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Julian Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy

Field Marshal the Right Honourable the Viscount Byng of Vimy GCB, GCMG, MVO, DCO

12th Governor General of Canada:
: In office
2 August 1921 - 5 August 1926
Monarch: George V
Prime Minister: Canadian
Arthur Meighen
Mackenzie King
David Lloyd George
Andrew Bonar Law
Stanley Baldwin
Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by: The Duke of Devonshire
Succeeded by: The Viscount Willingdon
: More...
Born: 11 September 1862(1862-09-11)
Wrotham Park, England
Died: 6 June 1935(1935-06-06) (aged 72)
Thorpe-le-Soken, England
Spouse(s): Evelyn Byng, Viscountess Byng of Vimy
Profession: Officer
Religion: Anglican
: Military service
Allegiance: United Kingdom
Service/branch: British Army
Years of service: 1879 - 1919
Rank: Field Marshal
Commands: See below...
Battles/wars: Mahdist War
Battles of El Teb
Battle of Tamai
Second Boer War
First World War
First Battle of Ypres
Battle of Gallipoli
Battle of Vimy Ridge
Battle of Cambrai
Awards: See below...

Field Marshal Julian Hedworth George Byng, 1st Viscount Byng of Vimy GCB GCMG MVO DCO (11 September 1862 - 6 June 1935) was a British Army officer who served as Governor General of Canada, the 12th since Canadian Confederation.

Known to friends as "Bungo", he was born to a noble family in Hertsmere, England, and educated at Eton College, along with his brothers. Upon graduation, Byng received a commission as a militia officer and thereafter saw service in Egypt and Sudan before he enrolled in the Staff College at Camberley. There, he befriended individuals who would be his contemporaries when he attained senior rank in France. Following distinguished service during World War I - specifically, with the British Expeditionary Force in France, in the Battle of Gallipoli, as commander of the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge, and as commander of the British Third Army - Byng was in 1919 himself elevated to the peerage. He was in 1921 appointed as governor general by King George V, on the recommendation of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George, to replace the Duke of Devonshire as viceroy, and occupied that post until succeeded by the Viscount Willingdon in 1926. Byng proved to be a popular with Canadians, due to his war leadership, though his stepping directly into political affairs became the catalyst for widespread changes to the role of the Crown in all of the British Dominions.

After the end of his viceregal tenure, Byng returned to the United Kingdom and there served as the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and was promoted within the peerage to become Viscount Byng of Vimy. Three years after being appointed as a field-marshal, Byng died at his home on 6 June.

Early life

Byng was born at the family seat of Wrotham Park, in Hertsmere, as the seventh son and 13th and youngest child of the Earl of Strafford, who, due to the size of his family, ran a relatively frugal household. Until the age of 12, Byng was enrolled at Eton College, though he did not enter the sixth form. While it was at Eton that Byng first received the nickname "Bungo" - to distinguish him from his elder brothers "Byngo" and "Bango" - his time at the college was undistinguished, and he received poor reports; indicative of his attitude towards academics, he once traded his Latin grammar book and his brother Lionel's best trousers to a hawker for a pair of ferrets and a pineapple. Byng later claimed that he had been the school's worst "Scug", the colloquial term for an undistinguished boy.

Military career

With three sons already in the army and another already put up for the 7th Queen's Own Hussars, Byng's father did not think he could afford a regular army commission for his youngest son. Thus, at the age of 17, Byng was instead sent into the militia and on 12 December 1879 commissioned as a second lieutenant in the King's Royal Rifle Corps, and was promoted to lieutenant three years later. During this period, Byng also developed a liking for theatre and music halls, and by the age of 20 had taken an interest in the banjo.

At a meeting of the Jockey Club in 1882, Byng's father was asked about his sons by his long-time friend, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales. Upon hearing that Byng had not yet found a permanent career, the Prince offered a place for him in the Prince's own regiment, the 10th Royal Hussars. This was, however, the most expensive regiment in the army, the Earl of Strafford could only afford to give Byng 200 of the necessary 600 pounds he would need each year, and yet, the Prince's offer could not be refused. Byng himself was delighted at the opportunity, as both his uncle, the Lord Chesham, and his cousin, Charles Cavendish, had served in the regiment. By raising finances through buying polo ponies cheaply, using his excellent horsemanship to train them, and then selling them for a profit, Byng was able to transfer to the 10th Royal Hussars on 27 January 1883, and less than three months later joined the regiment in Lucknow, India.

It was while the regiment was en route home to the United Kingdom in 1884 that the Hussars were diverted to Sudan to join the Suakin expedition and Byng, along with the rest of his regiment, on 29 February rode in the first line of the charge at the Battle of El Teb. The attack, which resulted in the deaths of both the squadron's other officers, was unsuccessful, and fighting continued, with Byng's horse being killed under him on 13 March at the Battle of Tamai. Most of the rebels were then dispersed shortly after and, on 29 March, the regiment re-embarked for Britain, arriving on 22 April, and proceeding to their new base at Shorncliffe Barracks in Kent. During the summer of 1884, Byng spent much of his time playing polo and training recruits and horses, and in July, for his services in Sudan, was mentioned in despatches.

In June 1885, the regiment was relocated to the South Cavalry Barracks at Aldershot, where the Prince of Wales' eldest son, Prince Albert Victor, joined the regiment and thereafter the Prince of Wales and his other son, Prince George, became frequent visitors. Byng struck up a friendship with both Albert Victor and George, but did not socialise with them much outside of army circles. Byng was appointed as the regimental adjutant on 20 October 1886, only nine days before the death of his father, who left Byng a watch and £3,500. The regiment then moved again in 1887 to the barracks at Hounslow, where, after suspecting that contractors were selling him inferior meat, Byng spent several early mornings at the Smithfield market to learn the meat trade, eventually proving his case and having the contractors changed. It was also at this time that Byng became acquainted with the Lord Rowton, who, along with the Guinness Trust, was trying to improve housing for skilled workers in London. Byng accompanied Rowton around the poorest areas of the city and suggested that retired senior soldiers from the rank-and-file be hired to maintain order in the Rowton Houses that Rowton had set up, thus starting a long-lived tradition.

Staff College

In 1888, the hussars again moved, this time to York, where Byng kept his men busy by raising successful cricket and football teams. Byng was promoted to captain at the beginning of the next year, around the time he began to consider entering the Staff College at Camberley. He thus, in order to dedicate his time to preparatory studies, which continued when the regiment moved in 1891 to Ireland, resigned his commission as adjutant and turned down an invitation from Prince Albert Victor to join him in India as an equerry. After being detached for a time in order to serve and gain more experience in the infantry and artillery, Byng sat and passed his entrance exams into the Staff College and secured a nomination in September 1892. A year before Byng entered the college, however, Albert Victor fell victim to the influenza pandemic that raged around the world, and, at the Prince's funeral on 20 January 1892, Byng commanded the pallbearers (all from the 10th Royal Hussars), which was a significant display of trust shown Byng by the Prince of Wales.

Once Byng was enrolled at the Staff College, he found amongst his fellow students men with whom he would be closely associated more than two decades later - Henry Rawlinson, Henry Hughes Wilson, Thomas D'Oyly Snow, and James Aylmer Lowthorpe Haldane - and in 1894, while en route to visit a friend at Aldershot, travelled with a cadet at the nearby Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Winston Churchill. Byng also journeyed with his class to see the battlefields of the Franco-Prussian War at Alsace-Lorraine and accompanied to the United States one of his lecturers who was compiling information on a book on Stonewall Jackson. By December 1894, Byng graduated from the Staff College and was immediately appointed to command the A Squadron of the hussars. Only three years later, though, the regiment returned to Aldershot and Byng left to become adjutant of the 1st Cavalry Brigade, shortly before becoming the Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General (DAAG) of the Aldershot Command and was promoted to the rank of major. Later that same year, Byng met at a local party Marie Evelyn Moreton, the only daughter of Sir Richard Charles Moreton, who had himself served as comproller at the Canadian royal and viceroyal residence of Rideau Hall, under the then Governor General of Canada the Marquess of Lorne. Evelyn, as she was known, later described her early encounters with Byng:

Commanding officer and World War I

World War 1 Picture - A wartime sketch of General Byng

Picture - A wartime sketch of General Byng

Byng was deployed in November 1899 to South Africa, where he was to act as a provost marshal, but was instead immediately given the local rank of lieutenant colonel and tasked with raising and commanding the South African Light Horse during the Second Boer War. Byng thereafter served on the front lines, during which time he ended up in command of a group of columns, was mentioned in despatches five times, and in November 1900 was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel and in February 1902 to brevet colonel. The beginning of 1902 brought more significant events for Byng, with his return to England in March, his marriage to Evelyn the following month, and in May his appointed to the Royal Victorian Order as a member 4th class. However, by the mid-point of the year, Byng was sent back to India to command the 10th Royal Hussars at Mhow and was appointed to the rank of a substantive lieutenant colonel in October.

In his first two years of marriage, Byng's wife suffered several miscarriages, resulting in the declaration that she would be unable to bear children. By January 1904, Byng had also, while playing polo, broken his right elbow so severely that it was feared he would have to quit the army. After four months' treatment in England, though, he was pronounced to be again fit for duty and in May became the first commandant of the new cavalry school at Netheravon. The posting was to be only a brief one, as, in May 1905, Byng was made commander of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade at Canterbury, with the simultaneous temporary rank of brigadier general and substantive rank of colonel. After appointment as a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1906, he was again back in Aldershot, in command of the 1st Cavalry Brigade.

It was April 1909 when Byng was promoted to major-general and, though he was placed on half pay, Byng - with added income from editing the Cavalry Journal and serving as the first north Essex District Commissioner for the Boy Scouts - purchased his first house, Newton Hall, in Dunmow, Essex. He would, however, only reside there for two years, as, exactly the same amount of time after taking command of the East Anglian Infantry Division of the Territorial Force in October 1910, Byng became commander of the British troops stationed in Egypt, where he remained until the outbreak of the First World War. He then returned briefly to the UK to take leadership of the 3rd Cavalry Division before going with the British Expeditionary Force to France and the First Battle of Ypres. His actions there were rewarded in March 1915 with appointment to the Order of St. Michael and St. George as a Knight Commander, the second highest level in the order, and which entitled Byng to the honorific prefix of Sir.

World War 1 Picture - Byng in April 1917

Picture - Byng in April 1917

After three months serving as commander of the Cavalry Corps, beginning in May 1915, at which time he was also made a temporary lieutenant-general, Byng was off to Gallipoli to head the IX Corps and supervise the successful British withdrawal from the ill-fated campaign. For this, he was on 1 January 1916 elevated within the Order of the Bath to the rank of Knight Commander, but was not allowed much rest, as he spent the next month commanding the Suez Canal defences before returning to the Western Front to lead the XVII Corps. By June, he was in command of the Canadian Corps and was promoted when, for distinguished service, the King made substantive Byng's rank of lieutenant-general. Byng's greatest glory then came when he, along with his subordinate officer, the Canadian Major-General Arthur Currie, led the Canadian victory in April 1917 at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, an historic military milestone for the Dominion that inspired nationalism at home.

In June 1917, and holding the temporary rank of general, Byng took command of Britain's largest army, the Third Army, until the cessation of hostilities and, with those troops, conducted at the Battle of Cambrai the first surprise attack using tanks. This was later considered a key turning point in the war and Byng was honoured on 24 November 1917 by having his temporary rank of general made substantive, as well as being made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the 1919 New Year's honours. In the United States, Byng's exploits during World War I were commemorated near the town of Ada, Oklahoma, when a post office and power plant were in 1917 named after him, leading to the later emergence of the town of Byng. Further, Byng was in his own right raised on 7 October 1919 to the peerage as Baron Byng of Vimy, of Thorpe-le-Soken in the County of Essex. The next month, though he was offered the Southern Command, Byng retired from the military and moved to Thorpe Hall, which his wife had in 1913 purchased while Byng was in Egypt.

Governor generalship

After Byng was made in July 1921 a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, it was announced on 2 August that King George V had, by commission under the royal sign-manual and signet, approved the recommendation of his British prime minister, David Lloyd George, to appoint Byng as his representative in Canada. The designation of Byng proved less controversial than that of his predecessor, the Duke of Devonshire, due partly to the General's popularity, but also because the practice of before-hand consulting the Canadian prime minister had been revived. Byng had not been Meighan's first choice for presentation to the King, preferring someone with more civilian credentials; however, Byng was eventually chosen because he was both willing and available.

World War 1 Picture - The Baron and Baroness Byng of Vimy as the viceregal couple of Canada

Picture - The Baron and Baroness Byng of Vimy as the viceregal couple of Canada

The Governor General travelled the length and breadth of the country, meeting with Canadians wherever he went. He also immersed himself in Canada's culture and came to particularly love hockey, rarely missing a game played by the Ottawa Senators. He was also fond of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, held each year in Toronto, and established the Governor General's Cup to be presented at the competition. Byng was also the first Governor General of Canada to appoint Canadians as his aides-de-camp (one of whom was future Governor General Georges Vanier) and approached his viceregal role with enthusiasm, gaining him popularity with Canadians on top of that received from the men he had commanded on the battlefields of Europe.

World War 1 Picture - The Viscount Byng at Calgary, Alberta, 1922

Picture - The Viscount Byng at Calgary, Alberta, 1922

While it had been acceptable prior to the turn of the 20th century for Canadian governors general to involve themselves in political affairs, being, as they were, representatives of the King in his British Council, Byng's tenure as viceroy of Canada was notable in that he became the first to step directly into political matters since the country had gained a degree of autonomy from the United Kingdom following the First World War, denying, as he did, the recommendations of his prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, who sought to have parliament dissolved in order to avoid a vote of non-confidence in his government. The Governor General's course of action in what came to be colloquially known as the King-Byng Affair remains debated, though the consensus amongst constitutional historians is that Byng's moves were appropriate in the circumstances that came to be in the summer of 1926. Mackenzie King, however, made much of the scenario and its outcome in the election that eventually followed on 14 September, in which Mackenzie King's Liberal Party gained a majority of seats, seeing King once again appointed as prime minister. At the 1926 Imperial Conference, King then went on to use Byng and his refusal to follow his prime minister's advice as the impetus for widespread constitutional change throughout the British Commonwealth. Byng himself said of the matter: "I have to await the verdict of history to prove my having adopted a wrong course, and this I do with an easy conscience that, right or wrong, I have acted in the interests of Canada and implicated no one else in my decision." Some 80 years later, one of Byng's viceregal successors, Michax«lle Jean, found herself in a similar situation when her prime minister advised her to prorogue parliament in order to avoid a non-confidence motion.

Post-viceregal life

Byng returned to England on 30 September 1926, and in January 1928 was created Viscount Byng of Vimy, of Thorpe-le-Soken in the County of Essex. Later that year, he was appointed as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and, before his retirement in 1931, introduced a number of changes to the force, including a system of promotion based on merit rather than length of service, improvement in discipline, retirement of inefficient senior officers, an irregularity to policemen's beats (which had previously allowed criminals to work out the system), police boxes, the extensive use of police cars, and a central radio control room. In July 1932, Byng was once more promoted in the British military to the rank of field marshal - the highest rank an officer can attain - before he died suddenly of an abdominal blockage at Thorpe Hall on 6 June 1935. The barony and viscountcy died with him.

Titles, styles, and honours


11 September 1862 - 12 December 1879: The Honourable Julian Byng
12 December 1879 - 23 April 1881: Second Lieutenant the Honourable Julian Byng
23 April 1881 - January 1889: Lieutenant the Honourable Julian Byng
January 1889 - August 1897: Captain the Honourable Julian Byng
August 1897 - 10 October 1902: Major the Honourable Julian Byng
10 October 1902 - 11 May 1905: Lieutenant-Colonel the Honourable Julian Byng
11 May 1905 - 1 April 1909: Colonel the Honourable Julian Byng
1 April 1909 - May 1916: Major-General the Honourable Julian Byng
May 1916 - 24 November 1917: Lieutenant-General the Honourable Sir Julian Byng
24 November 1917 - 7 October 1919: General the Honourable Sir Julian Byng
7 October 1919 - 2 August 1921: General the Right Honourable the Lord Byng of Vimy
2 August 1921 - 5 August 1926: His Excellency General the Right Honourable the Lord Byng of Vimy, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada
5 August 1926 - 16 January 1928: General the Right Honourable the Lord Byng of Vimy
16 January 1928 - 11 October 1932: General the Right Honourable the Viscount Byng of Vimy
11 October 1932 - 6 June 1935: Field Marshal the Right Honourable the Viscount Byng of Vimy

Byng's style and title as governor general of Canada was, in full, and in English: His Excellency the Right Honourable Sir Julian Hedworth George Byng, Baron Byng of Vimy, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Member of the Royal Victorian Order, grand officier de Légion d'honneur, Member First Class With Swords of the Order of the White Eagle, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada, General of the Militia of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and in French: Son Excellence le trx¨s honorable Sir Julian Hedworth George Byng, Baron Byng de Vimy, chevalier grand-croix de le trx¨s honorable ordre du Bain, chevalier grand-croix de le trx¨s distingué ordre de Saint-Michel et Saint-George, membre de l'ordre royal de Victoria, grand officier de Légion d'honneur, membre premix¨re classe de l'ordre de l'Aigle Blanc, gouverneur générale et commandant en chef de la milice et les forces navales et aérienne du Canada, général de la milice du Royaume-Uni de Grande-Bretagne et d'Irlande du Norde.

In his post-viceregal life, Byng's style and title was: The Right Honourable Sir Julian Hedworth George Byng, Viscount Byng of Vimy, Baron Byng of Vimy, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Member of the Royal Victorian Order, grand officier de Légion d'honneur, Member First Class With Swords of the Order of the White Eagle, Field Marshal of the Militia of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Byng's post-nominal letters are, in order according to the Oxford University Calendar Notes on Style: GCB, GCMG, MVO, DCO, LLD(hc) Alb



2 May 1902 - 6 June 1935: Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO)
1906 - 1 January 1916: Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB)
1 January 1916 - 1 January 1919: Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (KCB)
1 January 1919 - 6 June 1935: Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (GCB)
March 1915 - July 1921: Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (KCMG)
July 1921 - 6 June 1935: Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (GCMG)
2 August 1921 - 5 August 1926: Chief Scout for Canada
2 August 1921 - 5 August 1926: Honorary Member of the Royal Military College of Canada Club


1894: Long Service and Good Conduct Medal
1899: Queen's South Africa Medal
1901: King's South Africa Medal
1902: King Edward VII Coronation Medal
1911: King George V Coronation Medal
1918: 1914-15 Star
1919: British War Medal
1919: Victory Medal
1935: King George V Silver Jubilee Medal


6 February 1900: Mentioned in Despatches
23 June 1902: Mentioned in Despatches
11 December 1915: Mentioned in Despatches
11 December 1915: Mentioned in Despatches
22 December 1915: Mentioned in Despatches
20 February 1918: Mentioned in Despatches
20 July 1918: Mentioned in Despatches
21 December 1918: Mentioned in Despatches

Foreign honours

8 March 1918: Croix de guerre
29 January 1919 - 6 June 1935: Grand officier de Légion d'honneur
11 March 1919: Croix de guerre
12 July 1919: Distinguished Service Medal
24 October 1919 - 6 June 1935: Member First Class With Swords of the Order of the White Eagle

Honorary military appointments

2 August 1921 - 5 August 1926: Colonel of the Regiment of the Governor General's Horse Guards
2 August 1921 - 5 August 1926: Colonel of the Regiment of the Governor General's Foot Guards
2 August 1921 - 5 August 1926: Colonel of the Regiment of the Canadian Grenadier Guards

Honorary degrees

Alberta 1922: University of Alberta, Doctor of Laws (LLD)

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.

Honorific eponyms

Geographic locations

British Columbia: Camp Byng, Roberts Creek
Manitoba: Byng Place, Winnipeg
Oklahoma: Byng
Saskatchewan: Byng Avenue, Saskatoon


British Columbia: Lord Byng Elementary School, Richmond
British Columbia: Lord Byng Secondary School, Vancouver
Manitoba: General Byng School, Winnipeg
Quebec: Baron Byng High School, Montreal

More aircraft.

Source: WikiPedia

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