Podium: Earl Haig

On the 80th anniversary of the Armistice, three very different views on how we should commemorate the victims of war: Earl Haig From a speech by the 2nd Earl about his father, Field Marshal Haig, at the opening of an Armistice Day exhibition at Cambridge University
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The Independent Culture
AMONG MY father's diaries there is the entry for 11 November 1918. It is clear that he had mixed feelings about the way things were handled by the French Marshal Foch.

I quote: "At 5am the Armistice was signed. The Germans pointed out that if the rolling stock and supplies of the army (which had to be handed over by the terms of the Armistice) are given up, then the Germans east of the Rhine will starve. Report says that Foch was rather brutal to the German delegates and replies that that was their affair. We heard this morning that the Kaiser is in Holland.

"If the war had gone against us no doubt our King would have had to go and probably our army would have become insubordinate like the German army. Remember John Bunyan's remark on seeing a man on his way to be hanged - `but for the grace of God, John Bunyan would have been in that man's place!'"

My father wanted to insist on strong naval terms, but in other ways the Armistice was in his view too exacting. By hitting the Germans too hard we would build up resentment and the thirst for revenge. In 1922 Hitler proclaimed; "We do not pardon. No, we demand vengeance."

My father realised that a difficult economic climate in Germany would result in a breakdown of good government and the eventual introduction of the jackboot. He was a realist. He believed that it was an illusion to think that the German armed forces would not re-emerge and a war would not have to be fought again. Had the terms been more lenient the Germans might have evolved as a democratic power. There would have been no Holocaust, no bloodbath on the Russian front, no casualties in north Africa, no D-Day, no Singapore, no Pearl Harbor.

Looking back to the early years of my own generation, we were thankful for a few years of peace. We were ready to enjoy all the pleasures that came our way. When war came again our generation rose to the occasion and joined the colours.

My father was a strong leader. His leadership during the latter part of the war, and particularly in 1917 when we had to take the pressure off the French, was a big factor in the battles of 1918 which led to final victory... For that victory it was to all those who served with him that my father expressed gratitude. When he was congratulated he said "Don't congratulate me," pointing to a nearby soldier, "it is fellows like him who deserve congratulations."