Military Wiki
Sir John Greer Dill
Sir John Dill at the headquarters of General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief of Middle East Forces, Egypt, 18 February 1941
Born (1881-12-25)25 December 1881
Died 4 November 1944(1944-11-04) (aged 62)
Place of birth Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland
Place of death Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, D.C., USA
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, USA
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1901–1944
Rank Field Marshal
Unit Leinster Regiment
Commands held Staff College, Camberley (8 January 1931 – 21 January 1934)
Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, War Office (22 January 1934 – 31 August 1936)
British Forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan (8 September 1936 – 19 September 1937)
General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Aldershot Command (12 October 1937 – 2 September 1939)
I Corps (3 September 1939 – 22 April 1940)
Chief of the Imperial General Staff (27 May 1940 – 25 December 1941)
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches (8 times in World war I)
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Légion d'honneur (France)
Commander of the Order of the Crown (Belgium)
Officer of the Order of the Crown of Romania
Grand Cross, Order of St Olav
Order of Polonia Restituta, 1st class

Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill, GCB, CMG, DSO (25 December 1881 – 4 November 1944) was a British commander in World War I and World War II. From May 1940 to December 1941 he was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, and subsequently in Washington, as Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission and then Senior British Representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff, played a significant role during World War II in the formation of the "special relationship" between the United Kingdom and the United States.

Early life

Born in Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland in 1881, his father was the local bank manager and his mother was a Greer from Woodville, Lurgan.[1] Always intended for a career in the services, Dill attended the Methodist College Belfast,[2] Cheltenham College and the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.[1] On 8 May 1901 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 1st battalion of the Leinster Regiment[3] and was posted to South Africa to see out the Second Boer War.[4]

Military career

Dill was appointed regimental adjutant on 15 August 1906,[5] having previously been assistant adjutant from 1902.[6] Promoted captain on 12 July 1911,[7] he was seconded to study at the Staff College, Camberley from 1 February 1913,[8] and was still there on the outbreak of the First World War.[9] He became brigade-major of the 25th brigade (8th division) in France where he was present at Neuve Chapelle. By the end of the war he was a brigadier and had been Mentioned in Despatches eight times.[9] He was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1918 New Year Honours.[10] He also received a number of foreign decorations for his service, including the Légion d'honneur, in the degree of Officer,[11] the French Croix de guerre,[12] Commander of the Order of the Crown (Belgium),[13] Officer of the Order of the Crown of Romania.[14]

After the war he gained a reputation as a gifted army instructor. In the 1928 New Year Honours he was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB).[15] 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 but this time as Commandant) and then to the War Office as Director of Military Operations and Intelligence, holding that post until 1 September 1936.[9][16] Alongside his other positions, he was appointed to the largely honorary role of Colonel of the East Lancashire Regiment on 24 December 1932.[17]

Field Marshal Dill at the Atlantic Conference aboard Prince of Wales in 1941 (third person from the right in second row/directly above Churchill)

Dill was appointed General Officer Commanding British forces in Palestine on 8 September 1936,[18] holding the post until 1937, and was knighted in the 1937 Coronation Honours with his promotion to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB),[19] and he was then appointed General Officer Commanding, Aldershot Command but at the outbreak of World War II he initially had to watch younger, junior officers 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 as commander of I Corps in France on 3 September 1939.[20][21] He was promoted to full general on 1 October 1939 (with seniority backdated to 5 December 1937).[22] On returning to the UK in April 1940,[23] Dill was appointed Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff (and a member of the Army Council[24]), under CIGS William Ironside, by the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. On 27 May 1940, after Chamberlain had been replaced by Churchill, Dill replaced Ironside as CIGS.[21][25] Later in 1940, Dill became ADC General to King George VI.

Dill was promoted field marshal on 18 November 1941[26] but by this time it was clear how poorly he and Churchill got on. Dill gained a reputation as unimaginative and obstructionist.[21] Keen to get him out of the way, Churchill at the end of 1941 had Dill advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB)[27] and posted him to Washington as his personal representative where he became Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission,[28][29] then Senior British Representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff.[30] 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.[29] In the United States he was immensely important in making the Chiefs of Staff committee – which included members from both countries – function, often promoting unity of action.[31] He was particularly friendly with General George Marshall[32] 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".[33]


Equestrian statue of Sir John Dill over his grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

Dill served in Washington until his death from aplastic anaemia in November 1944. His funeral arrangements reflected the great professional and personal respect and affection that he had earned. A memorial service was held in Washington National Cathedral and the route of the cortege was lined by some thousands of troops, following which he was interred in Arlington National Cemetery, where a simple service was conducted at the graveside. A witness recorded that "I have never seen so many men so visibly shaken by sadness. Marshall's face was truly stricken ...". He was sorely missed by the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, who sent a fulsome message of condolence to their British colleagues:[34]

We feel we share equally with you the loss to our combined war effort resulting from the death of Field Marshal Sir John Dill. His character and wisdom, his selfless devotion to the allied cause, made his contribution to the combined British-American war effort of outstanding importance. It is not too much to say that probably no other individual was more responsible for the achievement of complete cooperation in the work of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

... we have looked to him with complete confidence as a leader in our combined deliberations. He has been a personal friend of all of us ...

We mourn with you the passing of a great and wise soldier, and a great gentleman. His task in this war has been well done.

He was posthumously awarded an American Distinguished Service Medal in 1944[33][35] as well as receiving an unprecedented joint resolution of the United States Congress appreciating his services.[36]

Honours and awards


In a 14 October 2013 article CounterPunch journalist Patrick Cockburn cites Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman in their analysis of the criminal use of toxic chemicals in wartime: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare. He writes: "it was Britain that came closest to using poison gas on a mass scale during the Second World War. Had Germany launched an invasion in 1940, the British plan was to spray German troops with mustard gas from aircraft while they were still crowded together on the beaches. The idea was proposed first on 15 June 1940, just two days after Dunkirk, by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir John Dill...[who] wrote with gusto that German troop concentrations 'would present a splendid target. Gas spray by aircraft under such conditions would be likely to have a more widespread and wholesale effect than high explosives.' The plan was lethally dangerous, not least because Germany had 20 times as much mustard gas as Britain. The British would be breaching a secret agreement made with Hitler in the first hours of the war in 1939 that Britain and France would not use poison gas or germ warfare so long as Germany also refrained. The appalled Director of Home Defence rejected the plan to spray enemy troops: 'We should be throwing away the incalculable moral advantage of keeping our pledges and for a minor tactical surprise; and the ultimate effects of retaliation by the enemy would be very serious in this overcrowded little island.' General Dill withdrew his memorandum in the face of fierce criticism, but it was then supported by Churchill who gave his full backing for the use of gas. A fleet of bombers fitted with spray tanks holding between 250lb and 1,000lb of mustard gas each was scraped together but Britain had only 450 tons of mustard gas. Stocks would have been exhausted after one or two days of RAF attacks."[37]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Sir John Dill". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  2. "Sir John Dill". Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives. Retrieved 21 August 2012. 
  3. "No. 27311". 7 May 1901. 
  4. Heathcote, Anthony pg 102
  5. "No. 27944". 28 August 1906. 
  6. Danchev, Alex (September 2004; online edition, January 2008). "‘Dill, Sir John Greer (1881–1944)’" (subscription required for online access). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Digital object identifier:10.1093/ref:odnb/32826. 
  7. "No. 28529". 8 September 1911. 
  8. "No. 28687". 4 February 1913. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Heathcote, Anthony pg 103
  10. "No. 30450". 28 December 1917. 
  11. "No. 31454". 11 July 1919. 
  12. "No. 31812". 5 March 1920. 
  13. "No. 31514". 19 August 1919. 
  14. "No. 31560". 19 September 1919. 
  15. "No. 33343". 30 December 1927. 
  16. "No. 34319". 1 September 1936. 
  17. "No. 34319". 6 January 1933. 
  18. "No. 34327". 29 September 1936. 
  19. "No. 34396". 11 May 1937. 
  20. "No. 34753". 12 December 1939. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Heathcote, Anthony pg 104
  22. "No. 34709". 13 October 1939. 
  23. "No. 34855". 21 May 1940. 
  24. "No. 34873". 14 June 1940. 
    "No. 34878". 21 June 1940. 
    "No. 34920". 13 August 1940. 
    "No. 35068". 7 February 1941. 
    "No. 35187". 10 June 1941. 
    "No. 35208". 4 July 1941. 
    "No. 35247". 15 August 1941. 
    "No. 35414". 9 January 1942. 
  25. "No. 34858". 24 May 1940. 
  26. "No. 35352". 18 November 1941. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 "No. 35399". 30 December 1941. 
  28. "No. 35397". 26 December 1941. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 Heathcote, Anthony pg 105
  30. Arlington National Cemetery
  31. Letter Roosevelt to Churchill on the announcement of the posthumous honours to Dill
  32. Marshal Foundation
  33. 33.0 33.1 Citation for Dill's Army Distinguished Service Medal
  34. Danchev (1991), pp. 67–68.
  35. "No. 36801". 17 November 1944. 
  36. Resolution of the United States Congress
  37. "Churchill’s Poison Gas Stockpile". CounterPunch. 14 October 2013. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 


  • Danchev, Alex (1991). John Keegan. ed. Churchill's Generals. London: Cassell Military. ISBN 0-304-36712-5. 
  • Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals 1736–1997. Barnsley (UK): Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-696-5. 

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Charles Gwynn
Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley
Succeeded by
Clement Armitage
Preceded by
Hugh Tudor
GOC British forces in Palestine
8 September 1936 – 11 May 1937
Succeeded by
Archibald Wavell
Preceded by
Sir John Gathorne-Hardy
GOC-in-C Aldershot Command
11 May 1937 – 3 September 1939
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Broad
Preceded by
New Post
GOC I Corps
3 September 1939 – April 1940
Succeeded by
Michael Barker
Preceded by
Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff
April 1940–27 May 1940
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Haining
Preceded by
Sir Edmund Ironside
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
Succeeded by
Sir Alan Brooke
Preceded by
New creation
Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission

Succeeded by
Sir Henry Wilson

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