Lt General Sir John de Cane isn’t one of the better known British generals of the First World War, but he played an important role in the final year of the war, acting as a senior British liaison officer at General Foch’s supreme Allied HQ during the period of the German spring offensives and the Allied ‘hundred days’ that led to final victory. As a result he had a unique insight into events at both Haig’s and Foch’s HQs. This book was written in 1919, and rather unusually wasn’t meant for publication – the authors original foreword simply says ‘This book is printed solely for the private use of the author’, a rather rare thing to find! It also means that his opinions are likely to be entirely honest, as he wasn’t expecting the work to be read by any of his former colleagues – his comments on Haig’s staff and their anti-French attitude probably fit into this category!
The book falls into two halves – first the author’s own memories of his time at Foch’s HQ, discussing his views of Foch’s abilities and contribution to the final Allied victory as well as the attitude of the British GHQ to the French, then a second half made up of sources – first Haig’s letters to Foch, then a collection of Foch’s notes and directives sent out to a variety of figures. These are useful, but would have been even more useful if Haig’s letters to Foch and Foch’s letters to Haig had been placed together in chronological sequence, rather than in separate chapters. Admittedly this was de Cane’s choice, but it does mean that Haig’s reply to a letter sent on 1 July is on page 108, the letter itself on page 208.
Both parts of the book will be of great value to anyone interested in this final period on the Western Front. De Cane’s own memoirs give us the views of a senior British officer with a foot in both camps. The second half brings together useful collections of documents - I found Foch’s documents to be more valuable, simply as they were less familiar to me, and they give a really valuable insight into his plans for the year – in particular making it clear that he always intended to go onto the offensive as soon as possible, even during the darkest days of the German offensives.
Part I: Narrative
1 – First Impressions
2 – The Battle of Flanders: 9th April to 8th May
3 – Foch’s Efforts to Accumulate Reserves
4 – Foch’s Plans for Counter-Attack: The Battle of the Aisne
5 – Haig Invokes the Beauvais Agreement: Preparations during June and July – Battle of 18th July, Secrecy
6 – Foch’s Plans for 1918 and Views on the General Situation
7 – Battle of the 8th August and Subsequent Operations
8 – Payot and the ‘Direction de l’Arriere’
9 – The Combined Offensive in September and October: Conference of the 24th October
10 – The Armistice
11 – Foch and Haig
Part II: Letters From the Commander-in-Chief to Foch
1 - Letters From the Commander-in-Chief to Foch
Part III: Notes and Directives
1 – From 26th March to 14th may 1918
2 – From 18th May to 24th July 1918
3 – From 27th July to 11th November 1918
Author: Lt General Sir John de Cane, KCB