Skip to content

Experiences of the Great War

The Haig Papers

Documents covering Douglas Haig's entire life

The part played by Field Marshal Earl Haig during the Great War has always remained a subject of controversy. If the truth is to be found anywhere, it is in the Haig Papers at the National Library of Scotland.

The Library is the principal repository of the papers of Douglas Haig who was Commander in Chief of the British Army on the Western Front for the greater part of the First World War, from 1915-1919.

The collection covers Haig's entire life, from his birth in 1861 until his death in 1928. The bulk of the collection consists of Haig's own papers, but it also includes papers of Lady Dorothy Haig, his wife. These consist mainly of documents relating to her own biography of her husband and that of the historian Duff-Cooper.

Haig kept personal diaries ever since his student days at Oxford. These cover the major events of his military career, among them the Sudan Campaign of 1898 and his experiences during the Boer War, 1899-1902. It is, however, his diary of the First World War that has proved of particular value to historians.

Diary records daily events

Haig wrote an entry for almost every day of the war. Thus the diary — written from the stance of a professional soldier — gives us a detailed insight into the day-to-day workings of the mind of the General who was in command of the largest British Army ever to take the field of battle.

The Library possesses both Haig's manuscript diary, written as events unfolded, and a typescript version of it — interleaved with photos and memorabilia — which he produced at a later date.

Letters, maps and photos

The papers also include correspondence from every stage of Haig's life, with his letters to his sister Henrietta and to his wife Dorothy perhaps being the most extensive and revealing. The papers also contain many important field maps and plans showing the positions of the combatants throughout the major campaigns.

One of the most striking parts of the collection are the photographs which also cover Haig's entire life. Along with the many personal photographs and those of his army career to 1914 there are approximately 4,000 official war photographs taken from 1916 onwards. There are also many photographs of his post-war tours.

Extensive collection at NLS

The Haig Papers (National Library of Scotland reference: Acc.3155) came to the National Library of Scotland (NLS) as a long-term deposit in March 1961 and was eventually bought on behalf of the nation from the Second Earl Haig of Bermersyde, the Field Marshal's son, early in 1983. A very extensive collection, it fills over 50 feet of library shelving.

On average, 50 researchers every year come to inspect the collection at NLS, and over the years the papers have formed the basis of many biographies of Douglas Haig.

< The General