Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Bearwood's Viscount Slim of Burma

If you take a walk down Poplar Avenue you'll come across a blue plaque on no 144 which tells you that William Slim, Viscount Slim of Burma used to live there.

With a name like that welovebearwood just had to find out more and luckily we were able to ask our favourite local historian Mary Bodfish about him.

This is what Mary told us.....

"William (always known as Bill) Slim was born Bishopton,  Bristol in 1891.  The Family moved to Birmingham (and presumably to Poplar Avenue) in  1901.  His father, John Slim was in business as a hardware manufacturer and dealer.  Bill Slim attended St Philip’s Grammar School on Hagley Road and then transferred to King Edward VI School  where he joined the Officer Training Corps.  John Slim’s business ran into difficulties, and to help the family financially Bill took the job of a pupil-teacher at a local elementary school for two years before becoming a clerk at tube-makers Stewarts & Lloyds.  Bill was by now interested in a military career so he joined the Officer Training Corps at the University of Birmingham, although he was not a student there.  In 1914 he was offered a job in London to start in September, but instead the deteriorating international situation catapulted him into the army as a Second Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion of the  Royal Warwickshire Regiment.  Thus began the career of a man who became a consummate soldier who was held in great trust by the men he commanded and who rose to the highest of military ranks.   What follows is a very brief resume of his career.
The First World War saw Bill at Gallipoli, where he was wounded; France; then into the West India Regiment  with service in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq), where he was awarded the Military Cross and later wounded for a second time.  He was sent to India, where after recovery he served with the Gurka Rifles on the North-Western Frontier.  While on board ship returning to England in 1924 he met Aileen Robertson, whom he married 2 years later and with whom he had 2 children.   A period out of active service saw him in India as a Staff Officer at the Army headquarters in Delhi and Simla, then as an instructor at the Staff College at Camberley.  In 1938 he returned to India and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel.
With his wealth of experience Lieutenant-Colonel Slim was immensely valuable to the campaigns that were fought early in the Second World War campaigns across east Africa, Iraq, Syria and Persia, during which he was wounded once again.   In March 1942 he was given command of the Burma Corps, which was attacked by the Japanese Army and forced to withdraw to India.  The Japanese offensive in India  was eventually repulsed in desperate battles of which the most famous was fought at Kohima. Slim was promoted to Lieutenant-General and in 1945 headed the British advance into Burma to attack the invading Japanese army.  Learning from mistakes made by the Japanese in their failed India campaign he made the supplies to his armies a top priority.  His men called themselves “The Forgotten Army” as their theatre of war was so far away from all the action in Europe.  He also worked  hard to raise the morale of his troops through training them in jungle warfare and insisting that their officers lead the way in taking the horrible-tasting quinine that was essential to prevent malaria. Slim won their trust; his tactics boosted both the physical and mental strength of his men and enabled them eventually defeat the Japanese in Burma.  Slim was promoted to General and retired from active service.

His post Second World War career saw him as Commander of the Imperial Defence College;  Aide-de-Campe to King George VI; and promotion to Field-Marshal.  Amongst other later appointments he was Governor-General of Australia (purely a ceremonial post ).  He retired to Britain in 1959 and then served on the boards of several major British companies.   Slim’s achievements were recognised by the award of many honours, culminating in that of being created Viscount Slim of Burma. His final appointment was that of Constable of Windsor Castle in 1964 and he died in London in 1970 at the age of 79.  He was given a funeral with full military honours at St George’s Chapel, Windsor and a memorial plaque to him was placed in St Pauls’ Cathedral."

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