireland (London 1986)
  • Townshend, C, The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence (London 2014)
  • Woodward, David. R, "Field Marshal Sir William Robertson", Westport Connecticut & London: Praeger, 1998, ISBN 0-275-95422-6


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t
  2. ^ Holmes 2004, p13
  3. ^ Dangerfield, G. (2012) The Strange Death of Liberal England Serif: London pg.202
  4. ^ Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, (London 2006), p.146-7
  5. ^ Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, (London 2006), p.271.
  6. ^;view=1up;seq=295 Annals of an Active Life, pp. 258-259.
  7. ^ Woodward, 1998, pp.148-9
  8. ^ Debrett's Peerage, Baronage, Knightage (106th edition 2000)
  9. ^ C Townshend, 'One Man Whom You Can Hang It Necessary: The Discreet Charm of Nevil Macready', in J.B. Hattendorf & M.H.Murfett (eds.) The Limitations of Military Power (London 1990), pp.143ff.
  10. ^ C Townshend, "The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence" (Penguin 2014)
  11. ^ Jeffery 2006, p261
  12. ^ Jeffery 2006, p261-2
  13. ^ a b Jeffery 2006, p262-3
  14. ^ "Irish Catholic" newspaper, 31 July 1920.
  15. ^ Tim Pat Coogan, "The Irish Revolution", p.95.
  16. ^ Jeffery 2006, p264-5
  17. ^ "The Black & Tans and Auxiliaries in Ireland, 1920-1921: Their Origins, Roles and Legacy", by John Ainsworth, 2001
  18. ^ Lowe, W.J, "The War against the IRA 1919-21" Eire-Ireland, p.101. B Hughes, 'Persecuting the Peelers', in David Fitzpatrick (ed.), Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 (Dublin 2012). pp.214-15.
  19. ^ Jeffery 2006, p265-6
  20. ^ Macready to Walter Long, 23 April and 1 May 1920, House of Lords Record Office, LGP F/34/1.
  21. ^ Jeffery 2006, p266-7
  22. ^ Sir Mark Sturgis, 19 December 1920, UK National Archives. PRO 30/59/3.
  23. ^ Townshend, p.224.
  24. ^ Jeffery 2006, p267-9
  25. ^ Townshend, p.225
  26. ^ Townshend, p.163
  27. ^ Sir Mark Sturgis' Diary, 1 & 5 Oct 1920, NA PRO 30/59/1.
  28. ^ House of Commons Debates, 20 Oct 1920, cited in Townshend, "The Republic", p.167.
  29. ^ Macready to Henry Wilson, Imperial War Museum HHW 2/2A.
  30. ^ R.F.Foster, "W.B.Yeats: A Life", 2 vols (Oxford 2003), vol II, p.181, Townshend, pp.195-7.
  31. ^ B Maye, "Arthur Griffith" (Dublin 1997), p.149, cited in Townshend, p.109
  32. ^ O' Donohue, "No Other Law", p.266.
  33. ^ Jeffery 2006, p270-1
  34. ^ Jeffery 2006, p271-3
  35. ^ Jeffery 2006, p273-4
  36. ^ R. (Egan) v Macready [1921] 1 I.R. 265
  37. ^ Garde v. Strickland (Apr 1921) - the case in which the court decided that the Crown may have used excessive force in enforcing the Restoration of Order Act .
  38. ^ Collins remained "a physical force nationalist"
  39. ^ Peter Hart, "Michael Collins and the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson"
  40. ^ Cabinet Conclusions, 5 pm meeting, 22 June 1922; David Lloyd George to Michael Collins (CAB, 21/255).
  41. ^ Cabinet Conclusions, 11.30 a.m meeting, 25 June 1922, CAB, 21/255.
  42. ^ Liam Deasy said later that the Civil War was "greatest tragedy in Irish history". 380 - poll of Army Census, 1902.
  43. ^ "Portrait of a Revolutionary: " (London 2000), pp.
  44. ^ Michael Hopkinson, "Green against Green", p.116-7.


  • 1862–1881: Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready
  • 1881–1891: Lieutenant Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready
  • 1891–1899: Captain Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready
  • 1899–1900: Major Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready
  • 1900–1903: Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready
  • 1903–1906: Colonel Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready
  • 1906–1910: Colonel Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, CB
  • 1910–1912: Major-General Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, CB
  • 1912–1915: Major-General Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, KCB
  • 1915–1916: Major-General Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, KCB, KCMG
  • 1916–1918: Lieutenant-General Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, KCB, KCMG
  • 1918–1920: General Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, GCMG, KCB
  • 1920–1923: General The Rt Hon Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, GCMG, KCB, PC(Ire)
  • 1923–1946: General The Rt Hon Sir Cecil Frederick Nevil Macready, Bt, GCMG, KCB, PC(Ire)


He appears very briefly in the film Michael Collins (1996) where he is played by Alan Stanford.

In film

He died at his home in Knightsbridge in 1946, aged 83. His son, Lieutenant-General Sir Gordon Macready (1891–1956), was also a distinguished soldier and inherited the baronetcy on his father's death.


He briefly returned to police service during the 1926 General Strike, when he served as a staff officer to the Chief Commandant of the Metropolitan Special Constabulary.

In 1924, he published his two-volume memoirs, Annals of an Active Life.[1] Macready destroyed his own diaries and private papers after completing his memoirs, but 400 letters between Wilson and Macready survive, only ten of which predate his Irish appointment.[13]

Later life

Macready retired in 1 March 1923 and was created a baronet. He had been sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland in 1920.

It has been suggested that Collins had a hand in the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson[38] on the doorstep of his London home, whilst at the same time negotiating with Lloyd George and Edward Carson over the future of Ireland.[39] The murder was unfortunate because it precipitated a policy of "Official Reprisals", sparked by Rory O'Connor's mob attack on the Four Courts, home of the Provisional Government's ministry. From 22 June 1922 there were six Cabinet meetings in 72 hours.[40] They concluded that the Four Courts was a centre of "seditious activity". On 24 June the Cabinet ordered an assault for 25 June, to be carried out by the Army. Macready, commander-in-chief, was in disagreement; known for his liberal principles Macready argued that escalation of violence would only unite the two factions of IRA and alienate the moderates.[41] Britain pressurised Dublin to arm the National Army of Ireland (Free State Army) with British guns, giving an ultimatum for the rebels to leave on 28 June.[42] In the event it was agreed with Dick Mulcahy that they should receive two 18-pdr field artillery.[43] These were used to pound the Four Courts garrison into surrender, but they missed; the officers were so inexperienced that Emmett Dalton, the Chief of Staff required artillery training from Macready's men.[44]

What role Macready played in the Civil War, if any

Macready was instrumental in negotiating the truce in July 1921, although he suggested, perhaps in jest, that the entire Irish Dáil could be arrested whilst in session.[35] He suffered the irritation of being found in contempt of court for refusing to obey an order of habeas corpus in the Joseph Egan case;[36] but the Truce rendered the matter academic. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty and creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, he withdrew the troops without great incident before the onset of the Irish Civil War.[37]

In April 1921, the cabinet decided to withdraw four of Macready's 51 battalions to meet the possible James Craig and Eamon de Valera (who had been born in New York of Spanish descent and whom Macready called Wilson's "Cuban Jew compatriot").[34] The policy of Official Reprisals proved counter-productive and was abandoned in 3 June 1921. Macready had no answer to the attacks on soft Unionist targets.

The Irish War of Independence reached a climax in the first half of 1921, with deaths of pro-Crown forces running at approximately double the rate of those in the second half of 1920 but with the IRA running desperately short of funds and ammunition and later described by one of its leaders Michael Collins as 'dead beat' and within 'six weeks of defeat'.[33] Macready backed a policy of "deterrent effects" against the IRA; houses were ordered to be destroyed, tenants evicted to remove those who shot at patrols. The British were slowly getting the upper hand.

By 1921, Macready had lost confidence in Tudor and thought the RIC had become unreliable. Macready was adamant that military jurisdiction in the Martial Law Area (MLA) trumped the civil courts. In a number of civil rights cases King's Bench writs were issued to reclaim bodies and damages. But Macready dismissed the conflict in actions, as an "anomaly". As the violence escalated he had suspended civilian jurisdictions by Proclamation in April.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty leads to civil war

The new 'Auxies' were following a bad example. The local Irish police, the RIC, had begun a process of reprisal killings for IRA attacks, which gave Macready considerable cause for concern.[26]"the RIC are not out of hand but are systematically left to reprise their officers."[27] In Macready's view, shooting of suspects and dumping of bodies in the Liffey represented unavoidable "reprisals" for the death of a policeman.[28] By 28 August, Macready knew that civil war was inevitable; as a consequence he would not tell the victims of the Lismore bombings not to resist.[29] He was worried that release of political prisoners would anger the police; hanging became a matter of credibility. He rejected calls to spare the life of a young medical student, Kevin Barry, accused of taking part in the killing of a soldier in Dublin.[30] Macready recruited Major Ormonde Winter, an intelligence expert, as head of police detectives, to train sergeants to build networks; but it was probably too slow a decision, and too little too late to win the war.[31] The Barry case was thoroughly investigated at Macroon Station by Lt Crake of C company, of whom Macready thought well.[32]

Reprisals and the Black and Tans

On 23 December, Irish Home Rule became law. Macready attended a special conference on 29 December along with Wilson, Tudor and Sir John Anderson, head of the Civil Service in Dublin, at which they all advised that no truce should be allowed for elections to the planned Dublin Parliament, and that at least four months of martial law would be required to 'break the Terror'.[23] The date for the elections was therefore set for May 1921. In accordance with Wilson and Macready's wishes, martial law was extended over the rest of Munster (Counties Waterford and Clare) and part of Leinster (Counties Kilkenny and Wexford).[24] Macready felt under a great deal of pressure. The officer class were not prepared and contemptuous of the enemy's intelligence network; they did not take the need to adapt to gathering seriously.[25]

Impending martial law


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