“FEATURES OF THE WAR”
In these April days Sir Douglas Haig’s latest Despatch, dated the 21st March, 1919—the first anniversary of those black days of last year!—has just been published in all the leading English newspapers. It is divided into three parts: “The Advance into Germany,” “Features of the War,” and “My Thanks to Commanders and Staffs.” It is on the second part in particular that public attention has eagerly fastened. Nothing could well be more interesting or more important. For it contains the considered judgment of the British Commander-in-Chief on the war as a whole, so far, at least, as Great Britain is concerned. The strong and reticent man who is responsible for it broke through the limitations of official expression on two occasions only during the war: in the spring of 1917, in that famous and much criticised interview which he gave to certain French journalists, an incident, by the way, on which this Despatch throws a good deal of light; and in the impassioned Order of last April, when, like Joffre on the Marne, he told his country: that England had her back to the wall.
But here, for the first time, the mind on which for three and a half years depended the military fortunes, and therewith the future destiny of the British Empire, reveals itself with much fullness and freedom, so far as the moment permits. The student of the war cannot read these paragraphs too closely, and we may be sure that every paragraph in them will be a text for comment and illustration in the history schools of the future. The Despatch, moreover, is full of new information on points of detail, and gives figures and statistics which have never yet been made public. There are not, however, many persons outside the Armies who will give themselves to the close study of a long military despatch. Let me try, then, before I wind up these letters of mine, to bring out very shortly both some of the fresh points of view and the new detail which make the Despatch so interesting. It will be seen, I think, that the general account given in my preceding letters of British conclusions on the war, when tested by the Despatch, may still hold its own.
In the first place, the Field Marshal dwells in words of which the subdued bitterness is unmistakable, on Great Britain’s unpreparedness for the war. “We were deficient in both trained men and military material, and, what is more important, had no machinery ready by which either men or material could be produced in anything like the necessary quantities.” It took us, therefore, “two and a half years to reach the high-water mark of our infantry strength,” and by that time we had lost thousands of lives, which, had we been better prepared, need never have been lost.