General Airey was the son of Lieutenant-General George Airey who was a successful staff officer under Sir Ralph Abercromby. He is best known for writing, at Lord Raglan's dictation, the fateful note that was carried by Captain Nolan to the Light Brigade at Balaklava on 25th Oct 1854, ordering them to charge the guns. Lord Raglan had a high regard for him but he was blamed for the appalling conditions that the troops suffered through lack of supplies of clothing, food and medicine. Because of the accusations of incompetence he demanded an enquiry in England. This took place under the chairmanship of Lord Seaton, and Major-General Airey was cleared completely.
Whilst he was Commanding Officer of the 34th in Canada he took charge of a large area of land bequeathed to him. He took time off from his regimental duties to live the simple life of a pioneer settler and learned to adapt to harsh conditions. As CO of the regiment he also instigated the practice of providing an evening meal to his men. This was frowned upon by many officers as, up until then, it was regarded as acceptable that soldiers ate no food from lunchtime until breakfast the following day. He also brought in regimental canteens which became the norm throughout the army
In 1879 he presided over the Airey Commission into Army Reform which must have surprised many people because of the reputation he gained following the scandal of the badly equipped army in the Crimea, even though the real blame lay with the government and the army administration. His general demeanor was also that of an aristocratic Colonel Blimp and not what one would expect of a reformer. He was created Baron Airey of Killingworth in the county of Northumberland died 5 years later at the house of Lord Wolseley, The Grange, Leatherhead. His title became extinct on his death.
1803 Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne
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