Sir Douglas Haig
Haig and the Cavalry

by Bob Bushaway

Reproduced with the permission of the 'Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies'.

 

Why are historians interested in Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig and his reputation?

There are probably three main reasons. First, he remains one of the most controversial figures in British history, both the victor of Britain’s Great War as Commander-in-Chief of the largest number of British forces in the field before or since and the authority who presided over Britain’s greatest loss of life in war. Second, he continues to fascinate those interested in the First World War whether for or against in the ‘Haig debate, and he can be guaranteed to fill halls and sell books for many years to come. Third, and more importantly, to cite the words of General John M. Schofield: ‘[It] is the legitimate aim of just military criticism, not to build up or pull down the reputations of military commanders, but to assist military students to perfect themselves in the art and science of war’.

General John Schofield knew what he was writing about, having served through the US Civil War finishing in Command of the Army of the Ohio under General William Tecumseh Sherman. He was the victor of the Battle of Franklin on 30 November 1864 and, later, Secretary of War. His memoir, Forty-Six Years in the Army is a reliable account of the military events in which he played a considerable part and of those with whom he served. Sherman thought him ‘possessed of qualities of mind and character [which] fitted [him] in the highest degree for the work then in contemplation.’ (1)

Reputations were made and broken during the American Civil War by those who commanded the Armies of the Union and the Confederacy, and were remade and re-broken in the published memoirs and accounts that followed. It is, perhaps, for this reason that the Official Records: The War of the Rebellion remains, throughout its 150 massive volumes, a collection of official reports, orders and messages with the minimum of analysis, commentary or criticism. It is, perhaps, for a similar reason that the historian turns in vain to the volumes of Official History, published after the First World War, to find a definitive assessment of Haig’s generalship. The volumes, despite being packed and detailed, refrain from any comment on the relative merits or demerits of British commanders. Indeed, their very blandness in this respect, left the British public unable to form a balanced judgement of the good, the bad and the indifferent, leaving it to the Press and sensationalist publishers to kindle and rekindle the controversy. In no small measure, this state of affairs simply reflects Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds’ reluctance to be drawn into the controversy as he consulted those who took part in the war and attempted to even out their views. Also, it partly reflects Edmonds’ own sense of his position as a contemporary but lesser figure among the men about whom he was writing.

The fires were stoked instead by protagonists and antagonists and especially by those whose post-war careers and reputations depended upon their conduct during the war, not least Prime Minister David Lloyd George whose own War Memoirs were designed to cement his reputation as the ‘man who won the war’ and the sole architect of British and Allied victory, with only a slight nod to the role of the Supreme Commander, Ferdinand Foch.

The release of official files in The National Archives has scarcely helped matters because of their incompleteness and the general lack of unweeded private papers of those involved available to historians.

 

In these circumstances, it is not history that flourishes but myth.

To some extent, our choice of themes today reflects those prevailing myths about Field-Marshal Haig rather than the historical assessment. The books we have cited carefully balance those who support Haig’s claim to fame and those who would undermine it. My themes reflect long-held myths about Haig: that he was an unintelligent horseman, obsessed with cavalry and blind to the realities of modern war between industrial economies; and that he was opposed to new technologies and new ways, failed to appreciate their potential, slow to introduce them into the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and obstructive to those more visionary than himself.

Put simply, the story goes that he promoted only cavalry generals, persisted in his attachment to cavalry divisions in the field and longed for the opportunity to hurl them forward against a routed and running enemy. New technologies, aircraft and tanks, did not fit this vision and were regarded by him as toys and novelties, similar and of as much use in the field as Congreve’s rockets and Ferguson’s rifle in earlier times.

We hope to test the myths against the historical evidence not to judge Haig but to provide a reassessment against the scholarship of the last twenty years or so.

 

Let us begin with the cavalry.

If, as John Bourne has put it so memorably, the British infantryman of August 1914 went to war looking more like a gamekeeper than a soldier, wearing a soft brown suit, puttees and flat cap, (2) then it might also be observed that the British cavalryman, by the same token, could be said to resemble most the country horseman riding to hounds or point to point, vaulting fences at full tilt and view hallooing for the sport and the sheer joy of riding – a British country gentleman at his leisure, or, when located in sunnier climes and landscapes, an imperial gentleman at his sport, polo or pig-sticking.

And, as John Bourne has also reminded us, neither had a place, dressed after the Edwardian fashion, on the modern battlefield of 1918 where industrial war called for industrial techniques and the gamekeeper had become the industrial worker in ‘hard hat’ and equipped with suitable tools. (3) In the same way, the country horseman, at least on the Western Front, had been transformed into the air-borne or tank-borne warrior or had abandoned their horses to become lorried infantry.

The link between British cavalry and British country sports such as fox hunting should hardly surprise us as it has always been central to Britain’s military ethos, that the good sportsman becomes the good soldier and that, therefore, the adept fox-hunter or pig-sticker makes the best cavalryman. Some have even argued, more controversially, that it is part of the glory of the British way in warfare that cavalry should inculcate the spirit of the hunting field and infantry should embody the spirit of the playing fields of Eton and Harrow. The importance of this public perception was that it defined Britain not as a martial nation – where standing armies, professional soldiers and conscription prevailed – but as a nation of amateur sportsmen who played up and played the game when called upon to do so as volunteer soldiers.

 

The link is writ large in R.S. Surtees’s The Analysis of the Hunting Field:

Let anyone look at the field of fox-hunters in full chase and say whether such men are likely to be stopped at a trifle or not. Above all, let us then look at the Huntsmen and Whip and fancy them with swords in their hands instead of whips. Why, they would charge a regiment of devils in complete armour! The Duke of Wellington, himself a fox-hunter, and a real friend to the sport used to say that for daring, dashing deeds, there were none like the fox-hunting officers. (4)

Perhaps, the unforeseen irony of Surtees’s comment was that, no matter how apparently unstoppable was a field of fox-hunters in full cry in 1845 or their cavalry equivalent in the charge, their successors were entirely vulnerable and likely to suffer annihilation if such tactics were tried on the industrialising battlefields of the nineteenth century, which culminated in the conditions of the First World War on the Western Front. Here, successively, disciplined volley fire, artillery, automatic fire, semi-permanent field fortifications and barbed wire would face them. And such firepower, together with the broken terrain of the battlefield, contoured over with the fortifications of defence-in-depth would mean that cavalry had largely disappeared from modern war in the form of the so-called Arme Blanche, appearing only as mounted infantry – the pattern of experience in the American Civil War – or as Imperial ‘shock troops’ on occasion during the wars in Sudan and in South Africa.

As far as Western European experience was concerned, cavalry had been reduced to the no less important roles of protection duties for the advance, flank or rearguard during the army’s manoeuvres, reconnaissance, raiding and interdiction behind the lines, communication, or as mounted infantry. In the Imperial context, in the flying column, cavalry continued to play a significant role more akin to that of policing and internal security.

In the British experience, in the nineteenth century after 1815, three cavalry actions stand out in history: ‘Peterloo’ in Manchester, on 16 August 1819, when 15/Hussars and the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry attacked a civilian crowd; Balaclava, on 25 October 1854, when the Light Brigade attacked Russian artillery, immortalised thereafter as ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Tennyson; and Omdurman when, on 2 September 1898, 21/Lancers charged an enemy to their front in line abreast and knee to knee with lances.

What has all this to do with Field Marshal Haig you may ask? Simply this – Haig was not responsible for the cavalry ethos of the British Army nor its history nor the British public’s enthusiasm for dashing cavalry actions but he was an inheritor of it and was intimately part of it.

He was gazetted to 7/Hussars in February 1885 having attended Brasenose College, Oxford, and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, where he was first in his year. He later commanded the 17/Lancers. Both those regiments stood high in his affections, and both had outstanding records of service. The old ‘saucy seventh’, the Queen’s Own Hussars, had their roots in the armies raised by William III, were present at Waterloo, and took part in the suppression of the Indian Rebellion, serving on in India to 1870. 7/Hussars was the regiment in which Victoria’s son, Prince Arthur (Duke of Connaught), held a captain’s commission. 17/Lancers, Duke of Cambridge’s Own, the Death or Glory Boys, wore as their badge the skull and crossbones above the motto ‘or glory’ said to have been a tribute to General James Wolfe by a colonel of the regiment.

Haig served with 7/Hussars from 1886 to 1892, largely stationed in India, before going to the Sudan on Lord Kitchener’s staff in 1897. In the Sudan between 1897 and 1898, he witnessed the ill-fated and ill-judged charge of 21/Lancers at Omdurman, which he condemned, seeing the loss of 3 officers, 65 men and 119 horses in under two minutes as a failure in leadership rather than as a failure in cavalry. He wrote to his patron, General Sir Evelyn Wood:

You will hear a lot of the charge made by the 21st Lancers … the Regiment… was keen to do something and meant to charge something before the show was over. They got their charge but at what cost? I trust for the sake of the British Cavalry that more tactical knowledge exists in the ranks of the average regiment than we have seen deployed in this one! (5)

He enjoyed the sports of the cavalry regiment, particularly polo but did not usually engage in the cavalry regimental officers other cultural pursuits, avoiding musical events, the theatre, gambling and women, the latter forming the basis for another controversy.

Haig was a horse soldier as well as a soldier on horseback, a soldier whose career largely predated both the impact of the internal combustion engine and powered flight. He served from 1886, retiring from command in 1921, a career of thirty-five years. Daimler invented his petrol-driven internal combustion engine in the same year as Haig began his military service and the Wright Brothers pioneered powered flight in 1903 in Haig’s 17th year of service, when he was at Kitchener’s suggestion appointed Inspector-General of Cavalry. His experiences were those of a horse- powered, horse-drawn and horse-borne world and he served in an army where officers were expected to ride and to engage in horse activities, and pursuits whether they were members of cavalry regiments or not. Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds, a contemporary of Haig at the Staff College in 1896, recalled that riding was a separate subject on the syllabus. (6) It is not surprising that he could scarcely conceive of an army without horses and that he should have retained such a strong and undeniably sentimental attachment to cavalry, but this was allied to a firm conviction of the continuing usefulness of cavalry in modern war.

Far from being blind to new developments, Haig went out of his way to study the development of cavalry. At the Staff College, he learned from Colonel G.F.R Henderson about the development of cavalry during the American Civil War. (7) The lessons of the Franco-Prussian War were also still fresh. He well knew what was happening in France and Germany because he had perfected his knowledge of French and German in order to visit and observe their cavalry manoeuvres whilst on leave and to be able to read and translate the latest texts. He understood closely the imperial role of cavalry through his service in India, the Sudan and when commanding a column in South Africa. Even the most recent conflict between Japan and Russia was known although mixed messages were interpreted as Japan possessed little cavalry and, in the eyes of the cavalry experts, Russia had failed to make extensive use of the cavalry arm even though the terrain in Manchuria was not regarded as ideal for cavalry. The main use that had been possible was confined to large-scale raiding on the lines of the American Civil War, with Cossack detachments and field artillery penetrating Japanese lines to destroy supplies. Haig understood the importance of the concept of mounted infantry and he could also appreciate the on-going effectiveness of the lance and the sword alongside the carbine. He did not think, however, that cavalry should dominate the British Army or British military doctrine. He only thought that cavalry had a part to play and that when, as he perceived, unwise moves (largely inspired by financial considerations) to convert cavalry units wholesale or to dispense with them altogether, were recommended, he opposed them. His belief in the cavalry was never a mere sentimental affection for horses and horsed warriors.

A recent article in Royal United Services Institute Journal (July 2002) has concluded that the practical lessons of the South African War for cavalry were as follows: cavalry was principally used as mounted infantry often deployed to fight on foot; cavalry continued to require the cover and support of firepower close at hand (of field artillery); on occasion, the shock of the charge, even against entrenched riflemen, when the timing was right, could be effective; the roles of reconnaissance, security, raiding and anti-guerrilla tactics remained valid. (8)

Some military theorists argued – perhaps romantically – that cavalry should be developed as a genuine combined arms force equipped with its own mobile firepower and able to sustain itself and survive on the modern battlefield as an autonomous body. The same article concludes that Haig’s influence on British cavalry development after the Anglo-Boer War was entirely in keeping with these ideas. When Haig argued that ‘The war of masses necessitates mass tactics’, he was not advocating a return to mass cavalry charges but the development of massed firepower in which the mobility of cavalry and its ability to concentrate firepower rapidly and significantly could be decisive on the modern battlefield – as, in fact, the BEF was to demonstrate time and again during the many crises of the First Battle of Ypres when Allenby’s Cavalry Division, fighting on foot and with rapid aimed fire, could only have been sustained because of the Cavalry’s mobility enabling then to get the firepower in place.

Haig’s contributions to cavalry thinking before 1914 were in the van of cavalry theory. His Cavalry Studies (1907) demonstrated how cavalry fitted into the modern battlefield. His Cavalry Training Regulations (1912), dispensing with the idea of mounted infantry, an idea that Haig had found less effective in South Africa, concentrated more on a cavalry arm that could not only ride but also shoot straight. He was arguing for the maximum of firepower, mobility and flexibility in one arm, which could be decisive tactically on the modern battlefield and would still operate in all the positive ways of the unique arm. Even the retention of lance and sabre, often viewed by historians as pure romantic silliness by Haig, added to cavalry’s flexibility because of the continuing usefulness offered to the commander in the field of possessing a force capable of rapid manoeuvre and of riding down an enemy when need arose.

Most military commentators, before 1914, continued to argue for the retention of cavalry because of its flexible possibilities. As Lieutenant-Colonel Antulio Echevarria concludes in his recent RUSI article:

In summary, the story of the arm of decision [cavalry] from 1871 to 1914 is less about preserving the charge than increasing the firepower and flexibility of the horse soldier so that he could adapt to new battlefield conditions. (9)

In short, Haig dismissed the idea of mounted infantry because he thought such troops could not ride and were poor horsemen. He preferred the idea of dismounted cavalry, where expert horsed warriors were given the added flexibility of mobility of firepower by being trained to shoot accurately and rapidly when on foot.

The 1914 British cavalryman, trained by this doctrine and supplied with the most modern equipment, was a modern warrior not an historic relic of former times. Haig’s cavalry could ride far and fast, could reconnoitre, protect the flanks, the rear and the advanced guard, raid, charge as necessary with the support of mobile firepower, but could also fight on foot, shoot straight and with deadly effect and do all these things flexibly when called upon to do so. In the first five months of the war, British cavalry was called upon to do all these things and if it had not been available and able to perform these tasks, it is legitimate to wonder what might have happened in the crisis period of the BEF between the summer and winter of 1914.

Haig’s role had been to create this modern force. Wearing the 1908 standard Mills equipment set, carrying the short magazine Lee Enfield rifle in its boot and the 1908 cavalry sword in its scabbard, all attached to the 1912 pattern steel arch saddle, dressed in khaki and with the much-criticised final pattern lance, the cavalry of the BEF also went to war equipped with bipod supported by the Hotchkiss machine gun Mk 1 – the ultimate in mobile firepower. When given the close support of the Royal Horse Artillery in the field, these men meant business and were far more lethal as a force than anything seen in the Sudan or South Africa only a decade or so earlier. (10)

Under careful training, and with a clear and single doctrine, the cavalry could be integrated with the infantry and the artillery of the BEF to do a job in supporting a highly modern and mobile force. The mobility was mostly achieved through horsepower but supplemented, to a great extent, by the internal combustion engine. The BEF was more fully mechanised than any other army in the field in 1914. Haig was largely responsible for this force and had achieved his aim of producing a professional, integrated, mobile and concentrated essence of firepower that far out-punched its own weight and its enemies in every area except heavy artillery. Between 1908 and 1914 an old-fashioned arme blanche, short on mobility skills and rarely used to fighting on foot, and whose experience in army manoeuvres had largely been confined to a spectator’s role with a somewhat unseemly final dash at the end (which in one case had led to fatalities during the charge) was now able to dismount and shoot. What was more, the British cavalryman had a reputation for caring for his mount.

The new warrior – Haig’s flexible support – did not disappear from the battlefields of the Western Front only to turn up in Mesopotamia or Palestine (as is the conventional story). He was to be found in France and Belgium during the entire period 1914 to 1918. The colourful and suicidally brave cavalry of the Third Republic of France and the much feared but rarely seen Uhlans of Imperial Germany may have been eclipsed by the end of 1914, leaving to the Eastern Front cavalry actions of between Hungarian Hussars and Russian Cossacks, but the khaki horseman remained in the west. This was largely Haig’s achievement and for which he has been much criticised and condemned.

I have a picture – the free supplement to the War Illustrated for 23 December 1916 – by Stanley L. Wood, produced after the longest and largest single military operation conducted by the British Army, the Battles of the Somme 1 July 1916 – 18 November 1916, in which much of the attritional nature of warfare, German defence in depth, the role of heavy artillery and the appearance of the Tank, had been seen by the British public. Yet this picture depicts a British trooper wearing a rifle bandoleer and carrying a pouch offering food to his mount, burdened down by further bandoleers and ammunition, blanket roll, saddle, rifle and boot, sword, canteen and two new items, introduced since 1914, the respirator and the steel helmet. The picture is entitled Sharing Rations: The Trooper’s Christmas Box. We could be deeply cynical and comment that this was still what the British public wanted to see or, at least, what war artists thought the British public wanted to see, notwithstanding the dawning realisation of the nature of modern war. Or we could comment that the image, out of place on the Somme, was made possible because of Haig’s obstinacy and blindness, as his critics would have us believe. Or we could reflect upon how the British cavalry had been deployed up to Christmas 1916 and, indeed, after that.

I shall not deal with the well-known incidents of 1914, but turn to the cavalry’s role during the Second Battle of Ypres. No prospect of mounted action presented itself but in the fighting (desperate in character) the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (Cavalry) Divisions lost between 22 April and 31 May a combined total of 3,065 men, including 52 officers killed and 126 wounded. On the single day of 13 May 3rd (Cavalry) Division’s three Brigades lost 91 officers and 1,500 men in this dismounted defence. It is worth speculating what might have happened to Second Army without this highly mobile reserve. Major-General John Vaughan, commanding 3 (Cavalry) Brigade, describes events:

I spent the night with my excellent sapper officer and the mg officers and before daylight we had dug in and camouflaged some good mg posts in rear of the front line, which was held by the regular infantry battalions. (11)

In the subsequent gas attack, 4 and 5 Cavalry Brigades went to the infantry’s aid and Vaughan recalls:

The Fourth and Fifth, after urinating on the cotton wool, as prescribed, went off in three lines in open order. I remember well my old pal Charles Rankin of the Seventh, then commanding the Fourth. He was armed with a thumb-stick and his military orders reduced themselves to ‘come along the Fourth Hussars’ and they walked into a nasty thick barrage the enemy had put down behind our front line, just as if he was conducting a family party round his farm. (12)

Fighting on foot, of course, simply led to an argument between Haig and the government that infantry was more useful and should replace

Haig’s cavalry so the horses could be done away with. There was even a ludicrous suggestion that the horses should over-winter in Britain to avoid the cost of transporting fodder to the Western Front. Haig, however, was able to demonstrate that the cost of transporting the horses back to Britain far outweighed the cost of transporting fodder to France and Flanders. The suggestion was never made again although the Cavalry over-wintered nearer to the Channel coast.

Fighting in a dismounted role was not the cavalry’s primary role, as envisaged by Haig, of course, so the argument about breaking into the enemy lines and exploiting the breakthrough with cavalry – the infamous ‘Gee in Gap’ concept – was the prime task and the reason Haig argued so strongly for the retention of his cavalry divisions. (13) On the Somme at High Wood in 1916, at Arras and, more famously, during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, when four cavalry divisions saw action and, at Masnières, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the Fort Garry Horse got over the St Quentin Canal, cavalry attempted to exploit apparent conditions of break through although, in the event, the opportunities proved illusory. Julian Byng, after Cambrai, was supposed to have commented: ‘What became of the mobility of the cavalry?’ To which a cavalry officer [Vaughan] replied: ‘It is the same as ever, but bad staff work is responsible.’ (14)

Vaughan blamed the size of the formations and their concentration too far to the rear. They were ordered too late into action and on a short winter’s day when daylight was at a premium. Notwithstanding these explanations, it is difficult to imagine a more dramatic or successful outcome than that which occurred. So was the ‘Gee in Gap’ theory an illusion and Haig a fool for insisting upon its practicability?

Haig undoubtedly believed in the possibility given the number of times he planned for it to happen on the Western Front. Although all these attempts came to nothing, as commander-in-chief he defended his right to command forces balanced to his directions and he judged it a small price to pay to preserve the usefulness and flexibility of cavalry as a part of the BEF. He paid the British cavalry a handsome tribute in his Final Despatch and stuck by them against all comers – not least the Imperial German Army. As a mobile reserve, they more than repaid that confidence and carried the nation’s gratitude. But as the force envisaged by Haig, the opportunity simply never arose. Haig’s mounted escort was drawn from 17/Lancers and his favourite ADC, Captain George Black, was killed in August 1918 fighting with the Tank Corps after he had requested a transfer from the escort because ‘he wanted to fight’. (15) That opportunity rarely presented itself to the men of the cavalry divisions retained on the Western Front.

But was Haig wrong to think that the chance might arise as was the case in Palestine for Allenby’s Desert Mounted Corps during the victorious advance of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force although without, on the whole, great massed cavalry charges – occasions such as Beersheba and Huj excepted. The post-war world thought he was. The Encyclopaedia Britannica – the great EB – in its three-volume supplement that recorded the First World War has no entry for cavalry, simply a lengthy article with the heading mounted troops, interestingly, perhaps, written by Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Howard-Vyse of the Royal Horse Guards who had served as chief-of-staff to 5 (Cavalry) Brigade and 5th (Cavalry) Division in France, and the Desert Mounted Corps in Palestine. He concluded that:

…the failures of cavalry in the past can be traced more often to the shortcomings of the commander than to any lack of efficiency elsewhere or to conditions of ground and armament … the commander should be entirely confident of the role of cavalry. Now, during periods of stationary warfare, entailing inactivity for the mounted troops, it requires a character of exceptional firmness to retain that confidence to the fullest possible extent. (16)

How, in 1922, could Vyse or Haig have foreseen the coming technical and operational developments of armour and airpower, ironically first perfected by the BEF at Amiens on 8 August 1918 by an innovating Haig in a tentative and wholly unexpected way. Until then, Haig had been that commander whose ‘exceptional firmness’ and character had led him to continue to plan for the cavalry breakout, as the only mobile force available for deployment. Vyse pinned his continuing hopes on disbursement, which he thought was not available to the tank or airforce but only to the horse warrior. He could not have foreseen how technology would advance – in particular, how the internal combustion engine’s improvements would lead to unimaginable performance improvements in speed, power, range, height and manoeuvrability. The post-war British Cavalry could end up believing its propaganda – the great risk for a cavalryman – and even Vyse alludes to a myth concerning the First Battle of Ypres that the British 12/Lancers undertook a ‘stirrup charge’ at Wytschaete in 1914 with two infantry battalions, a feat of arms which has long since been revealed as a distortion of events. (17)

Perhaps Haig believed too much in the cavalryman’s propaganda – he certainly was aware of the potential for glamour to delude, as he once remarked that cavalry regiments with the best uniforms obtained the best recruits. He also loved horse sports and was aware of the traditions of British Cavalry he had inherited.

Gerard de Groot makes one final charge against Haig, which – if it stuck – would be grave indeed. He writes:

… in the Great War, while he did not send thousands of cavalrymen to their death in futile charges against German machine gunners, thousands of infantrymen did perish attempting to pave the way for the cavalry. (18)

 

Was this true?

Firstly, we have already seen how, more than three thousand cavalrymen became casualties in one action helping the infantry out of a mess that might have seen far more deaths result if events had turned into a rout.

Secondly, the ‘gee in gap’ concept was usually factored into GHQ’s planning but the plan aimed at breaking into, through and out of the German defences in any case as a primary objective whether as a contribution to the attrition struggle or the decisive battle. Infantry casualties would have resulted in any case in an offensive war where the Allies, including the British, refused to stand on the defensive in the west. To attribute these casualties to paving the way with infantry corpses for an unscathed cavalry to go through is, in my view, an unfounded claim of staggering proportions.

Thirdly, the prevailing conditions of the modern battlefield between 1914 and 1918 were constant factors and affected infantry and cavalry alike. Those few cavalry who found themselves moving in the open across a broken landscape towards barbed wire strands were just as likely if not more so to be stopped by the realities of firepower and its temporary ascendancy over mobility.

Haig did not enjoy the option of not fighting on the Western Front, only of fighting in support of Britain’s beleaguered allies who had been attacked by the invading forces of Imperial Germany. He could have resigned rather than accept the responsibility, but he chose to stay and fight and to use all the forces at his disposal and all his knowledge and experience to bring about victory for the Allies. The cavalry played a crucial role as a flexible and mobile force and, for most of the war, was the only one he had available. It should, therefore, not surprise us that he should wish to retain it and try and use it decisively whenever the opportunity should present itself and it is to the credit of those British, Indian and Canadian cavalry forces on the Western Front, that they unfailingly and bravely responded to the challenge.

 

Notes

1 M. Fellman (ed.), Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (London: Penguin, 2000), p. 387.

2 J.M. Bourne, ‘Haig and the Historians’ in B. Bond & N. Cave (eds.), Haig: A Reappraisal 70 Years On (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1999), p. 6.

3 Bourne, ‘Haig and the Historians’, p. 6

4 R.S. Surtees, Analysis of the Hunting Field (1846; London: Methuen, 1904), p. 42.

5 G. J. De Groot, ‘Ambition, Duty and Doctrine: Haig’s Rise to High Command’ in Bond & Cave (eds.), Haig: A Reappraisal 70 Years On, p. 43.

6 Lieutenant-Colonel F.W. Young, The Story of the Staff College 1856-1956 (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1958), p. 20.

7 Young, The Story of the Staff College 1856-1956, p. 21.

8 Lieutenant-Colonel A. Echevarria, ‘Combining Firepower and Versatility: Remaking the ‘Arm of Decision’ before the Great War’, Royal United Services Institute Journal (June 2002), pp. 84-91.

9 Echevarria, ‘Combining Firepower and Versatility: Remaking the ‘Arm of Decision’ before the Great War’, pp. 84-91.

10 The Marquis of Anglesey, A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Vol 4 1899-1913 (London: L Secker & Warburg, 1986), pp. 445-9.

11 Major-General J. Vaughan, Cavalry and Sporting Memories (Bala: The Bala Press, 1954). p. 181.

12 Vaughan, Cavalry and Sporting Memories, p. 181.

13 J. Terraine, The Smoke and the Fire: Myths and Anti-myths on War 1861-1945 (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1980), pp. 161-7.

14 Vaughan, Cavalry and Sporting Memories, p. 190.

15 R. Blake (ed.), The Private Papers of Douglas Haig 1914-1919 (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1952). p. 325.

16 Lieutenant-Colonel R. Howard-Vyse, ‘Mounted Troops’, Encyclopaedia Britannica – The New Volumes (12th ed.) Vol. XXXI (London & New York, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1922), pp. 10017.

17 The Marquis of Anglesey, A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Vol 4 1899-1913, p. 141.

18 De Groot, ‘Ambition, Duty and Doctrine: Haig’s Rise to High Command’, p. 48.

 

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