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David Henderson
11 August 1862 – 17 August 1921
Brig-Gen David Henderson.jpg
Brigadier-General Sir David Henderson
Place of birth Glasgow, Scotland
Place of death Geneva, Switzerland
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army, Royal Air Force
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands held 1st Infantry Division
Royal Flying Corps
Battles/wars Second Boer War

World War I

Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Distinguished Service Order
Other work Director-General of Red Cross Societies

Lieutenant General Sir David Henderson KCB, KCVO, DSO, LLD (11 August 1862 – 17 August 1921) was an officer in the British Army who came to be considered as the leading authority on tactical intelligence during the early years of the 20th century. Henderson was also the first commander of the Royal Flying Corps in the field and was instrumental in establishing the Royal Air Force as an independent service.[1]


Early and family life

David Henderson was born in the Scottish city of Glasgow on 11 August 1862 into a shipping family. His father, also called David, was a joint owner of the Clydeside ship builders David and William Henderson & Co..[2]

Henderson entered the University of Glasgow in 1877 at the age of just fifteen. Whilst at university, Henderson read engineering and in his fourth year (1880-1881) he studied civil engineering and mechanics as well as office and field work in engineering. Henderson is recorded as not having graduated from the University of Glasgow.[2]

In 1895, Henderson married Henrietta Dundas, the daughter of Henry Robert Dundas. The couple had one son, Ian Henderson. Ian Henderson also joined the Royal Flying Corps, reaching the rank of captain. Ian Henderson was killed in a flying accident in June 1918.[2]

Military career

Gen David Henderson

Following officer training at the Royal Military College Sandhurst, Henderson was commissioned into the British Army on 25 August 1882. Henderson was a member of the Nile Expedition of 1898 and was wounded at the Siege of Ladysmith during the Boer War.[3] In 1901 he was appointed Director of Military Intelligence and his works Field Intelligence: Its Principles and Practice (1904) and The Art of Reconnaissance (1907) did much to establish his reputation as the Army's authority on tactical intelligence.[1]

In 1911, at the age of 49, Henderson learned to fly, making him the world’s oldest pilot at that time.[1] In 1913 the control of military aviation was separated from the responsibilities of the Master-General of the Ordnance.[4] A new Department of Military Aeronautics was established and Henderson was appointed the first Director[5] and, with the outbreak of World War I, he took up command of the Royal Flying Corps in the field. On 22 November 1914, Henderson was appointed General Officer Commanding the 1st Infantry Division and his Chief of Staff Frederick Sykes took up command in his stead. However, Henderson did not spend long commanding the 1st Infantry Division. The decision to post Henderson and replace him with Sykes was not to Lord Kitchener's liking and he ordered a reversal of the appointments. On 20 December 1914, Henderson resumed command of the Royal Flying Corps in the Field and Sykes was once again his Chief of Staff.

By 1915 Henderson returned to London to take up the post of Director-General of Military Aeronautics.[3] This meant that when, in 1917, General Jan Smuts was writing his review of the British Air Services, Henderson was well placed to assist. Whilst seconded to General Smuts, Henderson wrote much of what came to be called the Smuts Report.[1][2][3] It has been argued that he had a better claim to the informal title "father of the Royal Air Force" than Sir Hugh Trenchard.[1][2] Trenchard himself believed that Henderson deserved the accolade.[6]

In January 1918, Henderson was made a member of the Air Council,[3] serving as its vice-president. However, having not been appointed as the RAF's Chief of the Air Staff, Henderson resigned from the Air Council in April, citing his desire to escape the atmosphere of intrigue at the Air Ministry.[7]

Following his departure from the Air Council, Henderson returned to France where he served until October 1918. After the armistice, Henderson served as a military counsellor during the Paris Peace Conference[7] until the signing of the Versailles Treaty in June 1919. Henderson then became Director-General of the League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva, where he died in 1921.[3]


Henderson was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1902 for his work during the Second Boer War.

In March 1918, Henderson accepted the honorary position of Colonel of the Highland Light Infantry.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Sir David Henderson". Lions Led By Donkeys. Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham. Retrieved 2007-07-26.  
  2. ^ a b c d e "Biography of Lieutenant General Commanding David Y (Sir) Henderson". University of Glasgow Roll of Honour. University of Glasgow. November 2005. Retrieved 2007-07-26.  
  3. ^ a b c d e Malcolm Barrass. "Lieutenant General Sir David Henderson". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 2007-07-26.  
  4. ^ Joubert de la Ferté, Philip. The Third Service. London: Thames and Hudson. p. 15.  
  5. ^
  6. ^ Sir Peter Squire. "From Spitfire to Eurofighter - The RAF's Legacy". RUSI Journal. Defence Data Ltd. Retrieved 2007-07-26.  
  7. ^ a b Smith, Richard. "Henderson, Sir David (1862–1921)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 2007-10-08.  
  8. ^ "The Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment)". Retrieved 2007-07-26.  

External links

Military offices
New title
Directorate established
Director of Military Aeronautics
1 September 1913 – 5 August 1914
Succeeded by
New title
Start of WW1
General Officer Commanding the Royal Flying Corps in the Field
5 August 1914 – 22 November 1914
Succeeded by
F H Sykes
Preceded by
H J S Landon
General Officer Commanding the 1st Infantry Division
22 November – 18 December 1914
Succeeded by
R C B Haking
Preceded by
F H Sykes
General Officer Commanding the Royal Flying Corps in the Field
20 December 1914 – 19 August 1915
Succeeded by
H M Trenchard
Preceded by
Director-General of Military Aeronautics
19 August 1915 – 18 October 1917
Succeeded by
J M Salmond


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