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Alfred Viscount Milner - Secretary of State for War In WWI (First Great European War), In 1918

Updated on December 4, 2013

Viscount Milner As A Person

With a personality fascinating to all brought within the circle of his friendship, Alfred Viscount Milner was perhaps the loneliest as well as probably the most variously gifted figure in the public life of that time.

If his political critics were many and bitter, that fact was due less to any errors of judgement on his part than to a political system that made heterodoxy anathema to the orthodox in each camp, to his birth in Germany, and to a characteristic reserve that, from the outset of his career, made him shrink from any quest of popularity.

Milner's Destiny

His appointment as Secretary of State for War might almost seem to have been the work of destiny.

His mother was a soldier's daughter; he was born in the month dedicated to Mars; his first public speech dealt with the Imperial Forces; at the memorable send-off banquet given to him on the eve of his departure for South Africa in 1897 the then War Minister sat at his right hand.

1854

  • March 23rd - Alfred Milner was born in the University town of Giessen, Germany.

He was the only son of an English physician, Charles Milner, who practised at Stuttgart.

His mother was daughter of Major-General Ready, sometime Governor of the Isle of Man.

Dr. Milner, though son of a German mother, his father was English who always paid taxes as a foreign resident in Germany, and when in England was one of the earliest and most active of those who responded to the call of "Riflemen, Form!".

Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner
Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner | Source

Milner Influenced By Jowett, Green, And Toynbee

For three years Alfred Milner, who early in life lost both of his parents, went to a German seminary, but at the age of ten he was a scholar at St. Peter's, Eaton Square.

Thence he went to King's College School.

1873

  • February - he matriculated at Balliol, where he came under the influence of Benjamin Jowett and Thomas Hill Green, and acquired a life-long interest in social questions through his friendship with Arnold Toynbee.
    The most brilliant Oxford scholar of his year, he carried off a First in Classics, winning the Craven, Hertford, and Derby Scholarships, together with the Eldon Scholarship for Jurisprudence and the Jenkyns Exhibition.

1876

  • he was President of the Union, where he made his mark, adopting, like his friend Herbert H. Asquith, the Liberal side.

" The most statesmanlike speech I have ever heard from so young a man,..."

was Lord Granville's comment on young Milner's remarks in proposing the toast of the Army and Navy at the Palmerston Club's inaugural banquet, the company at which included George Joachim Goschen, who was destined to be the first to open for him the doors of the permanent Civil Service.

1879

  • he was elected a Fellow of New.

Lord Milner
Lord Milner | Source

Milner In Journalism and Politics

1880 to 1885

  • Milner went to London, with his Oxford manner perhaps a trifle accentuated, to join the staff of the "Pall Mall Gazette," under John Morley, and continued on it under W. T. Stead.
    He left his mark on the paper in the articles on " The Bitter Cry of Outcast London," which led to the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor.

1881

  • he entered as a student at the Inner Temple, and was called to the Bar, but, beyond a fleeting appearance at Northampton, never practised.

When he left the "Pall Mall Gazette " he left journalism for politics, declining a post on the " Times."

1885

  • at the Harrow election he won golden opinions, but failed to secure a seat in the new Reformed Parliament, polling 3,241 votes against the 4,214 given to his Conservative opponent, William Ambrose, Q.C.
    The occasion, however, led to a speech by him on national policy which showed a thorough insight into the principles of constitutional government, and displayed a democratic temper in advance of his time, particularly in regard to foreign policy and the need of reform in staffing the Foreign and Colonial Offices.
    What was needed, he said, was

"...to substitute the democratic principle of fitness for the oligarchical principle, of influence in determining the selection of men in every department, in the highest as in all other ranks, of the public service."

He advocated a preponderant Navy.

As to the Army, he was

"...unwilling that despotic and reactionary States should have a pre-eminence, not, indeed, in military establishments they were welcome to that but in military capacity."

He was in favour of the military training of all citizens, and a firm advocate of closer Imperial relations, believing that the self-governing Dominions should have a voice in the Cabinet, and a good understanding with the United States.

Alfred, Lord Milner, Statesman
Alfred, Lord Milner, Statesman | Source

Milner's First Public Appointments

1886

  • G. J. Goschen became Chancellor of the Exchequer, and chose Alfred Milner as his principal private secretary.
    His duties in this capacity involved a successful confidential mission to France.

1889

  • he a hand in the National Debt Conversion scheme.

1889 to 1892

  • he was nominally Under-Secretary for Finance to the Khedival Government; in effect Sir Evelyn Baring's Chancellor of the Exchequer.

1892 to 1897

  • he was Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue.

1894

  • Milner assisted Sir William Harcourt in bringing about the readjustment of the Death Duties in the Budget of that year.
  • he was created a C.B.

1895

  • he was created a K.C.B..

Then Mr. Chamberlain called him to a post which Mr. Asquith described as being
"...the most arduous and responsible in the administrative service of the country" that of Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner for South Africa.

1897

  • Sir Alfred Milner went out to the Cape, receiving a G.C.M.G. on his appointment.
  • One of the first things he did after reaching Cape Town was to add Dutch to his other linguistic attainments.

1897 - 1905

  • everywhere, throughout eight years of arduous toil, his high personal character received recognition. No official could have taken up his great task with a more intense sense of responsibility.
  • He established the British system of administration in the new colonies, and did yeoman service in promoting their development after the war, devoting special care to the welfare of the native populations.

1899

  • his despatch of this year was one of the most important of such documents of State.
  • He met President Kruger at the Bloemfontein Conference.

1901

  • he made a brief visit to England during which he received the Freedom of the City of London.

Milner Becomes Secretary of State for War

1901

  • he was made a G.C.B. and a Member of the Privy Council, and elevated to the peerage as Baron Milner.
  • he relinquished the Governorship of the Cape.
  • he was appointed High Commissioner and Governor of the New Colonies.

1902

  • he was made a Viscount.
  • he authored the classic work on "England in Egypt".

1905

  • April - he relinquished his position as High Commissioner and Governor of the New Colonies.

1911

  • his old college (Balliol) elected him Hon. Fellow.

1913

  • he issued a collection of his speeches under the title of " The Nation and the Empire."

1915

  • June - he was appointed Chairman of a Committee on Food Supply in War Time.

1916

  • December - he joined Mr. Lloyd George's Ministry as a Minister without Portfolio, and to his hands were frequently entrusted the solution of some of the knottiest problems of war policy.

1917

  • January 5th - Mr. Lloyd George and Lord Milner arrived in Rome to take part with the French and Italian Governments in an exchange of views upon the progress of the War at the Allied Conference in Rome.
  • January 31st - Tsar received Lord Milner and other British, French, and Italian delegates in Petrograd for Allied conference.
  • February - he went on a special mission to Russia.

1918

  • April 18th - he succeeded Lord Derby as Secretary of State for War.
  • July - "Truth," a candid critic, said:

"Nobody in his right mind will have any doubt that Lord Milner is. at heart a loyal and devoted Briton."

Always a supporter of the Toynbee Hall Settlement, he helped forward the Old Age Pension movement, and took an active interest in the Wages Boards measures.

Urging that if the Empire was to meet satisfactorily the intense commercial competition of the future, it must be trained in brains as well as in hands, he being a thoughtful and practical advocate of educational reform.

He became Hon. D.C.L. of Oxford, and. Hon. LI..D. of Cambridge, Toronto and McGill Universities.

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