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Thomas Snow (British Army officer)

Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow, KCB, KCMG (5 May 1858 – 30 August 1940) was a British Army officer who fought on the Western Front during the First World War. He played an important role in the war, leading the 4th Division in the retreat of August 1914, and commanding VII Corps at the unsuccessful Gommecourt diversion on the first day on the Somme (1 July 1916) and at the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917.

Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow
LtGen Thomas DOly Snow.jpg
"Polar Bear"
Born(1858-05-05)5 May 1858
Newton Valence, Hampshire
Died30 August 1940(1940-08-30) (aged 82)
Kensington Gate, London
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1879–1920
Unit13th Regiment of Foot
Somerset Light Infantry
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Commands heldWestern Command (1918–19)
VII Corps (1915–18)
27th Division (1914–15)
4th Division (1911–14)
Battles/warsZulu War
Mahdist War
First World War
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Mentioned in Despatches (8)
Commander of the Legion of Honour (France)
Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold (Belgium)

Early life and military careerEdit

Snow was born at Newton Valence, Hampshire, on 5 May 1858.[1] He was the eldest son of the Reverend George D'Oyly Snow and his wife Maria Jane Barlow,[2] Snow attended Eton College (1871–1874) and went to St John's College, Cambridge in 1878.[3][4]

Snow obtained a commission in the 13th Regiment of Foot in 1879,[5][6] taking part in the Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa the same year.[5] In 1884–1885, having transferred to the Mounted Infantry Regiment of the Camel Corps,[5] Snow fought with them in the Nile Expedition of the Mahdist War at the Battle of Abu Klea and the Battle of El Gubat.[5] He was severely wounded at the latter battle on 19 January 1885.[7]

In 1887, he was promoted to captain and attended the Staff College, Camberley from 1892 to 1893 as a student. Snow was promoted in 1895 to brigade major at Aldershot and further in 1897 to major in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.[5] Snow was brigade major for William Gatacre in the Nile campaign of 1898, fighting at the Battle of Atbara and the Siege of Khartoum.[5] He was twice Mentioned in Despatches for his services in the Sudan.

Snow was promoted to brevet lieutenant colonel, and in April 1899 he became the second-in-command of the 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment,[5][8] and was posted to India, causing him to miss out on service in the Second Boer War.[9] In March 1903, he was promoted to substantive lieutenant colonel and returned home, so never actually commanded a battalion of his own.[10] In June 1903 he was promoted to colonel and appointed assistant quartermaster-general of the 4th Corps (which later became Eastern Command).[5] He stayed there being promoted to assistant adjutant-general (1905),[5] brigadier-general, general staff (1906),[5] and commander of the 11th Brigade (October 1909).[5] He had been appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the 1907 Birthday Honours.[11]

Snow was then promoted to major-general in March 1910 and became the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 4th Division, then serving in Eastern Command, in early 1911.[5] In 1912, as GOC of the 4th Division, Snow took part in the Army Manoeuvres of 1912, the last major manoeuvres before the First World War, as part of the 'Blue Force' under Sir James Grierson which gained a clear 'victory' over the 'Red Force' of Douglas Haig. According to James Edmonds, who served under Snow, his only practice at division command was three or four days at army manoeuvres, which were not practical as General Sir Charles Douglas, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) from April 1914, had forbidden retreats to be practiced.[12] However, he also concentrated on making junior officers critique one another's performance, and on night moves, march discipline and concealment from the air. He drew up Standing Orders for War, which were used by other divisions in 1914.[13]

First World WarEdit


On the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, Snow was still in command of 4th Division,[5] which was initially deployed for home defence on the eastern coast, headquartered in Suffolk.[14] Although Snow had written the Eastern Command's Defence Scheme for event of war as a staff officer years before, he recalled he found that "very few people knew, or cared, that such a scheme existed and the chaos on the East Coast was appalling".[15]

When the division arrived at the front (25 August) Snow's orders were to help prepare a defensive position on the Cambrai-Le Cateau position, as General Headquarters (GHQ) had no idea of the seriousness of the situation facing II Corps (this being at a time when I and II Corps were retreating on opposite sides of the Forest of Mormal, and the British Expeditionary Force's Chief of Staff, Archibald Murray, was about to collapse from strain and overwork).[16] Snow was in time to take part in the Battle of Le Cateau. The 4th Division covered the left flank of II Corps and he was one of those who urged Smith-Dorrien to stand and fight.[17] The diary of Lieutenant-General Horace Smith-Dorrien, the GOC of II Corps, recorded:

I learned in the course of the morning that the 4th Division (General Snow, now Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas D'Oyly Snow) had reached Le Cateau from England, and was delighted to hear that the Chief [that is, Field Marshal Sir John French, commanding the BEF] had immediately pushed it out to Solesmes, about seven miles north-west of Le Cateau, to cover the retirement of the Cavalry and 3rd Division.

Snow's division retired successfully after the battle, but both GHQ and the French were left with an exaggerated impression of the losses suffered at Le Cateau. Wilson, BEF Sub Chief of Staff, issued the infamous "sauve qui peut" order (27 August), ordering Snow to dump unnecessary ammunition and officers’ kits so that tired and wounded soldiers could be carried. Smith-Dorrien was later rebuked by Field Marshal French for countermanding the order.[18] Snow later wrote “the retreat of 1914 was not, as is now imagined, a great military achievement, but rather a badly bungled affair only prevented from being a disaster of the first magnitude by the grit displayed by the officers and the men”.[19]

Then Brigadier-General Aylmer Haldane, who commanded the 10th Brigade under Snow in 1914, was highly critical of him, although he also thought many other officers of the division not up to the standards of competence required in war. By September 1914 three out of four battalion COs had been "sent home", and Snow was lucky to retain his command.[20] Snow later revisited some places from the retreat from Mons with Haldane, who recorded in his diary on 10 November 1917: "Though he is an old friend of mine I have never felt the same towards him since that time ... when he showed what a poor spirited man he was when troublous times were upon us".[21]

In September, during the First Battle of the Marne, Snow was hospitalised, badly injured with a cracked pelvis, after his horse fell and rolled on him. In November, after partially recovering (he required further treatment for the rest of the war), he took command of the 27th Division,[5] then being raised at Winchester for deployment to the front at the end of the year.[22] The division consisted of regulars returning from overseas.[23]


Snow's 27th Division was initially trenched at St. Eloi[24] before relieving a French division in the Ypres Salient. During Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, Snow's was at first the only unit with HQ east of Ypres.[25] He led his division through the first German poison gas attack. His performance resulted in his appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.[26]

In June, General Lambton, the British Commander in Chief's Military Secretary, wrote to King George V recommending Generals Julian Byng, Snow and Edwin Alderson, as candidates for command of the proposed Canadian Corps. However, General Alderson, the incumbent commander of the 1st Canadian Division, was appointed to command the Canadian Corps and, on 15 July, Snow became commander of VII Corps.[5][27]


Snow's VII Corps delivered an attack upon the German-held trench fortress of Gommecourt salient on 1 July 1916, as a part of the opening of the Battle of the Somme offensive. The object was to pinch off the salient and beat off counterattacks, whilst also serving as a diversion from the main offensive further south.[28]

Snow did not think Gommecourt a good place for a feint, and protested to Third Army, but GHQ insisted the attack go ahead.[29][30] Edmonds later wrote that Snow was more scared of Haig and of Allenby, his Army Commander, than he was of the enemy.[31][32]

A senior officer of the 46th (North Midland) Division later wrote that Snow "had purposely taken no care" to keep preparations secret. He was hampered by the fact that most of the German artillery was hidden behind Gommecourt Wood, out of range of all but the heaviest British guns, whilst there was insufficient British artillery (16x18 pounder guns and 4x4.5 howitzers per brigade). The 56th (1/1st London) Division captured the German first trench system before being beaten back. The 46th Division's attack failed. The latter failure was blamed on Edward Stuart-Wortley, GOC 46th Division, who was later sacked – although there was a consensus that he was a poor general, he may also have been something of a scapegoat to protect Snow (or even the Army commander, Allenby), as competent senior commanders were in short supply and corps commanders were seldom sacked at this stage of the war.[30] After the war Snow wrote that the Gommecourt salient had proven stronger than anticipated.[30]


In 1917 Snow took part in the British Army's offensives at the Battle of Arras in the Spring (his corps fought on right (southern) wing of Third Army) and the Battle of Cambrai in November.[33]

At Cambrai Snow's VII Corps were on the right flank, and at one point it was suggested that they might be placed under French command if the French joined in the offensive. This did not happen.[34]

Despite being in pain from his injured pelvis, Snow surveyed his positions from Ronssoy-Epehy Ridge each day, and warned his superiors that a German counterattack was brewing for 29 or 30 November. They were still preoccupied with the attack at Bourlon Wood on the left, and did not believe – wrongly – that the Germans had sufficient reserves left after Third Ypres to mount a major attack.[35] At 7pm on 28 November his chief of staff, Brigadier-General Jock Burnett-Stuart, telephoned Julian Byng's chief of staff, Major-General Louis Vaughan, to request reinforcements and was told that the Guards Division could soon be sent. However, when the counterattack came, the Guards Division had already been committed to III Corps.[36]

Bryn Hammond describes Snow at Cambrai as a "safe pair of hands" on account of his experience but also "tired and relatively old"[37] at age 59. After criticism of British leadership during the German counterattack, and along with several other BEF corps commanders, he was replaced largely on grounds of age on 2 January 1918.[27][38] He returned to England, being appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for Western Command.[5] He was promoted lieutenant general and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in recognition of his services on the Western Front.[39] He had also been Mentioned in Despatches six times, appointed a Commander of the Legion of Honour by the French Government, and made a Grand Cross of the Order of Leopold from Belgium.[40]

Post-war lifeEdit

Snow retired from the army in September 1919.[41][42] He was also Colonel of the Suffolk Regiment from 1918 to 1919 and Colonel of the Somerset Light Infantry from 1919 to 1929.[43]

Snow became largely confined to a bath chair and moved from Blandford to Kensington. He devoted much of his time to charitable work and became chairman of the Crippled Boys' Home for Training.[44]

Snow died at his home in Kensington Gate, London, on 30 August 1940, aged 82.[45] His wealth at death was £15,531.95 (over £750,000 at 2016 prices).[46][47]

Personal life and descendantsEdit

Snow was 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) in height.[48]

Snow married Charlotte Geraldine, second daughter of Major-General John Talbot Coke of Trusley, Derbyshire, on 12 January 1897.[49] They had two sons and one daughter.[50] His son George D'Oyly Snow became the Bishop of Whitby.[51]

Snow was the grandfather of British broadcasters Peter Snow and Jon Snow (who writes about him in the Foreword to Ronald Skirth's war memoir The Reluctant Tommy[52]) and great-grandfather of historian and TV presenter, Dan Snow.[53]


  1. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  2. ^ "Reverend George D'oyly Snow". The Peerage. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  3. ^ "Snow, Thomas D'Oyly (SNW878TD)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
  6. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  7. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  8. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  9. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  10. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  11. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  12. ^ Travers 1987, p. 42
  13. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  14. ^ Snow & Pottle, pp. 9–12. Ministers had long argued about whether to send four, five or six infantry divisions to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). In the end four were sent, and Snow's 4th Division was one of those which Lord Kitchener, contrary to the wishes of Henry Wilson, initially retained in the United Kingdom in the unlikely case of a German invasion.
  15. ^ Snow & Pottle, p. 9
  16. ^ Beckett & Corvi 2006, pp. 197, 199
  17. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  18. ^ Terraine 1960, p. 150
  19. ^ Beckett & Corvi 2006, p. 194
  20. ^ Travers 1987, p. 14
  21. ^ Simpson 2006, p. 209
  22. ^ Snow & Pottle, pp. 75–79
  23. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  24. ^ Snow & Pottle, pp. 79–88
  25. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  26. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  27. ^ a b Simpson 2006, p. 230
  28. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  29. ^ Simpson 2006, p. 35
  30. ^ a b c Travers 1987, pp. 154–57
  31. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  32. ^ Travers 1987, p. 105
  33. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  34. ^ Hammond 2008, p. 92
  35. ^ Hammond 2008, pp. 328–29, 439
  36. ^ Hammond 2008, pp. 332, 354
  37. ^ Hammond 2008, pp. 54, 332
  38. ^ Hammond 2008, p. 441
  39. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  40. ^ "Fourth Supplement to the London Gazette (p. 4521)" (PDF). 12 April 1918. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  41. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  42. ^ The Liddell Hart archive website states that he retired in 1920
  43. ^ "13th Regiment of Foot: Colonels". The British Empire. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
  44. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  45. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  46. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  47. ^ "Measuring Worth – Measures of worth, inflation rates, saving calculator, relative value, worth of a dollar, worth of a pound, purchasing power, gold prices, GDP, history of wages, average wage". Archived from the original on 31 March 2016.
  48. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  49. ^ "Major-General Sir Thomas D'oyly Snow". The Peerage. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  50. ^ Matthew 2004, p. 498
  51. ^ "Who was Who 1897–1990" London, A & C Black, 1991 ISBN 0-7136-3457-X
  52. ^ Ronald Skirth; Jon Snow (16 April 2010), Duncan Barrett (ed.), The Reluctant Tommy: An Extraordinary Memoir of the First World War, Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-230-74673-2
  53. ^ "Great War generals are lampooned as donkeys. Dan Snow's great-grandfather's story reveals they were victims too". Daily Mail. 25 April 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2016.


  • Beckett, Dr Ian F; Corvi, Steven J (editors) (2006). Haig's Generals. London: Pen & Sword. ISBN 9781844158928.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Hammond, Bryn (2008). Cambrai, The Myth of the First Great Tank Battle. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. ISBN 978-0-7538-2605-8.
  • Matthew (editor), Colin (2004). Dictionary of National Biography. 51. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198614111.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link), essay on Snow originally written by Edmonds, updated by Roger Stearn
  • Simpson, Andy (2006). Directing Operations: British Corps Command on the Western Front 1914-18. Stroud: Spellmount. ISBN 1-86227-292-1.
  • Snow, Dan; Pottle, Mark (editors) (2011). The Confusion of Command, The War Memoirs of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas D'Oyly Snow, 1914-1915. London: Frontline Books. ISBN 978-1-84832-575-3.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Terraine, John (1960). Mons, The Retreat to Victory. Wordsworth Military Library, London. ISBN 1-84022-240-9.
  • Travers, Tim (1987). The Killing Ground. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-85052-964-6.

External linksEdit

"Archival material relating to Thomas Snow". UK National Archives.  

Military offices
Preceded by
Herbert Belfield
GOC 4th Division
Succeeded by
Henry Rawlinson
New command GOC 27th Division
Succeeded by
George Milne
New command GOC VII Corps
Succeeded by
Walter Congreve
Preceded by
Sir William Campbell
GOC-in-C Western Command
Succeeded by
Sir Beauvoir De Lisle
Preceded by
Sir Alfred Codrington
Colonel of the Suffolk Regiment
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Morland