HL Deb 08 February 1928 vol 70 cc46-51

My Lords, in accordance with the arrangement which your Lordships sanctioned yesterday, I would ask leave to say a few words upon the great loss which this country has suffered in the death of Field-Marshal Earl Haig. In another place they have the opportunity of recording their tribute in the form of a memorial, which no doubt will be unanimously voted. We have no such opportunity, and yet in one sense we have a greater right, because we were able proudly to reckon among our numbers the Field-Marshal himself. But, of course, it is not because of his position as a member of your Lordships' House that we seek to-day to do his memory honour: it is because he was the great leader who led us to victory in the greatest War that there has ever been.

As that great ceremony took place a few days ago and the thousands in the waiting crowd watched the procession wend its way to the Abbey, I suppose that in the minds of everyone was the memory of those days, ten years ago, days of deep anxiety and splendid triumph, when Lord Haig was the Commander of our Armies. That was a wonderful story of which he was the central figure and all the thoughts of those days must have come back to us who witnessed it. The issues were so vast, public feeling was so deeply stirred, the sorrow was so profoundly felt, the victory was so great—and what must be the thought of the man who was the centre of all of it, the Commander in the field, the man most responsible? We may indeed wonder at the balanced judgment and the iron nerve which a man must have to carry so great a weight of responsibility.

In one respect the position of Lord Haig was different from and more difficult than that of any other great Commander because of the vastness of the forces which it was his duty to control. This not only made the complexity of operation much greater, but it necessarily prevented him from haying that personal contact with the soldiers in the field upon which great Commanders in the past have so much relied to inspire their armies to achieve their purpose. Notwithstanding that, we all know what a position Lord Haig occupied in the minds of his men and we all know the victory that he achieved. I think that in this respect, perhaps, a successful soldier occupies a more splendid position than any other great man, because if he is successful what he sets out to do is achieved, there is a definite accomplishment, and he knows at the end that he has met a great crisis and solved it and brought his country through safe and sound. In that sense, therefore, and perhaps in every sense, Lord Haig is to be envied, for he is a notable example of that achievement of which I have spoken.

If we turn from his record as Commander in the field, we recognise that he was, too, a man of great sympathy, a sympathy which led him to safeguard his men and the interests of those who had suffered, those who were disabled, those who were ruined, to safeguard them as far as he could in the years that followed. He had the great sympathy, the gentleness of manner and the unfailing courtesy which are so often the note of a great man of action and seem to conceal, as it were, the strength of the character underneath. I think we may well say that the fierce light that beat upon Lord Haig, upon his personal character and his military accomplishments, could do nothing but the greatest good in revealing a model and an example to his countrymen. We are indeed deeply grieved at his death, but, though we are grieved, we are not, I think, without a sense of gratitude and, if I may say so, a sense of triumph at what he has left us and what his life achieved.


My Lords, I wish to be permitted to add something to the eloquent words that have fallen from the lips of the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House. I, too, knew Lord Haig, and in one way I knew him more intimately probably than any of your Lordships. I do not refer to events in France. I visited him there, of course, more than once at his headquarters, as did many of your Lordships, but that is not relevant to what I am going to say. Lord Haig was distinguished by something upon which public attention is hardly yet adequately focussed. He was a military thinker of a very high order. When he went into battle it was with a plan, not merely improvised, but strategically conceived and based on far-reaching objectives. That was the tone and temper of his mind. The year 1906 was a perilous one for the British nation. Armaments had been and were being piled up on the Continent, to such a height that it looked as though they must come down with a disastrous clash. We here as a people were doing all that we could to keep the peace with Germany and I do not think that the leaders of German political opinion wanted war. But there was a powerful military element in Germany which thought the hour had struck for Germany to assert her greatness and one cannot altogether wonder. They had an Army which for magnitude and perfection of organisation was the greatest in the world; they were laying the foundations of a Fleet which, so far as its size allowed, was of the highest training and efficiency, and we could not tell, desirous as we were to avert every pretext for them to strike, whether a conflagration might not break out. In those circumstances the problem in 1906 was how to deal with that if it arose.

We had no doubt that Germany could not, in face of our magnificent and superior Fleet, invade this country directly: we knew them too well to think that they were likely to try. But they had other means. If they could get possession of the northern ports of France, Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne, then, with long range guns and submarines and with Air Fleets, they might make the position of this country a very precarious one in point of safety. That problem had to be thought out, and, after surveying the whole Army, I took it upon myself to ask Lord Haig, who was then in India, to come over to this country and to think for us. From all I could discover even then, he seemed to be the most highly equipped thinker in the British Army. He came and for three years it was my privilege to work with him and to take instruction from him. He had a singularly lucid mind, the most modest of demeanours, but none the less when he had formed a conclusion he was both resolute in it and, as the noble Marquess has said, courageous. We worked out the details of the Expeditionary Force. Then Lord Haig took the Territorial Force. At first he wished to organise it in 28 divisions instead of the 14 divisions which ultimately formed its strength. That proved impossible because we could not raise the numbers or distribute them when raised in the right parts of the United Kingdom. But the 14 divisions he fashioned into a shape which was perfect as far as it went, and he took in hand the staff work and the other things that were necessary.

But more than that: he had come back to a high position on the new General Staff which had been called into being just before he arrived, and he conceived the idea that the principle of that General Staff might be extended far beyond Great Britain so as to be acceptable to the Dominions and to India. The plan was worked out largely by himself for that purpose, and through the Colonial Office and at the Conferences which took place with Dominion Premiers, it was communicated and adopted, and the result was that the General Staff became the Imperial General Staff, no longer a local organisation but part of the military equipment of the Empire. Then we thought that the best thing that could be done was that he should return to India in a high position on the General Staff of the Indian Army, to carry out his own reforms amongst the soldiers there whom he knew so well. He did that. He accomplished his task, and then he returned. We had now got to a stage when what was necessary was to train up the troops to the high standard which Lord Haig had laid down.

For that purpose he took the command of Aldershot and had under him two divisions of the Expeditionary Force. From the first it had been proposed that he should have high command in the Expeditionary Force, and he and Lord French—another very gallant soldier with modern views—worked together and discussed their plaits. In the end Haig brought the two divisions at Aldershot to so high a pitch of efficiency and quality that they became tin example to the other four divisions of the Expeditionary Force. More than that, he spread something of the same spirit among the Territorial troops, so that it is not too much to say that it was to Haig probably more than to any other that the efficiency of the British Army was due when it had to take the field, as it had to do in 1914.

My Lords, he has passed from us, and those who knew him, who knew the modesty of his character, who knew the clearness of his mind, who realised the inflexible resolution that lay at the back of his judgment, are mourning—mourning because such personalities are not easily produced again. And yet I feel that he has left behind him a tradition which the British Army will not readily lay down, and I think that the manifestation of feeling all over the country in the last few days has been an illustration of how the British democracy, perhaps not understanding very much, but yet with a fine instinct for the truth, recognised in Haig one of its greatest soldiers. In conception of the objects of a battle, in clear ideas of how to use his troops, I doubt whether there has been anybody since the great Marlborough who was his equal. He may not have been one of those magnetic personalities who inspire troops, as two or three great Generals of our own have done in our own time, but I end up by saying what I said at the beginning, he was a great military thinker—so great that only those who had to live through years, as I had, in the closest contact with him, can realise how great he was.


My Lords, I do not like to let the opportunity pass without expressing, on behalf of my noble friends and myself, our concurrence with everything that has fallen both from the noble and learned Viscount and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. Few words, indeed, are necessary from me. Lord Haig himself was conspicuously a man of few words, and it is unnecessary for me to dilate at length upon his high qualities. I wish, indeed, that I had been a soldier, for it is remarkable how those who served under him were among his greatest admirers. Those who knew him best admired him most. That is no small tribute in itself to pay to Lord Haig. He was modest and unassuming in triumph as he was in the days of the greatest anxiety.

He was a man of a rare and single-minded devotion to duty and during these last few years we have, I think, specially learned to admire the reticence he has shown with regard to the great operations in which he was engaged. That is an example of dignity which has commended itself, I am sure, to every member of your Lordships' House. That example of reticence which he has given us will not militate against his reputation in the future. We think more highly of him for that reticence and for the reticence which he showed during the attacks which were made upon him and the methods in which he conducted the War. He will not suffer in reputation in future years from the reticence and the dignity which he displayed. It is an example which all men in high places might very well learn to follow.

He was a great gentleman. He was a great Christian. Since the ending of the War he was unsparing in his efforts for those who had broken their lives while he was in command of the Army. He was not only the great leader of a victorious Army; he was the friend and helper of those who had been broken by the War. During the last years he spent all his time in doing what he could to forward their interests. And it is in memory of that no less than of the great soldier that he was that I am sure your Lordships are glad to join in the tribute to his memory this afternoon.