Haig’s reputation

Alan Massie is correct in his column (Perspective, 8 January) to remind Alan Hinnrichs (Letters, 6 January), who offered such a damning indictment of Field Marshall Haig, the commander of UK forces on the Western Front in France and Flanders for much of the First World War, that he was widely respected in his own time for his leadership role in the catastrophic battles and eventual victory – a victory that probably had to do not only with German exhaustion, but also the imminent arrival in battle of tens of thousands of fresh American troops.

The Edinburgh-born general, commemorated with a plaque in Charlotte Square, was the heir of the wealthy whisky-producing family and was made an Earl after the war in recognition of his roles.

He was granted the freedom of both the City of Edinburgh and the City of Glasgow in the peace celebrations of July 1919, following the conclusion of peace treaties at Versailles.

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In 1924 The Herald reported that “there is unbounded satisfaction that the honour of unveiling Glasgow’s war memorial will fall to Earl Haig. Since the Field Marshall has returned from France he has not spared himself on behalf of the men who served in His Majesty’s forces.”

George Square was filled by countless thousands on that day, 31 May, 1924, as they listened to the commemoration and then filed for hours past the Cenotaph and Stone of Remembrance in front of City Chambers.

The then Lord Provost estimated that 20,000 Glaswegians died in that war.

And it was the support of Haig that led to Edinburgh’s war memorial, the Stone of Remembrance in front of its City Chambers, finally being constructed and dedicated some three years later, a year before he died.

Norman Bonney

Palmerston Place

Edinburgh

Alan Hinnrichs’ description of Field Marshall Haig as an “incompetent, bloodthirsty butcher” would not have been recognised by those who fought with or against him. General “Black Jack” Pershing, the highest-ranked soldier in US history, was in no doubt that Haig was “the man who won the war” and he was held in high regard by the Germans.

Mr Hinnrichs’ diatribe would have outraged the 100,000 Scottish veterans who saluted one of Britain’s great fighting generals as he lay in state at St Giles’ Cathedral in 1928.

Haig’s reputation was trashed in Lloyd George’s grossly self-serving War Memoirs – conveniently published after Haig’s death – as well as the usual 1960s revisionism.

In recent decades recognition has been made of his new tactics and technologies which resulted in the British army becoming the most mechanised in the world.

Unlike Grant and Lee, the celebrated generals of the American Civil War, Haig was on a steep learning curve throughout the war and became a superb battlefield commander.

After the Russian collapse, Germany threw the might of its Eastern forces against him in 1918 in an attempt to force a decision before US troops could be fully deployed.

Haig’s rolling retreat and decisive counter-attack was one of the great feats of British arms, as Eric von Manstein, Germany’s best tactician in the Second World War, has fully recognised.

(Dr) John Cameron

Howard Place

St Andrews

In response to Tom Minogue (Letters, 8 January), it is certainly true that the Kaiser, Tsar and George V were “royal relatives”. However, the difference is that the first two were absolute rulers, with command of their respective armed forces.

George V was not. Indeed, he had hoped that war could be avoided. It was not the King, but Sir Edward Grey, as Foreign Secretary, who, with Cabinet approval and after a parliamentary debate, ­issued, on 4 August, 1914, the ­demand to Germany to stop its ­offensive in the West.

Rejection of that demand meant that Britain and Germany were at war.

Ronnie Cramond

Oswald Road

Edinburgh

1914 provides a rare opportunity for the current state of Germany to present its understanding of its politicians’ ­actions in the early years of the last century, actions which set Europe into a state of civil war for 40 years.

It is a side of the dispute rarely explained but sorely needed.

The way in which the combatant nations prosecuted the first war thereafter is another matter altogether, directed as they were by the technologies available to them, and by the military and social traditions of the time.

It is rash of us to make judgments about the means by which men chose to kill each other during those awful years.

We were not there.

Jim Pratt

Mountain Cross

West Linton

Peeblesshire

Have “left-wing academic” critics of the First World War ever come to terms with the influence of nationalism?

Seemingly, the “transformation in consciousness” of working-class people ­envisaged by socialists never came about.

Capitalist development was supposed to unite all the “proletariat” across Europe, making war between nations obsolete. This philosophy of hope wasn’t borne out by events as nationalist sentiments rose above class solidarity.

Arguably, the confident predictions of socialist ­theorists, that class interests displace national loyalties, are ill-founded.

Ellis Thorpe

Old Chapel Walk

Inverurie