David Chandler RIP

Peter Lyderik

Hyper Active Member
David Chandler

Military historian at Sandhurst who inspired a generation of scholars and soldiers with his gift of bringing the past to life

DAVID CHANDLER researched and taught military history at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst for more than 30 years until 1994. He was an inspiring teacher with an infectious enthusiasm for his subject and few senior officers of today’s Army are untouched by his influence.

Chandler had the ability to make history come to life — sometimes literally. A keen supporter of military re-enactment societies, he threw himself into historical roles with dramatic vigour. He enjoyed registering the initial surprise when friends and acquaintances encountered him in the guise of Marlborough or Napoleon. His fondness for military drama entered the classroom; few of his students would forget episodes involving the firing of muskets or lobbing of cannonballs. At Sandhurst, he became a legend in his lifetime and the source of numerous anecdotes and stories.

He was more than an inspiring teacher, however; he was a military historian of the first rank. One of his most prized possessions was a letter from President de Gaulle congratulating him on his Campaigns of Napoleon, while admitting chagrin that only an Englishman had proved capable of explaining the emperor’s methods of warfare. This thousand-page treatise, incorporating detailed analyses of the Emperor’s principles of campaign, unambiguously clear diagrams of his battles and appendices with detail of the “orders of battleâ€￾ and organisation of the armies he commanded, is unquestionably Chandler’s greatest work, providing students of the Napoleonic period with a a veritable goldmine of detail and reasoned argument.

Born in 1934, David Geoffrey Chandler was the son of an East Yorkshire clergyman who had lost a leg as a junior officer with the 6th Battalion The Essex Regiment in early 1918. When lecturing on the First World War, he would read extracts from his father’s diary to provide a sense of the atmosphere of the Western Front, which even in the 1960s reflected the ethos of a largely forgotten era of Britain’s social history.

Like his Sandhurst contemporaries John Keegan and Christopher Duffy, Chandler was profoundly influenced by the Second World War and confessed to actually enjoying it. “It was a fascinating time for young boys,â€￾ he wrote. “There were soldiers along the seaside, pillboxes, anti-aircraft guns, searchlights on England Hill and road barriers on the town approaches.â€￾ He also remembered the air-raids of 1941, sitting in the air-raid shelter under the stairs.

After attending Marlborough College in the late 1940s, where he studied A. G. MacDonell’s Napoleon and his Marshals, he went to Keble College, Oxford, to read military history under C. T. Atkinson, the great Victorian scholar, who convinced him that the academic study both of the Duke of Marlborough and of Napoleon was still in its infancy.

During the late 1950s, as a captain with a Royal Army Education Corps short-service commission serving in Nigeria, he experienced shots fired in anger. Although heading for independence, the country endured extreme political volatility. Riots were common and Chandler did his share of imperial policing. Later, when lecturing at Sandhurst on crowd control, he would close all the windows, turn up the radiators and play recordings of a rioting mob, then demand that the confused and sweating cadets prepare a plan of action. This was yet another example of his ability to bring a subject to life and demonstrate the military requirement to think logically in the midst of discomfort and cacophony.

An MoD requirement for knowledge of the Duke of Marlborough and the Second World War Italian and Burma campaigns for the Staff College examinations made Chandler the most sought-after military historian in Nigeria. When reports of his abilities reached Dr Eric Anderson, the Director of Studies at Sandhurst, he ensured that Chandler was appointed to his academic staff when his time in the Army ended in 1960.

A new department designed to study applied military history, later to be called War Studies, was just being founded by Brigadier Peter Young, an Oxford-educated historian and four times decorated former commando. Chandler attributed much of his later success to the influence of Young, who believed that his new department’s task was to inspire cadets by making military history accessible, interesting and enjoyable.

After his publication of articles on Napoleon in Egypt, Chandler received an offer of a book contract from Macmillans of New York. On replying that he would be delighted to write a book on Marlborough, he received the response: “Who the hell is he? We only want Napoleon!â€￾ Chandler therefore produced The Campaigns of Napoleon, which was greeted by rave reviews in late 1966. It was quickly translated into French. This year Chandler received an appreciative letter from President Putin after the work’s translation into Russian.

The book became the standard text on Napoleonic warfare at the Frunze Academy, West Point and Duntroon. Among the celebrities visiting London with Chandler’s name high on their list of people to meet was General Norman Schwarzkopf, who thanked him for his influence on his own understanding of the operational art.

The success of The Campaigns of Napoleon enabled Chandler to dictate his own terms to publishers. He produced The Marlborough Wars in 1968 and Marlborough as a Military Commander in 1973. Then, between the early 1970s and this year, he produced more than 20 monographs and dozens of edited volumes and articles. Among the most critically acclaimed were The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough (1976), Waterloo: The Hundred Days (1984), Napoleon’s Marshals (1987) and Blenheim Preparation (2004).

He was never averse to editing encyclopaedias, atlases and dictionaries, such as An Atlas of Military Strategy 1618-1868 (1980), D-Day Encyclopaedia (1993), and The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army (1995). In 1991, Oxford recognised his contribution to scholarship by conferring upon him the degree of DLitt.

Chandler could never see the point of writing for a small and select audience. He embraced television, making many documentaries, and he frequently acted as an adviser for television series such as the BBC’s War and Peace (1971-73), or feature films such as Young Winston (1971). Along with Christopher Duffy and Brian Bond, he founded and for many years served as the president of the British Commission for Military History, an organisation designed to provide a focus for the study of war beyond the universities and military colleges.

Despite this wide range of interests, Sandhurst was always at the core of his being. He regarded the training and education of each new intake of cadets as a near-sacred mission, and worked strenuously to build on Peter Young’s legacy after he became Head of War Studies in 1980. He was responsible for appointing a generation of new scholars and encouraging their research and academic development.

Under Chandler, the War Studies Department functioned as the training ground for a generation of scholars who now hold chairs in military history or strategic studies at Oxford, King’s College London, Aberystwyth, and several other leading universities. However, the focus was always service to the Army. War Studies lecturers became known for their ability to maintain the interest of even the most exhausted audience — hence the careers that several have enjoyed as television dons.

It was inevitable that he would receive offers from the United States. He held several visiting professorships at Ohio State, Virginia Military Institute, and the United States Marine Corps University at Quantico. On retirement from Sandhurst in 1994 he seemed set to enjoy a series of appointments at some prestigious American institutions, but a debilitating stroke that June put paid to his retirement plans. He fought back with a determination and courage that would have done credit to both Marlborough and Napoleon. In this he was helped enormously by his wife Gill who, in addition to the pressures of raising their three sons, acted as his chief of staff. It was frequently remarked that she was Berthier to his Napoleon.

They were an immensely hospitable couple, as generations of Sandhurst graduates would attest. Chandler liked nothing better than to hold court at Hindford, his home in Yateley, to audiences of Sandhurst and visiting West Point or St Cyr cadets, knowing that there was a likelihood that at least some of them would one day command armies in war. Like the men to whom he devoted his career of study, Chandler was a larger-than-life figure. He had the gift to make life seem much more fun than it actually is.

He died of cancer. His wife Gillian, née Dixon, and three sons survive him.

David Chandler, Head of War Studies, RMA Sandhurst, 1980-94, was born on January 15, 1934. He died on October 10, 2004, aged 70.

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