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Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig
(1861 - 1928)

John Singer Sargent -- American painter 
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
Oil on canvas
56 x 41 cm

Purchased 1925, Accession no.PG 1010


Painted as a study for General Officers of the Great War

General Officers of the Great War

Dougglas Haig is the most controversial of the war generals during WWI.

Served under Sir John French during the Bore War. By the close of 1915 it was clear that French (his superior) was ill-suited to the nature of the campaign, and Haig was appointed the new Commander in Chief of the BEF on 10 December 1915.

Much of the nature of the fighting taking place in the First World War was alien to Haig, a cavalry man through and through.  He did not rate very highly the war's new weaponry.  "The machine gun is a much over rated weapon," he said in 1915; he made similar remarks over the use of the tank.

The Somme offensive with which Haig's name is most often associated (along with Third Ypres, also known as Passchendaele), began on 1 July 1916.  Haig was pressured to bring forward the original attack date from August so as to relieve the heavy casualties experienced by the French at Verdun, which the Germans had been bombarding since early in the year.

It was thought that by committing significant British forces on the Somme, the Germans would necessarily divert troops from Verdun, thereby taking the sting out of the offensive.

The first day of the Battle of the Somme saw the British Army suffer the highest number of casualties in its history: 60,000.  [see Sir Henry Timson Lukin] Whether the attack was a success or not remains an area of controversy: however most historians agree that the cost in human terms was too high for relatively little gain.  In any event the offensive was called off by Haig on 18 November 1916, technically a British victory.

After the war, Haig was reponsible for uniting ex-servicemen in the Royal British Legion.



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