Frederick Sleigh Roberts

Place of Birth:Cawnpore
Place of Death:St Omer, France
Roberts on his horse Volonel

Frederick Sleigh Roberts was the son of a general serving in India. Frederick Roberts was sent to study at Eton and then at Sandhurst. When he decided to enter the Indian Service he was sent to study at Addiscombe. He joined the Indian Service in the Bengal Artillery in 1851. He was present at the Indian Mutiny where he won the Victoria Cross for saving the life of a loyal Indian soldier from the mutineers.

The next campaign that he was involved in was the Abyssinian campaign of 1868. He was part of Sir Robert Napier's staff serving as the quartermaster-general. On return to India, he became a vocal proponent of the so called 'forward policy'. Whereby, he advocated an active role of British diplomacy in Central Asia in order to prevent the Russians from exerting too much control over the area. In 1878, he was able to demonstrate his ideas in the field when he was awarded command of the Punjab Frontier Force as it was ordered to advance into Afghanistan. During this action, he was awarded the KCB for the victory at Peiwar Kotal. However, his imperial fame was to come about due to his daring Kabul to Kandahar forced march that helped to releive the beleagured city after the disaster at Maiwand. His prompt action saved the day and pacified the Afghans for many more years to come. As further reward for this action, he was made into the commander of the Madras Army in 1880 and then commander-in-chief of the all the forces in India from 1885 to 1893.

In 1893, Roberts left India for good. He returned to Britain to be made a Field Marshall and then commander-in-chief in Ireland from 1895 to 1899. His tenure there was cut short after the disastrous start of the Boer war, in which his only son was also killed. Such was his reputation that the public demanded that 'Bobs', as he was known, should be sent to deal with the Boers. He was duly despatched in 1900 with Kitchener as his Chief of Staff. He immediately realised that he needed to massively increase the number of mounted troops and to remodel the supply and transport system in order to beat the mobile and efficient Boers. He fought a reasonably successful series of battles leading to the entering of Bloemfontein and Pretoria. He left South Africa in October, not realising that the guerilla phase of the war would last as long as it did. He was awarded an earldom and the KG for his services in South Africa and became the last ever Commander in Chief until the position was abolished in 1905.

A highly popular general, Roberts dedicated the last years of his life to advocating conscription for the British Army. He just caught the beginning of the Great War, being given command of the Indian Expeditionary Force that was despatched to France. However, he died in St Omer on his way to inspect his troops. He authored forty one years in India (1897).

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by Stephen Luscombe