In my meanderings around cemeteries in the UK I sometimes encounter plaques on the graves of the “Old Contemptibles”. Unfortunately they are not that easy to research because it is easier to research a soldier that died in the war than one who survived.
Just what is an Old Contemptible? Legend has it that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, allegedly issued an order on 19 August 1914 to “exterminate … the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army”. Hence, in later years, the survivors of the regular army dubbed themselves “The Old Contemptibles”.
Not too many men from the regular army survived the long slog in the trenches, and the survivors often suffered from the effects of the war for the rest of their lives. The grave markers that I see are from the “Old Contemptibles Association” that was founded by Captain JP Danny, RA, on 25 June 1925. Membership was limited to veterans of the regular army who had served in the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders within range of enemy artillery during the period 5 August to 22 November 1914 and had thus taken part in the desperate early battles and retreats before the advancing German forces, before the tide turned and the allies counterattacked at the Battle of the Marne. The Association had 178 branches in the UK & 14 overseas branches. It produced its own magazine “The Old Contemptible” & all members were known as “chums”. The Association’s national organisation was wound up in the 1970s but in London and the South East it continued until 1994. (http://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/the-old-contemptibles-association/)
In Southampton, on the side of the former Docks’ Post Office and Telegraph building at Dock Gate 4, there is a plaque commemorating the men who sailed from the port to make history. Erected on 9 April 1950, it was unveiled by by Admiral Sir Algernon Willis, Naval Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth.
The poem, by Beatrix Price Miller reads:
OH MIGHTY FORCE THAT STOOD FOR ENGLAND!
THAT, WITH YOUR BODIES FOR A LIVING SHIELD,
GUARDED HER SLOW AWAKING, THAT DEFIED
THE SUDDEN CHALLENGE OF TREMENDOUS ODDS
AND FOUGHT THE RUSHING LEGIONS TO A STAND
THEN STARK GRIM ENDURANCE HELD THE LINE,
OH LITTLE FORCE THAT IN YOUR AGONY
STOOD FAST WHILE ENGLAND GIRT HER ARMOUR ON,
HELD HIGH OUR HONOUR IN YOUR WOUNDED HANDS,
CARRIED OUR HONOUR SAFE WITH BLEEDING FEET
WE HAVE NO GLORY GREAT ENOUGH FOR YOU,
THE VERY SOUL OF BRITAIN KEEPS YOUR DAY!
PROCESSION? – MARCHES FORTH A RACE IN ARMS:
AND FOR THE THUNDER OF A CROWD’S APPLAUSE,
CRASH UPON CRASH THE VOICE OF MONSTROUS GUNS,
FED BY THE SWEAT. SERVED BY THE LIFE OF ENGLAND,
SHOUTING YOUR BATTLE-CRY ACROSS THE WORLD.
OH, LITTLE MIGHTY FORCE YOUR WAY IS OURS,
THIS LAND INVIOLATE YOUR MONUMENT.
I have seen some of the markers in the cemeteries I have visited and can only find these in my images, it is possible I have missed seeing more by taking a different path or pausing to look at something else. But, I will keep on looking. Sadly, I expect many of the markers have ended up as scrap metal over the years, so these may be quite rare so many years down the line. This is an example of one that I have seen on my travels.
DRW © 2018 – 2013. Created 01/02/2018. moved to Musings 31/01/2021