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Hayden lets rip at 'dolts' of war

AUSTRALIA'S Governor General, Bill Hayden, has made a scathing attack on Britain's First World War army commanders, calling them 'dolts' who failed to learn from earlier conflicts.

In an interview published yesterday, he described the commander of British forces on the Western Front, General Sir Douglas Haig, as 'one of the great knuckleheads' of the war.

His remarks were reminiscent of those made recently by Australia's pro-republican Prime Minister, Paul Keating, who has attacked Britain's wartime attitudes to Australia.

In February, Mr Keating told parliament Britain had deserted Australia when it was threatened by Japan in the Second World War. Mr Hayden, a former Labor leader who became the Queen's representative in Australia five years ago, rarely, if ever, makes controversial statements.

But as he prepared to leave for France next week with a group of war veterans and war widows for the Australian commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of the war, he said: 'I guess the worst thing about World War One was that there were a lot of dolts in charge of British operations at the top.

'There can be no excuse for Haig not being aware of what was going to happen in being bogged down in trench warfare. Haig should have known from the American Revolution, when trench warfare was adopted, and from the two Boer wars, of the slaughter that would occur.'

His comments were denounced as 'dreadful rubbish' by the British historian John Terraine, author of a number of books on the First World War and an admirer of General Haig.

He said it was nonsensical to criticise the British high command when trench warfare had been used by every army during the war. 'The type of warfare was the only form that could be used given the technology of the time.'

Julian Critchley, the Conservative MP for Aldershot, said he was not surprised by the remarks: 'Hayden is stirring up anti-British feeling to make a republic in Australia that much more likely.'