His Majesty’s Manoeuvres

  • Theme - WW1, WW2 & Military
  • Year - 1912
  • Location - Cambridge
  • Filmmaker - Mr Ager Junior


The Army Manoeuvres of 1912 were the last exercises of their kind to be held before the outbreak of the First World War, two years later. This film documents the third and last phase of military training for that year, which took place from 16th to the 20th September, close to Linton, Cambridgeshire. The manoeuvres were overseen by King George V, who arrived from Balmoral on Tuesday 17th and spent three days watching the exercises, before returning home.

The titles given to each section of the film by British newsreel, the Warwick Bioscope Chronicle, help to clarify proceedings. The manoeuvres involved two ‘sides’. The Red, or ‘foreign’, force (commanded by General Sir Douglas Haig) had to cross a border between Wells and Hunstanton before moving down to attack London. The Blue force (lead by General Sir James Grierson) was supposed to represent the British army itself and was part of a general mobilisation to defend the capital.

King George V’s arrival by car is shown on film. He is flanked by a group of army officers, including Sir John French, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and director of the 1912 operation. At what is most likely the Abington crossroads at Linton, the King is seen riding past cameraman Ager Junior with a mounted escort. The Eastern Daily Press reported that many photographers and cinematograph operators were present that day,eager to document the King’s visit.

Later scenes of the film show soldiers mingling with foreign attaches, using binoculars to survey the area. A British soldier can be seen signalling with a heliograph. Following this, field gun crews who have been positioned in clover fields fire rounds of artillery and are enveloped in great clouds of smoke. Trench-digging exercises are also caught on camera. A band of soldiers run forward into an open field and throw themselves to the ground, before beginning to dig a bank of cover from which to conduct their defence.

Directed by General Sir John French, the Army Manoeuvres of 1912 took place over a large area comprising not only Cambridgeshire, but parts of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

The Red and Blue forces were fairly equal in size. Alongside having their own army troops, each side had both cavalry and infantry divisions. Aeroplanes and Gamma and Delta airships were also at their disposal. Haig’s Red team had the advantage from the start. Not only was he the ‘attacker’, but his men were better organised and had been superiorly trained. By the end of operations however, Grierson had beaten Haig outright, calling into question Haig’s competency as a field commander.

King George V stayed at Kings House, Trinity College, Cambridge during his visit to watch the manoeuvres. Each day, he was taken by car to various locations where horses had been provided for him and his party. As well as observing the 1912 exercises, the King inspected a Royal Flying Corp base at Hardwick, visited troops at rest camps and held a dinner at Trinity College where Russian delegate, General Foch was a guest.

This film is a valuable insight into military history providing information about weaponry and strategy at a sensitive time in Britain's history.


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