Douglas Haig - As I Knew Him, George S. Duncan

Douglas Haig - As I Knew Him, George S. Duncan

George S. Duncan was a Church of Scotland chaplain who found Haig in his congregation, and effectively became his unofficial chaplain, accompanying Haig when his HQ moved locations, and clearly getting to know him fairly well. In the 1960s he produced this book, which focuses on his experiences of Haig, as a man and as a leader. 

This sort of book is quite common for some historical figures - produced by figures such as Churchill's bodyguard or Hitler's driver - but this is the first I've read about Field Marshal Haig. This 'insider's' view of a military leader can be of great value, giving us an idea of how they reacted to events and how they coped with the stresses and strains of command. This book does that for Haig, although as Duncan wasn't part of Haig's military 'family' we don't get many insights into his decision making process or the details military events (although he did hear Haig's views on the current situation during various times of crisis). Duncan met Haig most weeks at Church, and on a fairly regular basis between services, and could see how he was coping with the general stresses of the war, the problems of working with his French allies and the pressure he was under from some political leaders at home (in particular Lloyd George, who was particularly hostile to Haig and the 'western front' approach to the war.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is an overwhelmingly positive view of Haig. Duncan was writing at a type when Haig's reputation was at a low ebb, and he felt a duty to present his side of the story and correct what he saw as inaccuracies in the then accepted view of Haig. The picture of Haig we get here is fairly close to the current view of him, focusing on his skills as the leader of an army within a coalition, and the impressive way he coped with Lloyd George's hostility. The fairly short section on Haig's faith is unusual in the biography of a military leader, although hardly uprising given the author's position.

This is a useful view of life in Haig's Headquarters, a much maligned place that is often criticized for being remote from the fighting, and a classic example of the 'chateau' generalship of the First World War. Here we get a view of a hard working and increasingly effective headquarters, which moved closer to the key part of the front on several occasions. Don't expect an unbiased view of Haig - that isn't really the point of this sort of memoir, but do expect a valuable view of Haig from someone who saw him on a regular basis from the Somme in 1916 to the victorious campaigns of 1918.

Chapters

Part I: Introductory
1 - The Two World Wars
2 - My Association with Haig: How it began
3 - The Commander-in-Chief: A Preliminary Portrait
4 - Life at General Headquarters

Part II: Historical
5 - 1916 (i): The First Six Months
6 - 1916 (ii): The Battle of the Somme
7 - 1917 (i): Tensions and Frustrations
8 - 1918 (ii): Baffled Hopes: Passchendaele and Cambrai
9 - 1918 (i): Backs to the Wall
10 - 1918 (ii): On to Victory
11: The Post-War Years

Part III: Personal
12 - The Man we knew
13 - The Man of Character
14 - The Man of Faith
15 - The Man of Faith (continued)
16 - Epilogue

Author: George S. Duncan
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 144
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2015 edition of 1966 edition


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