Douglas Haig (and Lloyd George)
by Andrew Grimes
from Manchester Evening News November 1998
on their hands.
HAIG, the commander-in- chief of British forces on the
Western Front during the First World War; is still honoured in the Poppy Appeal though
arguably he killed as many of his own men as Stalin and Hitler put together.
Lloyd George who, as prime minister, cowardly kept him on in
spite of railing privately at the incompetent as a bloody waster of young British lives,
is to have a statue put up to him. There should be no statue to Lloyd George. No self
respecting sculptor should accept the commission. And it is time the British Legion
removed Haig's loathsome name from the poppy fund.
It was right to do reverence this week on the 80th
anniversary of the 1918 armistice to the hundreds and thousands of soldiers whose bones
lie in foreign battlefields. However I could not help feeling, throughout the solemn
commemorations, that it really is time for a universal acknowledgement that these brave
men were the victims of idiots and of psychopaths.
No one summed up the lunacy better than Thomas Hardy, still
going strong in his 80s during the massacres, in his marvellous poem, Channel Firing,
in which he imagined the dead in a Dorset graveyard shaken from their coffins by the
bombardments in distant France and Flanders.
"All nations striving to make/Red war redder Mad as
hatters/They do no more for Christ's sake than you who are helpless in such matters."
It is still erroneously described as the first modern war. It
was, in fact, the last war fought on feudal values and with an anachronistic medieval
The young men who volunteered to fight were not very
different, in their deferential attitudes, from their 14th century ancestors, summoned
from the harvesting to join in the brawls of their lords. They thought their lords knew
what they were doing. Four years of attrition in the trenches was to teach them a dreadful
and embittering truth.
Haig kept thousands of horses on stand-by throughout the war.
The Navy supplied more ships to fodder them than ships carrying men and munitions were
sunk by German submarines.
Haig, contemptuous (or possibly ignorant) of the scything
effects of the machine-gun, believed the Germans could be overwhelmed by infantry
advancing with flintlock rifles, followed up by glorious cavalry charges.
He first put the initial stage of this theory to the test at
the Battle of the Somme. On July 1, 1916, 13 British divisions marched towards the enemy
like ceremonial troops down Whitehall, led by subalterns blowing whistles and clutching
one-shot revolvers. At the end of the day 19,000 lay dead.
Brothers fell alongside brothers, fathers alongside sons.
Towns, such as Colne and Ashton-under-Lyne, were overnight denuded of men of procreative
age. Hardly a home in long, milltown streets was not in mourning.
Haig, surveying the carnage from a French chateau miles
behind the front, where once he boasted of never getting his boots wet, remained wistful
for his horses.
He went on ordering suicide waves until November when so many
men were drowning in mud, that even he thought it wise (temporarily) to call it a day The
resumed slaughter was, of course, to continue for another two years.
Did any good at all come out of the First World War? Far from
being the war to end all wars, it turned out to be the prologue to the longest and
bloodiest in world history. Would Hitler have built his Third Reich in 1933 had Germany
not been humiliated by the Allies at Versailles in 1918? Would six million have perished
in gas chambers?
Haig in conversation with Lloyd
George, watched by General Joffre
One indirect benefit was that the
working-class began to grow up and to realise that the jingo swell with the lardy-dah
voice and a chestful of medals was very likely ripe for a lunatic asylum.
By 1939, even the bishops and the generals conceded that war,
even when unavoidable, was a thoroughly bad thing. But one can never be satisfied that
Britain's rulers have thoroughly digested the lesson of the Somme while they hanker to put
Lloyd George on a plinth and still keep Earl Haig on a poppy-seller's collecting box.
WHILE researching this column, I discovered that Lloyd George
spent 10 days after the Armistice in the Lord Mayor's bed at Manchester town hall. The
goatish prime minister lay for once, on his own. He had contracted flu during a speaking
tour and was in no state to frolic with anyone.
The flu he got was of the virulent strain which in 1918 swept
the globe, killing several million more people than the First World War. I cannot help
thinking that it would have been kinder to Lloyd George's reputation if, instead of living
on to 1945, he had died in the Lord Mayor's parlour. As it was, he became a silly and
interfering old man, one of the appeasers who sucked up to Hitler.
He was born in Manchester - of which no Mancunian should be
proud, If there has to he a statue to Lloyd George, it must not be in Albert Square.