Sir Douglas Haig

Sir Douglas Haig in his officer uniform

In 1912 France and Britain were allies (they promised to help each other in the event of war) and preparing for a possible war with Germany.

  • At French caf├ęs, Haig's soldiers ordered 'oof and frits' - egg (oeuf) and chips.
  • Haig had toothache and it's said this made him keen for the Army to have its own dentists.

Some people said such a war would soon be over but Haig told Kitchener it could last years.

World War One began in August 1914 when German armies invaded Belgium. Haig led the British Expeditionary Force to help the French army fight off the German attack. Despite both sides expecting a quick victory, by 1915 neither side had won. Instead soldiers had 'dug in' in long ditches called trenches along the Western Front.

By the end of 1915 Haig was in command of the British army in France. It grew fast as thousands more soldiers came from Britain. They had been trained quickly to help the French, whose towns and villages were now battlefields. The French and British had to work together to drive the Germans back.

To win, Haig believed he needed millions of men and thousands of heavy guns to flatten enemy defences. He planned for infantry (foot soldiers) to advance to 'gain ground' while cavalry could gallop through gaps in the enemy defences. Haig believed this would mean the German army would lose all its ground or give up altogether.

What happened at the Somme?

In July 1916 Haig, who was now in charge of five British armies numbering 1.5 million men, ordered a new attack. The Battle of the Somme (a river in France) began with a week-long artillery barrage in July 1916. (A barrage is a lot of heavy guns firing at the same time.) However not all the shells exploded so the guns did not destroy the German defences. Instead the Germans were ready when the British attacked and 60,000 British soldiers were killed on the first day. The battle lasted until November and by this time British casualties totalled 420,000. The only land gained by all the fighting was a crescent (semi-circle) of land 12 km wide.

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (1861-1928) in his headquarter train in France during the First World War, with maps of France and Belgium behind him. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig in his headquarters in France circa 1918

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Teachers' notes and classroom ideas looking at 'Douglas Haig' during World War One.

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