HAIG, Douglas, 1st Earl Haig, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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Haig describes his first battle

HAIG, Douglas, 1st Earl Haig (1861-1928). Field Marshal.
Important military Autograph Letter Signed [to General Reginald Talbot], 12 pages 8vo, Berber [Sudan], 30 June 1898. A fascinating insight into the keen military mind of the young Captain, who here describes his first major battle, the Battle of the Atbara.
Late in 1897 Horatio Kitchener, then sirdar (commander-in-chief) of the Egyptian army, chose to embark on the reconquest of the Sudan, from which Egyptian (and some British) forces had been driven in the 1880s. Kitchener applied to London for a group of special service officers to participate in his largely Egyptian force. Out of many applicants Haig, with the backing of Henderson and Wood, was one of only three chosen. Thereby in 1898 he received his first experience of battle. In the course of the Sudan expedition he distinguished himself by rallying Egyptian cavalry against a surprise attack, and by the effectiveness of the reconnaissance he carried out for the climactic battle of Omdurman. He also, at Sir Evelyn Wood's prompting, sent Wood frank reports concerning the conduct of operations, including pointed criticism of Kitchener himself.
'... I think it ridiculous how the effect of the maxims has been exaggerated, and the action of the gunner officers in charge of the maxims praised. The facts of the case are briefly as follows. The horse battery & maxims (4) continued to trot towards home while the Cavalry in 3 bodies either engaged, or formed to engage the enemy. I, as Broadwood's C.S.O., was attending to the latter and on my way forward to join Broadwood again, & met 2 squadrons coming back ... faster than seemed judicious. I then took it upon myself to order the maxims to come into action as soon as the Cavalry could be got to clear the field of fire. The moment was indeed critical for it seemed as if some of the squadrons were ready to make for home! The 2 gunner officers with the maxims (Peake & Lawrie) acted at once; the O.C. horse battery was really C.R.A. but he was leading his Battery & the wind being in his face, blew the dust towards the rear, so I did not see him & there was no time to look for him....'
Haig's correspondent, Major-General the Hon. Sir Reginald Talbot (1841-1929), who had served in the Zulu War and the early Etyptian campigns, commanded the army of occupation in Egypt from 1899 to 1903.
[No: 22355]


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