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Douglas Haig: From the Somme to Victory Hardcover – August 16, 2016
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About the Author
One of Britain's leading military historians, Gary Sheffield is Professor of War Studies at the University of Birmingham. He has written a number of critically acclaimed books on the First World War, including Forgotten Victory: The First World War - Myths and Realities. He is the co-editor of Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914-1918. A fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he is also Vice-President of the Western Front Association.
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Buffoon Haig fits with the popular concept of the British soldiers being 'Lions led by Donkeys' and has been satired in films such as Oh! What A Lovely War and notably in the excellent television comedy BlackAdder Goes Fourth where Haig is not very subtely transformed into the bungling General Melchett. I have always doubted the veracity of this portrayal of the Generals as Donkeys, it was just too convenient to have a scapegoat for the slaughter of so many brave men. I was therefore very keen to read Gary Sheffield's book and I hoped to get a new perspective on this horrific period of carnage.
The Haig who appears from the pages of this book was very much a creature of his time and of his chosen career. Gary Sheffield has produced an excellent biography of a man who was every inch a soldier, even as a child. If you are in the army or you are ex-army I can imagine this would be the perfect book to dispel the myth that Haig was a bungler and an idiot. If (like me) the nearest you ever got to a brigade ground was a front row cinema seat, then the jargon might put you off. Nevertheless, the book will achieve its aim of convincing you that the real Haig was very far from Blackadder's General Melchett, it is just that it will leave you feeling that he was devoid of any respect for anything or anyone outside of his world (the army).
Haig was clearly a brave man and an intelligent man. He cared about his troops, in dramatic contrast to the popular image, but really didn't seem to care about what he was fighting for. Haig did his job (sometimes well, sometimes not so well) using intelligence and imagination, so the criticsms of him as a soldier are largely unjustified. He clearly cared about his troops so the criticisms of him as heartless are also unjustified. He would have served the Kaiser as efficiently (or otherwise) as he served the King, so at least some of the criticisms of him as a man are (in my opinion) justified.
The reason I only give this three stars is that I was looking for a book about the First World War, as the subject is a man divorced from the politics surrounding him, his biography was not what I was looking for. This is a book about soldiering; battlefield tactics and logistics.
If you don't own the book The Chief, it is a good read.
It's a shame the publishers pitched this "new" book in this fashion.
I blame them, not the author.
Sheffield has been a very good historian.