Portsmouth’s ‘old contemptibles’ – part 1

The British Army in 1914 was relatively small compared to those of France and Germany. Throughout most of its history used as an imperial police force, it was only in the early years of the twentieth century that the British Army was committed to providing an Expeditionary Force to fight on the continent.

The BEF that sailed for France in August 1914 was a small but professional force. Even so, it was referred to derisively by Kaiser Wilhelm as ‘that contemptible little army’. Or so the story goes. In fact, there is now doubt that he ever said that all. Some suggest that it was a useful morale booster invented by the British. If so, it worked – the men of the first BEF in 1914 became known as the ‘old contemptibles’.

The 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment sailed for France in 1914, as part of the 11th Brigade in the 4th Division. They landed at Le Havre on 23 August 1914. They arrived at the front in time to take part in the battle of Le Cateau, during the retreat from Mons. Private William Baldock was killed on 26 August 1914. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial.

The 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers suffered extremely heavy losses in a rearguard action at Etreux on 27 August 1914. Among those killed was Lance Corporal Edward Carroll, 29 and from Milton. A member of E Company, he is buried in Etreux.

After the withdrawal from Mons, the British Army finally made a stand at the Battle of the Marne. There Private Frederick Browne was killed on 10 September. 19 and from Southsea, he was serving in the 2nd Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps.

Private Walter Chapman, 28 and from Portsmouth, died shortly after the end of the Battle of the Marne on 15 September 1944. From the 1st Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, he is buried at La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre.

Notice that the surnames of he men I have mentioned above only run from A to C. So far, these are the only names that I have researched, there are bound to be many more from D to Z. Even so, the BEF in 1914 was remarkably small compared to the size it would reach by 1918. Sadly, very few of the original ‘old contemptibles’ would live to see 1918.

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Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, World War One

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