Commander-in-chief during the battle of the Somme, Field Marshall Haig has often been called 'Butcher of the Somme' since the battle. A butcher, of course, is someone who kills animals and prepares them to be sold before selling them himself. However, when applied to a person butcher can mean someone who kills heedlessly, brutally or indiscriminately or someone who bungles things, and this is how people felt abut him.During the war, people at home in England only heard about the war from the point of view of the generals (when they read the newspapers) or their husband, sons, friends, brothers or fiance when they wrote letters (which was not a guaranteed way of getting news across, as letters could be lost or intercepted) so they didn't really know what was going on.
spapers all said Haig was leading the BEF well, so people believed it. But after the war, when the soldiers came home, they told their families and friends what things had actually been like on the front line. For a while, everyone hated Haig and thought that he was a butcher, and historians wrote very critically about him.Now, historians try to look at both sides of the story, both the idea that Haig was a butcher, but also that he was a good commander-in-chief. In this essay I am going to explore both ideas and come up with a conclusion as to whether or not Field Marshall Haig was a butcher. In order to do this easily, I am going to split my essay into four sections: Character, Living conditions, Battle strategy and Awareness.
Character Spiritualism played a big part in Haig'
personal life, as a young general he got in touch with napoleon (who, incidentally, lost) during a science apparently, and later in life he also believed very strongly that God was telling him what to do and that he was therefore correct in all his actions. It did not occur to Haig that his soldiers might not feel the same as him about God; he believed that they would be happy to suffer for God and their country, which is pretty thoughtless, considering he was not the one who had to risk his life. Haig also told King George V that French was 'a source of great weakness to the army and no-one had confidence in him anymore'.This was true, but Haig also said that he would be prepared to do his duty in 'any capacity', implying that he would be happy to take French's place. This was ruthless; he was cruelly kicking French out by telling tales on him. Haig's plans were somewhat inflexible, but his soldiers were inexperienced, so Haig was basically sending thousand of men to their deaths.
Haig actually married a lady-in-waiting whom he hardly knew, probably because her job gave him useful contacts.Perhaps because he was trained not to show any strong emotions, Haig had an almost autistic approach to other people, he apparently didn't realize or notice that soldiers had feelings or fears. His diary in many places says that his men were in 'splendid spirits', when they weren't. This means that he either didn't know, didn't understand, or most probably didn't care how they felt. However, Haig's personality was not all 'ogre'.
Haig took responsibility for savage operations,
heavy casualty lists and disappointments. He never gave up and managed to convey his own resolution to his men, which was good for morale.Haig had every right to believe that god was behind him, as it is a belief of the Christian religion, not a sign of madness. He wasn't actually unpopular with everyone, sergeant Williams of the Worcester regiment commented that Haig was 'not only a leader, but also a friend', and a Tommy rightly said that he [Haig] carried a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and for that reason he was well respected.
Haig was definitely hardworking, if remote. Living conditions Throughout the battle Haig lived in a quiet country chateau and dined on the best food available. He also slept in a cosy bed.However, he was apparently not bothered that his soldiers shared their muddy, smelly trenches and stale, bad food with rats whilst he lived royally, in fact, his diary says that they were often happy and in high spirits- he clearly didn't care enough to find out how they really felt. On the other hand, Haig was very ill-informed by his officers, and probably did not realize how bad life really was on the front line, he had no choice but to believe the commanders as it would not have been sensible for him to visit the front line because he was too important to put his life at such risk- he was, after all, the leader of the British Army.
Maybe the peaceful countryside and good food helped to inspire Haig's battle plans. Battle strategy Haig never visited any of his soldiers. Perhaps it would have helped them to
have some direct support, but Haig was miles away. Haig himself said that no matter how good the ammunition or the training of the soldiers and generals was, there were bound to be thousands of deaths; he didn't try to change this fact, merely stated it. His strategies were very unimaginative, they were the same ones used previously in the same war and had not really worked- how could Haig expect them to work now?He also kept sending men in month after month, one replacing another. It apparently did not occur to him that if they were all dying something was not right- maybe it was the fact that his plans were inflexible, and many of his soldiers were inexperienced and could not follow them through properly.
Haig was very remote and his officers and generals found him very hard to talk to. They did not tell him how big the casualty rates really were, or how badly their plans were going because they were afraid of him.However, to be fair, Haig never gave up. He was a stable figure of hope for many soldiers throughout the battle. Haig spent an enormous amount of time preparing for that battle, when he became Field Marshall he directed the conversion of the back area of the Somme (from Albert to Amiens, twenty five miles apart) to a military encampment cut by new roads and covert with shell dumps. Haig could not be faulted as a military technician, and they did achieve some of their aims.
They managed to relieve the French so that they could continue to fight the war, they managed to advance onto the hill that
they wanted to fight from (for various reasons, mainly the fact that they had a good view all around and could descend on the Germans, as it is easier to descend to attack than ascend to do so) and they managed to wear down the German army. Haig's generals lied to him about situations, telling him that all was well when it wasn't, and told him reduced casualty numbers.There was no way Haig could take on every job himself, he had to assign some things to his generals. Rawlinson, Haig's second-in-command often gave in to Haig, even when he [Rawlinson] knew that a plan wouldn't work.
This meant that some of Haig's mistakes in the battle were actually Rawlinson's fault for not sticking up to Haig. When Rawlinson suggested the man walk, Haig was at first uncertain, but Rawlinson was experienced where infantry was concerned, and both Laffargue and Foch agreed with Rawlinson.Because Haig was less experienced in this field he had little choice but to agree. Rawlinson put up a good argument for this and was well researched.
Besides, he and Laffargue were convinced it would work. Awareness Because of his distance from it, Haig really had no idea (and probably didn't care) what the situation was on the front line. He was quite happy to believe his generals when they said that the wire was cut and the men were in high spirits so he probably didn't enquire further even though he must have wondered why so many people were dying if his plans were working so well.On the other hand, it would not, of course, been practical for Haig to go to
the front line because had it lost its commander-in-chief, the British Army would have fared badly even with Rawlinson taking his place, as Rawlinson was probably too used to having a superior, so Haig had to trust his generals to inform him of what was going on the front line. It wasn't his fault if they lied to him and he didn't really have time to do an investigation each time he wanted news.
In conclusion I think that Haig probably was a butcher, for many reasons.Partly because he was selfish, he expected people to feel the same as him and to act the same as him. He should have thought about the fact that they wouldn't do this so that his plans could have been more flexible so as to fit most or all of the soldiers, as opposed to very few, and then less people may have been killed. He should also have thought about the fact that life in the trenches was very hard, not at all like the life he himself was having, which was more like the life of a monarch.He was also rather careless, in that he never double checked that a general was giving him the correct information, if a general said that the wire was cut, then as far as he was concerned, it was. Some of his battle strategies, in fact, fit the dictionary definition of butcher exactly, for instance the fact that he sent hundreds of men out each day replacing those who had just died, which is an example of killing indiscriminately (or at random, wildly).
Another example is of him bungling things when he
sent thousands of men into no mans land only to tackle their own, or the enemy's barbed wire. Haig simply didn't seem to care how fit his men were in either mind or body. On the contrary, the nation and it's historians may have thought that Haig was a butcher after the war, but he was not unpopular with all his soldiers, for many he was a role model during the war, someone who never gave up and always seemed to have a plan. This was very good for the morale of the soldiers.
He may have been ill-informed about the situation on the front line, but he certainly planned the battle very carefully, from the huge military encampment to the plan to take over the hill that the Germans were on (so that the British would have the advantage of higher ground), and though some of the battle plans were unsuccessful, they certainly managed to take over the hill, relive the French and wear down the Germans (which was useful as by then the great war had become a war of attrition).Of course, Field Marshall Haig was only a human being, and no matter how well the battle was planned, and how good a strategist he was, there were always going to be some failures. After all, the German army would have chosen the best commander they could, so Haig was up against someone of his own level, and he carried a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Because he was Commander-in-Chief any mistake that was made- even if it wasn't his mistake- would be blamed on him. I think that because many people have
read or heard the accounts of the soldiers, and how terrible it was for them, they forget that it was an ordeal for Haig as well.
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