EIGHTEEN months ago the historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore wrote in the Standard about how Brigadier-General Frederick Carleton from Cirencester was sacked after challenging the orders of his superiors during the Battle of the Somme.

Now on the publication of the paperback edition of this same author’s Somme book, he highlights a new development; the discovery of a report written by the brigadier, which, he argues, should wipe away the stain that has besmirched the Brigadier’s reputation.

When you are looking for a scapegoat, whether in politics or on the battlefield, the man who has disobeyed your orders or refused to toe the line presents an easy target.

Such a man was Frederick Carleton from Cirencester, a 49-year-old Brigadier-General during the Battle of the Somme. He was the officer who on 26 August 1916 had the temerity to query an order issued by no lesser person than Lieutenant-General Henry Horne, his corps commander. The order required Carleton to take control of a strategically important trench connecting two of the most impenetrable obstacles to British advances on the Somme - Delville and High Woods. Carleton suggested the order should be cancelled since his men were already holding an excessively wide front and were exhausted.

That was too much for Major-General Herman Landon, Carleton’s immediate superior, to stomach. Landon evidently believed he was duty bound to ensure his corps commander’s orders were obeyed even if they were impractical. Possibly fearing that he would be blamed if no action was taken, Landon fired off a letter to Horne stating that he was relieving Carleton of his command with immediate effect because he did not ‘consider the necessary improvement will be effected as long as he retains it.’ Landon added for good measure: ‘Present conditions are difficult, and require characteristics in a brigade commander which are not possessed by General Carleton, i.e. quick practical methods of command, and a cheerful outlook which will communicate itself to the troops.’ This stinging criticism, which in the circumstances was tantamount to saying that Carleton was being disloyally obstructive, prompted Carleton to complain bitterly to his wife ‘Gwenny’ who was waiting for him in Cirencester: ‘We were ordered to do something which was a physical impossibility. We did our best, and failed, human endurance having reached its limits.

I have been sacrificed to the ambitions of an unscrupulous general, but thank God I’ve done nothing to reproach myself with.’ He finished his account saying ‘I am too distressed to write any more. I was up at 4am this morning going round our front trenches in a most hellish fire, the like of which the man who has got rid of me has never seen or ever been near.’ He eventually had what amounted to a nervous breakdown, and was confined to a hospital in London before being sent home to be cared for by his wife.

Notwithstanding Carleton’s indignation, Landon’s reprimand has been hard to shake off. It has hovered like a black cloud over Carleton’s good name for more than a century – appearing for all the world to see in the Imperial War Museum’s permanent exhibition on the 1st World War - and might carry on doing so for another one hundred years if left unchallenged.

However, when I was looking through Carleton’s papers in an attempt to find out whether there were any mitigating circumstances, I stumbled across a note written by Carleton from his hospital bed addressed to the Chief of the General Staff. In it Carleton protests that ‘the opinion formed by the major general commanding the 33rd Division in the short time I was under his command does not fairly and faithfully represent my character’. He also asserted that ‘in view of the exceptional conditions which prevailed when I took over the line, I accomplished under circumstances of extreme difficulty all that could humanly be expected.’ In an attempt to dispel any suspicion that he was a coward who hid away in his headquarters, he added: ‘I have shared to the full the perils and dangers of my men, and have had as many escapes from death as most have undergone. I will quote only one, in which my Staff Officer, Lieutenant Calder was killed, and Lieutenant Burrell had his arm blown off, and succumbed to his injuries the same night. Both these officers were walking by my side on the 19th July going round the front line when this occurred.’ He also quoted from the many letters he had sent to his wife stating that he was enjoying being in command on the Somme.

But it was his detailed account of the difficulties he encountered before being dismissed, an account which has never been published before, which underlines the extent to which he was blamed unfairly for delays which were not his fault, and made a scapegoat.

The account makes it clear that he was dealt a poor hand from the start. When, on 25 August 1916, he asked the brigadier whom he was relieving if he knew where the gap in the line recently captured was located, he was surprised to be told that the departing brigadier had ‘no idea’.

By the time Carleton’s battalions had taken over the parts of the line that were occupied by British troops, dawn on 26 August was approaching, and this, combined with the ‘heavy fire which the enemy kept up throughout this day’, meant that it was ‘impossible to carry out any sort of reconnaissance on the surface’ until nightfall.

As if Carleton’s life was not difficult enough, Landon at this point insisted that the front covered by Carleton’s force should be widened, a thoughtless command which prompted the brigadier to make his controversial protest in the following terms: ‘I have to request the Major-General will ask the Command responsible for the issue of the order to reconsider the decision. As is well known, the extent of the line I now hold is greater than a brigade, weakened by casualties, hard fighting and almost continuous hardships for a period of six weeks should be required to hold.

Every available man is required for the next few days for making good the line I now hold. The fulfilment of the demands now made would prove a grave menace to the safety of the position.’ Landon may have hoped he dealt with Carleton’s manpower shortage when he subsequently put two more battalions under his command. However what he did not appear to realize was that they were useless in the short term as they were as tired as Carleton’s own forces.

To add insult to injury, although during the night of 26-27 August, Carleton’s staff officers managed to mark where a trench should be dug to bridge the gap in the line, no digging was carried out, that night or the next night, because the troops ordered to do it either got lost on the way to the front line, or were delayed by a toxic combination of the loops of wire obstructing the communication trenches, and the continuous gunfire which made swift progress up the trenches impossible.

The same gunfire also uprooted the markers which were supposed to show Carleton’s men where to dig. These factors were the main reasons why when Carleton turned up at the front line at 4.30 am on 28 August, ‘feeling very anxious about the progress of the work’, he was disappointed to find little had been achieved.

Matters came to a head when on returning to his headquarters, Carleton found Landon ‘much exercised in his mind at the slow progress made.’ He told Carleton that the work needed to be completed by the next day when another attack was planned, only for Carleton to reply that even had he been forewarned, it would not have been possible to do the preparatory work in time.

It was with this pessimistic analysis ringing in his ears that Landon decided to sack his brigadier which he did that very afternoon.

When Carleton first asked to speak to the Commander-in-Chief about his ‘unfair’ dismissal, Lieutenant General Horne wrote to staff: ‘The report of the GOC 33rd Division is clear. I cannot think that any useful purpose will be derived by granting Brigadier-General Carleton’s request for an interview.’ However Haig, on 16 September, promised Carleton another brigade as soon as he was passed fit, adding: ‘but give yourself a sufficiently long rest.’ Unbeknown to most of us, who only know about the drama of his dismissal, Carleton was exonerated.

The paperback edition of Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s Somme: Into the Breach published by Penguin is out now price £9.99, as is the updated 75th Anniversary paperback edition of his Enigma: the Battle for the Code with new material added, published by Orion’s Weidenfeld & Nicolson price £10.99.