Friday 21 June 2024

Douglas Haig, the educated soldier

This excellent book was first published in 1963 and went a long way to rehabilitate the memory of Field Marshal Douglas Haig.  Famous for being the Commander-in Chief from late 1915 until the end of the Great War, Haig was defamed by many after his death.  There were two main reason for this.  One was time, it takes around 10 years following a war before people are in a place to publish their memoirs of war.  Returning to civvy life, finding work, rebuilding family life, and writing their books all takes some time.  Many writing about their life in the trenches did not mention Haig himself, however, their writings were added to those who opposed him.  It was they who had not been popular with the Field Marshall who were keen to disparage his memory, General Allenby, sacked after failing at Arras for instance, was quick to join ex-Prime Minister Lloyd George is attacking Haig and blaming him for the 750,000 deaths incurred during the conflict.  Lloyd George was you will be surprised to hear being economical with the actuality.  I prefer 'lying' myself.  With generous support from his press baron friends the ex-PMs opinion came to dominate the discussion of the war.  Haig himself made no attempt to fix his opinion in anyone's mind, he just filled out his final report and left it at that.  He then spent the years until his death in 1928 seeking to aid soldiers groups in all British Empire nations.  Lloyd George did nothing.  Haig was awarded £100,000 by parliament in 1918 for services to winning the war, but refused to accept this until Lloyd George had grudgingly instituted a pension for his soldiers.  
This book attempted to give Haig's side of the war, and indeed he does come out of it well.  This is not a book dedicated to offering one side of the story, merely the author attempts to get at the truth.  
Haig's early life is covered briefly before his army career.  Then the war is gone into in detail, Mons, Ypres, Loos, and his taking command of an army now 2.5 million strong.  
Details of battles, conflict with French allies, and worse conflict with a London government convinced the failing French generals were better than their own.  This attitude runs through the book.  
The title does fit the image given of a hard working organised leader who goes through his paperwork carefully, seeks the details of all his armies tactics, and at all times attempted to lessen losses while accepting they were inevitable.  Soldiers do not start wars politicians do, only politicians on both sides, if they wish to, can end wars, soldiers merely fight them.  John Terraine's image of Haig is far more complete than that offered by a self-serving politician.  A famed politician who was soon out the door.  
Though this book is large, I would hate to have to carry the hardback, I raced through it as it was easy to read, words flowed and it is no wonder this became a ground breaking book in 1963.  I recommend it to any who wish to know the real Douglas Haig.


the fly in the web said...

I think I read this a while ago after you posted a defence of Haig's reputation.
The need to co ordinate with the French was a major problem throughout the war.

Adullamite said...

Fly, Indeed, that was a constant problem as this book makes clear.