How accurate is the statement ‘Lions led by donkeys’ in relation to British Soldiers and Generals of the First World War?
In the First World War, more men died than in any other war before. Some people say this was because the generals, like General Haig were 'donkeys' who wasted the lives of their brave men. And they think the war was only won because of the brave soldiers who were ‘lions'. I will examine who the real lions and donkeys were by evaluating a number of sources. Generals were donkeys...
I will now look at sources that suggest generals were donkeys. Gerard de Groot, a Belgian biographer, wrote in 1989. 'Haig was not a front line General. Instead he preferred the comforts of his chateau well in the rear.' It supports the view that lions were led by donkeys as it implies that Haig thought his own comfort was more important than the situation at the front line. This shows Haig to be a poor general, because although events could be explained to him by telephone, this wouldn't have been as reliable as seeing what conditions were like in person, with his own eyes. Because Haig did not witness the bloodshed at the front line and see that his current strategy of sending more and more men 'over the top' was resulting in butchery, he could not adjust his tactics accordingly and stop men from getting killed unnecessarily. The fact that more men died in this war that in any other supports this because if anyone had sent thousands of men to attack without even knowing what the situation was like, the result would be more men dying than in any other war. The source could've been biased either way because Gerard de Groot was a biographer, and he could have written this for a biography of Douglas Haig that was for Haig's family, (so he would appear kind), or for someone who didn't like Haig, and wanted this biography to portray him as an evil man. However, I don't think this source was biased, because it does not show the opinion of the writer, just the fact that Haig preferred his chateau rather than the trenches.. 'He was a butcher. We had no chance. Most of my mates were dead in the first ten yards.' Private George Coppard, who took part in the battle of the Somme in 1929, wrote this source. I think it was written to try to make people feel sorry for him, and make people dislike General Haig because his friends were killed. But although this may be biased, it is backed up by sources written by Gerard de Groot, Bill Brooks, Bernard Montgomery, etc. It is also backed up by historical evidence, which says that almost twenty thousand men were dead in the first day. This supports the view that lions were led by donkeys because it suggests that George Coppard's 'brave' friends were killed by General Haig wrongly ordering them to go over the top and carry on advancing even though they were being mowed down by the enemy. Sources from textbook:
Haig wrote just before the Battle of Somme, 1916. ‘The nation must be taught to bear losses...The nation must be prepared to see real casualties....three years of war and the loss of one-tenth of Britain’s men is not too great price to pay’. This suggests that Haig did know that so many people had already died and yet he still ordered more attacks. This shows he didn’t care about all the losses, making him an inconsiderate fool. Instead he said the nation must be taught to bear losses, meaning there would be many more deaths to come. Although some people may think that Haig was just telling it straight to the public, he wasn’t covering up the truth of the terrifying war and he was informing the public to expect many deaths, making him a wise general and not a donkey. From Josh Brooman’s book ‘The Great War’, 1991. ‘On that first day of the Battle of the Somme, 20 000 British soldiers were killed and 35 000 wounded, but this did not make General Haig want to change his methods’. This author of this book is basically saying despite General Haig knowing the number of...
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