Address by John Terraine, FRHistS, Hon Fellow ofKeble College, Oxford:
Patron of the Douglas Haig Fellowship, Secretary, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Fellowship, Good afternoon, and warm greetings to you all. If ever there was an occasion in my life calling for references to 'never in my wildest dreams' and so
forth, this is it.
I promise you that I am not trying to draw you into any private mutual admiration society when I say that the occasion itself is all due to the inspiration and industry of our Secretary, Kathy Stevenson, whose idea it originally was, and to the warm support and invaluable help which our Patron, Lord Haig, gave to it unhesitatingly and without stint.
For me, this occasion affords more than a great pleasure, it is also a great honour to be able to foregather here today, to pay just and due respect to the memory of Field-Marshal Earl Haig, Sir Douglas Haig as he was all through the First World War, and from December 1915 Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, DH to his close associates, the Chief to the many loyal and loving subordinates who in varying degrees helped him to bear the great burden of command. It is comforting and satisfying to meet with like-minded men and women whose aim is no more - and no less - than to see justice done.
That, I would say, is our whole purpose - the cement of our Fellowship. We seek justice for the memory of a great soldier, a great man: only justice, only that.
As John Buchan (Lord Tweedsmuir), who was for a time attached to Haig's staff at GHQ, and knew him as a Tweedside neighbour after the war, percipiently observed,
"He became so much the subject of controversy that those who loved him, as I did, were inclined to a mere defiant eulogy. But eulogy was the last thing that so rare a personality sought or desired.'
I think it is a very profound observation. It has for a long time annoyed me immeasurably that, thanks to the rancorous, ill-informed and frequently mendacious attacks on Douglas Haig, it has become practically impossible to discuss him intelligently. The phenomenon is not confined to Haig, it is one that disfigures current military history all too often, and seems to be impervious to any confrontation with simple fact. I recall a well-known publicist, reviewing Sir Philip Magnus's biography of Lord Kitchener, saying that 'he lost the Battle of Paardeburg by a repetition of his galloping tactics at Omdurman1. Neither the publicist nor his editor (it was the New Statesman that contained the review) would accept that this judgment was in the least affected by the fact that it was Kitchener's opponent, the Boer General Cronje, who surrendered with his whole army at the end of the Battle of Paardeburg, and that Kitchener's 'galloping tactics at Omdurman' consisted of standing in square all day and mowing down the Dervishes in thousands at long range by modern fire-power. In the same style, a lady participant in a recent literary discussion programme on TV interjected 'And that, of course, is why we lost the First World War.' No-one corrected her.
I mention these astonishing examples of a degree of prejudice which can only be described as 'purblind' only to show how far-reaching is the mental obstacle that we confront. And that, I fear, is the fly in our ointment today.
The very fact of such a gathering as this - of the need for it and the lightness of it - reflects, in my opinion, a national disgrace. Nowhere else, in no other country, to the best of my knowledge, has it seemed right and proper to heap scorn and reproach upon a whole generation of senior Army officers without any regard for the context within which they operated, or for their achievements. Nowhere else has a victorious Commander-in-Chief been rewarded by decades of mindless contempt - a contemptible proceeding.
Yet these are the attitudes that are constantly propagated by our ignorant and irresponsible media, often ventilated but scarcely ever corrected in Parliament, propounded in colleges, schools down to primary level and highly acclaimed books which ought never to have seen the light of day. But this falsehood is today's received opinion, that is what I mean by a national disgrace.
I have done my best to combat it in my books with, I think, some effect, but nothing like as much as I would have wished. I am very glad to see John Hussey here with us today, because he is carrying the good work forward, roused, I think, almost beyond bearing, by the most mendacious vilification since the War Memories of Lloyd George: I am, of course, referring to the book which goes under the entirely misleading title of Haig's Command.
And there are, thank Heaven! other voices. We are fortunate in having with us two editors of the British Army Review, the present editor, Michael Crawshaw, and Bryan Watkins, who held the post for many successful years. It was Bryan, back in 1981, who commissioned the article in which I crystallized my own view of where Douglas Haig stands in our military history (and I repeated the gist of this in the new Introduction to the recently re-published edition of Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier), I said in the British Army Review:
‘The toughest assignment in modern British military history (ie. since the creation of our first real Regular Army, the New Model, in 1645) has been high command in war against the main body of a main continental enemy. Three British officers have undertaken such a task and brought it to a successful conclusion: the Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Wellington and Field-Marshal Lord Haig.'
In the new Introduction to my book I remarked:
'This fact seems to me to place Haig appropriately in his category.'
There is, of course, a lot more to be said and evaluated - in particular, I would say, the nature of the Coalitions whose disciplines all three of these great commanders had to accept, and the transformation of war (like all else) brought about by the Industrial Revolution. But these three -Marlborough, Wellington and Haig - share a lofty pre-eminence which ought, surely, to be the starting-point of any rational assessment of them.
In all the studies of Haig (and of course, of other subjects, too) the starting-point seems to me to be the essential matter. When I was writing my own book, I developed a very great admiration for Duff Cooper's excellent Haig, two volumes published in 1935, bitterly attacked by Lloyd George and in recent decades almost entirely, but foolishly, neglected Because Duff Cooper's starting-point was a calm, objective stance, he was able to write about various' controversial matters with an illumination far removed from the barren, unperceptive venom of so much recent work. I should like to give you just one example, but to my mind a striking one, of what I mean.
I think - and clearly, so did Duff Cooper - that Haig's relations with his French allies are very revealing of his character - in particular of his deep sense of duty. His full and unfaltering acceptance of the subordination of himself and his Army to French strategy seems to me all the more admirable because he found the French almost impossible to fathom and a great trial to deal with. This, I need hardly say, has been noted and duly sneered at by his critics. What does Duff Cooper - famous Francophile - have to say about it? He remarks that Haig never succeeded in even approaching intimate relations with a Frenchman in the manner of Henry Wilson with Foch (though Haig always worked hard at preserving cordiality), and Duff Cooper concludes,
'Had his character been cast in a more cosmopolitan mould, had he been more hail fellow well met with all and sundry, many difficulties which arose might have been avoided, but in that case he would not have been Douglas Haig, and many difficulties which were avoided might have arisen.’
That seems to me to be exactly the truth of the matter - a lesson, I think, for our Fellowship - and a further illustration of the need for such a Fellowship If we can promote an atmosphere in which such a civilized balance as Duff Cooper strikes here (and all through the book) can flourish, we may be able to arrive at that justice for DH's name and reputation which, as I said at the beginning, is our true aim.
And now it is my very pleasant duty to ask you all to be upstanding for the toast to the memory of 'Field-Marshal Earl Haig of Bemersyde, OM, KT, GCB, GCVO, KCIE, Legion d'Honneur, etc, etc, etc, the victorious Commander-in-Chief.