A career soldier, he was educated at Harrow School and Sandhurst Military Academy. He was commissioned in the Irish Guards in 1911. During World War I he served on the Western Front, was wounded twice. He received the Military Cross in 1915, the Distinguished Service Order in 1916, and the Legion of Honour, and by 1918 was a brigadier.
Between the wars Alexander led the Baltic Landwehr in Latvia during the Russian Civil War and served in Turkey and Gibraltar before returning to England and the Staff College at Camberley and the Imperial Defense College. On October 14, 1931, he married Lady Margaret Diana Bingham, second daughter of the Earl of Lucan. In 1937 he was promoted to major general and joined the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
During World War II with the BEF he controlled the retreat to Dunkirk. After that he was promoted and sent to Burma at the beginning of that disaster. In August 1942 Winston Churchill sent him and Bernard Montgomery to North Africa to replace Claude Auchinleck. He presided over Montgomery's victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein. After the Anglo-American forces from Torch and the Western Desert forces met in Tunisia in January 1943, he became deputy to Dwight Eisenhower and Supreme Allied Commander in Italy. He was Eisenhower's preference to command D-Day but Churchill pressured to keep him in Italy, where he captured Rome in 1944. He received the German surrender in Italy on April 29 1945.
Sir Harold Alexander was created Viscount Alexander of Tunis in 1946 for his leadership the North Africa and Italy. In December 1946 he was made a Knight of the Garter and was elevated to Earl in 1952.
After the war Alexander was Governor General of Canada (1946-1952), and was a popular choice among the Canadian population. In addition to his reputation for military genius, Lord Alexander had a charismatic gift for making friends and communicating with people. This made him a popular and successful Governor General. He took his duties seriously – indeed, when he was asked to kick the opening ball in the 1946 Grey Cup final, he spent a number of early mornings practising.
He saw his role as a vital link between Canadians and their head of State, and was eager to convey that message wherever he went. His interest in personally communicating with Canadians never waned, whether he was meeting with residents of the Yukon Territory, speaking at a Canadian Club luncheon in Ottawa, talking with members of various First Nations or with a villager in rural Ontario. He travelled the country extensively, eventually logging more than 184,000 miles during his five years as Governor General.
On his first major visit to western Canada, he was presented on July 13, 1946, with a totem pole made by Kwakiutl carver Mungo Martin, to mark his installation as an Honorary Chief of the Kwakiutl, the first white man to be so honoured. The totem pole remains a popular attraction on the front lawn of Rideau Hall. During a later visit in 1950, he was made Chief Eagle Head of the Blackfoot Indians.
Lord Alexander's term – the post-WWII years – was an era of change for Canada. The post-war economy boomed in Canada, and a new prosperity began. In Letters Patent of 1947, King George VI gave the Governor General all of His Majesty's powers and authorities in respect of Canada. The document continues to be the source of the Governor General's powers today. In 1949, at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference, the decision was made to use the term "member of the Commonwealth" instead of "Dominion".
That same year, Newfoundland entered Confederation, and Lord Alexander visited the new province that summer. But by 1950, Canada was once again embroiled in war, as Canadian Forces fought in Korea against Communist North Korea and the People's Republic of China. Lord Alexander visited the troops heading overseas to give them his personal encouragement.
Lord Alexander hosted various dignitaries, including Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip who came to Canada for a Royal Tour in October 1951, less than two years before the Princess would become Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. The Alexanders hosted a square dancing party which the Princess and Prince attended. Lord Alexander also travelled abroad on official trips, visiting President Truman in the United States in 1947, and paying a State visit to Brazil in June 1948.
Generally, though, the Alexanders led an informal lifestyle. Lord Alexander was an avid sportsman, enjoying fishing, golf, hockey and rugby. Fond of the outdoors, he enjoyed attending the harvest of maple syrup in Ontario and Quebec, and personally supervised the tapping of the maple trees on the grounds of Rideau Hall. He was also a passionate painter, and in addition to setting up a studio for himself, in the former dairy which still stands today at Rideau Hall, he organized art classes at the National Gallery of Canada. Lady Alexander became an expert weaver while in Canada, and had two looms in her study.
Lord Alexander encouraged education in Canada. Many Canadian universities gave him honorary degrees, and he also received Honorary Doctor of Laws from Harvard and Princeton Universities in the United States. He also received the Order of Merit from King George VI in 1959.
In early 1952, after his term was extended twice, Lord Alexander left the office of Governor General, after British Prime Minister Churchill asked him to return to London to take the post of Minister of Defence. Lord Alexander returned to England quietly, due to the sudden death of King George VI on February 6, 1952. He was temporarily replaced by an administrator prior to the appointment of the Right Honourable Vincent Massey. He was created 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis and Baron Rideau of Ottawa, and of Castle Derg, county Tyrone on March 14, 1952. That same year, he was sworn into the British Privy Council, and was also a Canadian Privy Councillor.
Canada remained close to the Alexanders' hearts and they returned often to visit family and friends, and also because Lord Alexander held a directorship of the Aluminum Company of Canada. Lord Alexander died in 1969. His funeral was held June 24, 1969, at St. Georges Chapel, Windsor Castle, and his remains are buried in the churchyard of Ridge, near Tyttenhanger, his family's Hertfordshire home. Lady Alexander died in 1977.
Earl of Athlone
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Some text adapted from http://www.gg.ca