Field Marshal Douglas Haig was known by his own side as the “Butcher of the Somme”. And for good reason.
At Loos in 1915, Haig threw two entire divisions of inexperienced volunteers straight into battle as they arrived on the Western Front – with no rest, food, water and crucially little combat training. They were mown down row after row by German machine guns.
Despite his disaster at Loos, Haig was then allowed to preside over the darkest hour in the history of the British Army. On the 1st of July 1916, more than 57,000 of our soldiers were killed or seriously injured. One day. 57,000 British lives, each one a sitting target for German machine guns which Haig had proclaimed were “much overrated”.
That was just Day One. Haig kept the battle of the Somme going for another three months: 400,000 casualties for an advance of barely half a mile.
Incredibly, his command was still not removed from him. And in 1917, for his next disaster, he chose Paschendaele which saw the slaughter of another 230,000 British soldiers.
Haig was also known as the “Chateau General”. As British troops drowned in rat-invested trenches, their Commander in Chief once boasted he never got his boots wet. Instead, he dined in total luxury at a safe distance from the German guns, reportedly even having whole lambs diverted from the front and sent back for his family so they did not suffer food shortages.
AJP Taylor described the callous Haig as preferring
“an unsuccessful offensive under his own command to a successful one under someone else’s.”Yet after he died a natural death long after the butchery he oversaw, our nation erected a bronze statue of Earl Haig on horseback which today still enjoys pride of place on Whitehall.
I’d recommend anyone in doubt about Haig’s ability to read “The Donkeys” by the late Tory MP and military historian Alan Clark. Almost 20 years ago, Alan Clark supported a campaign to have Haig torn down from Whitehall.
Perhaps it would be more appropriate to replace Haig with a memorial to the ordinary Tommies who were the real heroes of the First World War.
It has even been suggested that the Haig bronze should be melted down to cast medals for the 300 British soldiers under his command who he had shot at dawn for desertion (who were this week granted official pardons).
What a pity Alan Clark died before his battle to remove Haig was won.