Hickie, Sir William Bernard (1865–1950), British army general and commander of the 16th (Irish) division (1915–18), was born on 21 May 1865, the eldest son of Colonel James Francis Hickie, JP, of Slevoyre, Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary, former commanding officer of the 7th royal fusiliers, and Lucila Calista (de Tejada) Hickie (d. March 1880), daughter of Don Pablo Lariosy Herreros de Tejada of Laguna de Cameros, Castile. He was educated at Oscott College before attending Sandhurst and was commissioned into the royal fusiliers in 1885, serving in Egypt and India.
A major at the outbreak of the Boer war (1899), he served on the staff of Lieutenant-Colonel P. W. J. L. Gallais, commanding officer of the mounted infantry. On 6 November 1900 he was involved in an attempt to capture General De Wet at Bothaville, when a force led by Le Gallais and Lieutenant-Colonel Wally Ross stormed De Wet's camp. De Wet escaped, while a rearguard of 100 men engaged the British force. In a fierce fight Le Gallais was killed and Wally Ross badly wounded. Hickie decided to charge the Boer position and led his small force forward just as reinforcements under Major-General C. E. Knox arrived. The Boers immediately surrendered and some were found with explosive bullets. Hickie wanted to execute them immediately but Knox insisted that they be tried. Exasperated with the whole affair, Hickie gave a highly critical interview after the action which was later published in The Times history of the war in South Africa (7 vols, 1900–09), edited by L. S. Amery.
Hickie was promoted to brevet lieutenant-colonel in 1901 and appointed deputy adjutant quartermaster-general of the 8th division (1903–6). In 1906 he was given command of the 1st battalion of the royal fusiliers. Promoted to colonel in 1912, he served as assistant quartermaster-general of the Irish command (1912–14), and was created a CB in 1914. On the outbreak of the first world war, he was promoted to brigadier-general and served in Belgium and France in command of the adjutant's and quartermaster-general's department of II Corps. In this capacity, he was involved in the retreat from Mons and the battle of the Marne (September 1914). In December 1915 he was appointed to command the 16th (Irish) Division, with the rank of major-general, replacing General Sir Lawrence W. Parsons (qv). The division was based around a core of Redmondite national volunteers, and Hickie, a catholic and a home ruler, was an acceptable commander to John Redmond (qv) and other Irish nationalists.
Hickie was professional, politically adept, and popular with his men, and under his leadership the 16th was renowned for its aggressive fighting spirit. He commanded the division during the battle of the Somme in 1916 and, while proud of his men's success in capturing Guillemont and Ginchy (September 1916), was appalled by their losses. When the division was ordered to capture Messines in June 1917, he gave Major Willie Redmond (qv) permission to advance as far as the first objective and, following Redmond's death, reproached himself bitterly. After this attack the division was transferred to the fifth army and provided assault troops for future attacks. During the third battle of Ypres, and especially during the attack on Langemarck in August 1917, the division suffered horrendous casualties, losing 221 officers and 4,064 men. Among the casualties was Fr Willie Doyle (qv), who Hickie unsuccessfully recommended for a Victoria Cross. The division's losses at Langemarck were highlighted by Irish MPs in the commons, and Hickie's handling of the attack was criticised. By this time, nationalist disillusionment with the war meant that few Irish replacements were available, and Hickie was forced to accept increasing numbers of non-Irish conscripts into the division. Worn down by years of command, his health finally broke and, in February 1918, he was sent home on sick leave, being replaced by Major-General Sir Amyatt Hull.
In 1918 Hickie was created a KCB and was also awarded the French croix de guerre. During the Irish war of independence (1919–21), he was critical of the methods used by crown forces, denouncing in particular the indiscipline of the Black and Tans. In 1921 he retired from the army and became a prominent figure in the British Legion in Ireland, tirelessly campaigning on behalf of ex-servicemen. In the 1920s he was involved with the Irish battlefield memorial committee, which erected memorial crosses at Wytschaete, Guillemont, and Salonika, commemorating the 10th and 16th divisions. Hickie later served as a senator of the Irish Free State (1925–36). Retiring from public life in 1936 to his residence at Terryglass, Co. Tipperary, he devoted his last years to gardening and reading. He died 3 November 1950 in Dublin, and was buried at Terryglass. He married a daughter of the novelist Rev. J. O. Hannay (qv), who predeceased him. There is a small collection of Hickie's papers in the NLI.