The Good Soldier: A Biography of Douglas Haig by Gary Mead - review by Max Egremont

Max Egremont

The Man and the Myth

The Good Soldier: A Biography of Douglas Haig

By

Atlantic Books 608pp £30 order from our bookshop
 

It is hard to like Douglas Haig. There have been many biographies of this dour, philistine Scot, the British commander-in-chief on the Western Front, but all run aground on the dullness of his personality. His diaries and letters rarely rise above the banal; his doggedness and sycophancy make him easy prey for debunkers. To some, Haig seems the epitome of the old British class system – the heir to a Scotch whisky fortune who was promoted through good connections to become the mass murderer of innocents during insane offensives while he lived miles away in a grand chateau. Photographs taken of him during the First World War show an apparently smug, phlegmatic figure, his polished boots and ironed uniform an insult to those enduring the trenches.

The anti-Haig camp has evidence of early dim-wittedness. The young Haig was crammed to get into Oxford, which he left without a degree, crammed again for Sandhurst and only reached the Staff College through nomination, having failed the competitive exam. Then there were useful friends, cultivated early on, who included

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