Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'The Good Soldier' - Sir Douglas Haig

I have read a great deal about Sir Douglas HHHaig, most of it not very complimentary (although I have yet to read Lloyd George's acerbic 'War Memoirs' that did so much to determine how generations of readers have since perceived Haig's performance in and contribution to the Great War). I have to admit to being firmly in the 'revisionist' camp when it comes to looking at Haig as commander of the BEF, having first had my eyes opened by reading the works of John Terraine. I have read a great deal since, all of which has made me even more determined to discount the 'lions lead by donkeys' views. Here is an excellent article by Dr Gary Sheffield on this issue.

So it was with interest that I bought a copy of 'The Good Soldier: The Biography of Douglas Haig', by Gary Mead. In my opinion, the book is the fairest biography yet. I can do little but quote some of the statements printed on the cover.

'The best and fairest biography of Haig that I have read', Allan Massie, Daily Telegraph.

'Very readable and valuable …. Mead's Haig is not a marble statue, nor a caricature butcher and bungler, but a man of very human strengths and weaknesses', Gary Sheffield, TLS.

I've quoted these not because I want to do a blog promo on the book (although I do), but because they state exactly how I felt after I'd read this book. Haig is portrayed as a man with strengths and weaknesses, or perhaps I should say 'as a man'. Not the most brilliant general that lived, and indeed a general who made mistakes (most prominent amongst these must be the decisions to continue with the Somme and Passchendaele battles well after he should have called time), he was a good administrator, a man open to new ideas and technologies, and a man who was determined to see the war through to a conclusion.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone wanting a balanced view of Haig the man and the general.

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