By David Fletcher
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Additional resources for Crowood Armour - The British Tanks 1915-19
The life of the regimental officer in time of peace’, wrote one of Haig’s contemporaries, ‘is not sufficiently interesting to dwell upon at any great length, and soldering in the eighties of [sic] last century was not so strenuous as it became a few years later’. Officers ‘danced, hunted, shot, fished, played polo, raced and enjoyed [them]selves tremendously’. The writer was Haig’s bête noir Charles à Court Repington, late Rifle Brigade. 44 Douglas Haig was that rare thing, a subaltern (junior officer) who took peacetime soldiering seriously.
To take one example, most historians agree about the scale of the achievement in transforming the British army from the flat-footed amateur force that began the battle of the Somme in 1916 to the war-winner of 1918. But how much credit did the man at the top, Douglas Haig, deserve for this change? Did he, as the Dean at Edinburgh asserted in 1919, train as well as lead his army? Was Haig a passive spectator of the process of transformation? An active participant? Or something in between? Haig’s tenure as Commander-in-Chief must be judged in the round.
As a result, the picture that has emerged is rather different from the traditional image of Haig as a serial blunderer who learned nothing from his errors. This book does not argue that Haig was always right, or that he was a military genius. On the contrary, he made some serious mistakes that had bloody consequences, and I have not hesitated to criticise him. 8 But what has emerged from my research is, I think, a more nuanced picture of Haig the man and Haig the general. He was a flesh-and-blood human being, not an ogre.