Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig


Evidence from his Diaries, his Letters and his Handwriting

Table of Contents:
Haig: the lion or the donkey, the controversy continues
Haig: what sort of man was he?
Haig and Monash: initiating the analysis
Personal preliminary observations
Testing the preliminary observations
Selecting the samples to be analysed
The Graphology Report by Margaret Webb
• General Personality
• Relationship with Others
• General Intellect
Comments upon the Findings
Shedding light on the Enigma
Prepared for the Website

Haig: the lion or the donkey, the controversy continues

Was Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig the brilliant strategist who by 1918 had created a victorious army of 2.5 million soldiers, a British Expeditionary Force over thirty times bigger than it was in August 1914? Or was he a blunderer, or even a mass murderer, who knowingly sent hundreds of thousands to their deaths because he was unwilling to try better ways of waging war.

Even at the start of the Twenty-first Century, Haig’s detractors continue to condemn him as somehow being personally responsible for every soldier now lying under white tombstones in the ‘silent cities’ or blended into the Belgium and French soil. His supporters try hard to justify his military decisions as being part of a ‘learning curve’ that eventually brought success. The popular media, with their inability to allow facts to spoil a good story, find it easier to take the side of ‘Tommy Atkins’, a civilian conscripted unwillingly into the army as a private and condemned to be blown to bits or shot in the rat-infested water-logged trenches of Ypres and the Somme.

Undoubtedly the detractors still hold sway in the popular mind because it is fashionable in contemporary Britain to relate to the ‘victim’, even ‘victims’ who carry out heinous crimes. All can be presented as ‘victims’ of either their environment or their genes, none are considered to have the ability to control their own behaviour. The innocent (both morally and sexually) ‘Tommy Atkins’ lying under his tombstone, perhaps identified by the line ‘Known unto God’, fits comfortably into the contemporary vision of the ‘victim’. Unfortunately, history is often too complex for the sound-bite journalist or the paid-by-sales popular history author to have the time or the inclination to analyse and understand the details of the events of yesteryear.

The evidence of the war years and the 1920s shows that Haig was ‘lionised’ as having led the BEF to victory. The cost of this victory was accepted because warfare was recognised as a brutal activity that had to be carried out to resolve disputes once diplomacy had failed. Death was accepted as an inevitable part of that experience, in the same way that in the Edwardian Age an early death was generally accepted as the sad but inevitable fate of many children suffering infectious diseases for which modern drugs had not yet been invented. Hence Haig’s quality of command was accepted as being separate from the day-to-day experiences of the BEF soldiers fighting in the front-line trenches. When Haig died in 1926, his lying -in-state in Edinburgh for four days brought large crowds to pay their last respects – gatherings exceeding those for many members of the Royalty. His soldiers, writing during the war, deplored the life of the trenches, but mostly accepted that this was the price to pay to defeat the enemy. In retrospect, that life was seen by the many who returned safely to their homes as being the most exhilarating of their lives. They were proud of what they had done, and remained proud as they marched past the Cenotaph in Whitehall and town and village memorials each year on Armistice Day for most of the Twentieth Century.

Lion or donkey, the ‘battle’ has waged since disillusionment set in after the economic Depression of the later 1920s and the resurgence of a militaristic Germany in the 1930s. Fear of what might come led the ‘Liddell Harts’ to popularise the view that there had been no victory because the Germans had not been defeated. As a dead man who had not written his memoirs, Haig was given the personal responsibility for the death of each BEF soldier by the ‘Laffins’, the ‘Clarks’ and the ‘Winters’. Indeed the German defeat was even accepted as the result of the ‘stab in the back’, by the many who admired Hitler and his ‘rejuvenation’ of the German people – and contrasted it with the indecisive political actions of the British Governments during the inter-War years. The charges that Haig and his Generals had been ‘donkeys’ for allowing Germany to ‘win’ the war at terrible cost to the British people were held to be proven in the Court of the Hindsight of History.

Even though modern authors such as John Terraine and Brian Bond seek to bring a more balanced view to the history of the military and political events of the First World War, the controversy continues. Unfortunately it is likely to continue to do so because the protagonists prefer to snipe and bomb from their trenches rather than walk towards each other across No Man’s Land.

Haig: what sort of man was he?

Part of the critical judgment made of Haig is that he presents an enigma to his biographers. He is generally accepted as being dour, shy, and inarticulate – and not the best companion with whom to spend rain-lashed days at a British country -house weekend. The populist image of a not-attractive personality sits uncomfortably within the British contemporary life-style that wants its ‘heroes’, either politicians or media celebrities, to have exciting personal lives to match their public images. Even the occasional criminal activity or sexual misdemeanour are seen to enhance the excitement. Dourness, shyness and the inability to master the sound-bite are deeply unfashionable.

Yet the perceptions of Haig’s contemporaries were those of the people who grew up in the Victorian and Edwardian eras and accepted that he be judged on his military performance as the Commander-in-Chief of the BEF rather than on any supposed deficiencies in his private personality. Even though the Twenty-first British person has different moral standards and values, nevertheless there is a purpose in trying to understand the ‘whole man’. Was the sort of man he was partly responsible for the numerous occasions where operational tactics were flawed and ineffective? Was the date for which he remains popularly judged, the First of July 1916, the direct result of weaknesses in his psychology which condemned many thousands of volunteer troops to death and injury? This analysis presents views to be considered alongside his biographers’ assessments.

Haig and Monash: initiating the analysis

Researching into the battlefield performance of General Sir John Monash, as presented in this Website, I became aware of the fact that he had been rebuked by Haig in late September 1918. This was because of Monash’s agitated state of mind when commanding his Australian Corps during the assaults on the Hindenburg Line.

To assess what Haig himself thought of the incident, knowing that he greatly admired Monash, I sought out his private papers. As the edited version by Robert Blake was not satisfactory, I enlisted the help of the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives based in King’s College London in order to read their microfilms of these papers. These cover both his daily entries in his diaries as well as the sometimes more than daily letters to his wife Doris.

Reading the diaries and letters in their original hand-writing, I was struck by the fact that there is a considerable difference in the personality revealed in his letters to his wife from that exhibited in the diaries. Lest it be suggested that the latter were being written in a public capacity and the former in a very personal capacity, it is known that Haig accepted that both would enter the public domain at some stage. Therefore he would not have been tempted to write about matters in the letters which could be claimed to be libelous, especially as he was aware that he was the subject of much criticism over his handling of military operations – particularly from the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George.

Personal preliminary observations

Without covering the ground covered and indeed fought over by his many biographers, these are my personal comments based on observations of his two sizes of writing, smaller in his diaries than in his letters. Although ‘cool’ in his diaries even when noting casualty returns, he must have seen his daily, and sometimes twice-daily, letters to Doris as being the opportunity to unburden himself at an emotional level. The letters are intellectually uninspiring, indeed they could have been written by a sentimental teenager.

But the manner of his upbringing and military life may have slowed the development of emotional feelings that normally mature with age. He married in middle-age for the first time after a very brief courtship and had been married for nine years before the outbreak of war. The shock of being plunged into a situation of great stress may have released feelings which had to be let out. As a leading commander and then the Commander-in-Chief, expressing his feelings as a military leader would have had to be kept in careful check, bearing in mind the British culture of the early Twentieth century of the ‘stiff upper lip’. This perhaps explains the coolness of his demeanour. Only the letters to his wife gave the possibility of a safe outlet to his deeper feelings.

The strong feelings are revealed in two ways. Firstly by his concerns for the health of his wife – clearly she had lost too much weight as the result of complications following the birth of their only son (they already had two daughters Xandra and Doria) – and that his baby son was growing normally (he got his medical officers to assure him of this). And secondly by his concern for the future of the disabled officers, how they might suffer after the war, and what could be done for them, expressed on many occasions such as on the 19th of July 1918 (nearly 4 months before Armistice Day). He knew that many had risen through the ranks during the war so could not fall back upon the private income normally available to Regular officers, especially in prestigious Regiments. The Poppy Appeal, still given high status in 2001, is the tangible expression of Haig as a feeling man rather that as the austere Commander-in-Chief of popular reputation.

As to the detached feeling he presents in 1918, this could have been the result of having to operate beyond the day-to-day administration of the BEF, especially in strengthening the coalition partnership with General Ferdinand Foch resulting from the Doullens Conference during the Kaiser’s Offensive in the Spring of that year. Although still technically in command he was prepared to accept his Army and Corps Commanders such as Rawlinson and Monash running their ‘own shows’ except when obvious problems arose (such as for Monash on the 29th of September). This may have come as a relief to him after the mental batterings he took in 1916 with the unsatisfactory progress of the Somme battles and in 1917 as Third Ypres bogged down in rain and mud. Having to explain why promises of breakthrough were not being kept when facing across the Cabinet table charismatic politicians such as Lloyd George, articulate at expressing their concerns about the manpower consequences of his military campaigns, must have put pressure on his self-confidence.

For his personal letters reveal he did lack such confidence deep within himself – hence his expressions of how lucky he was that Doris had been prepared to marry him and love him, and how touched he was that Doris wished to use his own name in naming their son. Not the image an arrogant self-assured man would present, even to his own wife – more the sort of thinking that is nowadays found acceptable by Twentieth-first century feminists!

My preliminary conclusions were that clearly the psychology of Haig was likely to continue being of interest to historians and analysts of military management because it reveals a personality which is more complex than the popular image of ‘Butcher’ Haig still promulgated in the newspapers – especially around the time of Armistice Day each year. But whatever his imperfections as a military commander, to his lasting credit his armies which he had to build up as effective fighting units did help bring to a successful conclusion one of the most horrific conflicts ever experienced by mankind.

Testing the preliminary observations

In order to test these conclusions, I asked Margaret Webb, an experienced graphologist and Diploma holder of the British Institute of Graphologists, to analyse samples of handwriting of both the letters and the diaries. Graphology is a technique often used in business recruitment. Although treated with some scepticism in Britain, it is accepted in many countries as an aid to assessing personality traits. Hence its use in analysing features of Haig’s personality could add to the psychological profile of the leading BEF commander developed by historians. However it is reasonable to suggest that their assessments can be challenged as their skills and learning are rarely in the sciences of psychology or psychiatry.

In requesting this analysis, great care was taken not to reveal Haig’s identity as I did not want his popular image to influence her judgement. Although graphologists normally wish to see the original handwriting to assess the physical strength put into making the strokes, I had to tell her that the original writings were stored in another country. Fortunately she though of France and countries overseas, rather than Scotland!

Selecting the samples to be analysed

Photocopies were taken from samples of the microfilm in the Liddell Hart Centre, the originals being stored in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

In selecting the samples, certain obvious dates (such as the First of July 1916) could not be used because they contained information likely to reveal the status of the writer. Also where a date such as the 11th of November 1918 was used, a page was selected that did not mention the momentous events of that day.

From Haig’s letters to his wife, the dates chosen were:

Easter Sunday, the 31st of March 1918;
Armistice Day, the 11th of November 1918.

These were numbered 1 and 2 and Margaret Webb was asked to analyse them first before she saw the other samples.

From his diaries, the dates chosen were:

Monday, the 27th September 1915;
Sunday, the 21st October 1917;
Sunday, the 31st of March 1918;
Saturday, the 26th of July 1916.

These were numbered from 3 to 6.

All are periods of especial interest to historians. The 27th of September 1915 was during the battle of Loos, that tragic precursor to the Somme campaign – represented by the 26th of July 1916. The 21st of October 1917 was during Third Ypres. The 31st of March 1918 was during the Kaiser’s Offensive when the fate of the war hung very much in the balance. The diaries’ samples were not numbered in the normal time sequence to prevent the graphologist building a time-based scenario.

In fact selecting the samples was particularly difficult due to the need to retain Haig’s identity as a secret. Margaret Webb had some suspicions but no certainty because all I had told her was that the writings were from the early part of the Twentieth century. Nevertheless, clearly military matters were being discussed – except in his letter to Doris on the 11th November 1918! Unfortunately the mention of a tie as a present indicated the person was male. To retain Haig’s incognito, I had to avoid samples of his signature, even though this is a considerable aid to analysis.

The Graphology Report by Margaret Webb

Margaret Webb’s report on the 6 samples is now given as originally received.

Margaret Webb M.BIG (Dip.)

Note: The originals were not available for inspection, therefore the pressure (energy levels of the writer etc.) and quality of the pen stroke were not discernable.

General Personality
The handwriting of letters 1 and 2 is extremely active and alive, dominated by drive and enthusiasm. The writer preferred variety and action and would be always ‘on the go’. He was very hard working and would have liked to be the centre of attention. Ambition, courage, perseverance and leadership qualities are also very much in evidence. The writing shows a person who could make quick decisions based on his ability to ‘think ahead’, well into the future, but this would be at the expense of clarity of thinking and caution. He possessed great foresight, seeing the whole and complete picture of a situation rather than concentration on the detail, as he would become bored easily if presented with anything that required great patience and tolerance. He would hate uninspired routine, always being drawn to the exciting challenges of new possibilities. People such as these are frequently irritable, jumpy and easily distracted as they are always in a hurry to get things done. Although his mind was ‘unscientific’ in the true sense of the word, he was curious about everything in the world around him and possessed the ability to analyse, question and probe deeply into things. He was usually open and broadminded, but with a few narrow opinions. One of his less positive character traits was an ability to conceal and cover up as some ambiguity is detected within his writing. His planning and organising ability was good but he would delegate tasks that required concentration, patience and equanimity.

He would see both new possibilities and new ways of doing things. He could quickly and easily adapt to new situations. He had great initiative for starting major projects and impulsive energy for carrying them out, and this enthusiasm would get other people interested too. As already mentioned, leadership qualities are in evidence and he would therefore have had many followers.

Relationships with Others
The writer was friendly and possessed a genuine and warm personality, but very powerful and dominating – a determined person, difficult to ‘not notice’. He was actively curious about people, activities and food etc., he was also strong in the art of living, getting a lot of fun out of life, making him good company. His abilities in using all his ‘senses’ may have shown in:- a continuous ability to see the need of the moment and turn easily to meet it, and the skilful handling of people and conflicts. He would make his decisions by using the personal values of feeling rather than the logical analysis of thinking. The strong feeling side to his personality would make him sympathetic and interested in people. He would fit into any social situation and would not find conversation an effort, speaking freely and fluently.

There was however a conflict deep within his personality of wanting v not wanting people – he would welcome the warmth and love of another but felt isolated at the same time, therefore making it difficult for him to foster deep and meaningful friendships. He could be very sympathetic and kind, lending a listening ear, but this could be short-lived making some of his social attitudes to others seem very conflicting and confusing; he may have had one or two respected and close friends to whom he was loyal but, on the whole, few permanent friends as he would tend to put people into categories of black and white – acceptable and fun to be with against not worth bothering about/sympathetic against cutting one dead another time. Therefore, he was not an easy character to get on with as his listening skills were good only up to a point, and he soon became impatient. His confidence fluctuated causing him self-doubt and he could become over-emotional, easily losing control. Although he normally put a certain amount of distance between others, he was not very independent and would always need to know that there was someone trustworthy in the background.

General Intellect
This is the writing of an extremely intelligent, witty and quick thinking person, with a dry sense of humour. His rich imagination and original mind were two of his great strengths, together with his ability to think on his feet and talk about a variety of topics. He had a powerful moral conscience, and probably held strong spiritual/religious beliefs. In all areas of his personality, some conflict is in evidence – he was the host of a very complex personality, e.g. he could be very critical and cutting but charming at the same time. He was goal-minded and constantly thinking ahead, but this would be battling against a strong conscience together with some repression.

He was not particularly good at putting things in a logical order and would have difficulty in standing back and reflecting upon a situation with any amount of caution. Instead he would jump into a situation based on inspirations and hunches. His problem solving ability could, for example, have succeeded purely because he got a lot accomplished at the last minute under the pressure of a deadline, rather than his thinking ability and sound judgement.

There is a male figure influence evident within the hand-writing, with little indication of a strong female influence. (This does not mean that a mother figure was absent – it simply infers that a father figure was the more dominant during his early life.)

NOTE – The writing is very spontaneous and natural; well advanced beyond the time it was written at the beginning of this century. The copybook at this time teaches writing that is elaborate in many ways, and this handwriting is unconventional in that it shows much simplification in many of its forms. This means that he would not adhere to convention, preferring to do things his own way. His dominating personality was one of originality and flair – instantly recognisable as someone ‘different’ from others in very many ways.

The handwriting of documents 3-6 (all written in ‘note’ form) show the same character traits as above, but the personality was under extreme pressure, both emotionally and mentally. The writer’s self-confidence fluctuates considerably and the whole personality seems to be under very great strain. Also detected are lapses in concentration and fatigue, together with a great deal of anxiety and irritability.

(The samples for analysis are very poor, barely legible in places. Age and nationality of writer plus information regarding the precise dates of the documents was not available.)

Comments upon the Findings

Knowing that Margaret Webb had been commissioned to analyse the handwritings of the serial killer Frederick West and Carlos the Jackal, I asked her whilst she was analysing Haig’s handwriting if he was some-one capable of committing murder. She assured me that he was not a killer like West and the Jackal!

Margaret Webb was asked to look at samples 1 and 2 first so her findings start from Haig’s letters to his wife. Yet when she moved on to samples 3 to 6 taken from his diaries, the difference in handwriting is not sufficient for her to justify preparing a second report – which would be the case if Haig exhibited very different personalities depending on the circumstances under which he was writing at that moment in time. His two styles therefore reflect the internal tensions he felt when writing, little tension when writing about ‘simple’ matters to his wife, but heightened tension when recording his activities as firstly a senior commander and then as the BEF Commander-in-Chief.

The comment about thinking ahead (paragraph 1) but at the expense of clarity of thinking and caution links with his attrition policy even though the British Armies were experiencing severe casualties for little territorial gain both on the Somme and at Passchendaele.

Yet during the emergency of the Kaiser’s Offensive, Haig quickly assessed his personal position during the Doullens Conference on the 26th of March 1918. He put aside his own pride and proposed that General Foch should take overall control over both the French Armies and the BEF to halt the Offensive. Two days he dismissed the unlucky General Sir Hubert Gough from his command of the BEF Fifth Army – an officer he had loyally sheltered from the possibility of dismissal since the year before. The selection of the note from the 31st of March 1918 was as soon after these two events as was practicable.

Haig has the reputation of being so inarticulate that when showing his battle strategy plans on maps his hand would sweep over a large area of the Western Front accompanied by a series of grunts and it would be his staff who would interpret his movements. But was his inarticulateness when his Army and Corps Commanders and General Staff took care to explain their operational plans the result of his becoming bored easily – so he said little to hide the fact that he had absorbed little?

His ability to see new possibilities (paragraph 2) may have been reflected in his strong support for the tank, even after its poor performance (in terms of reliability) at the Somme and Third Ypres. As a cavalryman, he might instead have adopted the scepticism of other cavalry commanders – instead he allowed the giant raid originally planned for the Cambrai assault of November 1917 to ‘grow like topsy’ into a full-scale assault on the Hindenburg Line which had tremendous short-term success.

He must have been good company with some (paragraph 3) because he retained the loyalty of his Royal friends despite the machinations of the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. If he had not been acceptable company it is unlikely that King Edward VII would have welcomed him at Court! However the Court of King George V and Queen Mary would have suited a dour, shy person not given to sparkling conversation. There is no doubt that the suggestion he was capable of ‘speaking freely and fluently’ jars with those who have studied Haig as a professional military commander.

Clearly he kept loyal (paragraph 4) to some like his friend, the Director of Military Intelligence Brigadier-General John Charteris, beyond the time they were effective. Perhaps he kept these staff because his self-doubt meant that he needed them as men he could trust.

The presence of strong spiritual/religious beliefs (paragraph 5) ties in with his regular church attendance even when critical military circumstances might have kept him away. He is supposed to have dabbled in spiritualism but it is likely this was done to please his wife, however he might also have been curious to find out if it meant anything – a reflection of an enquiring mind.

He is considered to have had a very close relationship with his mother rather than his father, but this would not have prevented him from being heavily influenced by his father’s attitudes and beliefs (paragraph 7).

As Commander-in-Chief and someone who was a leader for most of his military life, it is not surprising he was recognised as being ‘different’ (paragraph 8).

It is revealing that his diaries of his activities as Commander-in-Chief show extreme pressure in his handwriting. The deliberate ‘hiding’ of the dates provides no evidence that the pressure grew more intense from the year of the unsuccessful battle of Loos, 1915, to the year of the Advance to Victory, 1918 (paragraph 9). 0therwise the graphologist would have highlighted samples 4 and 5 (Third Ypres and the Kaiser’s Offensive) as indicating a difference from samples 3 and 6. The general conclusion based on how he wrote his diaries must be that he was under great strain during the whole of his term of office until Armistice Day.

Shedding light on the Enigma

The different personality traits revealed by Haig’s handwriting are worthy of psychological analysis – for shedding light on the enigma may make clearer why he took decisions which too often appeared to lack logic (see paragraph 3). For examples, the extensions to the fighting on the Somme when diminishing returns had long before set in. Yet even the continuation of fighting at Third Ypres in 1917 raises a challenge to the popular condemnation of Haig’s attrition policy, the German view that the continuation of the very dry period in the late autumn by just one week would have seen their army defeated in the field.

With the voluntary support of an experienced graphologist unencumbered by any prejudice about the writer, her analysis of Haig’s handwriting does reinforce the conclusions reached by some historians. They confirm that Haig was a complex personality not deserving of his nickname ‘Butcher’.

Two schools of historians dominate the biographies written about Haig, those that praise him and those that damn him. How many of them seek to understand what sort of man he was is questionable. Hence it is reasonable to use a technique which although controversial in Britain is widely accepted elsewhere as having value in illuminating the personality through the person’s handwriting. Hence I find that the graphologist’s report suggesting he had a not unsympathetic personality makes sense of his good relationships with his Army Commanders, his loyal General Staff, his family and the British Court.

Although Haig’s relationship with Lloyd George was unsatisfactory, when Lloyd George wished to replace him, firstly Lloyd George found himself in peril of being replaced and secondly no other senior British officer was considered to be suitable. Whatever judgment is made about his performance as a military manager during the succession of battles, nevertheless the record is clear. He did weld together a fighting force that did hold out until victory was achieved. He was the figurehead of a learning experience that found solutions to the dramatic changes in weapons technology and overcame their earlier overpowering dominance of the battlefield. He provided the leadership that turned civilians, firstly volunteers, later mainly conscripts, men used to peace behind the protection of the British Royal Navy, into soldiers capable of outlasting the Teutonic warrior.

Perhaps a man with a simpler personality might not have been able to achieve this?


May I thank the Librarians at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College London, for their help in finding the microfiche films needed to suit my requirements and for their advice on how to get the best out of the viewing equipment especially in preparing the photocopies for later examination by the graphologist.

I must, above all, thank Margaret Webb who gave me her professional expertise without payment to carry out this handwriting analysis of the unknown writer. However historians might view her findings, the methodology offers the opportunity to further the understanding of the psychology of historical personalities no longer alive.

Prepared for the Website

28 March 2001