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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

World War I

103. General Haig, 1915

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1Douglas Haig (1861-1928) entered the army in 1885. He had his first experience of active service in the Sudan in 1898. He then took part in the South African War, where he served under Major-General French (1899-1902). On the outbreak of the war in August 1914 Haig commanded the 1st Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force to France. At the end of 1915 he became Commander in Chief of the British Army on the Western Front and held that post till the end of the war. The part played by Haig in the events of the War has been highly controversial. Haig is either seen as the prominent chief who brought about the defeat of the German army or as an incompetent butcher who led thousands of soldiers to certain death.

2The following extract is about a meeting between Haig, Joffre and Foch that took place on 3 July 1915.

3Haig Diaries, Acc. 3155/96 (National Library of Scotland).

Monday the third of July 1915.

Weather continued all that could be desired.

Fight fluctuated this afternoon about La Boisselle and S. of Thiepval, the advantage remaining with us. Many hostile counter attacks were repulsed with heavy loss to enemy. N. of Fricourt we made substantial progress. Enemy counter attacked S. from Contalmaison Village, evidently throwing in his troops as they came up. They attacked down an open slope, under the full view of some of our Field Artillery and consequently suffered severely from our schrapnel fire. In one case a whole Battalion attacked in this way and finding itself under our gun fire, those who remained, dropped their arms, and ran holding up their hands in token of surrender. The Colonel, 2nd in Command and some 400 men surrendered in this way.

Reports say that this is the first time that German prisoners have been found so discouraged. Number of prisoners now reaches over 4.300.

A marked increase in number of hostile airoplanes over 4th Army today, but inspite of that our airmen did very well.

By request I received Generals Joffre and Foch about 3 pm today. The object of the visit was to “discuss future arrangements”. Joffre began by pointing out the importance of our getting Thiepval Hill. To this I said that in view of the progress made on my right near Montauban, and the demoralised nature of the enemy’s troops in that area, I was considering the desirability of pressing my attack on Longueval. I was therefore anxious to know whether in that event the French would attack Guillemont. At this, General Joffre exploded in a fit of rage. “He could not approve of it”. He “ordered me to attack Thiepval and Pozieres”. “If I attacked Longueval I would be beaten” etc. etc. I waited calmly till he had finished. His breast heaved and his flesh flushed! The truth is the poor man cannot argue, nor can he easily read a map. But today I had a raised model of the ground before us. There were also present at the meeting Generals Kiggell and Foch and Renouard (from GQG) and Foch’s Chief StaffOfficer (Weygand). Only Joffre, Foch and I spoke. When Joffre got out of breath I quietly explained what my position is relatively to him as the “Generalissimo”. I am solely responsible to the British Government for the action of the British Army; and I had approved the plan, and must modify it to suit the changing situation as the fight progresses. I was most polite. Joffre saw he had made a mistake and next tried to cajole me. He said that this was the “English Battle” and “France expected great things from me”. I thanked him but said I had only one object, viz. to beat Germany. France and England marched together, and it would give me equal pleasure to see the French troops exploiting victory as my own! After this there was a more friendly discussion between Foch and me. Joffre and I then went out into the garden where Joffre presented General Kiggell with the “Grand Officier” of the Legion of Honour and Davidson with the next rank of the order and kissed them each twice, a resounding smack on each cheek! I soothed old Joffre down, he seemed ashamed of his outburst and I sent him and Foch to Amiens. All present at the interview felt ashamed of Joffre. This is evidently the way he behaved before Gillinsky, the Russian General, who was the first to tell me of Joffre’s impatience! Still Joffre has his merits. I admire the old man’s pluck under difficulties, and am very fond of him. However I have gained an advantage through keeping calm! My views have been accepted by the French Staffs and Davidson is to go to lunch with Foch tomorrow at Dury to discuss how they (the French) can cooperate in our operation! (that is the capture of Longueval).

HQ Valvion

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