circa 1941. This is an original, signed, Second World War photograph of then-British General Henry Maitland Wilson inspecting the French Foreign Legion. The photograph is signed “H Maitland Wilson” across the bottom right, and measures 4.5 x 3.5 inches (11.43 x 8.89 cm). Though small, the image is crisp and has wonderful composition. Maitland Wilson is flanked by French and U.S. commanders on his left and right and a row of splendidly attired Legionnaires with their swords raised extended at an angle on the right. Condition is good, the image nominally worn along the right edge and very slightly rippled with surface scuffing visible under raking light. Nonetheless, the image is crisp and bright. Adhesive scarring to the verso suggests that this image was once part of a scrap book. The photograph is undated, but likely captured in 1941.
Field Marshal Henry Maitland “Jumbo” Wilson, 1st Baron Wilson (1881-1964) was appointed general officer in 1939, commanding British troops in Egypt amid the looming international threat. This marked the beginning of eight years of overseas command service. Wilson was highly regarded by Anthony Eden, then the Secretary of War, who cabled from Cairo on 21 February, recommending Wilson lead the expeditionary force in Greece. British Forces ultimately withdrew, but Wilson’s “tactical skill was evident in the conduct of the withdrawal…” (ODNB). After commanding the Greek expedition, Wilson was appointed in May 1941 to command British troops in Palestine and Trans-Jordan – likely the time and place captured in this image. Successive commands included Syria and Palestine, Persia and Iraq, and, in 1944, Supreme Allied Command in the Mediterranean. Maitland-Wilson was promoted Field-Marshal in January 1945.
Maitland Wilson's was a venerable military career spanning long decades of dire engagements. He joined the Second Battalion in South Africa after the relief of Ladysmith where he served until the end of the Boer War. He was then a Brigade Major during the First World War during the Battle of Somme, the Third Battle of Ypres. When General Gott was shot down flying into Cairo in 1942, Maitland Wilson was Churchill’s preferred choice to replace Gott as commander of the Eighth Army, but both Brooke and Smuts advocated for Montgomery, and Churchill acquiesced. Maitland Wilson was instead appointed Commander of the Tenth Army in Persia and Iraq. Maitland Wilson died on 31 December 1964, less than a month before Churchill. “The mourners who attended Field-Marshal Lord Wilson’s memorial service in January 1965 at Westminster Abbey must have been conscious of the fact that Churchill was lying in state in Westminster Hall only yards away… Unlike most of Churchill’s generals, Wilson was of the same generation as the Prime Minister. This, perhaps more than any other factor, accounted for the mutual understanding the one had for the other.” (Churchill’s Generals, p.166). Item #006610