Aston, Sir George Grey
- Jim Beach
Aston, Sir George Grey (1861–1938), Royal Marine officer and writer, was born in Cape Colony on 2 December 1861, the youngest son of Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Aston, Indian army (retired), and his wife, Katherine, daughter of the Revd Abraham Faure, of the Cape of Good Hope. Educated at Westminster School and at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, he joined the Royal Marine Artillery in 1879.
Aston's first posting to the Mediterranean Fleet included active service ashore in the Sudan (1884). He then served in the Admiralty's foreign intelligence committee, which became the naval intelligence department. After passing Staff College, Camberley (1891), Aston returned to the Mediterranean Fleet as intelligence officer to Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon. He was on leave at the time of the HMS Victoria disaster in 1893, escaping the miscalculation which led to the loss of both admiral and ship; his admiration for the admiral resulted in a close relationship with the Tryon family. During his next appointment as professor of fortification at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich (1896–9), he became friend and mentor to the young Maurice Hankey. In the South African War, Aston served in logistics and later as an intelligence officer (8th division), although ill health prompted an early return to England (1900).
Staff work at the headquarters of the Royal Marines (1901–2) was followed by service with the Home Fleet (1903). At this time Aston was considered as a potential assistant secretary to the committee of imperial defence, but instead was recruited by Colonel Henry Rawlinson as an instructor at the Staff College (1904–7). Aston helped Rawlinson to forge closer army–navy links through joint exercises with the Naval War College. He advocated inter-service co-operation by writing a book, Letters on Amphibious Wars (1911), during his next posting, as a brigadier-general in South Africa (1908–12). He married on 1 June 1909 Dorothy Ellen, daughter of Vice-Admiral William Wilson, of Clyffe Pypard, near Swindon, Wiltshire. They had three sons and two daughters. Aston enjoyed his time in South Africa, serving as chief of staff to the commander-in-chief, Lord Methuen. Aston's hopes that he might become secretary of the committee of imperial defence were dashed when his protégé, Hankey, was appointed (1912).
Aston then served on the Admiralty war staff (1913–14), during which time he assisted Rear-Admiral Lewis Bayly in assessing potential amphibious operations in the North Sea. A second book, Sea, Land and Air Strategy (1914) was published as war began. At the end of August 1914 an unprepared Aston was dispatched for four days with an improvised brigade of Royal Marines to Ostend, to create a diversion to cover Belgian movements. After withdrawal and three weeks' further improvisation, his force was dispatched to Dunkirk. Aston's health then gave way and he was relieved of command. Until his retirement in 1917 he served as colonel commandant of the Royal Marine Artillery. During this time he was called to give evidence to the Dardanelles commission. This revived his interest in strategic matters, prompting him to pursue a post-war career in military journalism and on the fringes of academia. During this period he encouraged and befriended Captain Basil Liddell Hart, who was to replace him as military correspondent for The Times in 1935. His post-war publications included the autobiographical Memories of a Marine (1919), War Lessons, New and Old (1919), The Problem of Defence (1925), The Biography of the Late Marshal Foch (1929), and Secret Service (1930). He was editor of the seventh edition of Hamley's Operations of War (1922). His passion for fly-fishing produced Mostly about Trout (1921) and Letters to Young Flyfishers (1926).
Aston was appointed CB (1902) and KCB (1913). He was made aide-de-camp to the king in 1911. He died at his home, Hooklands, Woodford, Salisbury, Wiltshire, on 2 December 1938 and was buried at Woodford church three days later. His wife survived him.
- King's Lond., Liddell Hart C., diaries, corresp., and papers
- Royal Marines Museum, Eastney barracks, Southsea, Hampshire, papers
- King's Lond., Liddell Hart C., corresp. with Sir B. H. Liddell Hart
Wealth at Death
£1075 1s. 0d.: probate, 21 Jan 1939, CGPLA Eng. & Wales