Greenwood, Sir Hamar (1870–1948), last chief secretary for Ireland, was born 7 February 1870 in Whitby, Ontario, Canada, elder son among two sons and six daughters of John Hamar Greenwood, barrister, originally from Llanbister, mid Wales, and his wife Charlotte Churchill Hubbard. He was registered at birth as Thomas Hubbard Hamar Greenwood, but always used ‘Hamar’, the maiden name of his father's mother. After attending Whitby High School, he worked in the Ontario department of agriculture and served for eight years as a lieutenant in the Canadian militia. He attended Toronto University, graduating BA in 1895, the year he moved to England. In 1902 he helped raise what became King Edward's Horse, a yeomanry regiment for British subjects from the empire, in which he served as an officer for ten years before going on to the general reserve. He was called to the bar at Gray's Inn in 1906, taking silk in 1919.
He was elected as Liberal MP for York in 1906. After losing that seat in January 1910, he won Sunderland the following December. When world war broke out, this passionate imperialist threw himself into recruiting, for which he was created a baronet (8 February 1915), and raised and commanded a volunteer battalion, 10th South Wales Borderers, which fought in the Somme campaign as part of 38th (Welsh) Division. This experience reinforced his attachment to the empire. It also left him unmoved in the face of violence: unlike his predecessor in Ireland, Ian MacPherson (qv), Greenwood never showed the slightest fear of an Irish assassin's bullet. He returned to political life in August 1916, to become a supporter of Lloyd George.
Greenwood was appointed chief secretary on 12 April 1920, not long after the first temporary recruits to the RIC (‘Black and Tans’) had begun service in Ireland. A year later Mark Sturgis (qv) wrote: ‘Hamar has, somewhat unfairly, been the target all through, the butt for all the unpopularity – coercion incarnate . . .’ (Sturgis, ed. Hopkinson, 162). Yet in his first months of office Greenwood released prisoners and suspects, curtailed deportations, supported administrative reform in the Castle, and wrote to his cabinet colleague Bonar Law that ‘we can save this country from the bitterness of war’, and should ‘leave no grievance unremedied that can be remedied’ (quoted in Townshend, 76–7). However, by late summer what was widely perceived as ‘the Greenwood policy’ comprised the coercive Restoration of Order in Ireland Act, 1920 (passed 9 August), and a more aggressive use of crown forces – in particular the reinforced RIC, spearheaded by its new Auxiliary Division. Greenwood had taken on the role that his wife later ruefully described as ‘the Stick Shaker’ (Sturgis, ed. Hopkinson, 167–8).
Greenwood, who neither originated nor administered coercive policy, became identified with it as its most conspicuous spokesman. This, of course, had its uses for the cabinet; on one occasion, Greenwood drafted a speech for himself including remarks in favour of peace. These were cut out, to reserve the role of peacemaker for the prime minister (ibid., 167). Otherwise, his main influence on the cabinet lay in his emphasis on the successes of the security forces, thus reducing pressure for a political solution. He influenced events in Ireland indirectly, through his vigorous public defence of police and army against charges of misconduct ranging up to arson and homicide. He tended to dismiss accusations as invented or exaggerated by rumour, hostile press, or republican propaganda; to defend substantiated events, such as unofficial reprisals, on the grounds of grave provocation; and to counter demands for punishment with claims that culprits could not be identified, or that the morale of police and army would suffer. Greenwood used these themes often enough, and incautiously enough, to damage his credibility. On at least two occasions he condemned the use of reprisals, but some interpreted this as mere window-dressing.
As Sir Warren Fisher told Greenwood, ‘he was a heavy man to be on thin ice’ (ibid., 82). His bluff personality equipped him to be (at times) a jovial companion, but not adroit at handling colleagues, still less opponents. He consequently took little active part in the behind-the-scenes dialogue that resulted in the Anglo–Irish truce of July 1921, contacts for which had been developed largely by his most senior officials in Dublin Castle working (somewhat to his annoyance) discreetly behind his back. Despite his Canadian background and Liberal alignment, he showed no such insight into the psychological mainsprings of Irish nationalism and unionism, and the complexity of questions of identity, ethnicity, religion, and allegiance, as was shown by the South African Jan Christian Smuts. As a British delegate in the negotiations that led to the treaty of December 1921, he was one of those omitted from the sub-committees in the later stages of the talks.
After the treaty Greenwood remained chief secretary till the fall of the Lloyd George government in October 1922, but took little part in the running-down of British administration in Ireland, except in working for the pension rights of RIC personnel. He lost his Sunderland seat in the November general election, but was elected as an ‘anti-socialist’ MP for Walthamstow in 1924. In 1929 he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Greenwood of Llanbister . He made a great deal of money through myriad directorships, secured business support for the Conservative party, and was advanced to a viscountcy in 1937. He died in London on 10 September 1948. A head-and-shoulders portrait of him in uniform (1918), by Walter Stoneman, is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
He married (1911) Margery Spencer of Herefordshire; they had two sons and two daughters, all of whose names included ‘Hamar’. His elder son, David Henry Hamar Greenwood (1914–98), succeeded him in the titles. In contrast to her pompous, teetotal husband, whom she survived, Lady Greenwood endeared herself to the small group of British officials cooped up in Dublin Castle in 1920–21 by her wit, courage, acute and independent judgement, and devil-may-care attitude. She was appointed CBE in 1920 and DBE in 1922 for her services to Ireland. In her case the honours were probably deserved.