R is for Charles à Court Repington

This is my contribution to Round Fourteen of ABC Wednesday. For the fifth time I am focusing on people – some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, but all with a tale to tell.

Charles RepingtonI usually write about the mad, bad and heroic for my ABC Wednesday posts, but Charles à Court Repington isn’t really one of them.

However, in the centenary year of the start of the Great War, he does answer that tricky question – exactly when did we start to refer to the horrors of the 1914-1918 conflict as ‘The First World War’?

There is a false assumption that it could not have been so named until after the start of World War Two, but it was Repington who first popularised the phrase in the title of his book The First World War published in 1920.

Repington was born in Wiltshire in 1858, the son of a Conservative MP. He was actually an à Court at birth but took the name Repington in 1903 under the terms of an old will when he succeeded to the family Amington Hall Estate.

Amington Hall

Amington Hall in the early 1900s

He joined the British Army in 1878 and served in Afghanistan, Burma and Sudan before entering the Staff College at Camberley. He later served as military attaché in Brussels and the Hague.

Repington served as a staff officer during the Second Boer War in South Africa 1899-1901, and was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George for his services during the operations.

However, Repington’s military career was brought to a dishonourable end in 1902. In 1897 he had been posted to Egypt and had begun an affair with Mary Garstin, wife of Sir William Garstin, head of the Egyptian Ministry of Works.

When the affair first came to light, he was severely reprimanded by his superiors and gave his word ‘upon his honour as a soldier and gentleman’ to have nothing more to do with her. But during the divorce proceeding it became clear he had broken his parole and he was forced to resign his commission.

Unabashed by the damage to his reputation, Repington embarked on a career in journalism as military correspondent for the Morning Post and then for The Times from 1904 to 1918.

He was a vocal advocate of a firm national defensive policy and an army strengthened at the expense of the navy which didn’t endear him to Jacky Fisher. Repington also warned of a German ‘bolt from the blue’.

Sir John French

Sir John French

Repington used his his friendship with the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Sir John French, to visit the Western Front in the early stages of war at a time when other correspondents were barred from France.

It was French who told Repington that the failure of the attack on Neuve Chapelle in 1915 was due to a shortage of artillery shells and this information caused a political scandal when he subsequently reported the accusation in The Times.

As a result, the owner of The Times, Lord Northcliffe, led a sustained campaign against War Minister, Lord Kitchener, the latter taking his revenge by banning Repington from visiting the front until March 1915.

The First World WarRepington became increasingly disillusioned by Northcliffe’s reporting of the war and resigned in January 1918, returning to the Morning Post where he fell foul of the Defence of the Realm Act in disclosing secret information in one articles.

The books he wrote after the war cost Repington many friendships for including private conversations, but they were bestsellers nonetheless and introduced us to ‘The First World War’ that would inevitably lead to a second.

Those of you who do your own research will claim that the true originator was German philosopher, Ernst Haeckel, who in September 1914 wrote ‘there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ … will become the first world war in the full sense of the word’.

But then history is always written by the victors!

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

4 comments… Add yours
  • Reader Wil 14th May 2014

    Why is it that wars are always started by men? I hope that the mightiest men in our world will think twice before taking action. This is just what I was thinking of, while reading your story about Charles à Court Repington, which is interesting enough to write about. I should like to meet some influential men of peace, who protect us against the atrocities of war.
    Thanks for your post! It made me think of our future.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  • Roger Green 14th May 2014

    I too had assumed that WWII had named WWI. Informative.

    • Daft Pudding 15th May 2014

      I thought WWI was a postal district in West London but confusingly Repington Road is in Stoke-on-Trent. There’s another one in Tamworth. Maybe Charlie Boy had mistresses there.

  • Trevor Rowley 15th May 2014

    An unusual surname, a Court. Perhaps a relative (distant or otherwise) was Alan A’Court who played football for Liverpool and England in the late fifties/early sixties.


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