Harold Alexander, a senior British army officer in World War Two, saw active service during this war at Dunkirk, the Far East and North Africa. Alexander’s success was rewarded by his promotion to field marshal in December 1944.
Alexander was born in 1891. He was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst and gained a commission in the Irish Guards. He served with distinction in France during World War One and between the wars, he served as a brigadier-general on the north west frontier of India.
At the start of Britain’s military involvement in World War Two, Alexander commanded the First Division that was part of the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France. The First Division was to suffer the same consequences of other British units in northern Europe when in April 1940, the Germans unleashed Blitzkrieg on armies ill prepared for such an attack. The First Division was pushed back to Dunkirk where it was evacuated – Alexander was the last officer to be evacuated from the beaches there.
After this, in 1942, Alexander was given the task of stemming the onslaught of the Japanese in Burma. Against such odds, there was little he could do but oversee the British and Commonwealth withdrawal from Rangoon to Assam.
In August 1942, Churchill appointed Alexander commander-in-chief of the British forces in North Africa. He commanded the Allied forces that landed in Sicily but his move up Italy – the so-called ‘soft underbelly of Europe – was hindered when men and equipment were diverted to other fronts. The Allies particularly suffered at Anzio but by June 1944, they had reached Rome. After this, despite vigorous German resistance all the way up Italy, Alexander and the force he lead, made consistent gains northwards.
The status Alexander held was shown when, following his promotion to field marshal in 1944, he was created a viscount in 1946. After his successful career in the military, he was appointed governor-general of Canada from 1946 to 1952. In 1952 he was appointed Earl Alexander of Tunis and he served in Winston Churchill’s Conservative cabinet as Minister of Defence from 1952 to 1954.
Earl Alexander died in 1969.