In Memoriam: LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff, C.B. (1869-1914)
By Bryan J. Dickerson
On 15 September 1914, the British Army lost one of its most capable and proficient commanders and an officer who had played a vital role in the formulation of Britain’s mobilization contingency planning for the Great War. This distinguished officer was Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Grant-Duff, commanding officer of 1st Battalion / Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch).
Childhood and Formative Years
Adrian Grant-Duff was born 29 September 1869 in London, England. He was the son of the Right Honorable Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant-Duff, P.C., G.C.S.I. and Anna Julia Webster Lady Grant-Duff, C.I.E. His father was a practioner of law, Member of the House of Commons, a government administrator and an author of numerous books. Adrian was one of the couple’s four sons and four daughters. Adrian was educated at Wellington College in the village of Crowthorne, Berkshire, England. He then attended the Royal Military College at Sandhurst.
Early Military Service
Following graduation from Sandhurst, Lieutenant Grant-Duff was assigned to the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Highlanders Regiment (also known as the Black Watch) in 1889. Founded in the 1730s, the Black Watch’s long history includes distinguished service in the Seven Years War, the American War for Independence and the Napoleonic Wars.
Posted to India with 1st Battalion / Black Watch, Lieutenant Grant-Duff became involved with the Tirah Expedition in the north-west frontier of British India. Commanded by General Sir William Lockhart, the expedition was a punitive campaign against an uprising of the Afridis, Orakzais and Chamkanis Pashtun tribes of the Tirah Valley in what is now the Afghanistan / Pakistan border. Grant-Duff was appointed as Commandant of the Base Depot of the Tirah Expedition in September 1897. After several intense battles, Lockhart’s forces subdued the rebellion. For his exemplary service, Lieutenant Grant-Duff was decorated with the Tirah Medal with Clasp and earned a promotion to captain.
In October 1899, the Afrikaan (Boer) settlers of the Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State went to war against Great Britain in what is now South Africa. On 11 December 1899, the Boers inflicted a serious defeat upon the British Army at the Battle of Magersfontein. 2/Black Watch was one of several British units that suffered heavy casualties. The British deployed reinforcements and adopted new tactics. After suffering several grievous defeats, the Boers reverted to guerrilla warfare against the British.
Following 2/Black Watch’s grievous losses at Magersfontein, there were numerous calls for 1/Black Watch to deploy to South Africa and avenge its sister battalion. When the battalion finally got orders to deploy, Capt Grant-Duff was attending Staff College at Camberley. In late 1901, 1/Black Watch deployed to South Africa. Capt Grant-Duff successfully lobbied the War Office to rejoin his battalion and eventually caught up with them in early 1902. He served there with the battalion until the end of hostilities in May 1902. He participated in campaigns in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony. In recognition of his service, he was awarded the Queen’s Medal with two clasps.
Following the end of the Second Boer War, 1/Black Watch relocated to Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland. Grant-Duff then re-enrolled in the Staff College and graduated with distinction. From 1905-1909, he served in the War Office as Staff Captain, D.A.Q.M.G. and General Staff Officer, 2nd Grade. He was promoted to Major in December 1907. He earned qualification as an Interpreter in French.
While serving with the War Office, Captain Grant-Duff married the Honorable Ursula Lubbock. Ursula was the daughter of John Lubbock, the first Lord Avebury, and Alice Augusta Laurentia Lane Fox-Pitt. Their first child, Jean, was born in November 1907, followed by another daughter, Ursula Fiona, in December 1908, son Neill Adrian Mountstuart born in October 1910 and daughter Sheila born in May 1913.
Committee of Imperial Defense
Major Grant-Duff had proven himself to be a highly competent leader and staff officer. Recognition of his talents and abilities led to his being posted to serve as Assistant Military Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1910. There he served under Captain Maurice Hankey of Royal Naval Intelligence. Despite being superior in rank and age to Captain Hankey, Grant-Duff recognized Hankey’s superior qualifications and expressed both loyalty and admiration for his superior.
The Committee of Imperial Defence was tasked with identifying threats to the British Empire and formulating plans to defend the empire against external attacks. The goal was to prepare an adaptable plan to coordinate the actions of the various British departments (Admiralty, War Office, Home Office, Treasury, etc) in defending the Empire in the event of external war. “Before 1912 there was practically no co-ordination between the various Government Departments in case of war,” wrote Major Gen A. G. Wauchope in his A History of the Black Watch [Royal Highlanders] in the Great War, 1914-1918.
Ultimately, the CID produced “The War Book” --- a detailed but flexible collection of plans for the conduct of war by the British Empire. Each department had its own chapter detailing its role and responsibilities. The War Book also contained a timeline for war-related actions which further included provisions for the escalation of tensions into outright war. Throughout this process, the Committee members came to recognize Imperial Germany as the most likely threat to the British Empire. Among those serving on the CID was First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.
Major Grant-Duff played a crucial role in preparing the War Book and in the deliberations of the Committee of Imperial Defence. He kept meeting minutes of the several sub-committees involved in preparing the War Book. He compiled reports from the various departments, and revised them when appropriate or necessary. He devised a column-heading format which enabled the departments to view their actions in relation to those of the other departments. “Grant Duff developed a format that clearly and logically set out the requirements of individual Government departments immediately prior to and at the onset of hostilities so that they meshed seamlessly,” wrote historian Dr. Andrew Winrow. For the initial edition of the War Book, Grant-Duff compiled and wrote eight of its nine chapters. Subsequently he edited the War Book’s second edition in 1913. For his exemplary efforts, Grant-Duff was awarded the Companion, Order of Bath.
Major Adrian Grant-Duff completed his assignment with the Committee of Imperial Defense in early August 1913. He rejoined the Black Watch, which was now part of the 1st Brigade at Aldershot. Located midway between London and Southampton in the County of Hampshire of southern England, Aldershot was a major facility for the British Army. 1/Black Watch had been posted there back in February of that year. The following year, Grant-Duff was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. In late May 1914, he assumed command of 1st Battalion / The Black Watch.
The Great War Comes
On July 1914, the heir to the Austria-Hungarian imperial throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were assassinated by Serbian terrorists while visiting Sarajevo. Reaction and over-reaction precipitated a cataclysmic descent into war. The Great Powers mobilized. Germany invaded Belgium. In response to the German invasion of Belgium, Great Britain declared war on the Central Powers on 4 August and entered into the expanding European martial conflagration. Britain’s mobilization began immediately using mobilization plans that LtCol Grant-Duff himself had helped to formulate.
At the time of the British Declaration of War, 1/Black Watch was still stationed at Aldershot. In his A History of the Black Watch [Royal Highlanders] in the Great War 1914-1918, Major General A. G. Wauchope called LtCol Grant-Duff “one of the most gifted soldiers in the army.” At the time of mobilization, the battalion numbered 700 officers and men. However, about 200 of these men had to remain behind due to regulations prohibiting the deployment of soldiers under the age of 20. These soldiers were replaced by a draft of some 500 mobilized reservists, most of whom had prior service in 1/Black Watch or 2/Black Watch.
After receiving the mobilized reservists, 1/Black Watch numbered 28 officers and 1,031 other ranks. The battalion was organized into a Headquarters, and four infantry companies (A, B, C, & D) of four platoons each. Major J. T. C. Murray was LtCol Grant-Duff’s Second-in-Command. Like other Scottish units serving in the BEF, 1/Black Watch wore kilts as part of their battle uniform. Ninety-two percent of the battalion’s officers and men were Scottish.
On 13 August 1914, 1/Black Watch left its duty station to deploy to the Continent as part of Field Marshall Sir John French’s British Expeditionary Force sent to augment the Belgian and French forces fighting the German invaders. The following day, the battalion arrived in Havre, France via ship. Two days later, the battalion headed for the front.
1 / Black Watch was part of Brigadier General Frederick Maxse’s 1st Guards Brigade. This brigade also included 1st Battalion/Coldstream Guards, 1st Battalion/Scots Guards and 2nd Battalion/Royal Munster Fusiliers. 1st Guards Brigade was assigned to Major General Samuel Holt Lomax’s 1st Division of Lieutenant General Sir Douglas Haig’s I Corps. Later, a half of cavalry troop from the 15th Hussars and a section of artillery from 26th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery were attached to 1/Black Watch in support.
The early weeks of the war did not go well for the BEF. The BEF that deployed to the Continent in August of 1914 was a highly trained fighting force of professional soldiers augmented by mobilized reservists. However, the British Army did not have the massive pool of reservists to draw upon like the other Great Powers of Europe. As a consequence, the BEF was small by comparison with its French, German, Russian and Austria-Hungarian counter-parts. Furthermore, the British general officers were not accustomed to maneuvering large forces and as a result, experienced a severe learning curve in the early battles in Belgium.
The BEF fought its first major battle against the Germans in and around the town of Mons. Heavy casualties were suffered on both sides. The British soldiers fought tenaciously. Though only the British II Corps was actively engaged, Field Marshall French felt compelled to retreat on account of the superior German numbers. Located on the far right flank of the BEF, neither 1st Brigade nor 1/Black Watch was engaged in this pivotal first battle.
What ensued next was a long retreat south-west back into France which exasperated Britain’s French allies. A number of small battles were fought but mainly Field Marshall French was attempting to preserve his small BEF. Towards the end of August, a miscommunication in the British command structure caused 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers to become surrounded by advancing German units. The battalion was nearly wiped out. The 1st Battalion / Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders were assigned to 1st Brigade to replace the decimated 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers. For much of the retreat, 1/Black Watch served as part of the BEF’s rear guard.
First Battle of the Marne – 8/9 September 1914
With every mile that the German Army advanced, its logistical situation became more difficult and its troops more fatigued. With Paris now being threatened, the French High Command ultimately decided that now was the time to counter-attack. On 4 September, Marshall Joseph Joffre ordered the left of the combined French / British Armies to attack the Germans on 6 September. Grudgingly, Field Marshall French agreed to commit the BEF to this counter-attack.
LtCol Grant-Duff and 1/Black Watch led the 1st Division advance against the Germans and achieved considerable success in pushing back their opponents who included the Pomeranian Jaeger Battalion. Casualties were surprisingly light and LtCol Grant-Duff was commended for his leadership. The battalion was then relieved by 1/Coldstream Guards. The battle ended on 9 September with the Germans retreating northward towards the Aisne River.
First Battle of the Aisne, 14-15 September 1914
The French / British counter-attack at the Marne halted the German Army’s advance on Paris and forced them to retire. Now the French and British began a pursuit of the retreating Germans. This pursuit lasted until the Germans crossed back north of the Aisne River. Here, they endeavored to make a defensive stand.
The German First and Second Armies established themselves on the heights north of the Aisne River. Entrenched along a series of chalk ridges that rose four hundred feet above the broad Aisne River valley, the Germans held one of the most formidable positions on the Western Front. Along the crest of this ridge ran the Chemin des Dames - a royal coach road constructed by King Louis XV for his daughters.
To attack the German positions north of the Aisne River, the British and French would have to cross the river, then advance across the plain and up the heavily wooded and rugged Chemin des Dames ridge while being subjected to artillery and machine gun fire.
The BEF crossed the Aisne River on the night of 13-14 September. Early in the morning of 14 September, British forces began pushing cautiously forward from the river. Field Marshall French and his commanders were unsure if they were facing a delaying force or the main body of the German Army.
1st Division was the first BEF to advance on the Chemin des Dames with 2nd Brigade leading. It soon became apparent that the Germans had decided to end their retreat and to hold onto the Chemin des Dames in force. Some twelve battalions of the German 13th Reserve Division were opposing 1st Division. In addition, the attacking British had to contend with rain, fog and deep mud.
Despite the difficulties, 2nd Brigade’s attack initially went well. They secured the Sugar Factory on the Chemin des Dames just north of Troyon and captured two German artillery batteries. But they were unable to advance any further against intensifying German artillery and machine gun fire. The heavy fog made it extremely difficult for the British artillery to support their infantry.
1st Brigade was ordered forward to support 2nd Brigade by seizing positions on its left. 1/Coldstream Guards and 1/Cameron Highlanders were able to reach the top of the ridge but were halted by heavy German machine gun and artillery fire. A small ad hoc force of Coldstream Guards, Cameron Highlanders, Black Watchers and some troops from 2nd Brigade led by 1/Coldstream Guards commander LtCol John Ponsonby was able to advance deep into the German lines. Ultimately surrounded, they grimly held on and then exfiltrated back to British lines under the cover of darkness early the following morning.
By late morning, the momentum of 1st Division’s attack had been lost. Detachments from 1st Brigade’s other two battalions, 1/Black Watch and 1/Scots Guards, were used to reinforce threatened positions on the line. As such, 1/Black Watch did not fight as a battalion in this First Battle of the Aisne. C Company and part of A Company and fought with 1/Coldstream Guards and 1st Battalion/Northamptonshire Regiment and 2nd Battalion/Kings Royal Rifle Corps of 2nd Brigade near Troyon. A small group led by Lieutenant A. C. MacNaughton fought with LtCol Ponsonby’s advanced group. D Company and elements of A and C Companies fought on the 1st Brigade’s left with 1/Cameron Highlanders. B Company initially escorted the 116th Battery, Royal Field Artillery. Later on, a detachment from B Company reinforced D Company and 1/Cameron Highlanders.
With its advance halted by heavy German fire and mounting resistance, 1st Division’s position became more and more precarious. Additional reinforcements were brought up from 3rd Brigade. But then the Germans began launching counter-attacks on the beleaguered British line. Several of these counter-attacks threatened to break the British line but timely reinforcements and stubborn British defense prevented that.
In early afternoon, the Germans launched a heavy counter-attack against 2nd Brigade in and around the Sugar Factory. 2nd Brigade was forced back from their advanced positions. Soon, the Germans were threatening to break the British line.
With 1st Division’s line under heavy threat of breaking, 1/Black Watch’s commander LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff took immediate action to repel the German counter-attack. He rallied a mixed force from several nearby units. Then he and Captain G. B. Rowan-Hamilton led them forward to repulse the German counter-attack. Following the example of his commanding officer, Lieutenant Lewis Robertson Cumming also gathered together some nearby soldiers and led this ad hoc platoon forward. In the brutal melee, Lt Cumming and his platoon were nearly all killed or wounded.
The Germans were thrown back and 1st Division’s positions were secured. The repulse of the German counter-attack came at a heavy cost. Among the casualties was LtCol Grant-Duff. While leading his men forward and encouraging them to repel the Germans, Grant-Duff was mortally wounded in the chest. Reportedly he was distributing ammunition to his men at the time of his wounding, He died a short time later.
By day’s end, the battle on the Chemin des Dames had devolved into a stalemate. The British were unable to push the Germans off the ridge but neither were the Germans able to push the British back across the Aisne. After nightfall, the British consolidated their line. “In pouring rain the Battalion began to entrench, and threw up some of the first spadefuls of that long line which was soon to stretch from Switzerland across France to the sea,” wrote Major General A. G. Wauchope, C.B., in his A History of the Black Watch [Royal Highlanders] in the Great War, 1914-1918.
The 14 September battle on the Chemin des Dames was fought at great cost by 1st Guards Brigade. Altogether, the brigade had 49 officers and 1,100 enlisted soldiers killed, wounded, missing or captured. Three of the brigade’s four battalion commanders were wounded. 1/Black Watch suffered heavy casualties, particularly among its officers. The battalion lost its commanding officer, LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff, A Company commander Major Lord George Stewart-Murray, Lt Lewis R. Cumming and 2nd Lt Reginald Don. Six other officers were wounded, including 2nd Lt Nigel John Lawson Boyd who died a month later of his wounds. LtCol Grant-Duff was one of nine lieutenant colonels in the BEF who died in the battle. Following LtCol Grant-Duff’s death, Major J. T. C. Murray assumed command of 1/Black Watch.
The First Battle of the Aisne would rage for another ten days without either side able to gain a tactical advantage. Unable to break this stalemate, both the British/French and the Germans began a series of attempts to outflank their opponents. This soon became a ‘race to sea.’ The BEF was withdrawn from the Aisne line and sent north where they later began the titanic struggle around Ypres, Belgium.
LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff was buried in the Moulins New Communal Cemetery in the village of Moulins not far from the Chemin des Dames battlefield upon which he fell. He was interred near one of his junior officers who was also killed on the Chemin des Dames, Lieutenant Geoffrey William Ponson of D Company.
The loss of LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff was a severe blow to 1/Black Watch and to his family. He left behind a wife and four small children. His daughter Sheila became a leading journalist and as a result of her father’s death…a virulent opponent of war. “The death of Adrian Grant-Duff was a severe loss, not only to the Battalion and the Regiment, but also to the country which he had served so well,” wrote Major General A. G. Wauchope.
Following the war, LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff received much recognition for this work in preparing the British Empire’s war mobilization plans. Historian Dr. Andrew Winrow has written that “His enduring legacy was not merely the immediate protection and proactive defence of the country in 1914 but that his War Book, reflecting his clarity of design and purposefulness of action, remained prototypically instrumental in territorial defence planning for several decades thereafter.”
Adrian Grant-Duff was a professional officer, and highly capable leader whose knowledge and expertise helped formulate Britain’s pre-war planning. His leadership abilities well served the soldiers of 1st Battalion / The Black Watch and the British Expeditionary Force during the arduous early campaigns of the Great War. He died while courageously leading a counter-attack during a pivotal part of the First Battle of the Aisne to prevent his division’s line from being broken.
. Colonel C. L. Clutterbuck,, Colonel W. T. Dooner and Commander the Honorable C. A. Denison. The Bond of Sacrifice:
A Biographical Record of All British Officers Who Fell in the Great War. Volume 1: Aug – Dec 1914. (London: Anglo-African Publishing Contractors, 1915), pp. 119. [Hereafter cited as The Bond of Sacrifice].; Grant-Duff’s genealogy is from The Peerage website accessed online on 23 October 2014 at
http://www.thepeerage.com/p5637.htm. [Hereafter cited as “The Peerage.”]; George Taubman Goldie. “Obituary: Right Hon Sir Mountstuart E. Grant Duff, P.C., G.C.S.I., F.R.S.” The Geographical Journal (March 1906), pp. 306-08. Accessed online on 24 October 2014 at
http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1776435?uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21104399203961 Major General A. G. Wauchope, C.B. A History of the Black Watch [Royal Highlanders] in the Great War, 1914-1918. (London: The Medici Society Limited, 1925), pp. 25-6. [Hereafter cited as Wauchope II.]; Dr. Andrew Winrow, “Seeds of Deliverance: Lieutenant-Colonel Adrian Grant Duff and the War Book,” Soldiers of the Queen. (March 2014), pp. 19-21.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; For more about the Black Watch’s history, see Major General A. G. Wauchope, C.B. A Short History of the Black Watch [Royal Highlanders] 1725-1907. (London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1908). [Hereafter cited as Wauchope I].; Wauchope II, pp. 25-6.; Winrow, p. 19.
. Wauchope I, pp.82-83.; The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope II, pp. 25-6.; Winrow, p. 19.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope I, pp.87-88.; Wauchope II, pp. 25-6.; Winrow, p. 19.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope I, p.88.; Wauchope II, pp. 25-6.; Winrow, p. 19.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.;
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope II, pp. 25-6.; Winrow, p. 19.
. Wauchope II, pp. 25-6.; David French, “The Rise and Fall of ‘Business as Usual.’” Found on pages 7-31 of Kathleen Burk, Editor, War and the State:
The Transformation of British Government 1914-1918. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 2014).; Sir James E. Edmonds, Brigadier General. C.B., C.M.G., R.E., Ed. History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by the Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defense.
Military Operations – France and Belgium, 1914. Mons, The Retreat to the Seine, the Marne, and the Aisne, August – October 1914. (London: Macmillan, 1937), p.13. [Hereafter cited as Edmonds.]; Winrow, p. 20.
. Ibid.; McMaster University (Canada) Library has a webpage with digital images devoted to Adrian Grant-Duff’s role in the Committee of Imperial Defence. See
. Ibid.; The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; See also
. Wauchope II, p.1, 26.; Winrow, p. 21.
. There are a number of fine works on the origins of the Great War and the first months of fighting. Among the best is Max Hastings’s
Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013).
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope II, p. 1.; Winrow, p. 21.
. Wauchope II, pp.1-3.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope II, p. 3.
. Wauchope II, pp.3-4.
. Wauchope II, pp.4-8.; See Edmonds history of the BEF in the Great War for a detailed discussion of the early weeks of the war in France.
. Wauchope II, pp.4-8.; See also Edmonds Chapter Three.
. Wauchope II, pp.4-8.;
. Wauchope II, p.9.; See Edmonds, Chapters Fourteen to Seventeen.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope II, pp. 9-11.; Edmonds, Chapter Seventeen.
. Wauchope II, pp.11-12.; See Edmonds, Chapter Eighteen.; , Sir John Foster George Ross of Bladensburg, Lieutenant Colonel, K.C.B., K.C.V.O.
The Coldstream Guards, 1914-1918. (London: Oxford U P, 1928). See Chapter Four. [Hereafter cited as Ross.]; Ernest W. Hamilton, Captain.
The First Seven Divisions: Being a Detailed Account of the Fighting from Mons to Ypres. (NY: E. P. Dutton, 1916), pp.84-95.
. Wauchope II, pp.12-14.; Edmonds, p. 395.; Ross, Chapter Four.; Hamilton, pp.96-103.
. Wauchope II, pp.12-14.; Edmonds, pp. 395-401.
. Ibid.; Ross, pp. 105-7.; Hamilton, pp. 103-113.
. Ibid. Ross, pp. 109, 117.
. Ibid., Ross, p.108.; Hamilton, pp. 103-113.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope II, p.14.; Dr Peter Liddle, and Matthew Richardson,
1914 Voices from the Battlefield. (South Yorkshire, England: Pen & Sword, 2013), pp. 118-22.; Edmonds, pp.400-1.; Ross, p. 108.; Hamilton, pp. 103-113.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope II, p.14.; Liddle & Richardson, pp.118-20.; Edmonds, p. 417.; Ross, p. 120.; Hamilton, p. 111.; Winrow, p. 21.
. The Bond of Sacrifice, p. 119.; Wauchope II, p.14.; Liddle & Richardson, pp. 120-1.; Edmonds, p. 417.; Ross, p. 120.; Hamilton, p.111.; Winrow, p. 21.
. Wauchope II, pp.13-14.; Edmonds, pp. 416-7.; Hamilton, p. 111.
. Wauchope II, p.14.; Ross, p. 120.; Winrow, p. 21.
. Wauchope II, pp.14-15.; See Edmonds, Chapter Twenty-Two.
Written by Bryan Dickerson. If you have questions or comments on this article,
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About the author:
Bryan J. Dickerson is a military historian specializing in World War Two and a Navy Reserve veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He earned a Masters of Arts in American History from Monmouth University in New Jersey in 1999. He is the former Editor of Cold War Times -
the online newsletter of the Cold War Museum in Virginia.
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