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Does General Haig deserve to be remembered as the ‘Butcher of the Somme’?

Who was General Haig? What was the Somme?
Douglas Haig
This is a painting of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig painted in 1917. He is arguably one of the most important soldiers in British history. Under his command, the British army helped to defeat the German Army in 1918 and won the First World War. Never heard of him? Although he won a great victory for his country he is not remembered as a national hero. Some people remember him as the exact opposite and far from remembering him as a hero they have called him a butcher who didn’t care how many of his soldiers were killed. How did this man who led Britain’s biggest-ever army to one of Britain’s greatest victories, come to be called a ‘butcher’? Did he deserve it?

The First World War
The First World War took place between August 1914 and November 1918 between the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) and the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia). Much of the fighting took place on the 'Western Front' which was a line reaching mainly across France from the English Channel down to the Alps.


2 . on horse back with fighting at close quarters. They fired metal shells from several kilometres behind the front. machine guns and tanks. both sides spent most of the time in their trenches guarding their positions. The shells burst into jagged. razor sharp pieces as they exploded. let alone attack the enemy. The enemy's guns (rifles and machine guns) which were trained on the opposition 24 hours a day were a real hazard. In order to maintain their positions and defend themselves both sides dug trenches. So. Trenches were ditches about two metres deep and one and a half metres wide and they were protected by barbed wire. Previously war had taken place in the open.Trench Warfare The First World War was the first of its kind because there had been advances in technology. The heavy artillery were more dangerous again. because it was dangerous for soldiers to even put their heads above the trench. Now there were heavy artillery.

The French thought that if the British attacked the Germans in another place it would reduce the number of German soldiers in Verdun. Haig claimed that 'not even a rat would be alive' at the end of the week long bombardment and the rest would be a piece of cake. Haig had not wanted to attack the Somme until August but the French got their way and the attack was brought forward by a month. A Change of Plan Haig had to change his plan because of problems the French were having in a place called Verdun. They were given rehearsals of what to do. Huge areas of ground were lined with ribbons to show imaginary trenches and then the soldiers were sent to capture the ribboned areas. All rehearsals were completed in silence. Preparations Haig gathered nearly 700. The Plan The plan was very simple.000 men for the attack although many of these were new to the Army and had very little experience of battle. 3. General Haig was Commander-in-Chief by this time so he was in total control of the attack. 3 . They were told to imagine the barbed wire and officers held up flags to show imaginary shells exploding. 1. The Germans had the city of Verdun practically surrounded and the French had to use a lot of men to defend it. Smash the German's trenches with a bombardment of shell fire to last 7 days and nights 2. What he wanted was a 'breakthough' to get through the German trenches and defeat the army once and for all. The most important thing these soldiers were taught was that they were never to charge at the German trenches or run from cover to cover. Send a charge of cavalry (horses) through the captured trenches into the free land the other side. Send Infantry (foot soldiers) to capture what was left of the trenches.The Somme 1916 The Somme is a river in France and as the fighting tool place near it the Battle was so named. They were told to approach them at a steady walk to avoid confusion.

In the bright sunshine they walked across no-man's-land towards the German trenches. Many were expecting it to be easy. they quickly went up to their machine gun posts. They hardly had to aim all they had to do was point their guns at the neat rows of soldiers walking towards them.537 British guns had fired over one and a half million shells at the German trenches.000 British soldiers climbed out of their trenches in a line 25 kilometers long. They had two targets: 1. German spy planes had seen British soldiers moving 'up the line' which gave the Germans time to prepare. The British soldiers still kept walking forwards but their next problem was the barbed wire. 4 . They put up extra barbed wire and dug deep shelters beneath their trenches. The wire had simply been lifted in the air and then dropped it in a worse tangle than it was before. “you will not need rifles. You will find all the Germans dead. one officer said. When the British guns started firing the Germans simply went into their shelters and when they stopped. the trenches themselves 2. It had not been destroyed . For a week beforehand 1.The Attack The attack on the Somme began on 1st July 1916. to cut up the barbed wire At 7.30 am the guns stopped firing and more than 100. Thousands of men were shot at as they tried to pick their way through dense tangles of wire.” The Reality The Germans had been expecting an attack.

General Haig had no choice but to call off the battle. Shellfire churned up the land into a sea of mud. When the autumn rains came the mud dissolved into slime metres deep in places. But the human cost was very high. it then started to snow and the battlefield was already deep in mud.What did Haig do? General Haig did not however stop the battle. In November the British made a last great attack. Although the Germans had been driven back 10 kilometers the Western Front was still there and the German Army was unbeaten. “if the war lasted. Day after day. “We were completely exhausted”.000 men and had retreated 10 kilometers from their trenches. Sometimes it was impossible to bury the dead properly so they were put into disused trenches. The Germans had lost approximately 680.000 British soldiers and 200. However. This time it actually worked and they captured the village of Beaumont Hamel and took thousands of Germans prisoner. One of the German generals admitted later that this broke the heart of the German Army. 5 . he wrote. The longer the fighting went on. British soldiers attacking the German trenches sometimes found that the trench they captured was full of corpses and deep in maggots. At last they had made the breakthough that Haig had so wanted. almost as many as the Germans when added together. British soldiers went ‘over the top’ to attack the German trenches.000 French soldiers had been killed. our defeat seemed certain. it was swept by icy winds and blizzards.” Also the British had helped to save Verdun by keeping a million German soldiers occupied on the Somme. the worse the conditions became. Who won the Battle of the Somme? General Haig really believed he had won the Battle. Every time the British attacked the Germans counter attacked and forced them to retreat. This went on for 140 days (nearly 4 months) Every metre of ground was fought over time and time again. In the trenches themselves shellfire killed thousands of men every day. 420.

Here you should briefly outline the history of the battle of the Somme You should also refer to the different ways that people have interpreted Haig’ role in the battle of the Somme. This section should be about 500 words. This section should be around 300 words. You should consider four pieces of evidence that back up this view. You should then consider the view that Haig was a butcher Explain WHY many people hold this view.Does General Haig deserve to be remembered as ‘the butcher of the Somme’? Notes for teachers / candidates Your assignment should start with an introduction. 6 . What evidence is there to back up this view. When looking at the evidence you should consider points such as: • • • • • • • whether this is a valid source in finding out about Haig what it says about Haig and the war who the author / artist was when it was written why it was written (if you can) the type of source it is whether you consider the source to have any negative aspects You should comment on whether you consider this view of Haig as a ‘butcher’ to be a fair one or not.

When looking at the evidence you should consider points such as: • • • • • • • whether this is a valid source in finding out about Haig what it says about Haig and the war who the author / artist was when it was written why it was written (if you can) the type of source it is whether you consider the source to have any negative aspects You should comment on whether you consider this alternative view of Haig to be a fair one or not. Which interpretation do you think is more valid – a butcher or a general doing his job? Give reasons why you think Haig was called a butcher Give reasons why you think Haig was a general doing his job Summarise the kind of evidence which has led people to their different conclusions Make a final judgement. you should be in a position to reach a judgement on the question. What evidence is there to back up this view.You should then consider the view that Haig does NOT deserve to be remembered as the butcher of the Somme. You should consider four pieces of evidence that back up this view. This should be about 300 words. 7 . Having considered the evidence for both sides. Explain WHY many people hold this view. This section should be about 500 words.

The cream of British manhood was shattered in less than six hours. a private on the Western Front. [Fred Pearson. always have been and always will be and everybody else that knew him. drawn and quartered for what he did on the Somme. He was incapable of planning vast campaigns on the scale demanded on so immense a battlefield. Smith. writing in his diary (July 1916)] SOURCE 2 Haig was a second-rate Commander in unparalleled and unforeseen circumstances. He lived almost 50 kilometres behind the line and that's about as near as he got. I know what I'd have given him. I don't think he knew what a trench was like. And he certainly had none of that personal magnetism which has enabled great leaders of men to inspire multitudes with courage.’ [P. writing in his War Memoirs (1935)] 8 . He was not endowed with any of the elements of imagination and vision ..000. Douglas Haig should have been hung. British Prime Minister during the First World War.. commenting on Haig in a local newspaper in 1966] SOURCE 1b ‘It was pure bloody murder.. faith and a spirit of sacrifice .. I'm very bitter. [David Lloyd George. And they made him an Earl and gave him £100.THE FIRST INTERPRETATION ‘HAIG WAS THE BUTCHER OF THE SOMME’ SOURCE 1a The biggest murderer of the lot was Haig. a private in the 1st Border regiment fighting on the Somme..

Clifford William Brindley. Aubrey Blenkarn. C. Pte. Pte. Pte. grunted Harry to Jack. Stanley Buttery. L/Cpl. William Bowes.SOURCE 3 Reg. Lawrence Braham. the general said. ‘He’s a cheery old card’. Pte. Pte. Archie Brown. Wilfred Batley.] 9 . Arthur Brown. Pte. John Arthur Bennett. Samuel Busfield. Fredk. Arthur Willey Brookfield. Pte. William Bailey. Frank Barrott. Pte.S. Ernest Brammer. John Arnold Date of Death 1/7/16 1/7/16 16/5/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 13/10/18 12/4/18 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 10/9/16 1/7/16 1/4/18 14/3/17 1/7/16 6/12/17 18/5/17 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 1/7/16 [A page from the list of dead and wounded suffered by the Sheffield Pals Battalion on the first day of the Somme. John Henry Barton.M. Norman Beniston.] SOURCE 4 ‘Good morning. But he did for them both by his plan of attack. Edward Baylis. but later threw away the Military Cross which had been awarded to him for bravery. George Bright. The Sheffield Pals suffered 548 casualties on the first day of the battle. Pte. And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine. Pte. When we met him last week on our way to the line. Harry Craven Barnsley. No 12/288 12/289 12/291 12/294 12/296 12/307 12/310 12/314 12/318 12/591 12/593 12/597 12/600 12/604 12/606 12/607 12/608 12/611 12/862 12/865 12/867 12/870 12/871 12/874 12/879 12/882 12/887 Rank Pte. Joseph Barlow. As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack. Pte. Pte. Pte. [A poem by Siegfried Sassoon called The General. Pte. Joseph Arnold Binder. Pte. L/Cpl. Pte. Cpl. Charles W. Walter Bertram Bland. George Bramham. Pte. Name Bagshaw. Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead. Harold Bedford. L/Cpl. Pte. Pte. L/Cpl. Pte. Frank Bratley. He served as a Captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers on the Western Front. good morning!’. Brown.

"The absence of the General.Taylor. in everything except loyalty to their fighting comrades. They had lost faith in their cause. After the Somme men decided that the war would go on for ever. There are three essential differences: first. nothing achieved. it went on for its own sake. The enthusiastic volunteers were enthusiastic no longer. a socialist historian. (1963)] SOURCE 6 Major-General (addressing the men before practising an attack behind the lines). "I want you to understand that there is a difference between a rehearsal and the real thing. Now (turning to the Regimental Sergeant-Major) what is the second difference?" Sergeant-Major." [A cartoon from the British satirical magazine Punch (February 1917)] 10 . [A.J.P. The Somme set the picture by which future generations saw the First World War: brave. blundering. as a contest of endurance. Sir. writing in a specialist history book.SOURCE 5 Idealism perished on the Somme. the absence of the enemy. The war ceased to have any purpose. in their leaders. helpless soldiers. obstinate generals. The First World War.

and I’m not that keen to go over the top.. they knew what they were doing. it’s the Big Push today. The series was broadcast in the 1990s. However stupid they might have been. (Throws the model soldiers over his shoulder) Blackadder: Well you see. Blackadder: No. I do. In this scene Blackadder is trying to persuade Haig to get him sent home while Haig plays games with toy British soldiers.. Blackadder: Well exactly sir. [John Laffin. while looking over a model of the battlefield) Blackadder: Hello Sir Douglas Haig: Good Lord ! Blacky ! (Knocks down an entire line of model British soldiers) Blackadder: Yes sir. and I stick by it.] 11 . however much they were the product of a system which obstructed enterprise.SOURCE 7 Blackadder: (winds the telephone) Hello? Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig please. Blacky. which continually portrayed Haig and the generals as fools and murderers. And do you remember then that you said that if I was ever in real trouble and I really needed a favour that I was to call you and you’d do everything you could to help me? Haig: (sweeps the fallen soldier models into a dustbin) Yes. And do you remember? Haig: My God yes. You know me – not a man to change my mind.] SOURCE 8 Haig and other British generals must be blamed. Haig: So what do you want? Spit it out man. There can never be forgiveness. [Taken from the BBC TV comedy series. Laffin earned his living taking people on battlefield tours and researched the war entirely from the soldiers’ standpoint. for wilful blunders and wicked butchery. we’ve noticed that. British Butchers and Bunglers of World War One (2003). writing in his history book. Haig: I haven’t seen you since… (Knocks down the second line of model British soldiers) Blackadder: ’92 sir – Mboto Gorge. Blackadder. You saved my damn life that day. (Haig picks up telephone. sir.

[Part of a report sent by Haig to the British cabinet about the aftermath of the Battle of the Somme (December 1916)] SOURCE 10 During the first half of the war. There was an obvious genius for pure generalship which has made Sir Douglas Haig fit to rank with any general of past or modern times. absorbed weapon after weapon into their battle-systems. writing in his study of the Somme. our leadership was flawless – perfect. writing in a letter to the Daily Express (21st December. [A Lieutenant in the Yorkshire Light Infantry who was gassed on the Somme and invalided back to Britain. thoroughly tired of the war and expecting nothing but defeat. We have proved our ability to force the enemy out of strong defensive positions and to defeat him. But no one cared to make a legend out of that.A SECOND INTERPRETATION ‘HAIG WAS JUST DOING HIS JOB AS A GENERAL’ SOURCE 8 The truth is that those ruddy-cheeked. bristling-moustached. adapted themselves to constant change with astonishing success. The Smoke and the Fire (1980)] SOURCE 9 A considerable portion of the German soldiers are now practically beaten men. ready to surrender if they could. 1916)] 12 . It is true that the amount of ground we have gained is not great. heavyjawed. The German casualties have been greater than ours. [Historian John Terraine. That's nothing. frequently inarticulate generals rose to challenge after challenge.

how to break a strong front of trenches. Very successful attack this morning. Haig was.. The humblest Briton took pride in his country's possession of the history's greatest empire. Britain was a different society at the time... barbed wire. Our troops are in wonderful spirits and full of confidence. Blame Haig as we will. a nation that was patriotic to a degree unimaginable today. All the commanders are full of confidence..SOURCE 11 The belief that the generals were responsible for the holocaust quickly took root and has spread. We should remember that this November when we commemorate their suffering. [From an article by military historian John Keegan. machine-guns and artillery with the weak instrument of human flesh. actually doing the people's will in continuing to direct the war. published in The Daily Mail (7th November 1998)] SOURCE 12 The men are in splendid spirits. as he himself believed with religious intensity. [Excerpts from the reports of Sir Douglas Haig. All Great War generals faced an insoluble problem. The enemy is so short of men that he is collecting them from all parts of the line. All went like clockwork. The battle is going very well for us and already the Germans are surrendering freely. They did so because the national will to sustain the war effort remained strong. his soldiers proved ready to follow him to the end. not the artillery preparation so thorough. The barbed wire has never been so well cut. The British generals were no worse than those of any other combatant nation. (30th June / 1st July 1916)] 13 . Several have said that they have never before been so instructed and informed of the nature of the operation before them. including the scripts of plays − Oh What a Lovely War! − and films. There is a large literature of condemnation.

Haig believed from the first that the German line could be broken and it was. propaganda and false witness begin to scatter. It may be easy in history to find a more brilliant man. but it would be hard to find a better one. a soldier in the Grenadier Guards during the war. Haig was a giant. (12th April 1919)] 14 . who endured longer than most and who inspired most confidence amongst his soldiers. In moral stature. [Alfred Duff Cooper. He later became a Conservative MP and Secretary of War from 1935-37] SOURCE 14 [A photograph showing crowds welcoming Haig home from France.SOURCE 13 As we read the history of the Great War and the mists created by prejudice. writing in his biography of Sir Douglas Haig. the figure of Haig looms ever larger as that of the general who foresaw more accurately than most. He was a family friend to the Haigs and was officially invited to write Haig’s biography by his family after Haig’s death.

training and previous military experience. One argument goes that he was. Haig was the product of his time. education. ultimately. Hindsight. [S. victorious and. of his upbringing.SOURCE 15 Blaming Haig the individual for the failings of the British war effort is putting too much of a burden of guilt on one man. even if he had been replaced would there have been anyone better for the job? Even on the Somme a German officer called the battlefield 'the muddy grave of the German army'. Warburton. writing in an article in the history magazine. which takes a fresh look at historical issues (1998)] 15 .