Director of the Braddon Forum Peter Conway and Director of Alpha Commercial Property Petros Drakakis at Haig Park. Photo: Jay Cronan
A move by residents of Canberra's inner north to rename a local park looks set to re-open the bitter 100-year debate over Australian casualties in World War I.
The Braddon Forum has asked the ACT government to use the centenary of the war to consider dumping the name ''Haig Park'', arguing that the supreme commander of British and imperial forces in the war, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, has Australian blood on his hands.
The argument has raged for 100 years over the performance of Haig and his generals; whether they did the best they could in the circumstances or if British and Australian troops were indeed ''lions led by donkeys'' .
The supreme commander of British and imperial forces in World War I Field Marshall Douglas Haig, Photo: FAIRFAX PHOTO LIBRARY
In Australia the debate has pitted left against right, republican versus monarchist and young against old at various times as the standing of Haig, the architect of the British military’s greatest disaster on the Somme in July 1916, has fallen, risen and fallen again.
But for the Braddon Forum, local planning activists who claim no historical expertise, the name of Haig Park, just metres from the Australian War Memorial, just doesn’t sit right.
In their letter to ACT Planning Minister Mick Gentleman, Braddon Forum members Peter Conway and Petros Drakakis have called for a rethink.
''There have been previous calls for Haig Park to be renamed, given criticism of that commander’s military strategies and relentless pursuit of victory at the huge cost of life,'' the two men wrote.
''The Field Marshal’s nicknames include ‘Master of the Field’, ‘the butcher of The Somme’ and ‘Butcher Haig.' ''
If a change of name, which was considered by the territory’s Place Names Committee in 2003 and again in 2006, is off the agenda, the forum suggests the government could consider some interpretive signage explaining the much-maligned military man’s role in Australia’s history.
But Canberra-based military historian Peter Stanley of the University of NSW was scathing at the idea of the name change.
Professor Stanley conceded that Haig’s reputation has been patchy over the decades, but to change the name of the park would be ''grotesque revisionism''.
''The park was named after Douglas Haig because at the time he was regarded – justifiably – as the general who had led the British empire’s armies to victory on the Western Front,'' Professor Stanley said.
''Haig’s reputation has been both attacked and defended. The thrust of current military historical thinking is that he did as good a job as could have been done.
''To rename the park would be grotesque and unjustifiable revisionism.''
Mr Gentleman said the Place Names Committee had decided the name was part of Canberra’s historic fabric.
''The committee also agreed that it is not good practice to revisit the appropriateness of public place names in the light of further research, controversy or contemporary opinions, and suggested that keeping the name would be a way to encourage reflection and discussion about the First World War,'' Mr Gentleman said.
The Minister said the Braddon Forum was free to approach the committee again if it believed the war’s centenary was an appropriate time to re-examine the name of the park.