The word "marshal" comes from the Frankish marescalci, or Master of the Horse. In medieval kingdoms, the marshal was generally an officer of the royal household responsible for commanding the king's cavalry troops; he was usually subordinate to the Constable, the commander of the king's army.
The British Army no longer promotes new Field Marshals in peacetime; the last officer to be appointed to the rank was Lord Inge, former Chief of Defence Staff, in 1994. However, the rank still formally exists, fulfilling a similar role to General of the Army in the United States Army.
The rank insignia of a Field Marshal consist of crossed batons over a laurel wreath, and a crown.
Several other armies use the rank, particularly those in the Commonwealth.
The rank of Field Marshal exists in the Australian Army, though it is rarely used due to the army's small size. The only native-born Australian ever to hold the rank was Sir Thomas Blamey, a Second World War general, who was promoted to the rank on 2 June 1950. The only current (honorary) holder of the rank is HRH the Duke of Edinburgh; his rank is purely ceremonial and he has no active role in the Australian armed forces.
The Field Marshal rank in Germany dates back to the Prussian Army of the 19th century. It was later used by Adolf Hitler during World War II when he promoted twelve Field Marshals on July 19, 1940 by Adolf Hitler following the successful conclusion of the Third Reich's campaign in France.
Hitler's most famous promotion came in January 1943 when he elevated Friedrich Paulus, commander of the Sixth German Army during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, to the rank during the Battle of Stalingrad. The obvious implication was that Paulus was to hold the city to the death, since no field marshal in German history had ever surrendered. Paulus later surrendered, allegedly stating "I have no intention of shooting myself for that Bohemian corporal", referring both to Hitler's non-German birth and his rank during World War I.
Although theoretically the rank still exists in modern Germany, no one has ever been appointed to the position.
- The British Field Marshals, 1736-1997: A Biographical Dictionary, Colin F. Baxter, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 65, No. 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 218-219
- London Gazette, 2 June 1950