‘My grand­fa­ther would be proud of Le­gion’s work’

Western Morning News (Saturday) - - News - BY MARTIN FREE­MAN

The man who helped cre­ated the Royal Bri­tish Le­gion would have mixed feel­ings to see the char­ity is so in ev­i­dence to­day, ac­cord­ing to his grand­daugh­ter.

Field Mar­shal Earl Haig would be pleased at the “won­der­ful” work done by the RBL but sad­dened that so much help is needed, says Sarah Lopes.

“He was a mod­est man, but he would be proud to see what the Royal Bri­tish Le­gion does. He would be happy that there is such pub­lic sup­port for ser­vice­men and women, but he would be sad­dened that there is such a such a prob­lem,” said Mrs Lopes, who is the Devon County Pres­i­dent of the RBL.

Earl Haig com­manded the Bri­tish Ex­pe­di­tionary Force (BEF), the UK armies on the Western Front.

Af­ter re­tir­ing from mil­i­tary ser­vice, he de­voted his life to the wel­fare of ex-ser­vice­men. He pushed for the amal­ga­ma­tion of sup­port or­gan­i­sa­tions, into the Bri­tish Le­gion, which was founded in June 1921, in­sist­ing that there should not be a sep­a­rate char­ity for of­fi­cers. The ti­tle “Royal” was added 50 years later in 1971.

His death in 1928 led to a huge out­pour­ing of grief, which dwarfed that af­ter Princess Di­ana died nearly 70 years later. More than a mil­lion peo­ple lined the streets of London at his fu­neral. The ser­vice in West­min­ster Abbey was one of the ear­li­est state oc­ca­sions broad­cast by the BBC.

Earl Haig’s work for ser­vice­men and their fam­i­lies was taken up by Mrs Lopes’ grand­mother, Dorothy. She started the poppy fac­tory in Ed­in­burgh – his home city – that pro­vided work for dis­abled ser­vice­men, with sales of the pa­per flow­ers bring­ing in badly needed funds for the le­gion.

To­day the fac­tory pro­duces about five mil­lion pop­pies a year.

“His legacy is very strong,” said Mrs Lopes, 65, of Yealmp­ton near Ply­mouth. “He was a na­tional hero af­ter the war and had the free­dom of cities ev­ery­where. He did so much. His Haig Fund be­came the Poppy Ap­peal.

How­ever, opin­ions later changed about the field mar- shal, first in the in­ter-war years and then in the 1960s, as he be­came re­garded as one of the “don­keys” who led the “li­ons” in what was seen as sense­less slaugh­ter in the at­tri­tional First World War bat­tles.

In turn that view is be­ing re­vis­ited by many his­to­ri­ans to­day who ar­gue that he and other gen­er­als were hav­ing to cre­ate new tac­tics and re­act to mech­a­nised war.

He is cred­ited as the man re­spon­si­ble for the Hun­dreds Days Push, a se­ries of suc­cess­ful bat­tles – ar­guably the great­est in Bri­tish mil­i­tary his­tory – that led to vic­tory in 1918.

“I think he was harshly

‘He did so much. His Haig Fund be­came the Poppy Ap­peal’

Sarah Lopes

treated. The BEF had to fill the gaps af­ter France lost so many. He had to stop Ger­many. The num­bers killed in those aw­ful bat­tles were ter­ri­ble, but what al­ter­na­tive was there – to with­draw and al­low Ger­many to in­vade us?

“He was a cav­alry of­fi­cer. There had never been a war like it, with those ma­chine guns and the huge scale of the bat­tles. Welling­ton com­manded an army of 67,000 men. Haig had over one mil­lion.

“He did move with the times, he and the other gen­er­als. He adapted with tanks and aero­planes.”

Mrs Lopes has made vis­its to the First World War bat­tle­fields and ceme­ter­ies in France and Bel­gium. She rep­re­sented the Haig fam­ily there ear­lier this year at the RBL’s GP90 com­mem­o­ra­tion – the 90th an­niver­sary of the Great Pil­grim­age of 1928 which it­self marked 10 years since the start of the Hun­dreds Days Push.

She will be in Ex­eter to­mor­row for the ser­vices at the city’s war me­mo­rial and in the cathe­dral.

“I think that my grand­fa­ther would be very proud at the work of the Bri­tish Le­gion.

“He felt so strongly about the dis­abled and wounded vet­er­ans. From the Somme [1916] on­wards he saw the men coming back and fought hard for mil- itary men to get pen­sions – many of them could not work and they had noth­ing. It was aw­ful.

“We don’t seem to learn. The same prob­lems come up again. We saw it again when the peo­ple came home from Iraq and Afghanistan, when Help for Heroes was set up. They do such good work and that has led to even more sup­port for the Royal Bri­tish Le­gion.

“My grand­fa­ther would be very proud that the or­gan­i­sa­tion he set up is still here, try­ing al­le­vi­ate prob­lems, but sad that those same prob­lems are still here.”

Sarah Lopes with a por­trait of her grand­fa­ther, Earl Haig

The me­mo­rial at the vil­lage of North­lew

PIC: RICHARD AUSTIN

Above, re­mem­brance at the Cathe­dral Green, Ex­eter. Bill Don­ney, a for­mer Royal Navy sub­mariner

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