Charles Sackville-West and the Treaty of Versailles

Alex Buck, Conservation Assistant, Knole Alex Buck Conservation Assistant, Knole
A number of letters and papers are arranged in a perspex display case, relating to Major General Sir Charles Sackville-West, 4th Lord Sackville (1870-1962) and his involvement with the Treaty of WW1 Treaty of Versaille.

As a former war studies student with a long-standing interest in 20th Century history, I’m particularly intrigued in a recent addition to our Visitor Centre at Knole.

The display, coinciding with the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919) which effectively ended World War I, is the result of research carried out by volunteer Vernon Warner on Major General Sir Charles Sackville-West, 4th Lord Sackville, 1870-1962, a member of the family who is at times overshadowed by his son Eddy. Eddy’s life as renowned music critic, reluctant 5th Lord and former resident of the Gatehouse Tower features large at Knole, but his father’s life and career are certainly worthy of note.

On the death of Charles’ father, Knole and the title of Lord Sackville naturally passed to his older brother Lionel – the eldest son. Knole would eventually find its way into Charles’ hands when Lionel died without a male heir, and indeed Charles would go on to oversee its handing-over to the care of the National Trust in 1946.                           

As a young man however Charles could not rely upon receiving a title or estate, and so he followed the path of many of his contemporaries and embarked upon a career in the army. Over the ensuing decades he would see action around the globe, including in India, Burma and South Africa. During the First World War he served in Flanders, at Loos and at the Somme, was wounded on two occasions and mentioned in dispatches five times.                     

At the time of the armistice in November 1918, Charles was Military Representative for the British delegation of the Allied Supreme War Council, having taken over the position from General Rawlinson. The purpose of the council was to allow the Allied powers to more effectively co-ordinate military action and anything else pertaining to the war. The British delegation was under the control of the War Cabinet Office, with the Military Representative advising the council based on information forwarded to them by the Government and the armed forces. In this role he was involved, albeit indirectly, in many of the negotiations that would lead to the Paris Peace Conference and ultimately to the Treaty of Versailles.

Through a number of original documents and photographs (including a hand-written note sent by Charles to his wife Maud on 11 November 1918 – the day the guns fell silent), our display tells the story of Charles’ career, especially his involvement in the post-1918 peace process, shining a light on a relatively little-known yet fascinating side of Knole history.

The display opened on 28 June in Knole’s Visitor Centre and will run until mid-August. It is free to both members and non-members.