you are currently viewing: Discussion Forum


The Rorke's Drift VC Discussion Forum
(View Discussion Rules)


PLEASE NOTE: This forum is now inactive and is provided for reference purposes only. The live forum is available at

(Back To Topic List)

DateOriginal Topic
3rd April 2005Chelmsford
By Peter Harman
I'm convinced that Chelmsford was one of the worst officers I have had the misfortune to read about he was no better that Haig during the 1914-1918 war. He sent men to their graves and than lied so not to lose favour with the general public.
He should have been drumed out of the army.
along with his lieing mate crealock.
I suppose this is what happens when officers have no respect for the troops.
They only see them has cannon foder.
3rd April 2005Martin Everett
You obvously wish to provoke controversy on tihs forum. The topic has been covered before.

Commanders approach today to battlefield situations is vastly different to those in WW1 and AZW. Remember Haig, Chelmsford, and others had fewer options - flexibility, training movement and firepower are so very different today. You cannot judge these past commander by todays values.

I do not know what you had read - but most recent authors on the AZW had tended to use controversial theories to promote their books - a good example is 'Zulu' - Chelmsford often tends to be the fall guy.

Chelmsford was certainly not the best field commander - but an excellent administrator - gained from his experience of the Abyssinia campaign - you should read about this - the 'Falklands' campaign of the 19th Century.

Have you ever driven from PMB to the battlefields - only then will you understand the huge logistical task that Chemsford had before him before engaging with the Zulu army on their ground. Once on the ground, he had British soldiers who could only move a 8 miles per day against an enemy capable of moving 35 miles day.

I have a book published in 1880 - just after Isandhlwana which says of Chelmsford:

'A strict displinarian and total abstainer, Lord Chelmsford personally has always been popular in the army, while his upright character and blameless life have acquired for him the respect and affection of his numerous friends'.

This does not seem the same man as you are describing. May I suggest more and wider reading.
3rd April 2005Peter Harman
Sometimes in pays to provoke controversy,so one can hear all sides of the story.
I have read many books relating to this subject.
But the book that seems to get to the bacic facts is that by Ron Lock & Peter Quantrill.
I don't know if you have had the pleasure in reading this book ,if not "I suggest you do"
And i really cannot understand how anyone can say he was of an upright & blameless character. He was relive of his command but disabey ordersby going to Ulundi. He only did this to save face on his return to England in the hope this victory would over cast Isandhlwana. Its gone down in history has a military blunder, but blunders costs lifes but not by the ones who make the blunder.
If you have got the book mentioned above or if you intend to buy it.Go to page 235 Chapter Eight. Titled WEB OF DECEPTION.
There are some very Interesting facts that has be reserched by Ron Lock & Peter Quantrill. My opinion of Chelmsford remains the same,however if I can be convince otherwise then so be it. I retract my comments
Like I said Martin
3rd April 2005Martin Everett
I know Ron and Peter well and enjoyed their company in KZN many times.

It is difficult to know exactly when Lord Chelmsford knew that he had been superceded by Wolseley. Wolseley's appointment in Natal dates from 28 June 1879 - 6 days before Ulundi. His Lordship sent his resignation with the despatch describing this final battle. Sir Garnet arrived at Durban aboard HMS Shah on 4 July. My notes suggest that Lord Chelmsford only received the State of State's for War telegram in the field on 5 July (the day after Ulundi amd his letter resignation). The two generals did not meet until 15 July at St Paul's.
3rd April 2005Paul Cubbin
I think Chelmsford was a fairly typical blueprint for a British general officer circa 1815 - 1914. He was efficient, experienced, popular and entirely suited for the majority of minor colonial actions that Britain fought during the period. Where this type officer falls down is in major actions against formidable opposition. Crimea, Afghanistan, Zululand, Boer, WW1. They bring to mind tales of incompetence and disaster.
I think Chelmsford was unlucky in the war he was chosen to fight but he also MUST shoulder the blame. It is easy to sit back and judge his actions with hindsight and understanding. We may even agree with some of his more controversial actions given the information available to him, but it must always come down to this. He took a risk in dividing his force in the face of uncertain enemy numbers and location. By not defending his camp to the best of his ability he gambled on finding and destroying the Zulu army quickly....and he lost. If a Commanding Officer throws the dice, he must be prepared to shoulder the blame when it doesn't pay off. This is something he failed to do. Other people - Durnford, Pulleine especially - made errors, but the buck stops at Chelmsford's feet.
3rd April 2005Invader
Peter who is the publisher of that book? It sounds interesting.
3rd April 2005Martin Everett
Dear Invader,
Zulu Victory by Ron Lock and Peter Quantrill is available on the on-line shop.

3rd April 2005Trevor
Does anyone really think Chelmsford didn't loose alot of sleep about the men he lost at Isand'a. He must have spent his remaining years having nightmares about those men and the way they died.
He was in command, and he was human. With human feelings and human failings. I think you have to remember he put his life on the line too!!!
One exception to this rule would be Haig. I agree with you, Peter. He was a complete tosser. But i am biest. My grandad was killed at the somme.
3rd April 2005Chris
Good point. Has anyone ever carried out a character study of Chelmsford? From what i read of his return to Isandhlwana, you would have to be a total and complete sociopathic being devoid of emotion not to be disturbed (and possibly feel extremely guilty) by the sight.
Same goes for Haig I suppose. He sent a mulittude to certain death in the Great War. He must have witnessed the results first hand. Yet he continued to send them marching into the German guns.
It's a point at which the 'identification of role' or duty, nullifies the consequences. Like er...dropping the A-Bomb. Everyone from the maker of the bomb to the piolt of the Enola Gay was involved in a chain...doing their small part...but they weren't solely responsible. Maybe the likes of Chelmsford and Haig considered themselves to be following orders? Although...when one 'makes' those orders and deliberately antagonising an enemy to fight...there should more guilt and remorse it could be argued?
3rd April 2005Peter Ewart
Peter & Trevor

Although the Great War has nothing to do with this forum, Haig's name - and reputation - has been invoked in this thread, so may I pick up on that briefly?

Haig led the British Army to nine major victories in nine major battles - all in less than six months. All were against our chief foe and our strongest enemy in the main theatre of war, and these victories won the war - by far the greatest conflict which the world had seen.

The losses on the Somme in 1916 and in the Ypres salient in 1917 were huge for all armies fighting in those theatres. That doesn't make Haig a "tosser" any more than it makes Ludendorff or Foch a tosser. Do you think the losses would have been one single casualty lighter had someone else been in charge? What were Haig's options?

You may be surprised that a pretty strong consensus of modern historians (rather than popular writers) disagrees entirely with the myths of the last few decades (especially with the "donkeys" accusations prevalent since the 1960s) and that the foremost WW1 historian of our times, the late John Terraine, puts Haig up there with Marlborough and Wellington.

Haig's career was largely destroyed by a politician (Lloyd George) but has been completely rehabilitated in the last 30 years - it's just that no-one has bothered to tell the tabloids or the popular writers, let alone the hacks who interview the few remaining survivors annually with the sole aim of extracting a remark about being mown down like hay or drowned in shellholes in order to secure a bit of mawkish copy every November.

Had Haig never been anywhere near the Western Front it would still have been a war of attrition. The huge allied losses of 1914 to Apr 1918 (especially 1916 & 1917) were not nearly so large as those suffered by the Central Powers, but this attrition led directly to the British victories of 1918, when France was exhausted and the US only just coming into the picture in any numbers.

Wars of attrition must be the very worst of all wars - better none at all, of course - but the die was cast in this war long before Haig became leader.

4th April 2005Paul Cubbin
I believe Haig, like Chelmsford, was a product of his time. Could another have done better? Probably, but who?
Without wanting to cross swords with the formidable Peter I think that Haig's conservatism and cavalry background severely reduced his ability to adapt quickly and adopt new ideas. Sure, he did better than his counterparts in other armies, but then with the possible exception of Allenby (in a very different theatre of war), he really didn't have a lot of competition. The fault was not solely his by any means, forward thinkers were hard to find (an exception was a little known German officer fighting on the Italian front - his name was Erwin Rommel). Tactics had changed little since the last century and weapons were becoming more effective at an exponential rate. Britain has always needed better generals than its opponents in European wars because her army has always been smaller than anyone else's. We just couldn't sustain the losses that France, for example, could and maintain a fighting army. Unfortunately, brilliant generals don't grow on trees. Colonial warfare was a poor dress rehearsal for WW1, except in Africa and the Middle East. But, as Peter says, what were Haig's alternatives? Amphibious warfare was very much in its infancy and was not a large scale viable option. Tanks were brand new and unreliable and nobody knew how to use them effectively. Haig is a favourite villain because of the sheer scale of the slaughter during his watch. He has blood on his hands, sure enough, but it comes with the territory. A decision maker in wartime must be prepared to live with the consequences of their actions and ignore public reaction (who are largely kept in the dark, even in this technological age - trust me, the Iraq War was very different to the Sky News version). Back to Chelmsford - he never accepted blame. He never shouldered the CinC's burden after failure. Did he feel remorse? Undoubtably. But so he should have. He should have taken it, accepted it and lived with it. Its what soldiers do.
4th April 2005Invader
Don't forget the way Chelmsford added Chard and Bromhead to the role of VC's. It does imply to me he was a little deceiving, add in the attack on Ulundi against orders to not look bad on his way back to England and he doesn't look too nice. I don't want to sound like I think I know what I'm talking about though and expect to be lynch mobbed for pointing this out!!
Thanks for the book info'. I may pick it up once I get some cash. At the moment I've got £2.76 and need a laptop! It could be a while!
4th April 2005Peter Ewart

As you say, Haig and his career to date had been a product of his times and, like all the generals of the Great War, he struggled to adapt to the rapid changes in warfare and to the circumstances in which he found himself and the huge responsibilties he bore - knowing always (and this was also understandable) that his PM didn't back him.

This, however, is a long way from the popular myth - still, amazingly, trotted out by a few even today - about British Generals and their staff sipping champagne and gorging themselves miles behind the front line, while they carelessly and repeatedly flung forward the starving & ill-equipped PBI to certain death, before finally deigning to inspect the mud of no-man's-land and utter the notorious words: "did we really send men to fight in this?"

As for Chelmsford, well, he either believed that he wasn't to blame or managed to convince himself of this - but still embellished his defence in the HoL with a tissue of lies and omissions. (Mind you, I can't think of many generals who were defeated and didn't blame something or someone else, whether in their speeches or in their memoirs!)

Invader (do remind us of you proper name again, please)

Inter-library loan!

4th April 2005Paul Cubbin
Peter - yes, whilst on the subject of responsibility dodgers, Lloyd George must take his share. Ironically, had he not attempted to starve Haig of reinforcements in horror at casualty rates, the casualty list would probably have been smaller. Polititians playing the soldier game...never works.
4th April 2005Tom Moore
Right, I'm going to get into the habit of posting using my name rather than my psudo'! Sorry all for confusion.
I addressed this a little in my study of RD, I couldn't really come to a good conclusion of my own oppinions about Chelmsford though.
4th April 2005Trevor
Haig fought the great war in the same way the Germans did. Sending thousands of men over the top to almost certain death. Peter calls this A WAR OF ATTRITION. Yep. It did get fought that way. The ones with the most men and bullets eventually win. But Haig didn't have to fight it that way. He didn't have to order attacks that gained no ground, or served any purpose, but to loose even more of his countrymen. His over the top mentality, was crimminal. What else could he do? He could have held ground. Yes. There would still have been casualties! But nothing like the scale of losses in full frontal attacks on barbed wire and machine guns. You can't win a battle by standing still i hear you cry!!!
They did at Rorks Drift. Sorry Peter. Haig was a tosser. A homicidal tosser in the first degree. And yes. So were the German and French generals. They were war crimminals. We have trials today for far less! Chelmsford made a mistake. I am sure if he hadn't got the sack he wouldn't have made that mistake again! Haig and the rest never learned. 4 BLOODY YEARS of the same old, over the top cock ups. How the hell can anyone defend them, or make excuses. Peter Ewert bangs on about Haigs 9 major victories. Even if his major victories did win the war. Did the end really justify the means????
4th April 2005Peter Harman
Like I said Martin my opinion remains the same.
They were unworthy of holding a British rank of authority.
What sickens me the most is the fact they hand the nerve to to try and cover up the mistakes they had made.
Martin by the comments above I think each and everyone of us will make is own decision.
but the fact remains Chelmsford like Haig got away with MURDER.
5th April 2005Julian Whybra
It strikes me that before holding forth in such a forthright manner there's rather more serious reading could be done on Haig - John Terraine's The Smoke and the Fire has been mentioned, but an outstanding work is Robin Neillands's book on WW1 generalship. Haig is a convenient fall guy for those who would knock WW1 tactics and an easy target. It's too easy to ad insult to injury as well and remarks about his being unfeeling and incompetent are simply foolish.
I'm no fan of Chelmsford but to suggest that he also was unfeeling and uncaring goes against everything I've ever read about and know about him - and the same is true about Haig. Our family lost four men on the Somme and one at Isandhlwana so I can't be accused of bias.
As for the end justifying the means I'm reminded of an old Pole who once said to me that we English were hypocrites: we bleat about the worthlessness of WW1 and crow about the finer feelings involved in WW2 - but in 1918, Belgium, the reason for going to war in 1914, was free, and in 1945, Poland, the reason for going to war in 1939, was not. What has the UK got to be so self-congratulatory about over WW2 and so self-denigrating over WW1? It should be the other way round!
5th April 2005Trevor
I'm reminded of an englishman i met some time ago. An old soldier. Without any prompting. He discribed to me, as best he could, what it was like in the trenches.
When it came to Haig. Again without any prompting. He told me he would have gladly shot Haig, and the whole of the General staff.
He also told me how the French soldiers near to his sector had to Mutiny to get even basic things, and alot of them were executed for the trouble. I don't need to read books about Haig, or Generalship in ww1 to know they were incompetent. I just look at the body count!!!!!
5th April 2005Paul Cubbin
A Field Marshall carries the responsibility of ordering his own troops to their deaths. Its a crappy job, but someone has to do it. Victory or defeat has never been defined by the losses taken or inflicted, rather whether strategic goals have been achieved. They were...eventually. Haig's job was to support the French in driving enemy forces back to their own borders. A defensive stand-off was what Germany wanted and constituted a victory on their part as, since they were the aggressive invaders, they would get to keep the territory taken.

It was the German high command that first defined the conflict as one of elimination and thus raised the stakes. They categorically stated that it would be decided in the annihilation of one side or the other. So, Haig and Foch had to act and attempt to wage a war of movement in the face of impossible circumstances. The problem was that existing weaponry gave a great advantage to the defender rather than the attacker. Cavalry, the great offensive weapon of the past, was on the wane a hundred years previously and managed only scattered success in very specific circumstances. Development of new tactics and kit is ideally done during inter-war periods, but this had not happened. Haig was not a designer, he was an applicator and he frankly did not have the right tools for the job. Still, as I've previously stated, he was slow to adapt to changing attitudes and tactics - but then the British Army has always been thus; it is one of the reasons we have maintianed traditions and standards of excellence in a changing world. Of course, Britain has never had a large army and the huge explosion in available troops vastly changed what was available - from a small elite force of expert marksmen and experienced campaigners to a mass of half-trained, extremely keen and brave, but green-horned youngsters.

I think Haig needs to be remembered as a man who muddled through in the end and probably did accept the just criticisms aimed at him. Ironically, it was the fear of another similar European conflict that held back Allied military progress and action pre-WW2. Chelmsford differed From Haig in that he had the right tools in the right place at the right time (logistical difficulties notwithstanding) and still got it badly wrong by taking an unneccessary chance. Then he passed the buck around like a live grenade and seemed unable to accept his own defeat gracefully.
5th April 2005Peter Ewart
Precisely. Paul has answered the arguments about simply "holding ground" and the end justifying the means & Julian has put WW1 in in its proper context - both better than I have done.

Germany violated a neutral country, Belgium, for military reasons because they knew it would provide the crucial initial advantage calculated many years before. Then they reached the gates of Paris and eventually parked themselves on Belgian and French soil for over four years. "Holding ground" was what the Germans did for most of that time - Allied ground. It was the Allies' intention to shift them, which is why most of the attacking on the WF was done by the Allies. They could either shift them and win the war; fail to do so and lose the war - or sue for peace. To win, they could either defeat them on the WF or try to find another theatre - these were found but that idea simply didn't work.

At the end of 1917 the PM agreed with Peter and Trevor. No more frontal assaults with catastrophic losses. Hold the defensive for 1918 and wait for the Americans. But he failed to provide the means even for the "holding ground" strategy, let alone for frontal assaults - hence 21 March 1918. We cannot possibly win before 1919 at the earliest, said the PM. Yes we can, said Haig.

Haig was right and proved it. The PM - once a great man - was wrong and filled his memoirs with spite.

There were many who might have wanted to shoot Haig. But there were far, far more who hated the way the war effort was gradually denigrated in the 1920s and 1930s by a vociferous minority - including famous war poets and in countless memoirs. And - just to split a few hairs - it was a mere two and half years of "over the top mentality" (spring 1915 to autumn 1917) in between the mobility of 1914 and the astonishing mobility of 1918 which Haig had worked for for so long.

One more fact. The attrition rates were worse when Haig was NOT in charge. As Barbara Tuchman has pointed out, the rate of losses in the month of August 1914 was never equalled again for rest of the war. Amazing how misconceptions (preconceptions?) can be so wrong.

The Kaiser had to be stopped somehow Trevor & Peter. He was every bit as dangerous in 1914 as Hitler was in 1939.

6th April 2005Trevor
Haig would have carried on with the same old human cannon fodder. He would have sacrificed thousands more in the same old way if the PM had not acted. Perhaps my thinking and reasoning on this subject are more to do with emmotion than they should be! But you can't get away from the number of dead and wounded in that conflict. The missmanagement and shear slaughter warrents someone takes responsability for it.
Yes. The Kaiser started the war. But our own generals must shoulder the blame for shear incompetance in the way they conducted the war. The attrition rates mentioned by Peter were the WEARING AWAY of human beings. I'm not clever enough to have any real answers to this conflict. But what a waist!!!!!!!!!!
6th April 2005Paul Cubbin
Trevor - I agree, war is horrific and largely unnecessary. Unfortunately we must all accept that part of the human condition is the willingness to kill each other - for gain, defence or principles. A soldier does not choose when a war is fought, that is the work of the polititians. But when one is charged with the prosecution of a war it must be pursued utterly, ruthlessly until its aims are achieved. To do otherwise is to court disaster. Military students learn this, polititians do not. That is why Haig was so handicapped by Lloyd-George's interference. It is akin to holding a boxer's arms in the middle of the tenth round. The pain and the suffering already experienced is for nothing without the ability to continue - and yes, to suffer even more until the end. You are absolutely right to use emotion when judging, it is an emotive subject. And yes, the whole point of a forum is for differing views to be aired and shared - your own have sparked much interest and conversation; I for one respect them and am pleased to enjoy the discussion. But as long as there are others in the world prepared to fight and kill others for their own ends, all nations must be prepared to do likewise to maintain their own security and sovereignty. Haig did his duty, not faultlessly of course, but he did it.
7th April 2005Julian whybra
Trevor, a body count is no indication of incompetence or poor generalship, as I suspect you well know. From Stalingrad to Thermopylae, from Dunkirk to Hastings this is so. And sadly, old soldiers, do not always understand the whole campaign, though they are ones who often have suffered because of it.