Field Marshal Douglas Haig’s Glittering Prizes

Douglas Haig was adored by the British after he’d defeated Germany in 1918. Traditionally returning military heroes were garlanded with honours and wealth and Haig was no exception. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, had doubts about the stellar qualities of Haig but it was unthinkable not to reward him and other senior officers. Lloyd George, an adroit politican, did what had to be done. The honours came ‘free’, as it were, unlike the largesse, which was budgeted at £585,000. Haig was rewarded for being a Field Marshal on Armistice Day, not for individual brilliance.

Tradition demanded that senior officers be handsomely rewarded after a successful war. Haig had a strong sense of entitlement. He was exceptionally well connected to royalty and senior politicians, which made his position well nigh impregnable. From 1905 he was a protege of R B Haldane, the Secretary of State for War. In the same year he got married in Buckingham Palace. Haig was a courtier and soldier-politician. He was also very wealthy. In a major breach of etiquette he loaned a huge amount of money to Sir John French a major-general and his commanding officer*. French promoted him, possibly coincidently, on many occasions. Haig successfully conspired against French after the battle of Loos (1915) and was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in his place.

Lloyd George had doubts about Haig’s judgement. These doubts became critically important in 1916. Haig was a cavalryman who’d had great success in the Boer War but the western front was utterly different. In his War Memoirs Lloyd George says, “When I ventured to express… my doubts as to whether cavalry could ever operate successfully on a front bristling for miles behind the enemy line with barbed wire both Generals [Joffre and Haig] fell ecstatically on me…” p323** Those who actually fought the battles Haig planned shared Lloyd George’s doubts. They knew that wars of attrition and movement are mutually exclusive, which meant that the cavalry was obsolete as an attacking force. The cavalry was as obsolete as Haig himself.

Haig’s first set-piece battle was The Somme (1916), which was carnage. The Somme had first day casualities of 60,000. Haig learned very little from the Somme and persisted in similar tactics for a further two years. Haig was a relic of a by-gone era. Appalling military decision-making didn’t prevent Haig from saying that the victory in 1918 was his victory. It naturally followed that as he was victorious he should be garlanded with the fruits of victory. As a result the Somme was ‘forgotten’ and the 1918 focus was purely on the ultimate success.

Lloyd George understood Haig’s political skills and impeccable connexions but still mooted awarding Haig a viscountcy, the lowest feasible aristocratic title*. Haig was outraged. Haig knew he was the benchmark for the entire reward programme and played hard-ball. The War Cabinet capitulated and an earldom was forthcoming. Haig’s earldom was accompanied with a £100,000 cash award. Where Haig led eighteen senior officers followed (see Addendum).

Haig was a poor general who knew the secret of personal advancement. His wealth, social and political connexions promoted his cause and the Armistice clinched it. The returning hero picked up the glittering prizes. The 6th of August 1919 must have been excruciating for Lloyd George as he praised Haig to the skies in Parliament and proposed huge cash awards and honours. Lloyd George got his revenge in his War Memoirs. He trashed Haig’s reputation and it’s stayed trashed ever since.

ADDENDUM

Navy:

£

Admiral of the Fleet, Sir David Beatty

100,000

Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Jellicoe

50,000

Admiral Sir Charles E. Madden

10,000

Admiral Sir F. C. Doveton Sturdee

10,000

Rear-Admiral Sir John de Robeck.

10,000

Vice-Admiral Sir Roger J. B. Keyes

10,000

Commodore Sir Reginald J. Tyrwhitt

10,000

Army:

Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig

100,000

Field-Marshal Viscount French

50,000

Field-Marshal Sir Edmund Allenby

50,000

Field-Marshal Sir H. Plumer

30,000

Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson

10 000

General Sir Henry Rawlinson

30,000

General The Hon. Sir Julian Byng

30,000

General Sir Henry Horne

30,000

General Sir William Robertson

10 000

General Sir William Birdwood

10,000

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Maurice Hankey

25,000

Air:

Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard

10,000″

Corrected for inflation £100,000 equates to £4,657,530 in 2016 and therefore £10,000 is £465,753. See debate of 6th August 1919.
Lieut-Colonel Sir Maurice Hankey is interesting in this list as he was a civilian bureaucrat with a military title. http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1919/aug/06/supply#S5CV0119P0_19190806_HOC

*Sir John French was made a viscount on being effectively sacked in 1916 to be replaced by Haig. Haig had a hold on French, his senior officer, when he lent him a very large amount of money, in 1899, which ‘bought’ Haig (some say) promotions. French was deemed incompetent in 1916 and was still awarded £50,000.

**David Lloyd George War Memoirs

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