London: George Washington has been named as the greatest foe ever faced by the British, according to a contest run by the National Army Museum to identify the country’s most outstanding military opponent.
The first President of US was one of a shortlist of five leaders who topped a public poll and on Saturday was selected as the ultimate winner by an audience of around 70 guests at a special event at the museum, in Chelsea, west London.
In second place was Michael Collins, the Irish leader, ahead of Napoleon Bonaparte, Erwin Rommel and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
At the event, each contender had their case made by a historian giving a 40 minute presentation. The audience, who had paid to attend the day, then voted in a secret ballot after all five presentations had been made.
“As British officers conceded, he was a worthy opponent,” the Telegraph quoted Stephen Brumwell, who had championed Washington as saying.
The shortlist of five was selected from an initial list of 20 candidates, drawn up by the museum’s curators.
To qualify, each commander had to come from the 17th century onwards – the period covered by the museum’s collection – and had to have led an army in the field against the British, thus excluding political enemies, like Adolf Hitler.
The contest was designed to not only identify Britain’s most outstanding opponent, but also to draw attention to some lesser-known adversaries.
Most of the 20 fought in various colonial wars, such as Ntshingwayo kaMahole, the Zulu leader and victor of Isandlwana, one of the British army’s greatest military defeats, and Tipu Sultan, known as the “Tiger of Mysore”, who resisted British expansion in India.
Alongside Rommel, the only Second World War leader was Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese commander who oversaw the fall of Singapore.
The one woman on the list was Rani of Jhansi, who fought British forces in nineteenth century India.
The online poll was launched in the middle of February, and around St Patrick’s Day – March 17 – there was a surge in support for Michael Collins, although several people pointed out on the museum’s website that, technically, the guerrilla leader never led an army on a battlefield.
He took a strong lead, but the contest was later featured in the Turkish media, leading to wave of support for Ataturk, who ended up winning with more than 3,000 votes – 40 percent of those cast.
The museum selected the format – of an online poll followed by a closed vote – to filter out tactical voting, reducing the risk that a candidate could win thanks to orchestrated “block” voting – along national lines – rather than on the specific criteria of their performance in battle against the British.
The eventual winner, George Washington, came fourth in the online poll, with less than two per cent of the vote.
The top five foes were:
George Washington (1732-99) – 45 percent
Michael Collins (1890-1922) – 21 percent
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) – 18 percent
Erwin Rommel (1891-1944) – 10 percent
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) – 6 percent