How Haig was perceived by his contemporaries opposed to how he saw them was the basis for this talk.

Once example is the different views expressed by Douglas Haig about Edward Bulfin (commander2 Brigade during 1st Ypres until wounded in November 1914, then commanded 28th Division during the battle of Loos before taking 60th Division to Salonika and then to Palestine where he was promoted to Command  XXI Corps) and Bulfin’s recollection about Haig after the war. This might be caused by resentment on Bulfin’s part about responsibility for the casualties in 1915 during the Loos battle.

Before revisionist historians restored Haig’s reputation, views of the way Haig ran the western Front include ‘a personality dependent on the strict following of orders’, ‘a man with no wit or personality’ and ‘a dull uninteresting blimp with limited powers of communication’.

Haig’s learning curve began after the 1912 field manoeuvres of the British Army. Sir James Grierson (Blue Force) decisively beat Douglas Haig (Red Force). Not only did Grierson use his aircraft for accurate identification of Red Force troops, Blue Force remained concealed  at essential times and caught Red Force advancing. Later Grierson recounted "I told them to look as like toadstools as they could and to make noises like oysters."

When the BEF moved to France at the start of WW!, Haig commanded I Corps and Grierson commanded II Corps. Unfortunately, Grierson died on the journey and was replaced by Smith-Dorien. It is noticeable how much Haig relied on the RFC to keep him informed about German movements. In fact, the RFC pioneered aerial photography as part of their contribution to reconnaissance during the early months of the war.

During the retreat from Mons (August 24th – September 5th, 1914) Sir John French ordered I & II Corps to make their own arrangements. Reaching the Forêt de Mormal, II Corps (CO Smith Dorien) passed to the west to Le Cateau, I Corps (CO Haig) passed to the east to Landrecies. Smith-Dorien halted his retreat on 25/6 to fight a rear-guard action against the German IV Corps expecting to be joined by I Corps. Unfortunately, German troops of von Klick’s First Army passing through the Forêt, caught Haig’s I Corps by surprise.  Haig was not a man to panic but this unexpected attack may have done so. After the attack, I Corps continued its retreat failing to support II Corps. After the war, Bulfin was outspoken in his criticism of Haig’s command during the retreat. By contrast, Beauvoir de Lisle (CO 29th division, then XIII Corps and XV Corps in 1918) recorded how impressed he was his Haig’s response to the German Spring Offensive in his memoir ‘My Narrative of the Great German War’ in 1919.

While Sir John French was C-in-C of the BEF, he had a poor opinion of the press. He disliked being asked questions and would only give ‘off the record’ discussions with trusted journalists. A completely different attitude to the press was practised by Douglas Haig. He believed that articles in the press would raise morale amongst the troops in France and the public back in the UK. He also felt that a properly placed article in European circles could demoralise the German public about the war. As a result, he embedded journalists into the BEF and found time in a busy schedule to see Lord Northcliffe (owner of ‘The Times’ and ‘Daily Mail’) whom Lloyd George (PM) had appointed director for propaganda after 1916.

Neither Carton de Wiart nor Walter Guiness (1st Lord Moyne) had a kind word to say about Douglas Haig in their memoirs, referring to him as having no charm and with limited communication skills.

In 1916, the prime minister. Lloyd George, persuaded Douglas Haig to invite Eric Geddes and his team to France for two days to advise on transportation. Haig was so impressed that the visit was extended to a month. Eventually Geddes was appointed Director General of Military Railways and Inspector General of Transportation with the rank of Major-General. His team managed to get the ports and railways working efficiently within weeks so that shells and other matériel no longer piled up on French docks. Light railways were built to convey the essentials for waging war to the front.

Haig’s relationship with the unorthodox war artist, William Orpen, led to some very fine paintings. Haig rewarded Orpen with the rank of major, giving him free access to the battlefields with a driver. Several of Orpen’s paintings caused controversy but Haig continued to support him. In return, Orpen commented on the fine contribution to the morale of the troops during the final two years of the war.

Haig is seen by many critics as a ‘Château General’, that is not straying far from his château miles from the front. This is completely wrong, Haig might have spent most mornings involved with staff work, but he rode out most afternoon to speak to his commanders (Army, Corps & Division) as well as speaking to the infantry. There are many accounts & photos of Haig, on horseback, in conversation with the troops. He was open to suggestions from senior staff. During the last 100-day offensive (during while he left his château behind and lived on a train) he was prepared to listen to advice and change his plans for individual offensives. After November 11th (Armistice) his diary entry informed that his senior commanders be instructed to keep the men suitably entertained & occupied: ‘It is [as much] the duty of all officers to kept their men amused, as it is to train them for war. Staff officers must – If funds are wanted, G.H.Q. should be informed & I’ll arrange for money to be found.’.

Learning on the job meant, to Haig, that he had to become a battlefield manager, organising the training and equipping and the welfare of a large Army, as well as being a battlefield commander which involved the three arts of war, Strategy, Logistics and Tactics. Tactics against the most professional army in Europe and would involve both the defence from attack as well as attacking the strongly held enemy positions.

Report by Peter Palmer