Old Contemptibles


They were the original British Army that went to fight in France in the First World War.  The spirit of the Contemptibles was epitomized by the acceptance of their nickname. It is said that the Kaiser Wilhelm issued an order to Von Kluck, Commander of the German 1st Army "It is my Royal and Imperial command that you concentrate your energies for the immediate present upon one single purpose, and that is that you address your skill and all the valour of my soldiers to exterminate the treacherous English, and walk over French’s contemptibly small army." In mis-translation, contemptibly became contemptible. However, on hearing this, the men were happy to be known as The Contemptibles.  Look at http://www.angelfire.com/pe/tach/Contemptibles.htm for more info.
Thank you Lightbob!

Just found out that my paternal grandfather was one.  He lied about his age to off and fight in Ypres.  He made it back, had six chidlren and a very colourful life but is sadly not here to tell me about it.

Bad CO

Sorry F_S but it is unlikely that your grandfather was an 'old contemptible' as that nickname was only used for those who were part of the regular British Army at the start of WW1 (the British Expeditionary Force - BEF)and hence fought in Mons and Ypres in 1914.  Anyone who lied about their age probably joined up in the mass surge that took place in 1914/1915 but probably didn't actually get to the front until 1915/1916 and should more accurately be described as one of 'Kitchener's Army'.  The battle of the Somme was the first time they were deployed in numbers.
There were four main battles for Ypres - the first and second, in 1914 and 1915 respectively, were essentially defensive battles. It is often said that Haig's determination to continue attacks regardless of casualties was a direct result of his experience in 1914 when the Germans came within an ace of utterly destroying the BEF.  The third battle, in 1917, is also known as Passchendale and commenced with the most stunning British victory of the war at Messines Ridge.  Unfortunately this success was squandered and the campagn descended into a series of bloody, futile attacks that ultimately cost of 250k British casualties.  This is probably the Ypres that you are referring to - May I suggest you read 'They Called it Passchendale' by Lyn Mcdonald or 'Passchedale - The Sacrificial Ground' by Nigel Steel and Paul Hart if you want to know more about this.
The fourth battle of Ypres took place during the great German offensives of 1918 and saw almost all the ground captured in 1917 lost.

After the war there was a large body of opinion that said Ypres should be left in ruins as a memorial to the estimated 500k British casualties in the area.  Winston Churchill said of Ypres;
'There is no more sacred place to the British Empire'

I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in military matters should visit Ypres, to see the Cloth Hall museum, stand in Tyne Cot cemetry with its 11k graves and 38k names of the missing, and of course stand to attention under the Menin gate at 2000 whilst they play the last post.


Be prepared to be awestruck - the Menin Gate is amazing. It lists the names of the British (I think) who have no graves. The other War graves just make you stand and think. Try and get to some of the preserved trench systems and then imagine what it could have been like in the middle of winter.  

Bad CO

The Menin gate has the names of approx 55k soldiers from the British Empire who died between 1914 and Aug 1917 in the Ypres salient who have no known grave.  Those after Aug 1917 are recorded in the Tyne Cot cemeterynr Passchendale and there is a further memorial to the missing about 8 miles away on the edge of Ploogstreet (Plugstreet) Wood.  
If you are going the pre-reading will add immeasurably to your understanding of what happened there and believe me it is almost impossible to comprehend what conditions were like in the salient.
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