Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer was born on March 13th 1857. He was the oldest child of Hall Plumer and his wife Louisa and he grew up in London. He was educated at Eton College, before attending the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and being commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the 65th Foot Regiment, which later became the 1st Battalion The Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment. In July 1884, he married Annie Constance Goss and they had four children in the next six years. Plumer served in the Sudan and South Africa and by 1914 he held the rank of Lieutenant-General, in charge of the Northern Command, based in York. When Sir John French dismissed Smith-Dorrien in April 1915, it was Plumer who replaced him, taking command of the British Second Army. In June 1917 he commanded British troops during the Battle of Messines, which was a great success. The Third Battle of Ypres followed and Plumer was, once again, called upon to save the day when all seemed lost. At the end of the war, he led the Second Army into Germany and took command of the Army of Occupation. He was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal in 1919 and later awarded the title of First Viscount Plumer of Messines. He had proved not only successful but almost universally popular (the notable exception being Sir Douglas Haig, who did not like him) and made a moving speech at the opening of the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres in July 1927. Plumer died in July 1932 and is buried at Westminster Abbey.
Excerpt from Lord Plumer’s speech at the unveiling of the Menin Gate memorial on 24th July 1927:
“… One of the most tragic features of the Great War was the number of casualties reported as ‘Missing, believed killed’. To their relatives there must have been added to their grief a tinge of bitterness and a feeling that everything possible had not been done to recover their loved ones’ bodies and give them reverent burial… when peace came and the last ray of hope had been extinguished the void seemed deeper and the outlook more forlorn for those who had no grave to visit, no place where they could lay tokens of loving remembrance. … It was resolved that here at Ypres, where so many of the ‘Missing’ are known to have fallen, there should be erected a memorial worthy of them which should give expression to the nation’s gratitude for their sacrifice and its sympathy with those who mourned them. A memorial has been erected which, in its simple grandeur, fulfils this object, and now it can be said of each one in whose honour we are assembled here today: ‘He is not missing; he is here’.”