Was Field Marshall Haig a Butcher or a Hero?



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Was Field Marshall Haig a Butcher or a Hero?
Field Marshall Haig is one of the most controversial characters in British history and has caused great debate among historians. On one side of the historical debate some view him as an incompetent, heartless butcher, who did not care about human life. However, others view him as a great hero whose tactics and leadership led to Britain winning the war. Finally, some hold the view that he did the best he could under the circumstances of trench warfare.
It is up to you, in your groups, from using the sources provided, to decide whether Field Marshall Haig was a butcher, a hero, or a man who did the best he could under the circumstances. (or maybe you have another theory on Haig.) Remember in History when you make a judgment you have to back it up with evidence!!
Remember to work as a team and discuss all the different sources.
For Haig
Source A by General Haig before the battle of the Somme in 1916.

The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men's lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists.
Source B is by Duff Cooper who was asked by the Haig family to write Sir Douglas Haig's official biography.

There are still those who argue that the Battle of the Somme should never have been fought and that the gains were not commensurate with the sacrifice. To have refused to fight then and there would have meant the abandonment of Verdun to its fate and the breakdown of the co-operation with the French.
Source C is from “The Flowers of the Forest”, Trevor Royle

Reserved and inarticulate, he was much misunderstood even by those close to him; he could appear cold and remote, yet that constraint often marked sentimental feelings which he felt unable to express.”


Source D is by John Buchan, from Memory Hold the Door published in 1940.

But in a soldier character is at least as vital as intellect, and there can be no question about the quality of his (Douglas Haig) character. He had difficulties with his allies, with his colleagues, with the home Government, Haig cannot enter the small circle of the greater captains, but it may be argued that in the special circumstances of the campaign his special qualities were the ones most needed - patience, sobriety, balance of temper, unshakable fortitude.

Source E is from “The Flowers of the Forest”, Trevor Royle

“….Haig was……deeply influenced by his Scottish background and heritage. More than anything else, he was a child of the Church of Scotland and his Presbyterian upbringing instilled in him a powerful sense of Christian duty allied to a highly-developed work ethic and a mystical belief in the relevance of self-sacrifice.”


Source F is from V. Rev. G.S. Duncan, Church of Scotland, quoted in “Douglas Haig -The Educated Soldier”, John Terraine

Haig’s faith was essentially practical……what it did for him was to give him an unshakeable confidence in victory, a resolute will for victory and a serenity which remained unclouded in the darkest hour.”


Source G is by Sir Llewellyn Woodward. He wrote about Sir Douglas Haig in his book Great Britain and the War of 1914-1918 that was published in 1967.

His knowledge of his profession was sound and solid; he was a man of strong nerve, resolute, patient, somewhat cold and reserved in temper, unlikely to be thrown off his balance either by calamity or success. He reached opinions slowly, and held to them. He made up his mind in 1915 that the war could be won on the Western Front, and only on the Western Front. He acted on this view, and, at the last, he was right, though it is open to argument not only that victory could have been won sooner elsewhere but that Haig's method of winning it was clumsy, tragically expensive of life, and based for too long on a misreading of the facts.

Source H is from Liddell-Hart’s History of the First World War

Haig decided to use a mere sixty tanks on the Somme, because at that time the offensive at the Somme had practically come to a standstill….With Haig this act may have been prompted by a laudable if unwise desire to economise the lives of his infantry without giving up on his offensive. He had certainly shown his willingness to clutch at any new aid.”
Source I is from “Douglas Haig -The Educated Soldier”, John Terraine

Haig said as early as April 7th [1916] that he hoped to use tanks in the Big Push….[he] clearly was receptive to new ideas and his use of tanks was not a gamble as it was planned five months before, when the battle had not yet begun and every competent authority knew that it was so.”


Source J is from “Douglas Haig -The Educated Soldier”, John Terraine

“….Haig set in hand plans which gave the tanks their first great opportunity of transforming modern war….if he clearly cannot be described as a “father” of the tank,



he should be remembered as the “godfather”.
Source K is by U.S General John J. Pershing.

Haig was the man who won the war.
Source L is by a modern historian. Haig was faced with an impossible dilemma in a war that no-one was prepared for or able to win on the battlefield.

Source M is by the Historian Robert Smith.

Haig was under constant pressure from the British Government for a morale boosting victory over the Germans. Sitting in the trenches doing nothing waiting for the Germans to surrender was unacceptable.
Source N is from Field-Marshal Haig’s Order of the Day, 11 April 1918, quoted in “1914-1918, Voices and Images of the Great War”, Lyn Macdonald

Words fail me to express the admiration which I feel for the splendid resistance offered by all ranks of our army under the most trying circumstances. Many of us are now tired. To those I would say victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest……There is no other course open to us but to fight it out! Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind alike depend on the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.”


Source O is from Field-Marshal Haig’s Order of the Day, 10 September 1918, quoted in “1914-1918, Voices and Images of the Great War”, Lyn Macdonald

To have commanded this splendid Army, which, at a time of grave crisis, has so nobly done its duty, fills me with pride. We have passed through so many dark days together. Please God these will never return. The enemy has now spent his effort, and I rely confidently upon each one of you to turn to full advantage the opportunity which your skill, courage and resolution have created.”


Source P is from Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland, ed. John Keay & Julia Keay

Though Haig deserved every credit for the Armistice that followed his final assault (and was duly awarded with KT 1919 and earldom 1921), he was also one of those who regarded the human cost as exorbitant; he devoted the rest of his life to caring for the wounded and bereaved. He created the British legion (1921) and was its first President as well as head of the United Services Fund. The former Haig home at Bemersyde was bought for him by a grateful nation and St Andrew University elected him Rector and then Chancellor. At his own request he was buried at Dryburgh Abbey.”


Source Q is from “Douglas Haig -The Educated Soldier”, John Terraine

[After the war had ended] “ as Churchill say: “Titles, grants, honours of every kind, all the symbols of public gratitude were showered upon him [Haig]; but he was given no work…” This strange state of affairs can only be explained by reference to the personal factor; Lloyd George, overwhelmingly victorious in his Coupon election”, pursued his antagonism without charity; indeed…he continued it beyond the grave. Haig made no protest at his treatment; when attacks upon him began to appear in print, and to become fashionable, he made no answer; he wrote no books or newspaper articles……..Haig made himself the founder of the British Legion….this work occupied the rest of his days, from the very moment when his public duties ceased until the day of his death (probably much hastened by this toil)….The fact that he had begun to move towards acceptance of this post-war duty some two years before the War ended is also significant; it provides the true answer to the charge that he was ever callous or insensible to the sufferings of his me. It was on February 20th, 1917….that he addressed a letter to the Secretary of State for War in which he pressed for adequate pensions, medical benefits and organised work-schemes for disabled officers…..This was just the starting point of his labours for all ex-Servicemen….Only his reputation amongst the ex-soldiers could have accomplished…[the bringing] together [of] the various ex-service organisations [which, in June 1921, were] welded together in the British Legion.”


Against Haig
Source A is from “The Flowers of the Forest”, Trevor Royle

“….Haig managed to get across the message that French had not only failed at Loos but was now incapable of directing the British Army’s operations in France. He said as much to King George V during a royal visit to the Front on 24 October [1915] and in the weeks that followed French’s position became untenable. On 8th December French resigned as C in C and was replaced by Haig.”


Source B is from Winston Churchill, quoted in “Douglas Haig -The Educated Soldier”, John Terraine

The battlefields of the Somme were the graveyards of Kitchener’s Army.”



Source C is from “Douglas Haig -The Educated Soldier”, John Terraine

It is perfectly clear from Haig’s diary that he had no sense whatever, on July 1st, of the catastrophe that had befallen his army.”


Source D is by William Brooks who was a private in the British army during World War 1. Haig's nickname was the butcher. He'd think nothing of sending thousands of men to certain death. The utter waste and disregard for human life and human suffering by the so-called educated classes who ran the country. What a wicked waste of life. I'd hate to be in their shoes when they face their Maker.

Source E is by James Lovegrove who was a lieutenant in the British Army during World War 1. The military commanders had no respect for human life. General Douglas Haig, later he was made a Field Marshal, cared nothing about casualties. Of course, he was carrying out government policy, because after the war he was knighted and given a lump sum and a massive life-pension. I blame the public schools who bred these ego maniacs. They should never have been in charge of men. Never!

Source F is by the historian Chris McLean. The Battle of the Somme

Haig was ultimately responsible for the planning and direction of the series of battles known collectively as the Battle of the Somme. Despite his awareness of what had gone wrong at Neuve Chappelle, and again at Loos, and the failure of these battles, Haig still repeated the same principles of attack, although on a vastly greater scale. Yet again, he made no allowance for the failure of the artillery to cut the wire and completely misjudged the capacity of the Germans to survive his artillery bombardments, despite the tremendous bombardments they were still able to fire their machine guns and cause immense carnage on his unprotected men. One important reason why the bombardments were not successful was because about one in three of the British shells failed to explode! Haig was aware of the deficiencies in his ammunition but failed to realise how seriously this affected the effects of the shelling.

Source G is by the historian Lyn Macdonald in “Somme”

[In late July 1916] Churchill had written a carefully considered paper criticising the whole conception of the Somme offensive and, weighing the awful cost of losses against gains measured in yards rather than miles , against stalemate rather than advance, and against the grand strategy which had been swept along on a tide of bloodshed, he had concluded that little or nothing had been achieved and questioned the wisdom of continuing what he saw as a vain sacrifice of life and endeavour for what appeared to be no foreseeably fruitful result. Churchill had circulated the paper to every member of the War Cabinet.”



Source H is quoted in “Douglas Haig -The Educated Soldier”, John Terraine

So the great secret was sold for the battered ruin of a little hamlet on the Somme which was not worth capturing.” Lloyd George complaining about the use of tanks in the Battle of the Somme,


Source I is from Winston Churchill, quoted in “Douglas Haig -The Educated Soldier”, John Terraine “This priceless conception [the tank] containing, if used…..on a sufficient scale, the certainty of a great and brilliant victory was revealed to the Germans for the mere petty purpose of taking a few ruined villages.”
Source J is by the Historian Dr Marion Barbor. Haig realised that the offensive would bring with it many allied causalities, however, he believed that they were fighting for a just cause and that God was on their side.

Source K is by historian John Kane. Haig was in a very difficult situation at the Somme and it is all well complaining about what he did, but he had only a short time to think of what to do and Haig had to do what he did and though he didn’t exactly succeed, no-one better was found to take his place which has to mean something about his ability. However, I don’t think Haig should have come out of it as a hero, since there really was nothing heroic that he did, sending thousands of men over the top without much thought of the consequences.

Source L is by William John who was a soldier during World War 1.

There is nothing heroic about what Haig did -the heroes were the badly trained Tommies who carried out what were at times completely deranged orders.

Source M is by Dr Ferguson, A revisionist account of 1914-18, entitled The Pity of War

I don't really think one could like Haig, who was an unemotional man with a character as hard as granite and whose imperviousness to the suffering of his soldiers is really very hard to admire.

Source N is by an unknown soldier after the War was over. I was demobbed a few days after my 21st birthday, after four and a half years of service. My leg had shrunk a bit and I was given a pension of twenty-five shillings per week for six months. Dropping to nine shillings per week for a year, the pension ceased altogether. During this time the government, in the flush of victory, were busily engaged in fixing the enormous sums to be voted as gratuities to the high-ranking officers who had won the war for them. Heading the formidable list were Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and Admiral Sir David Beatty. For doing the jobs for which they were paid, each received a tax-free golden handshake of £100,000 (a colossal sum then), an earldom and, I believe, an estate to go with it. Many thousands of pounds went to leaders lower down the scale. Sir Julian Byng picked up a trifle of £30,000 and was made a viscount. If any reader should ask, 'What did the demobbed Tommy think about all this?' I can only say, 'Well, what do you think?'


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