History Sourcework- Field Marshal Haig Final Essay

1). Sources A and C are vastly different in their views on Haig. Source A shows Haig riding in a peace procession in 1918, with a crowd cheering. One strength of it is showing that Haig was respected as a commander, as he had led Britain to victory. However, it also has weaknesses. A small proportion of British people attended, and their views would not be reflected in the entire population. It is also likely that they were cheering out of relief for the war’s end, rather than for Haig.

In conclusion on A, at the time Haig was revered as a hero, as it was him who had gained Britain victory. Source C gives a very different view. It is an extract from “Blackadder Goes Forth”, illustrating a British soldier ridiculing Haig’s plans. It has two main points to back up its argument, the first criticising Haig’s planning: “… Would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking very slowly towards the enemy…? “… “It’s the same plan that we used last time, and seventeen times before that! ”

This demonstrates that soldiers were sceptical about Haig and that they believed that they were going to die for no real purpose. However, other soldiers’ accounts support Haig, such as diary entries and accounts by surviving veterans and it has been proven that tactical failure came more from false optimism than idiocy. The purpose of the source must also be taken into account, as it is a comedy, and would not necessarily use accurate facts and it is notable that the source was released after the casualty figures, which were not present at the time of Source A.

In conclusion, both sources are useful for representing Haig’s reputation at their respective times, as Source A shows how people thought of him as a general after the war, but with limited knowledge of what went on. In contrast, Source C has a more comedic and less serious view, but can show what people were thinking after the casualty figures had long been out. 2). Source H is an extract from Lloyd George’s memoirs of the First World War, and details his opinions of Haig.

Firstly it has its strength, as Lloyd George would have known Haig extremely well due to frequent meetings, giving George a strong indication of how Haig was fighting the war and what he was like. However, their relationship weakens the source. Haig wished to fight on the Western Front, but Lloyd George disagreed, feeling it would be more effective to fight the German allies in the Balkans and the East. Their personality differences did not help either. Haig knew that Britain would suffer heavy casualty figures to win, and he was an arrogant leader, not tending to listen to advice.

He also felt that his position was God given, giving him high self-confidence. Lloyd George was the opposite. A radical politician, he was nowhere near as tough as Haig, and could not cope with many casualties, needing to keep the public on side. The final weakness of the source is purpose, being written in 1933, five years after Haig died. This is important as Haig could not respond to criticism. George uses the source to praise his own role, trying to place all the blame on Haig. But, his damning criticism of Haig like: “I never met any man in a high position who seemed so lacking in imagination” can be contradicted.

If true, then why employ him as Commander in Chief in December 1915? It is also biased, as it only portrays one side of Haig, the only side that Lloyd George recognised, limiting its utility by ignoring his strengths. In conclusion, this source has the strength of being written by someone who had a close relationship with Haig, but due to the bad relationship that the two had, it is a very one sided account. Therefore it is good for showing one side of the commander, but lacks balance by not showing his strengths and so is fairly weak for studying Haig’s reputation in an impartial way. ). The interpretation that “It was the misfortune of the British Empire and Commonwealth that during the crucial phases of the First World War its military destiny was in the hands of Douglas Haig” is an unfair and one sided view of military performance throughout the war, and is one that has only come out from the critical side of Haig, not considering his strengths. Source A seems to oppose the interpretation, as it shows the reaction of the crowds at the peace procession in 1919.

It shows Haig approved by the crowd for his accomplishments, but it is likely that they were in fact simply cheering out of relief. It must be noted that the peace procession was not an indication of the entire country’s opinion, as a tiny percentage attended. However, the fact that at the time of the war’s end, when Haig was considered as a hero is a strength. Despite this, a photo does not show how much of the success in the war was down to him, not representing individual campaigns. Therefore, this source does not really prove or disprove the proposed interpretation.

Source B, a newspaper extract claiming that Haig was well supported by his men, and never criticised seems to disprove the interpretation. However, the purpose and reliability of the source is of huge importance, and in this case goes against its usefulness. The source is by Earl Haig, his son, so it is immediately unbalanced. Firstly, his comments about never hearing a word of criticism from the veterans are in doubt, as it is highly unlikely that they would criticise his father to his face. Secondly, he himself would never criticise his father, and was probably trying to drum up support.

Therefore, the source is rendered useless, and cannot be used in evidence. However, many soldiers did support Haig, and single accounts and interviews with veterans have shown this, and those points are much more balanced and to likely to be true than an article such as Source B. Sources C, D and F are very similar, using satire of Haig to try and get their respective points across. In Source C it is Captain Blackadder abusing Haig, using quotes like: “… Would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking very slowly towards the enemy…? However despite it being a comedy for all intents and purposes, it can be used as evidence within the interpretation, as it portrays a view of Haig that some had and still have. However, more recent studies from historians like Trevor Wilson and Gary Sheffield have begun to disprove this view, suggesting he was extremely tactical, but so much that he gave himself unreasonable objectives. Source D from Punch is similar. The General (Haig) tells the soldiers of the differences between a rehearsal and the real battle, and one of these is the absence of the general.

This is criticising the absence of Haig from the frontlines, claiming it minimised his ability to lead. However, he could in fact see more of the battle and direct it more effectively from further back, as proved by Gary Sheffield’s study of the Somme, so these claims can be nullified, improving the case for Haig. Finally, Source F is another piece of satire, and has no factual information. All three have no direct relation to his actual battle successes, so while useful for studying the portrayal of Haig in entertainment and media, are not so useful for this particular interpretation so cannot be used to prove or disprove it.

Source E is Haig’s view of the Somme campaign. It indirectly criticises Haig, showing lack of comprehension of events. The first extract shows his strength of personality and acceptance of losses, something that the public could not and many still cannot comprehend. However, the second and third extracts show up Haig as a poor leader, seeming oblivious to the myriad soldiers being killed, and the fact that the Somme was not, in his own words, “all going like clockwork”, without Germans “surrendering freely”. In reality, it was the British Army’s worst day, with 20,000 casualties.

As well as this, despite bias seeming irrelevant, it is not. With no indication of purpose, all options must be considered. The source may be censored, and it is also notable that Haig’s intelligence officer, Sir John Charteris, did give him false and biased information, so not all the blame can be applied to Haig. Therefore, although initially this source gives a negative view of Haig, and can be used to study his own views on the war, the bias and information surrounding it weakens its possible use against him in the interpretation. Sources G and H are very different but similar, but both are very one-sided.

Source G praises Haig as a great general. However, it is written in a German newspaper, and was probably used to raise morale amongst the soldiers and public, in the way that they were beating such a great general. On the other hand, Source H directly criticises Haig, calling him inept, and accuses him of lacking in imagination and intelligence. However, the purpose of the source, published in 1933 after Haig’s death, allowing Lloyd George to deflect blame away from himself and on to Haig, while also glorifying his own role, despite the fact he employed this “terrible” general himself.

Therefore the sources can be useful for studying opinions of Haig, but Source G does not support the interpretation at all, and Source H is very one sided and personal, and does not detail military prowess, again limiting its usefulness for the interpretation. Source I and J are two modern assessments of Haig. Source I criticises Haig for his inability to recognise defeat that stemmed from optimism. This is true and is applicable to Haig’s tactics, but he was going on false information fed to him by Sir John Charteris, meant to keep his spirits up.

Source J is a balanced reflection of Haig and his ability, which is supported by many historians who have conducted recent studies of World War One, and this balance also gives much fairer key points. Firstly, suggesting Haig alone was responsible for all the deaths on the British side is ridiculous, and Britain in fact lost the least men, 1 million in comparison to Germany with 1. 8 million, for example. As well as this, it was Haig’s training that put his methods together, not his own tactical “whims”. He was, as the source states, the product of his time, and he was never sacked, showing he cannot have got things entirely wrong.

The source finally states the most important point of them all; he was victorious, and therefore his leadership cannot have been a misfortune. Therefore the sources both prove and disprove the interpretation, and being balanced give a fairer reflection on Haig. In conclusion, after studying the evidence, I disagree that “It was the misfortune of the British Empire that during the crucial phases of the First World War its military destiny was in the hands of Douglas Haig”. The sources may criticise Haig in places, but no general is perfect at what he does, and no war can be fought without any loss of life.

In addition, many of the sources that do criticise Haig are either propaganda, in the case of Lloyd George, or not meant to be historically accurate, such as sources C, D and F. Finally, the final source, J, is the most important in disproving the interpretation. Haig was a victorious General, and this made the British Empire and Commonwealth victorious. Therefore, the British Empire cannot have been at a total misfortune to have him holding its military destiny, as proven by the sources and other evidence.