Raymond Carr

The slog of high command

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Douglas Haig

edited by Gary Sheffield and John Bourne

Weidenfeld, pp. 550, £

Almost every day throughout the Great War of 1914 to 1918 Douglas Haig kept a diary which its editors describe as ‘an understated account of the day-to-day slog of high command’. It consists of often brief notes of operations and their outcome. Magnificently edited as it is, without maps with arrows showing the directions of attacks and the ground lost or gained in the great battles, the reader is lost in a welter of obscure place names. Haig was not, Bourne and Sheffield remark, ‘a man for reflecting on his own motives and performance’, but he does often supply observations of the motives and performance of others. They add a human interest to a mere account of operations. He was astonished at Asquith’s consumption of brandy; but unsteady on his legs and ‘exhilarated’, Asquith still possessed a finer mind than those around him.

In the euphoria of 1919 Haig was cheered by the crowds as the hero who had brought the battle-hardened British army to victory in 1918. But by the mid-1920s he was in Bourne and Sheffield’s words ‘demonised’ by pacifists appalled at the mass slaughter of Flanders and by the Left as representing all the shortcomings of a class-ridden society. Comfortable in a ch