A Brief Biography
FIELD Marshal Sir Douglas Haig was born in
Edinburgh on June 19, 1861, and educated at Clifton and Brasenose College, Oxford.
Ambitious and hardworking, he then entered the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst before
gaining a commission in the 7th Hussars.
As a cavalryman he served in the Sudan and South
Africa and after the Boer War rapidly rose through the ranks, his many promotions aided by
the influence of powerful patrons such as Sir John French, Sir Evelyn Wood and Lord Esher.
He became Inspector General of Cavalry in India
in 1903, Director of Military Training at the War Office in 1906 and in 1912 was made
Commander-in-Chief, Aldershot Command.
When the First World War broke out two years
later Haig commanded the British 1st Corps as part of the British Expeditionary Force sent
to France, replacing Sir John as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF in 1915. As the war became
bogged down in the trenches he oversaw the terrible battles of the Somme - 57,470 British
soldiers killed or seriously injured on the first day - and Passchendaele.
"At the Somme you either got wounded or you
got killed," one veteran commented afterwards. "At Passchendaele you got killed,
wounded or you drowned in the sludge."
Haig is often criticised for being a distant
leader who was stern and unapproachable even to his own officers. In 1918 he extended the
British section of the Western Front southwards, his troops again suffering terrible
losses at the hands of a German offensive. The British counter-attacked and, aided by the
American Expeditionary Force, the Allies eventually forced the Germans to seek armistice
terms in 1918.
Renowned for his
loyalty to King George V, Haig dedicated his energies throughout the war to ensuring
victory, never once considering resignation as commander After the war he was awarded the
Order of Merit, given £100,000, made the 1st Earl of Bemersyde and devoted himself to the
welfare of his men.
He spent the years leading up to his death on
January 29, 1928 criss-crossing the British Empire initiating charities to aid those who
had served beneath him. A statue by A F Hardiman was erected in Haig's memory in 1937 in
Whitehall (pictured right).
Even that was not without controversy attracting
criticism from cavalrymen who pointed out that while Haig was in uniform he had no hat and
that the legs of the horse accompanying him were inaccurately depicted.