An oft-repeated anecdote about World War I (and the lack of understanding among high ranking officers) claims that, after the Third Battle of Ypres (aka Passchendaele), a British general visited the front lines for the first time, and upon seeing the appalling conditions of the battlefield - essentially a sea of impassable mud - breaking down in tears, falling to his knees, and crying:

"Dear god, did we really send men out to fight in this?"

While this story conforms to the popular conception of high command being hopelessly detached from the situation at the front, and therefore clueless as to what the soldiers were forced to endure in combat, it almost sounds too good to be true.

Did this episode actually take place, and if so, who was the general in question? Or was the story an invention?


It has been claimed that this general was Sir Launcelot Edward Kiggell (1862-1954), but there seems to be a lack of evidence. Kiggell was Chief of Staff to Douglas Haig, and another of Haig's staff officers, John Humphrey Davidson apparently claimed that it was himself.

The descriptions I've read of the conditions at Passchendaele make it seem plausible that several generals might have said something like this.

  • 2
    Yeah, I think the story is so widely reported partially because the conditions were so horrid that it seems completely plausible. – Wad Cheber Apr 22 '17 at 22:13

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