Sir Douglas Haig's statue in Montreuil-sur-Mer, where British General Headquarters was based from 1916 (Photo: Centenary News)

100 Years Ago - Field Marshal Haig calls for 'Backs to the Wall' fight to the last

Posted on on 11 April 2018
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'There is no other course open to us but to fight it out,' British commander Sir Douglas Haig ordered on 11 April 1918, rallying his troops against fresh German advances in France and Flanders.

"Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment."

These are among Haig’s best remembered words from the First World War, rare for their oratorical flourish.

They came in response to a new crisis on the Western Front, as the Germans launched Operation Georgette on April 9. The focus of their Spring Offensive was switched from Picardy to Flanders, threatening Allied control of the Channel Ports.

Haig’s Special Order of the Day, addressed to the British Army in France and Flanders, thanked all ranks for their ‘splendid resistance…under the most trying circumstances’ since the start of the German onslaught on March 21.

"Many amongst us now are tired," the BEF's Commander-in-Chief acknowledged. "To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest."

Armentières and Messines both fell. To shorten their line, the British also withdraw from Passchendaele ridge, captured at enormous cost the previous autumn. Later in April, French troops were defeated in a battle for Mont Kemmel, a stretch of hilly ground overlooking the otherwise flat Flanders landscape.

But Ypres again held out, as did Hazebrouck with its important railway junction, and Operation Georgette was called off as the Germans once more fell short of their strategic objectives. 

Also in Centenary News:

Centenary salutes to the leadership of Marshal Foch.

Doullens on parade for Foch Centenary.

Images: Centenary News

Posted by: CN Editorial Team