Aftermath - when the boys came home

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from The Express, Friday November 6, 1998

Daily Express campaignEXPRESS OPINION

EIGHTY years on, as the British people prepare to commemorate Armistice Day, the statue of Field Marshal Douglas Haig still stands proudly in Whitehall.

It was placed there to salute a victory which cost the lives of millions of brave soldiers who died in the trenches of the Somme, Passchedaele and the innumerable other cockpits of death in World War One. No-one will ever question the heroism and self-sacrifice of those magnificent doomed men. But today The Express calls into question Earl Haig's right to symbolise their loss.

We say that the statue should come down. It is a statement that will shock many people who regard the Field Marshal as a symbol of that famous victory so many years ago.

But the modern generation of military historians believes that hundreds of thousands of soldiers died needlessly as a result of Haig's orders.

Today, writing in The Express,

the military historian Alan Clark records that "if the dead could march, side by side in continuous procession down Whitehall, it would take them four days and nights to get past the saluting base".Express opinion logo

We believe that Earl Haig, and his blinkered view of strategy and tactics, bears a heavy and perhaps unforgivable responsibility for those deaths. We do not question his patriotism. But we doubt his judgment and his humanity.

There is one further charge against the Field Marshal: He did not share the sufferings and depravations of his troops.

British soldiers endured a miserable existence in the rat-infested trenches while Field Marshal Haig and his staff lived a life of luxury in a chateau far behind the lines.

Compare his insensitivity to the action of a truly great general, the Duke of Wellington. On the night of Waterloo, he slept on the floor so that a dying member of his staff could have his bed.

Next week will be a momentous time in the life of the British nation. November 11 will be the last major anniversary of that terrible and tragic time in our history when a significant number of the combatants are still alive.

We will all be taking time off from our daily lives to reflect on those terrible events, and to honour the dead.

It is surely right that the First World War should forever be celebrated by a great statue in central London. But surely that memorial should be of one of the ordinary soldiers whose lives were lost in that great conflict. And not of the general who, often needlessly, dispatched them to their deaths.

And there's more...

A royal tribute as protests mount

BY PATRICK O'FLYNN AND TOM RAWSTORNE

Royal tributeTHE Queen Mother braved the chill autumn weather to plant a cross in the field of remembrance outside Westminster Abbey yesterday.

A few hundred yards away in Whitehall the proud statue of Field Marshal Haig on horseback looked on sternly as the first of many poppy wreaths was laid at the nearby Cenotaph by veterans leaving the Abbey service.

It has been a fixture for decades. But 80 years after the end of the Great War many voices are now speaking up to put right what they see as a continuing injustice.

They say the statue of the British Army's allegedly heroic commander should be removed from Whitehall before the last of the veterans who survived his callous prosecution of the war has died.

Military historian Julian Putkowski said: "I would like would like to see the statue melted down and the metal used to mint medals for the families of those executed as deserters and mutineers, even though they were shell-shocked and burnt out."

Mr Putkowksi, who has a book, British Army Mutineers 1914-18, published today, said it was "utterly inappropriate" that Haig's statue would be in view on Saturday when relatives of executed men gather at the Cenotaph for their own service of remembrance.

"It will take a supreme act of self-control for them not to spit at the statue. One or two would willingly take a hacksaw to it if it wasn't for the dignity of the occasion," he said.

Dr Niall Ferguson, tutor in Modern History at Jesus College, Oxford, said: "The First World War was ultimately an avoidable tragedy for the British. To build a statue in honour of the man who was responsible for Passchendaele, one of the most calamitous battles in human history, was basically wrong.

"There is nothing heroic about what Haig did -the heroes were the badly trained Tommies who carried out what were at times completely deranged orders."

Dr Ferguson, whose revisionist account of 1914-18, entitled The Pity of War, has just been published, added: "I don't really think one could like Haig, who was an unemotional man with a character as hard as granite and whose imperviousness to the suffering of his soldiers is really very hard to admire."

Labour MP David Winnick said: "I certainly believe it would be a good idea to remove Haig's statue from its current location."

Fellow Labour backbencher Dr Lynne Jones added: "My personal view is that Alan Clark's concept that Haig was the chief donkey leading an army of lions is correct.

"People like Haig are responsible for millions of deaths. I would of course defer to the views of the veterans themselves, but personally I believe Haig's statue is inappropriate."

Norman Stone, former Professor of Modern History at Oxford, said: "I agree with Alan Clark.

"I think you can make certain allowances for conditions on the Western Front but Haig's performance was, at the best, pretty dismal.

"One of my teachers once jokingly said to me that Haig was the greatest Scots general - he killed the most Englishmen."

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