That’s a question that’s been exercising the minds of historians since the signing of the Armistice.
What can’t be argued is that Field Marshal Douglas Haig was among the most influential Allied commanders of the entire conflict. He was made commander-in-chief of British forces on the western front in 1915 and was the man responsible for ordering the infamous offensive on the Somme in 1916.
It’s the slaughter on the Somme for which Haig has attracted most criticism – looking on unmoved far behind the front lines, or so his detractors claim, as thousands were gunned down. Yet Haig’s advocates argue that the Somme took pressure off French forces elsewhere on the front – one of its primary aims – and that the general was instrumental in masterminding the spectacular advances that won the Allies the war in 1918.
Today, his name is synonymous with the failures of World War I. The catastrophic offensives he orchestrated include the Somme, Passchendaele and Cambrai.
But Professor Gary Sheffield considers him to be wrongly maligned. His reputation was created by the poets and satirists of the war, not the historians, so leaves out his achievements. After the war, Haig founded the British Legion and worked on the behalf of ex-servicemen until his death.
Either way, Haig’s stature was reflected in the fact that, when he died in 1928, thousands lined the streets of London to pay their respects.