Llewellyn William Atcherley was the highest-ranking member of the family to serve in the Great War. As a former officer with the Army Service Corps, he entered the conflict on 21 September 1914 from the Reserve, at the age of 44, as Major L. W. Atcherley, M.V.O. He was immediately given the temporary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Anybody who has watched the BBC’s Black Adder Goes Forth may at this point have visions of a character in the mould of Stephen Fry’s General Melchett, a barking buffoon. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the popular image of the Army that fought the First World War is one of “Lions led by Donkeys,” that image is misleading – and Llewellyn William Atcherley was anything but asinine.
Llewellyn’s first post on his return to military service was that of Assistant Quartermaster-General. From April 1915 until June 1916 he was Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster General of V Corps, and by 1917 he was Director of Salvage, a role which may not sound particularly important. However war is a costly business, not just in terms of lives lost but also in terms of the equipment and provisions that are needed to ensure that the armed forces are battle-ready at all times. The First World War was warfare on a scale that Britain had never seen before, which meant that its cost was also unprecedented. One way to reduce the costs was to salvage damaged equipment and waste materials which would otherwise be discarded, and bring them back into use.
American author Isaac F Marcosson, writing in 1917, described this recycling operation in some detail. At the ‘sharp end’ there was “Battle Salvage, which deals with the debris of actual fighting and includes all trench materials such as wood and iron, shell-cases, guns, rifles, equipment, clothing, tools and other stores that have been damaged in actual fighting.” There was also “so-called Normal Salvage, which is material such as empty packing cases, [fuel] cans and other articles which never reach the battlefield.”
Material reclaimed at the front went to salvage depots for initial screening and sorting. Where items could be cleaned up and returned to service on the spot, that is exactly what happened. Clothing and equipment in need of repair, and materials such as metals which could be used for the manufacture of new equipment, went off to appropriate destinations for processing, often on the vehicles and ships which had brought everything out to the theatre of operations in the first place.
Organising and accounting for this massive salvage operation was the task of Llewellyn Atcherley and those under his command. Fortunately, in Llewellyn the Army had a man of exceptional organisational ability. In 1918 he was promoted to the rank of Major General.
After the war, Llewellyn returned to his job as Chief Constable of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Back in 1912 however, no less a person that Winston Churchill had recommended that because of Llewellyn’s excellent police work, he should be considered for a post in the Home Office. This recommendation was now acted upon, with the Home Office post being that of His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary. The official announcement, made on 20 January 1919, read as follows:
The KING has been pleased to appoint Major-General Llewellyn William Atcherley C.M.G., C.V.O., Chief Constable of the West Riding of Yorkshire, to be one of the Inspectors under the Act 19 and 20 Victoria, cap. 69, intituled “An Act to render more effectual the Police in Counties and Boroughs in England and Wales.”
So began another phase of Llewellyn’s extraordinary life. As an Inspector of Constabulary he conducted inspections of the personnel, and the administration, of police forces around the UK, giving praise where it was due and making recommendations for improvements where they were necessary (those recommendations included the merging of smaller forces). Short films of some of Llewellyn’s inspections can be watched at the British Pathe website.
Llewellyn also attended international police conferences on behalf of the British Constabulary and as early as 1922 he predicted that forces around the world would, in time, work together to combat crime, with the creation of an “international police clearing house for fingerprints, criminal identification and international detective work.” He received a knighthood for his services in 1925.
The retirement of Major-General Sir Llewellyn W. Atcherley in 1936 was described at the time as “a source of great regret to the Service.” It was not long however before he returned to the Inspectorate, on the outbreak of the Second World War, a conflict in which his twin sons David and Roger served with distinction. His death, in York on 17 February 1954 at the age of 82, marked the end of a lifetime of public service by a remarkable and much-respected man.