Sir Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE (born 19 June 1861 – died 29 January 1928).
Douglas Haig, diary – 11th May 1917.
“Major Orpen, the artist, came to lunch. I told him that every facility would be given him to study the life and surroundings of our troops in the field, so that he can really paint pictures of lasting value. The War Office already wanted to see the results of his labors in return for the pay which he is now receiving! As if he were a sausage machine into which so much meat is put, and the handle is turned and out come the sausages! But war is a fickle mistress!”
Douglas Haig at GHQ, France, by William Orpen (1917) IWM.
Douglas Haig was born in Edinburgh (1861) one of 11 children to the Haig Whisky family. He went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst in 1884. Later serving as a cavalry officer in India, the Sudan and the Boer War. None of which prepared him for his next task – World War One where he initially served under Sir John French from 1914 to 1915 but subsequently replaced French as Commander-in-Chief.
In 1916 Haig orchestrated the battle of the Somme which resulted in the greatest loss of life in British Military history – 20,000 British lives were lost on the first day alone. When the battle ended they had gained 10 miles of land with the loss of 600,000 men on the Allies side. German casualties were in the region of 500,000.
Loos, Arras, Cambrai and Passchendaele were more bloodbaths which Haig is blamed for. Passchendaele alone suffered 310,000 casualties on the British side. The fact that Haig killed more German than British soldiers was probably his saving grace.
Sir John French then became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Viceroy) in 1918, a position he held throughout much of the Irish War of Independence (1919–1922).
Sir John French – Earl of Ypres by William Orpen (Irish Guards Museum).
Divided Opinions: –
Haig and the British Prime Minister – David Lloyd George, did not see eye-to-eye but they both supported the idea of a single command of allied forces on the Western Front under the French commander Ferdinand Foch. And this ultimately led to the end of the war in 1918. Although in the 30’s Lloyd George wrote that Haig was opposed to the idea and added that Haig was ‘brilliant to the top of his Army boots’.
Alan Clark (MP) quoted “Tommies were “lions led by donkeys and the biggest donkey of all was Haig”.
David Lloyd George by William Orpen (1919). National Museum Wales.
Marshal Ferdinand Foch by William Orpen (1918). Imperial War Museum.
Although there is a perception that Haig had a dislike of Catholics, Col Eugene “Mickey” Ryan, a Catholic Doctor from Co Cork, was Haig’s personal physician throughout the war and delivered his first child Dawyck Haig. Haig in turn was godfather to Dr. Ryan’s son who was named Douglas. Ryan also dispelled the idea that Haig was callous with the lives of his men on the Western Front, saying he was deeply traumatised by the loss of his men but was convinced that the only way to win the war was to wear down the enemy.
For his role in the Battle of the Somme, Douglas Haig was made a Field Marshal on January 1, 1917. The promotion was accompanied by a handwritten note from King George V which read: “I hope you will look upon this as a New Year’s gift from myself and the country”. Haig was also created an Earl in 1919.
Field Marshal Douglas Haig receiving Order of the Thistle from King George V at Chateau Schoebebeque, Cassel, France.
No one else was in attendance for the presentation so William Orpen did this painting after visiting the Chateau in Sept/Oct 1917. The Chateau is now a 4* hotel – Châtellerie de Schoebeque, 32 rue du Maréchal Foch, Cassel. Image Courtesy of the Haig family.
Haig married Dorothy Maud Vivian in 1905 (a Royal Family Lady-in-Waiting) and had four children. After the war they resided at Bemersyde House, Roxburghshire, Scotland which was presented to Haig by the British Government and remains in the family ever since.
In his latter years, Haig devoted his time working for ex-servicemen. He established a charity, the Earl Haig Fund, working mainly for those who were disabled through the Poppy Day Appeal and the British Legion of which he was the founding President in 1921, a position he held till his death in 1928. He was also a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland from 1923 to 1928. Earl Haig’s wife Lady Haig founded a poppy factory in Edinburgh in 1926 which still operates today.
Douglas Haig was a keen polo player and golfer, he was captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St. Andrews, Scotland (1920 – 1921). Another captain was Edward, Prince of Wales (1922), later King Edward VIII, also painted by William Orpen, it hangs in the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
Edward, Prince of Wales – 1922 (Later King Edward VIII) by William Orpen (between 1922 and 1928).
When Haig died of a heart attack in 1928 (aged 66) a day of national mourning was declared in Britain. It was reported that a million people lined the streets of London to view the funeral procession including hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen to pay their respects to their hero. Following a service at Westminster Abbey, he was buried at Dryburgh Abbey, near his home at Bemersyde, (see link below to a British Pathé film of his funeral).
In honour of his dear friend, William Orpen made some modifications to his controversial painting ‘To the Unknown Soldier in France’ by removing the “offending” emaciated British soldiers and donating the painting to the Imperial War Museum, London.
To the Unknown British Soldier in France by William Orpen (1919) and modified (1928) IWM.
Orpen had originally been commissioned to paint three peace Conference Pictures for the Imperial War Museum. Two of them, the one of the ‘Conference at Quai d’Orsay’, the other of the ‘Signature of the Treaty of Versailles’ were already in the museum. The third was to represent a room in the Palace of Versailles called ‘The Hall of Peace’, the room through you enter the long ‘Galerie des Glaces’, where the treaty was signed. For the third painting he had spent nine months working on studies of about forty politicians, generals and admirals (‘Frocks’ as he called them). “In spite of all these eminent men, I kept thinking of the soldiers who remain in France for ever”. He was so fed up with how busy the Frocks were, congratulating themselves for winning the war and forgetting about the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who lay buried in unmarked graves, he just couldn’t continue. He blotted them all out and replaced them with a coffin draped in the British flag, guarded by two dead comrades and cherubim and named it ‘To the Unknown British Soldier in France’.
The Imperial War Museum refused to accept it and Orpen lost his fee of £2000. However, after the painting was exhibited in London, Orpen received many letters from mothers who lost their sons and wives who lost their husbands and from soldiers who had served in France, congratulating him on the picture.
An article in the Evening Standard 1923 – William Orpen comments on his painting ‘Unknown Soldier’
A Peace Conference at the Quai d’Orsay by Sir William Orpen (1919). IWM
The Signing of the Peace Treaty, Versailles by Sir William Orpen (1919). IWM
The Earl Haig Memorial is a bronze equestrian statue on Whitehall in Westminster. Created by sculptor Alfred Frank Hardiman, commissioned by Parliament in 1928. Photo by Priory Studios.
A great soldier passes – link to a British Pathé film of Haig’s funeral – https://www.britishpathe.com/video/a-great-soldier-passes-4
Post by Dominic Lee who also posts on: –