To Re­mem­ber

Grand Falls-Wind­sor writer says town should re­name Haig Road.

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Front Page - BY ROGER PIKE

The First World War was de­cid­edly great in terms of ca­su­al­ties.

It was also the re­sult of great blun­ders as politi­cians were un­able to stop Euro­pean ten­sions from es­ca­lat­ing. More im­por­tant is the fact that the “Great War” left great scars.

One only has to visit the Somme bat­tle­field in North­ern France to truly ap­pre­ci­ate the dis­as­ter this war in­flicted upon so­ci­ety. The grave­yards are every­where, some of them very small com­pris­ing only of a hand­ful of white mar­ble stones bear­ing the in­scrip­tion “A Sol­dier of the Great War/ Known Only Unto God”.

When vis­it­ing France there are many of these ceme­ter­ies and so many stones that bear the names of many of our young men. On a re­cent visit to France I was hard pressed to find many over the age of 25 years.

The Bat­tle of Somme was an epic of both slaugh­ter and fu­til­ity, a waste of men and ma­te­rial. On the morn­ing of July 1, 1916 over 110,000 Bri­tish and Com­mon­wealth in­fantry­men went “over the top.” In a few hours, 60,000 of them were ca­su­al­ties. Nearly 20,000 were ei­ther dead in min­utes or would die of their wounds, many lin­ger­ing for days in trenches in no man’s land. The at­tack­ing forces did not gain a sin­gle one of their ob­jec­tives.

Ac­cord­ing to Mil­i­tary His­tory mag­a­zine, a staff colonel had the cheek to write: “The events of July 1bore out the con­clu­sions of the Bri­tish Higher com­mand and am­ply jus­ti­fied the tac­ti­cal meth­ods em­ployed.”

Field Mar­shall Sir Dou­glas Haig, chief of staff of the Bri­tish Ex­pe­di­tionary Force (BFF) and ar­chi­tect of the bat­tle, ev­i­dently agreed. On the day af­ter the de­ba­cle, stat­ing that the en­emy “has un­doubt­edly been shaken and has few re­serves in hand,” he dis­cussed with sub­or­di­nates meth­ods of con­tin­u­ing the of­fen­sive, which he did with a kind of tran­scen­dent stub­born­ness for an­other four months. By then Haig’s army had suf­fered more than 400,000 ca­su­al­ties, some of them New­found­lan­ders.

For the Bri­tish, in the grace judg­ment of noted mil­i­tary his­to­rian John Kee­gan, “the bat­tle was the great­est tragedy of their na­tional mil­i­tary his­tory,” and Haig was the ar­chi­tect. Gen­eral Haig en­vi­sioned a vi­tal role for horses in the Somme of­fen­sive. Dou­glas Haig’s bat­tle, ac­cord­ing to Mil­i­tary His­tory mag­a­zine, at­tacked and kept on at­tack­ing even when the ground his men gained was use­less by any mil­i­tary mea­sure.

“At­tri­tion is never an in­spired strat­egy and is usu­ally the refuge of a com­man­der who can­not come up with any­thing bet­ter. And Haig was, if any­thing, unimag­i­na­tive. A dead sol­dier is no good to any­one. Lives are not meant to be thrown away,” said the mag­a­zine.

As Paul Fus­sel writes in his in­dis­pens­able vol­ume “The Great War and Mod­ern Mem­ory,” “in a si­t­u­a­tion de­mand­ing the mil­i­tary equiv­a­lent of wit and in­ven­tion, Haig had none.”

Af­ter the war, Haig be­came some­thing of an awk­ward fig­ure for the Bri­tish govern­ment. He was pop­u­larly por­trayed as a hero in the Bri­tish fash­ion, given money and ti­tles, but never an­other job.

In Grand Falls-Wind­sor a street was even named af­ter him. He worked on vet­er­ans’ causes and early bi­ogra­phies are lauda­tory.

Then came the in­evitable reap­praisals. B.H. Lid­dell-Hart, a dis­tin­guished mil­i­tary his­to­rian who had been wounded on the West­ern Front, went from ad­mirer to skep­tic to critic. He wrote in his di­ary: “He (Haig) was a man of supreme ego­ism and ut­ter lack of scru­ple who, to his over­ween­ing am­bi­tion sac­ri­ficed hun­dreds of thou­sands of men.”

Still in his de­fense, it’s clear to me that Haig hon­estly be­lieved a mas­sive frontal as­sault by in­fantry would punch a hole in the en­emy line through which cavalry would charge to glory. This man was so con­fi­dent in his out­dated ideas that he never al­lowed ac­tual bat­tle­field ex­pe­ri­ence to chal­lenge them.

The time has now come to reap­praise our as­sess­ment of Dou­glas Haig and the street, Haig Road, in Grand Fall­sWind­sor named in his honor. Dou­glas Haig was, in my opin­ion, a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the colo­nial Bri­tish mind­set of the day, which was based on ar­ro­gance. Time has proven he does not de­serve the adu­la­tion given to him.

On Satur­day Nov. 25 at 8p.m. the Arts and Cul­ture Cen­ter here in Grand Falls-Wind­sor will present “Ded­i­ca­tion,” a play about Haig’s ded­i­ca­tion of the war memo­rial in St. John’s and the con­tro­versy cre­ated by his at­ten­dance. I en­cour­age area res­i­dents to take in this play and to re­flect on the de­ci­sions made by this man in our his­tory.

As we re­flect on an­ther an­niver­sary of this Great War (1914-1918) and the many peo­ple of Grand Falls-Wind­sor and sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties who gave their lives, I call on our town lead­ers to reap­praise our as­sess­ment of Haig and to re­name Haig Road.

Haig Road should be re­named, if noth­ing else, Vic­tory Hill.

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