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Oliver Nugent, Ireland’s longest-serving divisional commander of the Great War, led the Ulster Division on the western front from 1915 to 1918. That period saw the operational transformation of the British army and his own development as a general, from the heroic but doomed assault at Thiepval in July 1916, through the triumph of Messines, the heartbreaking failure at Ypres and the mixed success of Cambrai in 1917, to the great German spring
offensive of 1918.
Alongside the challenges of divisional command he had to manage the Ulster Division’s political dimension, with its roots in the pre-war Ulster Volunteer Force. The tensions that arose between him and politicians at home over issues like Irish recruitment, relations with the 16th (Irish) Division and, especially, Ulster’s place in a post-war political settlement, reveal not only the conflict between military and political priorities but also the divisions within Irish unionism during the Great War period.
More widely, Nugent’s career provides a unique insight into the political decline of the Irish landed class as well as their enduring military tradition – from his financial struggles as a young landlord in the 1880s, his regimental service on India’s north-west frontier and in the Boer war, and his involvement with the UVF in Cavan in 1914, to his role in quelling political unrest in post-war India, his return to an Ireland convulsed by revolution and his adaptation to life in the Irish Free State.
This study seeks to shed light on these different aspects of Nugent’s career by drawing not only on his extensive personal papers and diaries in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, but also on papers still in the family’s possession and the correspondence of key subordinates never previously used.
Note on Oliver Nugent's Papers
1. Imperial Warrior: The Nugents, the Irish gentry and the British army, 1860–1900
2. Conflicted Soldier: Defending Cavan and protecting Hull, 1901–April 1915
3. Learning the Ropes: Integrating the New Armies, May–August 1915
4. Divisional Commander: Politics and professionalism in the Ulster Division, September 1915–June 1916
5. Sacrifice on the Somme: Operational failure, reputational triumph, July 1916
6. Manpower and Politics: Recruitment and trench warfare, August 1916–March 1917
7. Wearing Out: The Irish Divisions, attrition and the limits of partnership, April–August 1917
8. New Ways of War: Cambrai and the birth of military modernity, September 1917–February 1918
9. Kaiserschlacht: Crisis in command, March–May 1918
10. Staying On: Unrest and insurrection in India and Ireland, June 1918–May 1926