Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, March 4, 2021

10 Revealing Quotes from Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig



1.  It's all very well for you fellows, you are going into the Army to play at soldiering, I am going in it as a profession and I am going to do well in it. 

Declining a Night of Gambling at Sandhurst, 1884

2.  No plan of operations can with any safety include more than the first collision with the enemy's force . . . Plans aiming far beyond the strategical deployment and first collision have been submitted. Such speculations may become harmful if they are allowed to hamper the judgment as the campaign progresses, and to impede initiative. Commanders in war have been known to become so imbued with an idea as never to think of any other contingency; and what we wish for we like to hope and believe.

Report After Staff Ride, 1911

3.  Military history teaches us that the whole question of cooperation with an ally is fraught with difficulties and danger. When the theatre of operation lies in the country of the ally, and when the organization of the latter's forces is imperfect, these difficulties increase, for war can rarely benefit the inhabitants on the spot, and ill-feeling is certain to arise.

1907 Study

4.  Great Britain and Germany would be fighting for their existence. Therefore the war was bound to be a long war, and neither would acknowledge defeat after a short struggle . . . I held that we must organize our resources for a war of several years. 

War Planning Recommendations, 1914

Prewar at Aldershot with the King and Queen

5.  With such changed conditions it might be thought that the old principles of war had changed. But I do not thinks that is so. On the contrary the values of surprise and concentration on the decisive point are as great as ever. The difficulty is to apply these great principles under the changed conditions.

Letter to Prime Minister Asquith, June 1915

6.  French's handling of the reserves in the last battle, his obstinacy, and conceit, showed his incapacity, and it seemed to me impossible for anyone to prevent him doing the same things again. I therefore thought strongly, that, for the sake of the Empire, French ought to be removed. 

Haig's Account of an Oct. 1915 Discussion with King George V

7.  [Describing Passchendaele Battlefield]:

The low-lying, clayey soil, torn by shells and sodden with rain, turned to a succession of vast muddy pools. The valleys of the choked and overflowing streams were speedily transformed into long stretches of bog, impassable except by a few well-defined tracks, which became marks for the enemy's artillery.

To leave these tracks was to risk death by drowning, and in the course of the subsequent fighting on several occasions both men and pack animals were lost in this way. In these conditions operations of any magnitude became impossible, and the resumption of our offensive was necessarily postponed until a period of fine weather should allow the ground to recover.

1917 Despatch

8.   With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the freedom of mankind depend alike upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.

Special Order of the Day, 12 April 1918

Inspecting the Troops

9.   So long as the opposing forces are at the outset approximately equal in numbers and morale and there are no flanks to turn, a long struggle for supremacy is inevitable. . . Obviously, the greater the length of a war the higher is likely to be the number of casualties in it on either side.

Final Despatch, 1919

10.  The French are anxious to be very strict. . . We ought not to make Germany our enemy for many years to come.

Diary Entry, 27 November 1918


  1. "No plan of operations can with any safety include more than the first collision with the enemy's force" - that's good.

    1. Vor allem ist es im Original von Moltke.

  2. So he had the walrus even when he was a cadet

    1. Hey a soup strainer comes in handy when imbibing gourmet meals at headquarters.

  3. Re #4: Most people though only Kitchener foresaw a long war in 1914. Clearly, not so. Quotes #2-5 and #10 display a perceptive observer; the rest are more self-serving. Nonetheless, those (#2-5) quotes, contra the lions/donkeys brigade, reveal a thinking soldier.

  4. " No plan of action outlasts the first onset with the enemy " is also attributed to Frederick, to Napoleon, and probably to everyone who has ever had an onset with an enemy.