Alexander of Tunis, Field Marshal & First Earl


1952 Karsh Studio portrait in uniform signed by Alexander of Tunis as Field Marshal, also signed by noted photographer Yusuf Karsh


Type: Photograph
Description:  (1891-1969) British Army officer, served with distinction in WW I & WW II, 17th Governor General of Canada. Educated at Harrow then Sandhurst, trained as an Irish Guards army officer, becoming prominent in WW I. Receiving numerous honors and decorations, he served in British campaigns across Europe and Asia. In WW II, Alexander oversaw the last stages of the evacuation from Dunkirk then held high-ranking field commands in Burma, No. Africa, and Italy. He was Commander-in-Chief Middle East and led the 18th Army Group in Tunisia then led 15th Army Group in capturing Sicily and again in Italy before receiving his field marshal’s baton and made Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean. In 1946 he was appointed Governor General of Canada by King George VI , was enthusiastic about the Canadian wilderness and popular with Canadians, last governor general to be a peer. He was Churchill’s Minister of Defence 1952-54.

In 1911, Alexander entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the Irish Guards, lieutenant 1912. He spent most of WW I on the Western Front in the 1st Battalion and with the BEF in 1914. He took part in the retreat from Mons, wounded at First Ypres, invalided home. Returned to the Western Front Aug. 1915, fought at Loos, received Military Cross. Awarded DSO for gallantry in action and inducted into the French Legion of Honor 1916 for service at the Somme. In 1916 he became 1st Battalion 2-i-c while only a captain, permanent major 1917, promoted as acting lieut. colonel, confirmed as CO of 2nd Battalion. He led his battalion at 3rd Ypres then at Bourlon Wood where his command suffered 320 casualties of 400 men. He again led 2nd Battalion at Hazebrouck in April 1918, taking such severe casualties that it saw no further action.

With Allied Control Commission in Poland 1919, led the Baltic German Landeswehr in Latvia’s War of Independence leading loyal Latvian units driving out the Bolsheviks. Returned to Britain May 1920 as major, 2-i-c of 1st Battalion, in May 1922 promoted lieut.-colonel and appointed CO, led them at Constantinople, Gibraltar, then April 1923-Jan. 1926, he attended Staff College, Camberley. He was promoted to colonel and appointed CO of Irish Guards Regimental Dist. and 140th (4th London) Inf. Brigade in the Territorial Army to 1930 when he attended the Imperial Defence College where 2 of his instructors were future field marshals Alanbrooke and Montgomery of Alamein. After staff appointments, he became temporary brigadier commanding a brigade on India’s NW Frontier in 1934.

In March 1937, he was appointed an ADC to King George VI and in May took part in the King’s coronation. He returned to India, promoted to major-general Oct. 1937, youngest general in the British Army. He returned to the UK Feb. 1938 to command the 1st Infantry Div.

On the outbreak of WW II, he brought the 1st Division into the BEF, served there for 8 months. In May 1940, he led their withdrawal to Dunkirk and evacuation to England. After Montgomery got command of II Corps (and before that, 3rd Div.), Alexander, while at Dunkirk, was given command of I Corps and left late on 2 June after all British troops were evacuated.

Alexander commanded I Corps guarding the coasts of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, promoted to acting lieut.-general July 1940 and appointed GIOC-in-C of Southern Command, responsible for the defense of SW England. His rank of lieut.-general was made permanent in Dec. 1940 and on 1 Jan. 1942 he was knighted and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, and in February, went to India to be GOC-in-C of British Forces in Burma as full general. He could not hold Rangoon, abandoned in March. Encircled by Japanese troops at Yenangyaung, he was rescued by Chinese troops, then increasingly left much campaign tactical conduct to his corps commander, Lieut.-General Slim, while he dealt with US General Stilwell, nominal commander of Chinese forces. Alexander was promoted to C-in-C, Allied Land Forces Burma 1942, and ordered Slim to retreat to India. 

In July, he was recalled home, chosen to lead the British 1st Army in Operation Torch, the Anglo-American invasion of French No. Africa. Alexander presided over Montgomery’s victory at the 2nd Battle of El Alamein and 8th Army’s advance to Tripoli. After the 1st Army, Anglo-US forces from Operation Torch, and 8th Army converged in Tunisia Feb. 1943, they were brought under unified command of a new 18th Army Group HQ led by Alexander, reporting to General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theater (MTO). Axis forces in Tunisia surrendered May 1943, and Alexander’s command became 15th Army Group, under Eisenhower, responsible for mounting the July invasion of Sicily, Alexander commanding Montgomery’s 8th Army and Patton’s 7th Army. After Sicily, 7th Army was replaced by US 5th Army under General Clark.

When Eisenhower was appointed Supreme Allied Commander for the Normandy landings he suggested Alexander as ground forces commander. General Alan Brooke, however, applied pressure to keep Alexander in Italy and he remained in command of 15th Army Group. With support of numerous Allied commanders, he authorized the bombing of Monte Cassino. After the 4th attempt, the German Winter Line was breached by the Allies, and his forces captured Rome in June 1944. Alexander remained head of 15th Army Group and its successor, Allied Armies in Italy, for most of the Italian Campaign, until Dec. 1944, when he relinquished command to Clark and became Supreme Commander of Allied Forces HQ, responsible for all Mediterranean Theater military operations, promoted to field marshal, backdated to the 4 June fall of Rome so he would again be senior to Montgomery, made a field marshal 1 Sept., after Normandy. Alexander received the German surrender in Italy 29 April 1945. He was elevated to the peerage 1 March 1946 by George VI, created Viscount Alexander of Tunis and Errigal, County of Donegal.

With the end of hostilities, Alexander was invited by Canadian PM Mackenzie King to be his recommendation to the King for the post of Governor General of Canada and he retired from the army. He took his duties as viceroy quite seriously and spent much time traveling Canada during his term.

Alexander left Canada in early 1952 after Churchill asked him to be Minister of Defence in his government. The aging Churchill made many major decisions himself, leaving Alexander with little real power; he retired in 1954. On returning home 14 March 1952, he was named Earl Alexander of Tunis, Baron Rideau of Ottawa and Castle Derg, serving on Elizabeth II’s coronation organizing committee, carrying the Sovereign’s Orb in the 1953 procession. He was Constable of the Tower of London 1960-65.

Yusuf Karsh (1908-2002) Armenian-Catholic photographer known for his portraits of notable individuals, described as one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century. An Armenian Genocide survivor, he migrated to Canada as a refugee. By the 1930s he was established as a significant photographer in Ottawa, where he lived most of his adult life. His iconic 1941 photograph of Winston Churchill was a breakthrough point in his 60-year career, through which he took many photos of political leaders and men and women of arts and sciences. Over 20 of his photos appeared on the cover of Life magazine until his 1992 retirement.

Magnificent 16 x 13 1952 Yusuf Karsh portrait of Field Marshal Alexander in uniform signed “Alexander of Tunis/F.M.” at lower right, with pencil Karsh signature at lower left. Photograph is pencil numbered “50” above Karsh Ottawa Copyright on verso.

Condition:  Very Good

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