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Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier Paperback – 15 Mar 1990
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An objective and accurate re-examination of this much-maligned figure. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
John Terraine is the eminent military historian and author. Four of his books on the First World War are available from Cassell. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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We are taken through Haig's military career, first in Egypt and South Africa, then as an Edwardian staff officer, and in no time we are into the First World War. Initially the British were very much subordinate to the French, and had to fight battles (Loos and the Somme) on battlefields and at times not of their own choosing. Despite the numerous attempts of Lloyd-George to get rid of Haig, and when this wasn't possible to undermine and discredit him, we see him building up a vast well-equipped and trained army, confidently pressing on to victory in 1918. In showing Haig variously placating and confronting French generals and British politicians, we are given an insight into why the war proceeded as it did.
Terraine is not one to gloss over Haig's weaknesses, and in particular his faith in Chartaris, as head of intelligence, and Gough in 1917 in the Flanders Offensive. But Terraine believes that the allied victories in the summer and autumn of 1918 were among the most decisive in modern history, and were of Haig's doing. Postwar, Haig was philosophical as the newly re-elected Lloyd-George seldom missed an opportunity to vindictively belittle his achievements and to deny him public office. Haig dedicated himself to setting up the British Legion to help the soldiers who had fought for him, and their families.
There is a gulf between popular perceptions of Haig (in the 1990s the Daily Express launched an unsuccessful campaign to have the statue of him removed from Whitehall) and the scholarship of military historians, many of whom hold him in high regard. Those who only know about Douglas Haig from "Oh What a Lovely War" and "Blackadder Goes Forth" will, if they can overcome their prejudices, find this wonderful book a revelation
It says on the back of the book that Haig remains one of the most controversial figures of WWI. As Commander-in-Chief of the British Army on the Western Front he has been held responsible for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of his own soldiers in the muddy killing fields of Ypres and the Somme. Undeniably WWI was an extremely bloody affair, but I should think that that charge could be laid at the door of every Commander involved on the Western Front.
Haig had a rather bad relationship with David Lloyd George so it doesn't surprise that the PM never had anything positive to say about Haig. Besides, the chap was a politician, which should speak for itself. The one message I took home from the book is that the British Army most of the time was rather under-equipped and understaffed. Yet Haig still managed to beat the enemy in the field. So he can't have been all that bad.
As I said I found the book rather excellent but at times it can be quite a gruesome reading.
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