Born in India, 1887, Lord Ismay was educated in the United Kingdom at Charterhouse School and the Royal Military College of Sandhurst, and in 1907 returned to India where he began a distinguished military career serving initially on the North West Frontier. During the First World War he saw active service in Somaliland. He returned to India again after the war and served on the staff of the Commander -in-Chief of the British Forces. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Lord Ismay was made Deputy Secretary to the British War Cabinet, becoming the Chief of Staff to Winston Churchill and later to Clement Attlee when the latter became Prime Minister and Minister of Defence in 1945. He participated in many important international conferences, including Moscow, Tehran and Yalta, and in 1946 was made Chief of Staff to Lord Mountbatten in the negotiations for India's independence.
Lord Ismay was the first Secretary General of NATO. He was appointed to the post on March 13, 1952, and took up office both as Secretary General of the Organisation and as Vice-Chairman of the North Atlantic Council on April 4, 1952, the third anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty. The functions he was to assume had been carried out since 1951 by Charles Spofford, Chairman of the Council Deputies. The chairmanship of the Council itself continued to be held by the Foreign Minister of one of the member countries rotating annually, until 1956 when the Secretary General of NATO became the Chairman of the North Atlantic Council at whatever level of government representation it chose to meet. Foreign Ministers continue to act as honorary Presidents of the Council whenever it meets at Ministerial level.
Lord Ismay retired from his post as Secretary General in May 1957 an was succeeded by Paul-Henri Spaak, Foreign Minister of Belgium. Lord Ismay died in 1965.