A Reassessment of Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig

Topics: British Expeditionary Force, Western Front, Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig Pages: 10 (3833 words) Published: December 13, 2012
Douglas Haig: One of the “Butchers”

The level of violence and loss experienced during the First World War was unlike anything that the world had seen before. The number of nations involved far surpassed any war that preceeded it. Only a handful of countries around the world were able to remain neutral, thereby protecting their populations from the massive losses that destroyed Europe. Technological advances in weaponary, new battle tactics, and the largest european armies ever raised were put on a global stage. Perhaps more than any other war, WWI changed warfare forever. With losses currently estimated to be about 37,466,904 worldwide, the sheer lose of life was staggering.[1] After the war however, a different form of loss occured. Officers who had commanded troops on the war torn battlefields eventually came under intense political and social fire for their actions. Many have been accused of incompetence, arrogance, and carelessness; words that are not fitting for some. The result has been that many great and reputable commanders have had their good names tarnished, changing their legacies for the worst. One such officer who has become a victim of history is the late English Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig the 1st Earl of Bemersyde. However, due to his critics, he is more commonly known as the "The Butcher of the Somme", or more simply, "Butcher Haig"; all epithets that his critics promote. Douglas Haig's critics have claimed that, among other things, he was unsuited for leadership, didn't care for his troops, disregarded technological advances, and failed to adapt to the changes in military strategy. Quite truthfully, those accusations are completely false. As this examination of Haig's life and military service will show, he was a capable commander, a caring superior, an innovator, and an effective tactician. However, to gain a full understanding of Douglas Haig, it is important to first understand his early life and career. Born on June 19, 1861 in Edinburg, Scotland, Douglas Haig was part of a powerful and proud Scottish family. As early as the 12th century, the Haigs were a family of warriors who controlled the region of Bemersyde. Members of the Haig clan fought in the Crusades, died supporting William Wallace in the struggle for Scottish freedom at the Battle of Bannockburn, and waged war in the King of Scotland James IV's attack on England. By the time of Douglas' birth, the family had taken to more peaceful occupations; but they still held their estate in Bemersyde. Douglas Haig's relation to the clan's head was distant, but direct. Douglas' father, John, was a distiller and owner of the family's world renound Scotch Whisky company.[2] From a young age, Douglas Haig was fascinated by the military. Around the age of fourteen he was on a debate team, and made the contested statement that "The Army had done the country more service than the Navy."[3] However, Haig was not considered to be a great student. Just before turning eighteen years of age, Douglas lost both of his parents in a period of one year. With both mother and father deceased, his elder siblings became his guardiens; in particular his sister Henrietta. He was also left with a large fortune that allowed him a considerable amount of independence and comfort. After spending a year traveling through the United States with his brother, Douglas Haig entered the Brasenose College branch of Oxford. It was here that he began to develop himself into the man that he would become. Haig became very hard working, and dedicated himself almost entirely to his work. One of his fellow students wrote that "No dinner and no club dettered Haig if he was not prepared for a particular lecture or essay. As to wine and cards he was more than absteminous."[4] Although Haig was very studious, an illness prevented him from fulfilling his requirements for a degree. Having missed that opportunity, he would not have been reelligable for three more years, which would have...
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