Captain John Patrick Danny – The Founder of The Old Contemptibles’ Association


It is well-known that Captain John Patrick Danny was the instigator of the formation of The Old Contemptibles’ Association in 1925, but very little is known about the man. In order to rectify this I recently began to try and find out as much as I could about him, as part of my ongoing research into the Association, but little did I imagine that his story would prove to be so complex and enigmatic.

Documentary evidence regarding his life before joining the Army is scant. The only Census entry I had been able to locate was for 1911, when he was recorded as residing with his wife Edith at 7 Belgrave Mews, to the east of Belgrave Square in London, and was employed as a garage yard foreman. He stated on the Census that he was aged 32 and had been born at Stepney. However, I was unable to locate any record of his birth to confirm his age. With regard to his marriage, I was able to confirm that Danny had married Edith Gull, who was born at Ham in Suffolk in 1879 and had been employed as a servant, in 1910 and that this had been registered at Mile End. Their eldest son, John Patrick Cyril Danny, was born on 16 July 1911.[1] Their second child, James Redmond Danny, was born on 24 February 1914 and was baptised on 29 May at Holy Trinity Church in Canning Town.[2]

It was not until September 2018 that I chanced upon a reference to Captain Danny on a genealogy website in the United States that some more information became available, and this provided some surprising details.

After noticing the reference on the website I got into contact with Julie Borman, who had posted the information regarding Captain Danny. She very kindly provided a typescript copy of a biography[3] which had been written by his sister, Sarah Wohl, which contained the astonishing revelation that Danny had been born Rezso Engel in 1873, in a village in the Gömör-Kishont County of the Kingdom of Hungary,[4] and was of Jewish descent. Sarah’s testimony provided many interesting details regarding his early life and how Rezso ended up in London and enlisting in the British Army under an assumed name.

Rezso was the youngest child of Mortiz and Theresa Engel, and his elder siblings were John, Isidor,[5] and Sarah. Mortiz Engel was aged 36 when he died and his widow Theresa decided to follow her sister and brother by emigrating to the United States. Reszo, who was aged five, was not taken with them and was left in the care of his grandmother. The Engels arrived in the United States in 1882 and initially resided with Theresa’s brother Herman in a tenement on Houston Street in the East Village of Lower Manhattan, but later moved to 219 Third Avenue.

When his grandmother died Rezso went to live with an uncle. In her manuscript, Sarah wrote that her brother was eager to study and as well as attending the local village school working in his uncle’s grocers’ shop walked for two hours most evenings to a nearby town for Hebrew lessons.[6] In 1893 his mother, having established herself in America, sent money for Rezso’s passage to the United States to join her and his siblings and shortly afterwards he left for Hamburg.[7] When Rezso arrived in New York he did not find it to his liking, and after working with his brother and brother-in-law as a house-painter he told his mother that he was going to look for another job elsewhere and disappeared. For several months she did not receive any news of him until one day a note came from him stating that he was at Le Havre and had been worked his passage to France. After believing her son to have been drowned when the S.S. Elbe foundered on the night of 30 January 1895, Theresa Engel died at Mount Sinai Hospital on 5 April 1897.

According to his sister Sarah’s account, Rezso had mentioned in his last letter to his mother that he “might try his luck in London,” and he eventually arrived there probably sometime during 1896.[8] After working as an assistant to a clown in a musical hall and an unsuccessful stint as a fairground boxer, Rezso apparently noticed a recruiting poster for the Army and decided to enlist. He was advised by friends to adopt an alias, and so Rezso Engel became John Patrick Danny and attested on a Short Service Engagement as a Regular soldier in the Royal Regiment of Artillery.[9]

Unfortunately the original attestation papers of Rezso Engel, alias John Patrick Danny, do not survive within his file held at The National Archives at Kew. However, based on a summary that he submitted to the War Office in 1919, Danny stated that he was discharged in 1909, having served for twelve years and 271 days in the Royal Horse Artillery. His sister Sarah also wrote in her biography of Danny that he had spent seven years of his service stationed in India.[10]

On his return to London John Patrick Danny (as he will now be referred to) got married and studied for a teaching diploma. He also appears to have harboured ambitions to become an author and playwright, something which he tried developed many years later. In her account of her brother’s life Sarah Wohl states that his wife Edith was unaware of his background or that Danny was born Jewish.[11] However, when war was declared on 4 August 1914 his life was to change again.

As he was ‘time-expired’ Danny was under no obligation to re-enlist for the Army. He was at that time employed as Assistant Secretary to the National Sailors’ & Firemens’ Union, on a salary of £250 per annum, but on 18 August John Patrick Danny rejoined the Royal Regiment of Artillery as a Gunner. Issued with the service number 82558, Danny was posted to XXXIII Brigade, Royal Field Artillery at Exeter and his unit joined the newly-formed 8th Division at Hurley Park near Winchester in October. He had been promoted to Sergeant by the time XXXIII Brigade landed in France on 6 November. Sergeant Danny was slightly wounded in action during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, in which XXXIII Brigade R.F.A. supported 8th Division in its assault on the village, but remained on duty. On 17 August Danny was commissioned in the field as a Temporary Second-Lieutenant and left France for a period of home service.[12]

Early the following year Second-Lieutenant Danny returned to the front and on 12 February joined LI Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, which formed part of the divisional artillery of 9th (Scottish) Division, being posted to “A” Battery.[13] From their gun positions near Le Bizet, north of Armentieres, Danny was regularly in action with his battery bombarding enemy positions in the Touquet salient and at Frelinghien, providing fire support for the infantry and counter-battery fire. According to his own statement of his service, it was during this period that Danny refused promotion in order to stay with “A” Battery.

At the end of May LI Brigade R.F.A. was relieved and went to the rear areas to undergo a period of training, first marching to La Kreule, near Hazebrouck, on 27 May and then to the First Army Training Area, being billeted at Clarques from 1 June. After two weeks of intensive training LI Brigade, together with the rest of 9th (Scottish) Division, moved south to the Somme in preparation for the forthcoming offensive. The Brigade took part in the preparatory bombardment of German positions prior to the assault launched on 1 July, and on 14 July supported the infantry of 9th Division as they attacked and captured the village of Longueval. Three days later Danny was wounded, receiving a gunshot wound to his upper right arm. Evacuated to hospital, he sailed from Boulogne on board H.M.H.S. St David on 21 July and was admitted to King’s College Hospital at Denmark Hill for treatment. He remained there for six weeks and, following a Medical Board which assessed that he was fit for light duties on home service, Danny was granted six weeks’ leave and was posted to 3C Reserve Brigade R.F.A. at Swanage on 6 November. While stationed at Swanage Danny applied for a post at the Ministry of Munitions, and was accepted in February 1917, but instead he returned to LI Brigade R.F.A. in France on 19 March on becoming physically fit enough for active service.

LI Brigade R.F.A. was heavily engaged in support of the offensive in front of Arras launched on 9 April 1917, and on 23 May Danny was wounded for a second time when he was hit by a shrapnel bullet which penetrated his left thigh and exited the other side. Admitted to 1/2nd Highland Field Ambulance R.A.M.C., he was evacuated to No. 42 Casualty Clearing Station at Aubigny before being moved by Ambulance Train to No. 10 British Red Cross Hospital (Lady Murray’s Hospital) at Le Treport. His wound was considered serious enough for him to be sent back to England, sailing on board the H.M.H.S. St Patrick on 26 May. Discharged from hospital in September, Danny was assessed as being permanently unfit for further front-line service as a consequence of his wound and was posted onto the strength of the Royal Artillery Command Depot at Ripon on 28 December 1917 and applied to the Ministry of Munitions for employment.

Between 19 February and 19 May 1918 Danny was employed on attachment to the National Ordnance Factories in Leeds as Labour Manager, and his previous experience as the Assistant Secretary of the National Sailors’ & Firemens’ Union was utilised during the ‘Coventry Embargo’ strikes of July 1918 when he persuaded the employees to remain at work. For his actions during the strike Danny was promoted to Assistant Liaison Officer of Labour at the Ministry of Munitions in London and in November 1918 the Ministry of Pensions applied for him to take charge of their Employment Department. However, the Armistice coming into effect on 11 November 1918 meant that Danny was never appointed, and on 12 November he left the Ministry of Munitions. During his time there Lieutenant Danny had also had his invention of a ‘radiumised sight clinometers’ bubble’ accepted by the Invention Committee and was awarded a prize of £115.[14] On 25 March 1919 Danny relinquished his commission as a Temporary Lieutenant on account of his wounds.[15]

It is clear from correspondence preserved in his file at The National Archives at Kew that Danny felt aggrieved that he was not promoted to the rank of Captain during his wartime service. Retaining the rank of Lieutenant on his retirement, he swiftly wrote to the Army Council at the War Office stating his case, pointing out that he had turned down promotion and had acted as second-in-command of his battery while on active service. Danny also stated that the Ministry of Pensions had also applied on his behalf for advancement, and during his time with the Ministry of Munitions had Captains working under him. His application to receive the rank of Captain was turned down on 3 March 1919. On 11 April 1921 Danny received a Regular Army Commission in the 6th Battalion, The Essex Regiment (Defence Force) as a Temporary Captain and, on relinquishing his commission on 21 July, it was agreed on 29 September that he could retain the rank of Captain.[16]

On leaving the Army John Patrick Danny resided with his family at 122 Osborne Road in Forest Gate, and in April 1919 was issued with Silver War Badge No. 143162. He was issued with his 1914 Star on 18 October 1919 and was sent the clasp and roses for the medal on 18 April 1920.[17] Prompted no doubt by his own experiences with the War Office and Ministry of Pensions in trying to secure addition pensions and gratuities, Danny soon became involved in welfare work for ex-servicemen. He had briefly been a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party in late 1918, and wrote several one-act plays and articles for local newspapers, including The Hackney Spectator. He also joined the South and Central Hackney Branch of the British Legion, which had its headquarters at the Red House, 69 Powerscroft Road in Clapton, and was elected as the Branch Honorary Secretary.


Captain Danny’s Business Card (Courtesy of Julie Borman)

However an observation made by his sister Sarah, in her biography of her brother, noted that:

“He devoted more time to his writing but as he had no business sense, never made any money with it. His life was spent helping others; he was well-known in most charitable organisations as a devoted worker.”[18]

Danny’s financial woes resulted in him facing bankruptcy proceedings in August 1921, but these were annulled two months later on his debts being paid in full.[19]

In an article he wrote for The Hackney Spectator entitled ‘The Spirit of 1914 in 1923,’ Captain Danny described the hardships faced by ex-servicemen, no doubt informed by his own experiences:

“A man totters into the office, you could not call it a walk. He is a stranger to asking for help. Long experience has taught me to discriminate between the professional cadger and the genuine case asking for help. He tells me his story, slowly, as if each word gave him pain. I have heard similar ones from others.

The return from the war. Business gone to the “exempteds,” (sic) men younger than himself, but with friends who knew the ropes. The heart breaking job of trying to re-establish his business and the failure. The hunting for a job, a job of any sort to keep his family in food. The daily growing despair as the savings disappear and the walks to the pawnbroker begin. Everything pawnable gone, and still no hope of a job. This morning there is no food for the three little hungry mouths and ailing wife at home.

He tries to hurry out. Home. Home to the little ones with something to buy food with.  He nearly faints. I go to his assistance. Just a little faintness. Just a little faintness the result of 48 hours going without food. Starving!

And this man risked his life for four years to save civilisation.

God, what fools we were!”[20]

On 1 September 1924 Captain Danny attempted to re-established contact with his family in New York, writing a letter to a Mrs Weller asking for help in finding the relatives of Rezso Engel, whom he stated had died in battle. His nephew Martin Wohl replied to ‘Captain Danny’ on 24 November, asking for further details regarding the death of his uncle. On 6 December the Wohls received a long letter from Captain Danny, revealing his true identity and detailing his life since he left New York thirty years previously. Danny’s sister Sarah had by this time returned to Hungary and was residing in Budapest and eventually, in December 1925, she and her daughter visited his home at 68 Gunton Road in Clapton and from their correspondence and reunion she later wrote a biography of her long-lost brother.


Captain Danny with his sister Sarah, photographed at 68 Gunton Road in December 1925 (Courtesy of Julie Borman)

That same year Captain Danny instigated to formation of The Old Contemptibles’ Association when, on 25 June 1925 he and six other “Old Contemptibles” met at the Red House on Powerscroft Road in Clapton, to discuss the formation of such a group, but the idea of creating an association of men who had served with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 was not a new one. An ‘Old Contemptibles Association’ of discharged soldiers and sailors had been formed at Glasgow as early as 1919 and in May of that year was reported to have 1,359 members.[21] In November 1919 another group of some 40 Old Contemptibles met at the Cricketer’s Hotel in Ardwick in order to form a Manchester and District Old Contemptibles’ Association.[22] By 1925 however these groups had disappeared as more associations came under the aegis of the British Legion, which had formed in 1921. One group that did not merge with the Legion survived in Bristol – The Bristol Mons (1914 Star) Club – and continued for over twenty years after its creation in 1919.[23]

The first General Meeting of The Old Contemptibles Association took place on 28 July 1925, Captain Danny being elected as treasurer, and in May 1926 The Old Contemptibles Association held its first parade, assembling on the Embankment before laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. The first Grand Council of the Association was formed in July 1926, with Captain Danny being elected as Chairman, and on 6 August the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir George F. Milne, who had been the Commander Royal Artillery of 4th Division in 1914, agreed to become its first President.[24] The first Branch of the Association, the Hackney Branch, was formed at the Red House in Clapton in 1925 and in by 22 August 1927, when The Old Contemptibles’ Association held its second parade at the Cenotaph, some 1,500 Chums were on parade.[25]

Captain Danny’s greatest wish was for Chums of the Association to make a pilgrimage to Mons, and the General Council initially hoped to take between 600 and 700 members to Belgium to pay homage to their fallen comrades on Armistice Day. In order to do this, significant sponsorship was required from the general public in order to allow unemployed and disabled Chums to take part. On the eve of the departure of the Old Contemptibles to Belgium, it was clear that the appeal to the public for donations had failed, and that there was a significant financial shortfall that would need to be recovered from another source. Captain Danny remarked that:

“The response to our appeal has been most disappointing. No one seems to care. At present we have collected exactly £174 2s. 6d., practically all in small amounts of 2s. 6d. and 5s. Another £500 is required.”[26]

The deficit, which amounted to over £464, was covered personally by Captain Danny who remortgaged his home at 68 Gunton Road in order to ensure that the debt was repaid.[27] Unable to accompany the 225 Chums who went on the Pilgrimage, Captain Danny addressed them as they assembled at Victoria Station to catch the boat train that would take them to Dover. When asked by a reporter why he was not able to go with the Chums on the pilgrimage, Danny replied: “If I go, there will probably be a funeral.”[28] He was also there to welcome the party back when it returned home and, in spite of Danny’s personal financial difficulties, the Pilgrimage was adjudged to have been a great success for The Old Contemptibles’ Association. A congratulatory message was later received by Danny from General Sir George Milne:

“Dear Capt. Danny,

General Milne asks me to write to you to express his thanks to you and all those who helped you to make the visit of the Old Contemptibles to Belgium the great success which it has been. He has heard with great satisfaction of the enthusiastic reception they received and of the exemplary conduct of all who accompanied the Pilgrimage.

He is told that the discipline of the party was a credit to “The Contemptible Little Army.” He is sorry that he was unable to be present himself to renew old acquaintances.

Yours sincerely,



Personal Assistant to Chief of the Imperial (General) Staff.”[29]

Nevertheless, the strain of organising the Pilgrimage, and the additional financial commitments undertaken by Captain Danny on behalf of the Chums proved to be too much for a man who was already suffering as a result of his war wounds.

Captain John Patrick Danny died suddenly at his home at 68 Gunton Road in Clapton on 20 May 1928, and he was given a funeral with full military honours on 25 May. His coffin was draped with the Union Flag and mounted on a gun carriage provided by the Royal Horse Artillery, who also formed a firing party of two Non-Commissioned Officers and twelve Gunners. The Band of the Royal Artillery from Woolwich was also on parade, their drums muffled and draped with black crepe. Guards of Honour were formed outside his home by members of the British Legion and The Old Contemptibles’ Association. Over a thousand members of the British Legion and Chums of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, some of whom had travelled from Birmingham, Southampton, Portsmouth Leeds and Ipswich to attend, followed the coffin. The procession passed the Red House at Powerscroft Road, where the gun carriage halted and the standards of the British Legion and The Old Contemptibles’ Association were dipped in salute. Some 10,000 people lined the route to Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, where Captain Danny was interred.[30]


The funeral of Captain Danny on 25 May 1928 (Courtesy of Julie Borman)

Just before the committal the Reverend Frederick Falkiner Standish Smithwick, Assistant Chaplain-General to the Forces, Eastern Command, who in 1914 had been attached to 5th Field Ambulance R.A.M.C., gave an address at the graveside of Captain Danny:

“Just a few words, comrades, before we part from our honoured and loved friend. What he was to most of you I know. I know how richly he deserved your love, and how self-sacrificing he has always been in the interests of your Association and the British Legion. I wonder, if he could speak to us, what his message would be this afternoon? I feel it would be a message of hope. I feel that very likely it would be something like that old message which was given to the soldiers years and years ago: “Be strong and of good courage.” That was the message given to the soldiers of Israel when they had just lost their leader. You have lost your leader, but God is above us, and a new leader will be raised up and your Association will live and will do what it is meant to do – bring you together in love and brotherhood and comradeship, and in love on honour of your heavenly Father.”[31]

Three volleys were then fired over his grave, and Trumpeters of the Royal Horse Artillery sounded the Last Post and Reveille.

Captain Danny’s effects, which amounted to £749 3s., were bequeathed to his widow Edith, probate being granted at London on 6 July 1928.

On 29 August 1929, the Executive Committee of The Old Contemptibles’ Association received a request from the Hackney Branch for a headstone to be placed over Captain Danny’s grave and this was approved at the Association Conference, the money being raised from donations by Branches and individual Chums.[32] The headstone was officially unveiled by Field Marshal Sir George Milne at a ceremony held at Abney Park Cemetery on Sunday 17 May 1931. Chums from the London Area and other branches paraded around the grave with their Standards, together with the Band of the 10th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Hackney) (Territorial Army) and Trumpeters of the Royal Artillery, and the ceremony was filmed for a newsreel by Pathe Gazette.

Chums from the Association continued to make a pilgrimage to Captain Danny’s grave, gathering on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of his death on 20 May.[33] His grave was tended for many years by Chum Thomas Edmund Legg, of the Hackney Branch, and his wife Margaret. When Chum ‘Ted’ Legg died in January 1974, another Chum paid tribute to his efforts.

“Outside the London suburban areas, it is doubtful how many members have been aware that for many years our founder’s grave at Abney Park Cemetery, London, was cared for and maintained in good condition by Chum T. E. Legg and his wife Margaret. They also provided and planted the lovely array of flowers that were seen by those who attended the annual graveside services of Remembrance there.”[34]

However, with the disbandment of the Hackney Branch and the passing of the Chums of The Old Contemptibles’ Association the grave of Captain Danny now lies neglected and almost forgotten in Abney Park Cemetery. The headstone itself narrowly escaped destruction recently when a tree fell behind it, but thankfully it was not hit.

There is also another memorial to Captain Danny. On 29 August 1948 Lieutenant-General Sir James Ronald Edmonstone Charles K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., President of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, unveiled a plaque fixed to the wall of the Hackney United Services Club at 69 Powerscroft Road, commemorating the formation of the Association. It reads:


The ceremony was also filmed by British Movietone, as part of a newsreel reporting on the events organised in London for Mons Week.

Again, the memorial at Powerscroft Road has experienced neglect and was, until recently, covered in graffiti. However, recent photographs show that the Red House has been renovated and the memorial cleaned.

Few people know of Captain John Patrick Danny, born Rezso Engel in Hungary, and even fewer are aware of his extraordinary story and of the Chums of the Association he created. I hope that this article, in a small way, will help to change that.

I wish to express my gratitude to Julie Borman, Debbie Coupland and Sheldon Goodman for their considerable assistance with my research into the story of Captain John Patrick Danny.


[1] John Patrick Cyril Danny was stated in 1939 to be employed as a managing director and secretary to a diecasting manufacturer in Twickenham and died in Buckinghamshire in 2000.

[2] James Redmond Danny was recorded in 1939 as being employed as a clerk at the Baltic Exchange, and died on 9 November 1981 at Exeter.

[3] MS “The Biography of the Life of Rezso Engel (Capt. Danny), by his sister, Sarah Wohl.” nd.

[4] Now split between Hungary and modern-day Slovakia.

[5] Julie Borman is a grand-daughter of Isidor Engel.

[6] Wohl MS “The Biography of the Life of Rezso Engel (Capt. Danny)”, pp. 2-3.

[7] Ibid, pp. 3-4.

[8] Ibid, p.11.

[9] The alias John Patrick Danny was stated to have been adopted as Reszo had a resemblance to a music-hall actor by that name (“The Biography of the Life of Rezso Engel (Capt. Danny), p. 12).

[10] The National Archives: WO 339/37077 (Personal File for Captain John Patrick Danny) & MS “The Biography of the Life of Rezso Engel (Capt. Danny)”, pp. 12-13.

[11] The details in Sarah Wohl’s account (p. 14) are sketchy on the correct details of his marriage, referring to his wife Edith as ‘Jayne’ and stating that they had been married in 1912 or 1913. However, although this element of Sarah’s account may have been conjecture it is possible that Edith Danny was not aware of her husband’s background until his sister made contact with him again in 1924.

[12] London Gazette, 8 September 1915, p. 8958 & TNA WO/339/37077.

[13] TNA WO 95/1752/1 War Diary LI Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. His surname is incorrectly spelled as Denny in the entry for 12 February 1916.

[14] TNA WO/339/37077.

[15] London Gazette, 24 March 1919, p. 3868.

[16] London Gazette, 3 May 1921, p. 3637, 5 October 1921, p.7874 & TNA WO/339/37077.

[17] WO 329/2409 1914 Star Roll for XXXIII Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.

[18] Wohl MS “The Biography of the Life of Rezso Engel (Capt. Danny)”, p. 17.

[19] London Gazette, 4 October 1921, p. 7836 & 4 November 1921, p. 8801.

[20] Hackney Spectator, 6 April 1923.

[21] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 19 May 1919.

[22] Manchester Evening News, 6 November 1919.

[23] Western Daily Press, 29 June 1922 & Bristol Evening News, 28 August 1939.

[24] The Old Contemptible – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 434, March 1970, p. 15.

[25] Midland Evening News, 22 August 1927.

[26] Leeds Mercury, 7 November 1927 & Birmingham Daily Gazette, 10 November 1927.

[27] Auckland (New Zealand) Star, 15 December 1927 and Yorkshire Post, 22 May 1928.

[28] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 10 November 1927.

[29] Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald, 26 November 1927.

[30] North London Recorder, 26 May 1928, Yorkshire Post, 26 May 1928 & East London Observer, 2 June 1928.

[31] North London Recorder, 26 May 1928.

[32] The Old Contemptible – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 434, March 1970, p. 16.

[33] Daily Herald, 21 May 1935, Sunderland Daily Echo, 21 May 1935 & Yarmouth Independent, 30 May 1936.

[34] The Old Contemptible – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 482, March 1974, p.10. Chum Thomas Edmund “Ted” Legg had died on 19 January 1974 at Clacton-on-Sea. Born on 4 July 1896 at Portsmouth, Thomas was the son of Mark and Elizabeth Legg and prior to joining the Army had been employed as a baker, but he was working as a light porter when he attested at Gosport on 2 December 1912. At the time of his enlistment as a Regular soldier, Thomas was serving with 1st Wessex Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (Territorial Force), his regimental number being 732.  As 71135 Gunner T. E. Legg he had landed in France with XLII Brigade, Royal Field Artillery on 19 August 1914 and by the Armistice had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Legg was transferred to the Section B Army Reserve when he was demobilised on 31 May 1919 and was discharged on 3 December 1924 on the termination of his twelve years’ period of engagement. Thomas was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 4 October 1920 and went on to serve in the Merchant Navy before rejoined the Army on 29 August 1932, enlisting in the Royal Engineers. He was finally discharged in 1954 as overage.  Thomas later joined the Founder Branch (Hackney and District) of The Old Contemptibles’ Association and served as President before the branch finally closed.



A Billet Destroyed on the Rue de Chiens in Ypres – 11 February 1915


On 8 February 1915, shortly after being relieved from serving dismounted in the front line at Zillebeke, the 1st Life Guards, which served as part of 7th Cavalry Brigade of 3rd Cavalry Division, took over the billets formerly occupied by the 1st (Royal) Dragoons[1] in houses on the Rue des Chiens in Ypres.[2] The buildings were still occupied by civilians at this time, who shared their accommodation with the soldiers.

At some time between 8.30 p.m. and 9.00 p.m. on the night of 11 February Ypres was bombarded by German artillery, reported by Lieutenant-Colonel Algernon Ferguson, the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Life Guards, as being: “Howitzers, said to have been brought up by rail.”[3] Ten shells hit the vicinity of the Rue des Chiens, of which three were reported to have failed to detonate.[4]

A house where fourteen men from a troop of “D” Squadron of the 1st Life Guards were billeted received a direct hit and half of the building was demolished.[5] Six soldiers were killed and nine wounded, all of whom were Reservists from regiments of Dragoon Guards and Dragoons who had been posted to the 1st Life Guards early in the war in order to bring the regiment up to its war establishment.[6] Eight civilians were also killed, and Lieutenant-Colonel Ferguson of the 2nd Life Guards recorded that:

“My Adjutant assisted in carrying the remains of 3 women and 5 children, which the terrified Belgian men refused to touch, although urged by their priest.”[7]

One of the soldiers inside the house was 5792 Private George Gilman, a Reservist of the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, who described the shelling in a letter sent to Mr E. Clement Davies, the son of the managing director of the Crown Copper Works:

“I only returned from the trenches last Saturday after ten days in them. I am very lucky to be here alive. We were billeted in a house and the house was shelled, killing three of my mates and wounding nine altogether. My Princess Mary box was battered by a shell, and there were three bullet holes in it. My serge was riddled with bits of shell, and my rifle also was badly damaged. Eight civilians also were among those killed, so I am very lucky.”[8]

24241 Sapper Arthur Thirlwell, who served with 3rd Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, also witnessed the shelling of the billets at Rue des Chiens and recounted the scene in a letter to his sisters, who lived at 6 Ropery Walk at Seaham Harbour:

“We had a bit of trouble the other night, for a few shells began to burst beside our billets, killing a lot of women and children and six soldiers and wounding several others, but let me ease your mind for the time being by telling you that I am all right and we are having a rest.”[9]

Dragoons attached 1st Life Guards Graves Ypres Town Cemetery Extension

The six soldiers who died on 11 February 1915 are buried together in Plot II, Row C at Ypres Town Cemetery Extension:

5644 Corporal Herbert Thomas Cordery – 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons

Born at Reigate in Surrey on 10 February 1886, Herbert was the only son of Thomas and Alice Cordery. He later moved with his family to Hayward’s Heath, where he attended St Wilfrid’s School. Herbert was also a member of the St Wilfrid’s Company of the Church Lads’ Brigade and at the age of fifteen enlisted for the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment, serving with “B” Company as a Drummer. He had worked alongside his father Thomas as a painter prior to attesting for the Dragoons of the Line at London on 5 May 1906. Posted to the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons in Egypt, he also served in India with the regiment and by 1911 had been appointed a Lance-Corporal. Herbert had been promoted to Corporal by the time he completed seven years’ service with the Colours, and on 21 March 1913 was transferred to the Reserve. He was employed as an attendant at Cane Hill Mental Hospital by the London County Council.[10] On being mobilised Cordery reported to No. 4 (Western) Cavalry Depot at Newport but as the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons were still stationed in India he was not drafted to his former regiment but was instead posted to the 1st Life Guards. He disembarked with “D” Squadron of the 1st Life Guards at Zeebrugge on 8 October 1914, and had returned to his parent’s home at 1 Henley Villas on the New England Road in Hayward’s Heath on leave on 19 January 1915. After three days he returned to the front.

4935 Corporal Robert Russell, a Reservist from the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars attached to the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues), described the circumstances in which Corporal Cordery had been killed in a letter home:

“I am sorry to say I have some bad news to tell you. Poor Bert Cordery has been killed. It happened a week ago last Thursday. I have just been speaking to a chap who has been with him all the time, and was in the house when it happened. It was at night, about half-past eight. This chap and Bert were sleeping together. This chap was making the bed ready, and poor old Bert went into a room to see some more chaps before going to bed, when the shell dropped right into the room. There were six killed and seven wounded, and this chap, being on the landing, escaped being hit, but says he doesn’t know how he didn’t get hit, as the house was all in ruins. He got a nasty shock and was sent down here for a rest. He has given me a ring that Bert was wearing, as he tells me they had made arrangements with one another, if anything happened, to send it home, so I will see to it. This chap tells me they were going to leave this house the following day and go back into their permanent billets, as these were only temporary – used by one half of the Brigade whilst the other half was in the trenches. Poor old Bert had done his time in the trenches, and was waiting for the others to come out when this occurred.”[11]

Corporal Cordery, who was killed on the day following his 29th birthday, is buried in Grave 3 and is also commemorated on a plaque beneath a memorial window inside St Luke’s Church in Croydon.

5972 Private James Henry Smith – 1st (King’s) Dragoon Guards

Born at St Martin’s in London, James was living in Hammersmith when he attested for the Dragoons of the Line at London in 1905. He was posted to the 1st (King’s) Dragoon Guards in India and was serving as a clerk attached to the Sirhind Brigade when he was awarded the 1911 Delhi Durbar Medal, shortly before he was transferred to the Reserve.[12] James obtained employment as a postman and was residing at 13 Whellock Road in the Bedford Park area of Chiswick when he married Florence Adelaide Burbidge at St Peter’s Church in Hammersmith on 1 November 1913. Mobilised following the declaration of war, Smith reported to No. 6 (Scottish) Cavalry Depot at Dunbar before being posted to the 1st Life Guards at Ludgershall. He disembarked at Zeebrugge with “D” Squadron on 8 October 1914.

Private Smith is buried in Grave 4.

D/5128 Private Maurice Sullivan – 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys)

Born at Maidenhead in Berkshire in 1895, Maurice Sullivan attested for the Dragoons of the Line at Bristol in 1910. His entry on the 1914 Star Roll states that Private Sullivan originally landed in France on 17 August 1914, but it is recorded that he was part of a draft of reinforcements received by the 1st Life Guards 8 November 1914.[13] Killed while attached to “D” Squadron, Sullivan’s headstone at Ypres Town Cemetery Extension displays the badge of the 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays). That he was a soldier of the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys), rather than the 2nd Dragoon Guards as recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, is confirmed by several sources.[14]

Private Sullivan lies in Grave 5.

5400 Private Patrick Corcoran – 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers)

A Reservist from Lismore in County Waterford, Patrick Corcoran had enlisted for the Dragoons of the Line at Naas in 1905. He was drafted to the 1st Life Guards at Ludgershall following the outbreak of the war and disembarked with “D” Squadron at Zeebrugge on 8 October 1914.[15] Private Corcoran’s next-of-kin were issued with the clasp for his 1914 Star on 28 September 1922 and he is buried in Grave 6.

6445 Private James Hall – 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays)

Born at Lancaster, James was the son of James and Elizabeth Hall and was baptised at St Thomas’s Church on 12 October 1884. He was working as a cotton weaver when he attested for the Dragoons of the Line in the city in 1903. Mobilised from the Reserve at the outbreak of the war, Private Hall was posted to the 1st Life Guards at Ludgershall and landed at Zeebrugge on 8 October 1914.

Private Hall is buried in Grave 7, and the cemetery register records that his widow, Frances Sarah Hall, resided at 39 Princes Crescent at Bare, near Morecambe. An inscription was chosen to be carved at the base of his headstone:

“To Memory Ever Dear”

James is also commemorated on the war memorial on the Promenade at Morecambe.

D/2501 Private Robert John Williams – 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons

A Reservist from Belfast, Robert William had attested for the Dragoons of the Line in the city in 1908 and served with the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons in India.  Recalled to the Colours following the outbreak of the war, he was amongst the Inniskillings sent from No. 4 (Western) Cavalry Depot at Newport to join the 1st Life Guards Reserve Regiment at Hyde Park Barracks. Private Williams was part of the draft of reinforcements sent to the regiment on 8 November 1914.[16]

News that Private Williams had been killed was published in The Northern Whig on 23 February 1915:

An Officer’s Tribute.

“Sergeant S. Williams, of the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, has been notified of the death of his brother, Trooper (sic)[1] R. Williams, of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons. The deceased soldier has served with his regiment in India, and at the outbreak of war with Germany he was called on to rejoin the colours as a reservist. On going to the Continent he was attached to the 1st Life Guards, and it was while he was employed with that crack corps that he lost his life, being killed at Ypres on the 11th inst. He was very popular both with his officers and comrades, and in a letter to his brother (who, it may be mentioned, is a member of the Belfast Fire Brigade, now serving with the Ulster Division) Captain J. J. Astor, commanding a squadron of the 1st Life Guards, says that the deceased soldier was killed instantly, together with five other men, by the bursting of a shell. Captain Astor adds:- “We had just done five days in the trenches, and at the time were in billets, which makes it seem all the more cruel luck. I have nothing but good to say of him, and I know we have lost a gallant soldier in him.”

Private Williams is buried in Grave 8 and his service number is incorrectly engraved on his headstone with a prefix G/ instead of the correct D/ used to signify that it was part of the sequence issued to the Dragoons of the Line.[18]

With regard to the civilians who were killed in the house on the Rue de Chiens on 11 February 1915, it is difficult to ascertain their identities. However during February and March 1915 one newspaper, Het Ypershe Volk, was printed as a single broadsheet and included in the 18 March edition the names of civilians who had been killed in Ypres on that day. Amongst the names are women and children who most likely died during the shelling and whose bodies were recovered by the Life Guards.

Civilians killed Rue de Chiens Ypres 11 February 1915

The names of the civilians killed in Ypres on 11 February 1915, recorded in a list published in Het Ypershe Volk on 18 March (Historische Kranten)



[1] The Royals, which served with 6th Cavalry Brigade in 3rd Cavalry Division, had replaced the 1st Life Guards in the front line.

[2] Now known by its Flemish name: D’Hondtstraat.

[3] WO 95/1155/2 2nd Life Guards War Diary.

[4] WO 95/1155/1 1st Life Guards War Diary.

[5] Mid-Sussex Times, 2 March 1915.

[6] The posting of Reservists from regiments of the Cavalry of the Line was necessitated due to the three regiments of the Household Cavalry already having provided one Squadron each (and in the case of the 1st Life Guards the Regimental Headquarters as well) for the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment, which formed part of 4th Cavalry Brigade and disembarked at Le Havre on 16 August 1914. Corporal Russell (8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars, attached Royal Horse Guards) stated in a letter that six soldiers were killed and seven wounded by the shell (Mid-Sussex Times, 2 March 1915).

[7] WO 95/1155/2.

[8] Liverpool Daily Echo, 26 February 1915. Born at Garston, George Gilman had attested for the Dragoons of the Line at Warrington on 25 September 1906. At the time of his enlistment he was aged eighteen years and eight months and was employed as a labourer. He also served in the 3rd Militia Battalion of The King’s (Liverpool Regiment). Gilman was posted to the 6th Dragoons at Ballincollig on 27 September, but was sent to military prison on 16 November. He was released on 29 November, shortly before the regiment sailed to Egypt. He went on to serve in India and was appointed an Acting Lance-Corporal on 29 September 1911 before being transferred to the Reserve on 11 December 1913. On being mobilised at the outbreak of the war, Gilman reported to No. 4 (Western) Cavalry Depot at Newport and was posted to the 1st Life Guards at Knightsbridge Barracks on 8 August. He landed in Belgium on 8 October 1914 and remained at the front until he was posted to the 1st Life Guards Reserve Regiment on 3 May 1917. Gilman was transferred to the Guards Machine Gun Regiment on 10 May 1918, his regimental number being 3231, and was drafted back to France on 16 May to join No. 1 (1st Life Guards) Battalion. George Gilman was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve on being demobilised on 1 March 1919, giving his home address as 20 Allen Place at Boughton in Cheshire, and died in 1945.

[9] Sunderland Daily Echo, 24 February 1915. Arthur Thirlwell had joined the Royal Engineers on 13 January 1913 and landed in France on 24 October 1914. He was discharged from the Section B Army Reserve due to sickness on 1 May 1919 and was issued with a Silver War Badge.

[10] Anon: L.C.C. Record of War Service 1914-1918 (London, London County Council, 1922), p. 189.

[11] Mid-Sussex Times, 2 March 1915. Corporal Russell is described in the article as a member of the 14th (King’s) Hussars but was in fact a Reservist from the 8th Hussars attached to the Royal Horse Guards, a fact confirmed by his entry on the 1914 Star Roll. It is possible that the comrade of Corporal Cordery’s referred to in Corporal Russell’s letter was 5792 Private George Gilman.

[12] WO 100/400 1911 Delhi Durbar Medal Roll.

[13] Captain The Honourable E. H. Wyndham: War Diary of the 1st Life Guards: First Year 1914-1915, (London, Privately Published, 1915), p. 78.

[14] Casualty Lists published in The Daily Record, The Sheffield Daily Telegraph and The Scotsman on 10 March 1915; Sullivan’s entry in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects and “Soldiers Died in the Great War” Part 1: Household Cavalry and Cavalry of the Line (including Yeomanry and Imperial Camel Corps).

[15] War Diary of the 1st Life Guards: First Year 1914-1915, p. 76.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Although widely used to describe the lowest rank for soldiers who served in the Cavalry of the Line, Special Reserve and Yeomanry Regiments during the Great War, the term “Trooper” is technically incorrect for this period. Only the Household Cavalry was permitted to use Trooper at this time. This stemmed from an instruction issued in 1906 by King Edward VII who, on presenting campaign medals to members of the Household Cavalry who served in South Africa, expressed his dislike for the rank of Private for soldiers of his Household troops, and promptly ordered them to be re-impressed. The rank of Private was replaced by Trooper for the Cavalry of the Line and Yeomanry regiments under the provisions of Army Order No. 222, published in June 1923. Although attached to the 1st Life Guards, the Reservists from the Cavalry of the Line were not extended the privilege of being titled “Trooper” as a result of serving with a regiment of the Household Cavalry.

[18] Army Order 289, published in December 1906, reformed the allocation of service numbers for the Cavalry of the Line. Recruits were issued with a number from a common roll held for the regiments of Dragoons (Dragoon Guards and Dragoons), Hussars and Lancers. These new numbers bore a prefix denoting each branch of the Cavalry: D/ for the Dragoons of the Line; H/ for the Hussars and L/ to indicate Lancers. The sequence of numbers began again at 1 for each branch and began to be issued in 1907. The soldiers’ records for the Dragoons of the Line were administered by the Cavalry Record Office in Canterbury.


In Search of the Chums: The Surviving Legacy of The Old Contemptibles’ Association.


Chums of The Old Contemptibles’ Association supporting each other during the annual Church Parade, held at the Royal Garrison Church in Aldershot on 8 August 1971. Chum Basil Farrer (who died in 1993) is on the left of the group. (Authors’ Collection).

“I’m throwing a lot out, nobody’s interested in these things now. Gradually we’re destroying the papers; nobody will look after the papers when we all go. It’s the best way, really, to wipe it all out, the past.”

Chum James Preston, Former General Secretary to the National Council of The Old Contemptibles’ Association.[1]

Forty years ago, when Chum Preston was interviewed by Lindsay Mackie of The Guardian, the Charity Commission had concluded in their annual report for 1977/78, that The Old Contemptibles’ Association had disbanded. While it was certainly true that the National Council had closed in 1976, a few branches of Chums still tried to continue to meet and it was not until 1994, on the closure of the London and South-Eastern Area, that the Association and the Chums finally marched into history.

The purpose of this article is to explore some of the physical reminders of the Association and the Chums that remain, and resources that are available to researchers who wish to study the rich seam of social history and material culture to be found on aspects of the organisation during its existence. These notes are very much a “work in progress,” as the author regularly comes across new information on The Old Contemptibles’ Association, individual Branches and the Chums themselves, but it is hoped that what is presented is of interest.

“For God, King and Country” – A Brief History of The Old Contemptibles’ Association

The idea of creating an association of those who had served with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, and who were holders of the 1914 Star with clasp, was instigated by Captain John Patrick Danny, formerly of the Royal Artillery. On 25 June 1925 he and six other “Old Contemptibles” met at the Hackney United Services Club, at the “Red House” on Powerscroft Road in Clapton, to discuss the formation of such a group. The first General Meeting of The Old Contemptibles Association took place on 28 July, and Captain Danny was elected as treasurer. Members of the new Association were to be known as “Chums,” irrespective of their rank, and only those who were holders of the 1914 Star with the clasp – in reality a bar to be sewn onto the ribbon of the medal – that indicated that individuals had “served under fire or who had operated within range of enemy mobile artillery in France or Belgium during the period between 5 August and 22 November 1914” would be eligible to join. The aims and objective of the Association were clearly stated from the beginning:

  • To foster the spirit of the Contemptible Little Army, without thought as to caste, creed, or politics.
  • To assist our less fortunate Chums.
  • To promote social intercourse.
  • To generally strengthen the bonds which held us together through adversity in 1914.[2]

In May 1926, The Old Contemptibles Association held its first parade, assembling on the Embankment before laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. The first Grand Council of the Association was formed in July 1926, with Captain Danny being elected as Chairman, and on 6 August the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir George F. Milne, who had been the Commander Royal Artillery of 4th Division in 1914, became the first President. An application for the Association to be granted the “Royal” prefix and to use the Royal Arms was, however, refused.[3]

The second Association parade to the Cenotaph was reported on by The Midland Evening Telegraph on 22 August 1927:


“There were some stirring scenes in London yesterday when some 1,500 men of the “Old Army” of 1914 paraded on the Thames Embankment and attended a service on the Horse Guards’ Parade, a wreath being afterwards laid on the Cenotaph. This was the second annual Cenotaph Parade of the “Old Contemptibles’” Association, an organisation which was founded in 1925, and it is satisfactory that there should be such a yearly commemoration of some of the most glorious deeds of the Great War. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those heroic veterans whose bravery did so much to stem the first rush of an aggressive foe whose aim was militarist domination. The marking of these anniversaries does not mean the keeping alive of bitter memories; it is simply honouring those who are worthy of all honour, both those who made the supreme sacrifice and those who survived.

The story of the Old Army and all its gallantry in the first period of the world conflict is an epic. It is good that the story should be pondered once a year, as a reminder of that from which we were all delivered, as an inspiration to work that there shall never again be such an outbreak of horror and carnage. These men, and all who followed them as the War increased in intensity, fought for world security and peace; it is the duty of those who were saved by such heroism to work for, and support, all movements for strengthening that peace. And so these commemorations should always have as their keynote a proud and grateful memory. They are not the outcome of any vaunting of militarist prowess, they are inspired by remembrance of comradeship in a common cause, a common sacrifice, for liberty and right.

That was the point on which the Rev. J. D. S. Parry-Evans laid stress in the course of his address at the service on the Horse Guards’ Parade yesterday, when he recalled that the day was memorable as the anniversary of the first British shot fired in the war – the signal, he said, that this country had taken her stand on the side of right and justice. He went on to remind his hearers that among the tributes which had been paid to the British Expeditionary Force was that of the German General von Kluck, who described that force as the “kernel of a great army,” and who said of them to Lord Bingham, of the Coldstream Guards: “Their retreat from Mons was remarkably well conducted. I did my best to outflank them, but could not do so.”

The commemoration of yesterday included a touching tribute by those taking part in the parade to their disabled comrades, who brought to the Mall in motor coaches by the “Not Forgotten Association,” and numbering about 60, stood in a line at the foot of the Duke of York’s Steps, most of them in hospital blue. The band played “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag,” and the men in the procession on their return from the Cenotaph, taking off their hats and caps, marched past their disabled comrades, giving them the military salute. This indeed was a worthy and stirring demonstration.”

In November 1927 some 225 Chums made a pilgrimage to Mons for Armistice Day, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Old Contemptibles Mons 1928 Cemetery

Chums of The Old Contemptibles’ Association remembering their fallen comrades at Mons (Bergen) Communal Cemetery on 11 November 1927 (Authors’ Collection).

Captain John Patrick Danny died at his home at 68 Gunton Road in Clapton on 20 May 1928, and his premature death was attributed to the poor health that he suffered as a result of his war service. However, another factor that may have contributed was the strain he experienced while organising and trying to raise money for Chums of The Old Contemptibles Association to go on the Pilgrimage to Mons the previous November. The deficit, which amounted to near £500, was covered personally by Captain Danny who remortgaged his home in order to ensure that the debt was repaid.[4]

Following the death of Captain Danny, the Association did not fade but the number of Chums enrolling and Branches being formed increased significantly. Regional Area Councils were organised to administer the growing organisation; a Scottish Section had been formed on 5 April 1928, and in July the Association had secured registration under the provisions of the War Charities Act of 1916. The first Annual General Meeting of The Old Contemptibles’ Association was held on 19 January 1929 at Slaters Restaurant on Newgate Street in London.[5]

By the time of the 1930 Annual Conference, held in Birmingham, it was reported that the Association had 8,000 Chums in 60 Branches and that three overseas branches; one at Vancouver, an Australian Branch and a Branch formed at Ypres from Old Contemptibles living and working in Belgium, had been raised.[6] The first number of “The Old Contemptible” – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, was published in October 1930. Five years later there were over 100 Branches, including one formed at The Hague by Chums resident in the Netherlands.[7] At its peak, during the organisation’s Silver Jubilee Year of 1950, The Old Contemptibles’ Association had over 200 Branches in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, as well as in the Republic of Ireland (Dublin Central Branch, formed in October 1929), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium and the United States.[8] On 31 December 1938 the Association ceased actively recruiting and Branches closed its ranks to further applications.[9]

During the early 1930s the London Area of the Association, together with contingents from other parts of the country, continued to observe the anniversary of the Battle of Mons by parading at Horse Guards, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph and service at St Martin-in-the-Fields which was broadcast live on the radio by the B.B.C., as well as being filmed by British Movietone and Pathe Gazette as part of their newsreels.[10] In 1934 the annual service at St Martin’s moved to April, and two years later took place at St Paul’s Cathedral in March. The parade and service at St Paul’s later moved to May and continued to be held until 1966.[11] In 1936, the National Executive of the Association decided against a full parade to the Cenotaph and decided that it would be replaced by a camp, to take place between 22 and 28 August at Shorncliffe, during which a drumhead service would be held on the anniversary of the Battle of Mons. However, in July the proposed camp was cancelled as a consequence of increased cost due to its popularity amongst the Chums. Some 2,000 men applied, including Chums from Scotland and the Dublin Central Branch, which was far more than the 500 anticipated by the Association.[12] Pilgrimages also continued to be made by Branches to the battlefields of France and Flanders, to Mons and Ypres in particular, and on 14 August 1939 a large contingent from the London Area, together with their families, made a short visit to the Britannia Memorial at Boulogne Harbour to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the disembarkation of the British Expeditionary Force in France, an event that was also filmed by British Movietone.[13] The Branches also participated in the annual Armistice Day commemorations held in their own communities.


A ticket for the 1938 Parade Service held at St Paul’s Cathedral (Authors’ Collection)

The Branches of The Old Contemptibles’ Association placed great importance on organising social events for the Chums and their families, particularly during their early days. One such example was reported by The Hull Daily Mail on 19 November 1926:


“The first social evening of the Hull and District (1914) Old Contemptibles’ Association took place at the Raywell Hotel, Cumberland-street, on Friday evening last. There was an attendance of about forty members with their wives and friends. A most enjoyable programme of items gave pleasure to the gathering and the selections of a jazz band were highly enjoyed. It has been arranged to hold a social evening every Friday during the winter months and it is hoped that all members will make an effort to attend.”

Outings were organised during Bank Holidays to places of local interest, as well as Christmas parties for their children, an example of which was reported by The Taunton Courier on 25 December 1935:



“The annual Christmas party organised by Taunton branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association was held at the Corner House Cafe, Taunton, on Thursday, when a party of about 120 children and wives of the “Chums” of the branch spent a very happy and festive evening. Among the branch officials present were:- Major A. J. G. Hargreaves (president), Dr. A. J. Iles (vice-president), and Mr A. G. Rayson (chairman).

Excellent arrangements had been made by the Christmas Entertainment Committee, and there was plenty to delight the large party of children. After a bounteous tea, with crackers to add to the enjoyment, the festivities reached their height when the whole party adjourned to another room for a Christmas tree and games. Each child and parent received a gift from the tree, and with all good things that go to the making of a really successful and happy party, everybody spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

The wives of several “Chums” assisted the cafe staff at the tea tables, and members of the Committee, with Mr T. G. Morey as hon. secretary, collected and provided all the gifts presented to the children and mothers.”

Another important element of the work of the Branches was to support unemployed Chums in their efforts to obtain work, and to provide material and financial assistance for those members and their families who, as a result of wounds suffered during the Great War or illness, were unable to support themselves. One initiative was to enlist the support of prominent civic and business figures in their local communities by appointing them as Patrons, issuing them with their own special Association badges. One such appeal, made on behalf of the Birmingham Branch in August 1930, was for individuals to contribute an annual subscription of one guinea, with the donors being invited to become Patrons.[14]

The Leeds and District Branch were particularly active in their efforts to assist unemployed Chums find work, regularly advertising in The Leeds Mercury for employers to contact them and providing a list of civilian skills that their members possessed. One such Chum who needed their help was James Robert Coyle. Born in 1896, he was an apprentice engineer when he attested for The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry) in May 1914, being issued with the regimental number 1446. Drafted to France on 11 November 1914, Coyle joined the 2nd Battalion near Ypres. He was transferred to The South Wales Borderers on 29 January 1916 and was issued with the regimental number 26932. Coyle was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 8 February 1921.

James married Eliza Lockwood at St Agnes’ Church at Burmantofts in Leeds on 29 April 1922 and at the time of his marriage he working as a moulder, but by 1928 he was unemployed. His plight had been reported by The Leeds Mercury on 16 March 1928, and he described to a journalist his search for work and the support given to him by the Leeds and District Branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association:

“When I heard of the Association through the ‘Mercury’” ex-Private Coyle told me, “I had come to the end of everything. I was getting pretty desperate. I got into touch with them and, although no employment has come yet, they have helped me, and cheered me, more than I can tell. I am hoping again now. It’s meant a lot to feel helped. Things were almost on top of me.”

He himself remains neatly dressed and well-groomed, and his home tidy and comfortably furnished, despite the last fifteen months of acute adversity. In that time he has worked only five days, yet he has walked 20 to 25 miles a day in search of employment, written at least 100 letters, when to muster a single three-halfpenny stamp is difficult, and has felt keenly the fact that the little his wife could earn was all there was coming into the house.

His wife is now within a month of bringing a child to share their sorrowful little world, a fact which has added the torture to his mind for some time. Neither of them can bear the thought of the Guardians. Last night he was writing another letter of application for a job when I saw him, but his eyes told his fear that it would share the same fate as the 100 that have preceded it.

“I want to work. It is not a question of money. It is a question of getting in – of getting a start. I will do anything. I am fit to do anything.”

The work he has taken in his peacetime battles, from labouring in snow and mud at Colsterdale to casual work wherever he could find it, proves this.”

Following the publication of the article, the Old Contemptibles’ Association received a parcel from a reader of “The Leeds Mercury” which was reported in the 26 March edition of the newspaper:

“The tale of ex-Private Coyle’s adversity we told some days ago, and it will be remembered that Mrs Coyle was then within a month of bringing them a child to share their sad world.

This parcel is the response from one of our readers, for the following note came with the tiny woolly garment it contained:-

“To the wife of ex-Private Coyle, this little present should be welcome for the little stranger who is shortly coming to your house. – From a reader of “The Leeds Mercury.”

James and Eliza expressed their gratitude to the reader in an acknowledgement printed in the next days’ edition. Their son, Kenneth, was born on 10 April.[15]

Another example was an appeal for donations of clothing was made to the Editor of The Sunderland Echo by the Sunderland Branch in 1935:

“Sir, – If one out of every ten Sunderland theatre-goers would send us one cast-off coat, shirt, pair of shoes, suit, blouse, blankets, dress, under-garment, anything, we could clothe all our needy in one week. Any of the above articles will be a godsend, and much appreciated. Please send parcel to Old Contemptibles’ Association, 25 John Street, Sunderland.

J. H. Laing,

Hon. Secretary.”[16]

From 1929 until the outbreak of the Second World War, and again from 1944, the Directors of Birmingham City Football Club allowed the Birmingham Branch to make an annual collection at a match played during late November and early December, and the proceeds were then used to buy food to put into hampers which were distributed to those Chums who were unemployed, so that they and their families had something to eat over Christmas.

A notice, which was published in The Birmingham Daily Gazette of 7 December 1929, requested the Chums to assemble at St Andrew’s to make the first collection:


“Will members please meet at one o’clock to-day at Birmingham Football Ground (Birmingham-Manchester City) Meeting place outside centre of grandstand, or just before half-time.

Medals and Badges to be worn. Demonstration at Half-Time.”

The need for the collection was recalled by the columnist of “The Clubman’s Diary” of The Birmingham Daily Gazette, which was printed on Christmas Eve 1935:

“In 1928, I recall, the association was a very small affair. At that Christmas season only two cases of distress came to the notice of the “chums.”

One was that of a fine “old sweat” who ate his Christmas dinner, consisting of bread and cheese, in Cannon Hill Park, with swans begging the crusts; the other, an ex-artilleryman, who managed to “scrounge” a rabbit for the Christmas dinner of himself and wife and four children.”

In 1934, as a gesture of gratitude to the club for their support in allowing the collections to take place, the Chums presented Birmingham City Football Club with a photograph of the members of the branch. The original was destroyed when the Main Stand was burned down during the Second World War, but on 19 April 1954 the Birmingham Branch of The Old Contemptibles Association presented the club with a replacement photograph.[17]

The outbreak of the Second World War saw the activities of branches of The Old Contemptibles’ Association curtailed to some extent, and Chums were involved in defending the country in various forms. However, the Branches still continued with their meetings and work supporting their fellow Chums in need, as well as the wider war effort. The Coventry Branch lost most of its records, property and Branch Standard when the city was devastated by the Luftwaffe on the night of 14/15 November 1940, but despite this continued to function. The presentation of a new Branch Standard was reported by The Coventry Evening Telegraph on 23 April 1942:

Old Contemptibles Again “In Action”

“When the headquarters of the Coventry branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association was destroyed in the November 14-15 raid in 1940 the branch almost went out of existence.

Records, documents, and the branch’s Standard, which had been carried on many impressive parades, were lost, together with all other equipment at the headquarters. Members were necessarily dispersed over a very wide area of the city and district after the bombing, and the Association’s activities came to a standstill.

Only one thing was salvaged from the headquarters – the brass nameplate which was fixed outside the building. From this nucleus, and the keenness of the available members, the branch has been completely revitalised, and on Sunday morning the branch’s new Standard will be dedicated at St George’s Church, Radford.


Branches from various parts of the country, including Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Evesham, Leamington, Nuneaton, and Stafford will attend the big parade, which will assemble in Corporation Street at 10.15 a.m. and march to the church, headed by a Home Guard pipe band.

The Mayor (Councillor A. R. Grindlay), Captain W. F. Strickland, M.P., Mr T. S. Quick (general secretary of the Old Contemptibles’ Association), Lieutenant E. H. Richardson (the association chairman, secretary of the Birmingham branch, and chairman of the West Midlands Council, who lost both legs in the last war), and Colonel Cameron (president of the Stafford branch) will attend the parade.”

The Association also lost several members as a result of enemy action. Among them was Chum Frederick Hatchwell of the Dorking Branch, who was killed on 30 August 1940 at Reigate Road in Leatherhead during an air raid. His death and funeral were reported on in The Surrey Advertiser on 7 September 1940:



“Keen sympathy with the relatives was shown at the funeral at Leatherhead Parish Churchyard on Tuesday of Mr Fredk. Hatchwell, of Corner Cot, Copthorne-road, Leatherhead, whose death occurred on Friday, at the age of 57.

Mr Hatchwell had been a postman at Leatherhead since 1909. He served in the South African War with the Royal Dragoons, and again with the same regiment in the last war, subsequently being transferred to the R.A.V.C., in which he was a sergeant farrier. In this war he was a member of the Home Guard. Mr Hatchwell was a member of the Dorking Old Contemptibles’ Association and the Leatherhead British Legion.

The Vicar (the Rev. G. H. B. Coleridge) conducted the funeral, and the chief mourners were Mrs Hatchwell (widow), Mr G. Hatchwell (brother), Mesdames Manton, Smith and Alvey (sisters) Messrs. T. Manton and H. B. Smith (brothers-in-law), Mrs H. G. Briar and Mrs F. Thomsett (nieces), Mr and Mrs H. Horne, and Mr D. Dew. There were also representatives of the Old Contemptibles, British Legion, and Post Office, all of which also sent wreaths; there was also one from Capt. Burke and members of the Home Guard.”[18]

Mons Week OCA poster

A poster advertising The Old Contemptibles’ Association “Mons Week” appeal (Courtesy of Stu Kidson)

The end of the war saw The Old Contemptibles’ Association resume recruiting new members, but not to the extent that had been done during the previous decade. In 1948 the Association made its first national appeal to the public for funds,[19] and “Mons Week” was held between 22 and 28 August to coincide with the 34th anniversary of the first battles fought by the British Expeditionary Force in 1914.[20] The need for additional financial support was urgent, as the effects of old war wounds and age-related illnesses exponentially took their toll on the Chums. The appointment of Branch Patrons, who were able to assist with funds for individual branches to continue to organise social events and assist Chums in need, also increased at this time. Nevertheless, the bonds of “Chumship” and common experiences bound the diminishing membership together and on 24 June 1950 a Silver Jubilee Grand Reunion was held at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate 25 years of the Association in an appropriate manner. This included not only an Act of Remembrance, but light-hearted entertainment and bars organised by Divisions of the original British Expeditionary Force of 1914, so that Old Comrades could arrange to meet each other before the performance and during the interval.

Following the Second World War the annual Parade and Act of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in London, held on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the Battle of Mons, was moved to Aldershot, where a Church Parade was held at the Royal Garrison Church, organised by the Aldershot Branch with the support of the units of the garrison. The annual parade Service held at St Paul’s Cathedral continued as before but by the mid 1950s it seemed to some Chums that the interest of the media and the general public in their activities was starting to wane. “W. H. R.,” the scribe of the branch notes for the Camden Town Branch for “The Old Contemptible” published in July 1955, declared that:

“This Branch was well represented at the St Paul’s parade last Sunday. It was quite an impressive affair, but it is sad to see how little notice the Press takes of the Old Contemptibles these days. I did not see all the newspaper(s) on the following day, but those I did see made little or no mention of the Service or the Parade. Can it be that the time of forgetfulness is getting near? Anyhow it was grand to see the way the Chums marched, head up, and chest out. It made one feel proud to be one of them.”[21]

In 1964 The Old Contemptibles’ Association organised a series of events in London to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War. On Friday 26 June Chums of the Association were reviewed by the Duke of Gloucester in the garden of Buckingham Palace, and on the evening of 27 June another Grand Reunion took place at the Albert Hall. On Sunday 28 June the Chums again attended a Divine Service at St Paul’s Cathedral.


The front cover of the programme for the Old Contemptibles’ Association Grand Reunion, held at the Royal Albert Hall on 27 June 1964 (Authors’ Collection).

Among those who attended the weekend’s events was Chum Wilfred Hulme, universally known as Bill, who was a member of the Victoria (British Columbia) Branch, and his wife Ruth. They had travelled from their home on Gabriola Island, and both wrote home to their friends in Canada about their experiences. Chum Hulme reported:

“Just think, it was 50 years ago I went overseas with the famous regiment The Royal Horse Guards (The Blues). We had a parade yesterday June 26, falling in at Wellington Barracks and marched to Buckingham Palace to be interviewed by the Queen. But, alas, she did not show up much to the disappointment of the men around me, also the ladies around my wife. Nevertheless ye Old Mons Star shone in all its glory.

Whereas I had got to thinking we were a band of forgotten men, yesterday however proved me wrong because the ovation we got was something I’ll never forget as long as I live. I made contact with many Cavalrymen; Hussars, Lancers and Dragoons and in my way of thinking it was well worth travelling half over the world just for that occasion. Old soldiers know the feeling of meeting pals, especially from one’s own regiment. Will tell you more when I get back to Nanaimo, the sweetest city under the sun.”[22]


Ticket for the Review of The Old Contemptibles’ Association by the Duke of Gloucester on 26 June 1964 (Authors’ Collection).

Mrs Hulme also recounted her experiences of the parade:

“Before the parade there were Old Contemptibles and their wives all around Birdcage Walk near the Palace. It was wonderful to stand by and watch these men meet again, each other. Everyone had medals on. Taxis stopped and more men alighted and joined the crowd. There were a great many too old or infirm, or both, to march but everyone finally reached the gardens of Buckingham Palace. (The) Grenadier Guards band led the parade but they were too far ahead for most to hear. It was remarkable to see this parade of elderly men marching along the street, some on crutches, many with sticks. As one man said he had come a long way to see this and he was glad he had. It was a wonderful sight.

It was sunny and warm in the gardens and the first-aid men were busy with casualties. At the end of the speeches and inspection by the Duke of Gloucester hats came off and three cheers for him. Have you ever seen 2,000 white and grey and bald heads all at once? It was something. They all marched back to the barracks, the band followed last. There would be many tired men and women that evening. We heard that the town (sic) of Birmingham had sponsored three coaches and given every man five pounds to spend. Other coaches were there from all parts of England.

Walking along with Bill in the parade was a Belgian who is director of the Mons Museum and he has a badge of every regiment in the British Army. He was given a badge by Old Contemptibles for his work for them in 1914. Also walking with Bill was a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Artillery who wore the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross, also the Legion of Honour (sic), Croix de Guerre and the Leopold Star of Belgium.”[23]

The commemorative events held to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War could not conceal the fact that The Old Contemptibles’ Association was, by its very essence of exclusivity, a dying organisation. It was also clear to the Chums that times were changing, and perhaps their past deeds held little sway in the modern world, as demonstrated by an extract of a letter published in The Daily Mirror on 13 November 1964:


“To listen to the holders of the Mons Star, one would think there had only been one war. Campaign medals in the First World War, like those in the Second World War, were two a penny. – L. Carter, Yorks.”

The Association had many critics, both internal and from external sources, over the years. Some felt that the strict membership criteria encouraged an “old school tie” mentality amongst the Chums towards their fellow ex-servicemen.[24] Their jealously-guarded nickname also came in for frequent criticism, such as one letter that was published in The Scotsman on 26 September 1934:



 “Old Contemptibles”

“Glasgow, September 25, 1934

SIR. – I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I only wish to state as clearly as possible –

1) That the alleged Army Order containing the expression “Contemptible little Army” is a fabrication. No German ever used that word.

2) If the “Old Contemptibles” intend to keep that name, which constantly poisons the good relations between the two peoples, I think they ought to prove beyond doubt that the Army Order is genuine.

We Germans don’t need to refute the charge. Besides, all records have been carefully searched, and no trace of that document has been found.

You would oblige me very much if you would publish this, my last communication, in this matter. – I am & c.

F. HEYER, German Consul.”

A question often asked by descendants of Old Contemptibles is if some form of organisation currently exists in order to continue to remember the Chums and those who served with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. The subject of handing on the mantle to a new generation was discussed as early as 1935, at the Old Contemptible Association’s annual conference held in Leeds. The proposal was reported on by The Leeds Mercury on 11 March:

“Young Contemptibles.”

“Old Contemptibles from all over the country who met at Leeds for their annual conference on Saturday were very much surprised to hear from a Mr Middleton, of Manchester, that there had been in existence for some time a Young Contemptibles’ Association.

It was, he added, an Association which the Old Contemptibles’ Association might very well support.

He went on to explain naively that at present the Association consisted of only one member – his own son, nine years of age. A year ago, he said, he took the boy round the battlefields of Flanders and France, showed him where his daddy had squatted in the mud, pointed out the war cemeteries to him, and gave him a graphic lesson on the unpleasantness of war. The boy’s response was, “Why can’t I do something for the Old Contemptibles?”

Mr Middleton suggested that here was an opportunity for them to form a flourishing organization of their own descendants, who would give the parent organization valuable help. Old Contemptibles were dying off, and their membership was decreasing every year, and only in this way could they perpetuate the spirit of 1914.

The conference received the suggestion warmly, and instructed the secretary to bring the matter to the notice of the Executive Committee for their serious consideration.”

However the idea, although put forward again on several occasions while the Association existed, was never acted upon by the Chums. The reasons for this can be found in a speech given by the Reverend Godfrey Wells, who was the honorary chaplain of the Chichester Branch, at their annual dinner held on 26 November 1949. His address was recorded in The Hampshire Telegraph on 2 December:

“It would be a profound mistake to allow anybody other than those who took part in the retreat from Mons in 1914 to belong to the Old Contemptibles’ Association, said the Rev. Godfrey Wells, at the Chichester branch’s annual dinner on Saturday.

He was referring to a suggestion that members’ sons might carry on the association of which there are now only 11,000 ageing members in the whole of Britain.

“The Old Contemptibles’ Association is something which commemorates a unique event and nobody except those who actually shared in that event can possibly carry on the association,” he said.

He felt certain that, like all old soldiers, the association would fade away, but they would leave behind them an inspiration which would never be forgotten.

“The Old Contemptibles’ Association must die, but that spirit that allowed them to do that magnificent job will never die,” he said.”

By the mid-1960s it was clear that Branches were struggling to carry on as age wearied the Chums and funds dried up. The situation of one Branch was reported by The Newcastle Evening Chronicle on 25 February 1966:

Contemptibles ‘Fading Away’

 “The once booming membership of the Newcastle branch of the Old Contemptibles Association has reduced considerably in recent years. Wednesday evening meetings in the Turks Head Vaults rarely muster any more than a dozen members, and there are usually only seven or eight. On this occasion, however, lack of amenities or enthusiasm cannot be blamed. Only time.

It is well over half a century since the first British troops landed on French soil at the beginning of the First World War to earn the nickname “Contemptibles.” Now there are only a handful of these gallant men left in the North-East, and only a few are able to attend the meetings regularly.”


The secretary of the association, Mr J. Mitchell, said: “A lot of our members live in places like Hexham or Alnwick and they can’t always get in. Some of the others who live near Newcastle are finding it difficult to make the journey.”

He added: “We have got a hard core of members who attend meetings faithfully, but our numbers are much smaller. However, we still print the association magazine and we intend to keep the club going as long as funds last.”

By 1974 the writing was on the wall for The Old Contemptibles’ Association, but in spite of this one last great effort was made to organise events to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the start of the Great War, and the National Executive set up a Diamond Jubilee Sub-Committee for this purpose, the culmination of which was one final Church Parade at the Royal Garrison Church at Aldershot on 4 August. Attended by Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Chums paraded for the final time as a national body. In December 1975 the final edition of the Association’s journal – The Old Contemptible – was published, and the following year the National Executive of the Association ceased operation.

Some Branches continued to meet for as long as health and numbers permitted, but eventually they too were forced to close. The disbandment of the Coventry Branch was recorded by The Coventry Evening Telegraph on 12 June 1978:


Chums of the Coventry Branch and their wives, photographed on 9 November 1969 after attending the Remembrance Sunday service at St George’s Church at Coundon (Authors’ Collection).

Last Post for City Men

“A handful of very special veterans met in Coventry yesterday for the very last time in 64 years.

They are all that is left of the city’s Old Contemptibles, former members of the British Regular Army which went to France in 1914 and were dubbed by the Kaiser “Britain’s contemptible little army.”

Now old age and ill-health – all the “old sweats” are over 80 – have done what the Kaiser could never do and the seven-strong group have decided to meet no more.

The oldest is Albert Cowley,[25] their 88-year-old secretary-treasurer, who is helped by a friend, Mrs Maie Woodier.[26] She said:

“This is the end of an era. They have been a fine body of men but most of them are very bad on their legs now.”

The Old Contemptibles movement was started in 1926 (sic) and at one time the Coventry branch had 300 members, including a VC, 15 DCMs and several MMs.”

The few surviving Chums of the Association continued to meet under the auspices of the London and South-East Area until the early 1990s. When the memorial to The Old Contemptibles in the West Cloister of Westminster Abbey was inaugurated on 15 July 1993 six Chums were in attendance, but by the time of the last official event, a service to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War at the Wren Chapel of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea on 4 August 1994, only one Chum, In-Pensioner Frank Sumpter, was present.


“Old Soldiers Never Die, They Simply Fade Away” – Sources of Information on the Chums and The Old Contemptibles’ Association.

Unlike the Burma Star Association or Normandy Veterans’ Association, which have prominent displays at the Land Warfare Hall of the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and the D-Day Story Museum at Portsmouth respectively, there are currently no such collection that acts as a focal point to commemorate the Chums and their Association. What archival and material evidence that does exist can be found in a wide variety of locations around the world, in the possession of their descendants or in private collections. It is therefore difficult to collate a definitive list of where records or items currently reside, or if indeed they still survive. However, it is hoped that this partial inventory may be of some assistance to those who wish to study The Old Contemptibles’ Association in more detail, and to provide some explanations as to the purpose of certain items, which is often erroneously reported.

“The Old Contemptible” – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association


The cover of “The Old Contemptible” No. 30 – June 1936 (Authors’ Collection)

Perhaps the most valuable source of information on the activities of the Association, and of the Chums themselves, is their own journal. First published in October 1930, it was printed quarterly until 1935 and from that year appeared monthly. The final edition, No. 503, was released in December 1975. The Imperial War Museum holds the complete run of issues of The Old Contemptible, the catalogue number being LBY E.J. 1028. Issues of the journal also occasionally appear in book lists or on internet auction sites and are highly sort-after by collectors.

The cover artwork for early issues of the journal was often contributed by the Chums themselves, and the contents provide insight into the activities of the Association, its Regional Area Committees and individual branches. They also contain correspondence and accounts from Chums relating to their war service, concerns regarding organisational issues and welfare, as well as humorous stories and anecdotes. Information regarding individual Chums, such as Branch nominal rolls and obituaries, were also published. It is interesting to note that in 1937 submissions to The Old Contemptible of notices to commemorate the anniversaries of the death of comrades during the war, or of individual Chums, had to be sent to Headquarters before the 10th of each month, with a remittance of 1/- for insertion.[27]

The issues of The Old Contemptible also included photographs of the Chums, many of which include their names.

Canadian Chums 1955

The July 1955 issue featured a photograph of a group of Chums at a gathering held by one of the branches of The Old Contemptibles Association raised in Canada, that at Windsor in Ontario. The Chums are named in the photograph and it was possible, by cross-referencing this information with the 1914 Star Roll and consulting other documentary sources, to find further details regarding their service:

Back Row – from left to right:

Chum Joseph Glover – formerly L/2878 12th (Prince of Wales’s) Royal Lancers, who had been drafted to France on 8 October 1914 attached to the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues). He transferred to the Guards Machine Gun Regiment in 1918 and was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star in May 1931

Chum William Hutton – formerly 9362 1st Battalion, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Private Hutton had disembarked at Le Havre on 14 August 1914 and was also issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star in May 1931.

Chum Arthur Charles Webb M.C. – formerly 2127 1/2nd Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment (Territorial Force). Born at Cwmffrwdoer, near Pontypool in 1893, Arthur was working as a miner and serving with the 2nd Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment (Territorial Force) when he was embodied on the outbreak of the war. He landed at Le Havre with the 1/2nd Monmouths on 7 November 1914. Promoted to Sergeant, Webb was commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant in The East Lancashire Regiment on 21 April 1917, being posted to the 1st Battalion, and was also awarded the Military Cross. Arthur was issued with his 1914 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal on 23 November 1922 and his wife emigrated to Canada in the 1930s and settled at Windsor. He was sent the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 5 September 1953. In 1964, he came to London to attended the fiftieth anniversary events organised by The Old Contemptibles’ Association and died in 1972.

Chum Herbert Sidney Straw – formerly 12129 2nd Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters. Born at Burton-on-Trent in 1896, Lance-Corporal Straw landed at St Nazaire on 10 September 1914 with “D” Company and was taken prisoner during the fighting at Ennetieres on 20 October. He was held captive at Hameln, he served with the 1st Battalion after his repatriation and was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 29 June 1920. Straw was discharged on 6 October 1920 prior to emigrating to Canada.

Centre Row:

Chum Sidney Herbert Cooke – formerly MS/1808A Army Service Corps. Private Cooke had enlisted on 7 August 1914 and landed in France on 23 September. He served with the Lahore Divisional Supply Column A.S.C. He was discharged on Christmas Day 1917, as a consequence of sickness, and was subsequently issued with a Silver War Badge.

Chum Horace Alfred Newell – formerly 69397 Royal Field Artillery. Driver Newell had joined the Army on 4 April 1912 and served with XXVIII Brigade R.F.A. in 1914, arriving in France on 19 August. He held the appointment of Shoeing-Smith when he was discharged as physically unfit for service due to sickness on 31 January 1918 (his Silver War Badge roll entry states 20 February 1918), and later received a Silver War Badge.

Chum John Clarke – formerly 10732 2nd Battalion, The Connaught Ranger. Private Clarke had enlisted for The Connaught Rangers on 16 August 1913, and disembarked at Boulogne on 14 August 1914. Clarke was discharged, as a consequence of sickness, on 4 June 1919 and was issued with a Silver War Badge. His 1914 Star was sent to him by post on 8 July 1919.

Chum David Brodie Mitchell – formerly MS/1933 Army Service Corps. Born at Pathhead near Kirkaldy on 14 February 1888, Private Mitchell had enlisted at Perth on 11 August 1914 and landed in France with the 8th Divisional Supply Column A.S.C. on 5 November. He was transferred to No. 2 Water Tank Company on 21 December 1916 and posted to 777th Motor Transport Company on 16 January 1918. Driver Mitchell was on the strength of 974th Motor Transport Company R.A.S.C. when he was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve on being demobilised on 30 March 1919. Chum Mitchell was sent a replacement 1914 Star on 3 October 1956 and returned from Canada to Greenock on 15 May 1959 for a four-month visit to relatives in Fife.

Chum Duncan McLeod – formerly D/7114 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards. Private McLeod landed at Boulogne on 16 August 1914 and was re-issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 15 October 1926.

Front Row:

Chum Albert Pickard – formerly H/2923 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Hussars. Private Pickard had joined the Army on 3 September 1908 and disembarked at Boulogne on 16 August 1914. He was serving with the 5th Reserve Regiment of Cavalry at Tidworth when he was discharged on 15 June 1918. Issued with a Silver War Badge, Albert was employed on munitions work.

Chum William Harnett – formerly 4521 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards. Born at Marylebone, Harnett was aged nineteen when he attested for the 4th Dragoon Guards at London on 19 August 1896. After serving in India and South Africa, Harnett was stationed at Tidworth on the outbreak of the war and, as Squadron Quartermaster-Sergeant of “A” Squadron, disembarked at Boulogne on 16 August. He was taken prisoner following the unsuccessful charge mounted by 2nd Cavalry Brigade against German troops at Audregnies on 24 August. Harnett was held captive at Munsterlager and was finally repatriated on 18 November 1918. Posted to the 6th Reserve Regiment of Cavalry at Tidworth on his return from Germany, he was discharged on Christmas Day 1919. His medals were returned as unissued, but replacements were sent to him in 1923, by which time he was residing at Harrow in Ontario.

Major Frederick Albert Tilson V.C., of The Essex Scottish Regiment, who was guest of honour at the function at which the photograph was taken. Tilson had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Uedem in Germany on 1 March 1945, during which he suffered severe wounds that resulted in him having both legs amputated below the knee.

Chum Reginald Betts – formerly L/3216 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers. Lance-Corporal Betts landed at Le Havre on 18 August 1914. He later transferred to The East Surrey Regiment, being issued with the regimental number 32441, and was a Corporal when he was transferred to the Section B Army Reserve on his demobilisation on 26 April 1919.

Reverend F. C. Watts – Chaplain to the Windsor (Ontario) Branch of The Old Contemptibles Association.

Chum John Murray – formerly L/1666 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers. Saddler-Corporal Murray disembarked at Le Havre on 18 August 1914. Later promoted to Sergeant, he was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 1 July 1920.


Local newspapers also published reports on the activities of Branches of The Old Contemptibles’ Association. Many have been digitised and are available to search on-line via The British Newspaper Archive: but many more are still only available to view by visiting libraries and local archives. The amount of coverage varies greatly, but for those who have a particular interest in the Coventry Branch, The Coventry Evening Telegraph was particularly supportive and frequently published articles up until 1979, including detailed obituaries. For information on overseas Branches, articles relating to Australian Chums can be searched for via while information on the three Branches that were formed in New Zealand can be accessed by using Articles on Canadian Branches, as well as later material on Australian and New Zealand Chums, together with occasional references to Old Contemptibles who lived in the United States, can be accessed via The British Newspaper Archive and are subscription-based services, while Trove and PapersPast are free to access.

Area and Branch Records

Out of over 200 Branches, only a handful of records are known to survive in archives. Those that are known to be available include:

South-East Midlands Area:

The Minutes for the period from 1937 to 1955 are held by Northamptonshire Archives (ZB 318).

Aldershot Branch:

Documents and photographs relating to the activities of the branch can be found in the papers of Chum Major A. E. Walters (Documents 6936) deposited in the IWM in 1978.

Andover Branch:

Held by Hampshire Archives and Local Studies (45M85) – covering the period 1929 to 1980.

Auckland (New Zealand) Branch: 

Held by Auckland Museum Library (MS–931) – four membership certificates.

Basingstoke Branch:

Branch Minute Books and accounts are held by Hampshire Archives and Local Studies (52M91) – covering the period 1959 to 1978.

Bedford Branch:

Branch Minute Books for the period between 1962 and 1976 held by Bedfordshire Archives and Record Service (Z454).

Blackburn Branch:

Record covering the period between 1933 and 1957 are held at Blackburn Central Library.

Blackpool Branch:

Branch Minute Books and correspondence for the period from 1939 to 1976 are held by Lancashire Archives (DDX 1200).

Croydon Branch:

A collection of documents and photographs relating to the Branch are held in the Department of Documents at the Imperial War Museum in London (Documents 9646). The collection was deposited in the Museum in 1978.

Duchy of Cornwall Branch:

Held by the Imperial War Museum in the Department of Documents (Documents 9198), covering the period between 1927 and 1928. Depositied in 1976.

Edinburgh Branch:

Held by the National Records of Scotland (GD1-770) – cover period between 1928 and 1975.

Hastings Branch:

Held by Hastings Museum and Art Gallery (SOC12) – cover period between 1937 and 1971.

Hereford Branch:

Branch Minutes and accounts covering the period from 1946 to 1976 are held by Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre (CO80).

Leicester Branch:

Branch Minutes, accounts and correspondence for the period from 1958 to 1976 are by the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland (DE 1708).

Lincoln Branch:

Minute Books for the branch are held in the Lincolnshire Archives (PAR23/6) – cover the period between 1937 to 1968.

Manchester and Salford Branch:

Minutes Books relating to the activities of the branch between 1961 and 1969 can be found in the papers of Chum Major G. W. Fisher (Documents 6604) deposited in the Imperial War Museum in 1979.

Market Harborough Branch:

Branch records are by the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland (DE3347).

Newcastle-upon-Tyne Branch:     

Held by the Durham County Record Office (DLI 13/5) – cover period between 1930 and 1967.

City of Oxford Branch:               

Held by the National Army Museum in Chelsea at the Templer Study Centre (9703-37) cover the period between 1937 and 1979.

Plymouth Branch:

Documents and photographs relating to the activities of the branch between 1958 and 1975 can be found in the papers of Chum G. Stevenson (Documents 4756) deposited in the Imperial War Museum in 1980.

Southampton Branch:

Records covering the period between 1948 and 1971 are held at Southampton Archives Office (D/Z 673 and P.607).

Watford Branch:

Branch Minute Books held by Watford Museum.

Information on Individual Chums

For anyone wishing to explore the stories of Chums from a particular branch, or a relative who was a member of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, there are a number of avenues that can be followed. As previously mentioned, issues of The Old Contemptible published nominal rolls, correspondence and obituaries which, when used with other documentary sources such as medal rolls, surviving service records, newspaper articles and, of particular use for the Chums, the recently-released 1939 Register, can all be utilised.

Among the collections held by the Department of Documents of the Imperial War Museum, which are of particular interest to the history of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, are the papers of Chum James Preston, the last Honorary Secretary to the National Executive (Documents 22891), which cover the period between 1950 and 1976; and Chum Frederick Walder Butler, who was the last National Chairman. The collection of Chum Butler (Documents 3861), which includes a wealth of photographs, documents and correspondence, was donated to the IWM on 15 November 1983.

Frederick Walder Butler was born at West Ham on 20 November 1896 and attested for the Royal Army Medical Corps, on a Short Service Engagement to serve three years with the Colours and nine on the Reserve, at the Recruiting Office at 22 Grove Crescent Road, Stratford East, on 27 November 1913. At the time of his enlistment, Frederick was aged eighteen and employed as a clerk.

Butler was posted to the Royal Army Medical Corps Depot at Aldershot on 1 December, and was issued with the regimental number 7422. He passed his 3rd Class Certificate in Education on 18 December, and his 2nd Class Certificate on 12 March 1914. Posted to the R.A.M.C. Corps Training School on 7 April, Private Butler was appointed to the Nursing Section of the Corps on 4 June. He was serving with No. 6 Company, R.A.M.C. at Cosham on the declaration of war and was posted to 9th Field Ambulance, which served with 3rd Division, landing in France on 20 August 1914.

On 8 January 1916, Butler arrived at Salonika, and he was appointed a paid Acting Corporal on 29 April 1917. During his time in Greece, he contracted malaria and dysentery, which resulted in him being evacuated to Malta for treatment. On 14 November 1917 he married Edith Eloise Maskell at Marylebone Register Office (it is noted on his surviving service papers that his marriage took place “without leave.”), and their son, Frederick Walder John Butler was born at Slough on 2 September 1918. He also went on to serve in South Russia from January 1919.

Acting Corporal Butler arrived home on 8 June 1919 and was discharged as physically unfit for service, as a consequence of sickness, on 20 July while on the strength of No. 7 Convalescent Depot R.A.M.C. At the time of his discharge he gave his home address as 2 Myrtle Cottages on Salt Hill in Slough. As a result of the debility that he suffered from contracting malaria while serving at Salonika, Butler was awarded a weekly pension of 5/6d, for 52 weeks, from 21 July 1919. He was also issued with a Silver War Badge, which he received on 20 September 1919, and the King’s Certificate of Discharge.

By 27 July 1919 Frederick was living at 265 Barking Road in Plaistow, from where he wrote to the R.A.M.C. Record Office at Woking to make his application to receive the 1914 Star. The clasp and roses for the medal were issued to him on 8 September 1921.

Frederick later joined The Old Contemptibles’ Association and served as Honorary Secretary to the Hounslow Branch, on the Sub-Committees organising the commemorative events held in 1964 and 1974, as an Area Representative, as Vice-Chairman of the National Council, and became the last National Chairman on the death of Brigadier George Rowland Patrick Roupell V.C., C.B., (France), in 1974. Chum Butler presided over the final National Church Parade held by the Old Contemptibles’ Association at the Royal Garrison Church of All Saints in Aldershot on Sunday 4 August 1974.

Chum Frederick Walder Butler died at the Royal Star and Garter Home in Richmond in 1977.

In the archive of The King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment at the City Museum in Lancaster can be found a significant collection of papers and ephemera related to Chum John William Benham, who was a member of the Southern Railway Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association. Chum Benham had served with the 1st Battalion, The King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) in 1914 and the collection was donated to the Museum by his daughter. The accession number for the collection is KO2789.

Another interesting collection of material now held in an archive relates to John William Froom, who was a member of the Barry Branch. Chum Froom died in 1968, but a collection of papers found by the new owner of his former home at 29 Kingland Crescent was desposited at the Glamorgan Archives in 2004 (D333).

Born at Cadoxton-juxta-Barry in Glamorganshire on Christmas Day 1888, 8274 Private John William Froom had joined The Gloucestershire Regiment in 1906 and served with the 2nd Battalion before being transferred to the Reserve. Mobilised following the declaration of war, he was posted to the 1st Battalion at Bordon and disembarked at Le Havre on 13 August 1914. Wounded while fighting on the Aisne, Private Froom was admitted to hospital at Cardiff on 13 October. An interview that he gave to a journalist on his return home was printed in The Barry Dock News on 23 October 1914:




“The Germans are awful boozers and I saw them, after making themselves quite drunk from the intoxicating liquors they stole from public houses, deliberately sack and burn houses of the poor unfortunate residents. When they see us they make off to their lines. The British soldier is faced with the unpleasant experience of seeing the villagers looking on whilst their homes were burning.”

This is Private William Froom’s opinion of the enemy. A reservist of the Gloucester Regiment, he returned to his home, 19, Trinity-street, Barry, on Monday evening last, having been wounded at the Front. To a “Barry Dock News” reporter he gave a short, but interesting story of his experiences in action.

“It was during the Mons fight that we saw perhaps more plainly than at other times what cowards the Germans were. Rather than face our fire themselves they put women and children in front of them to prevent us shooting. We managed to get around them though, and didn’t half pop them off. It was a stiff tussle lasting for fourteen days, and we marched on an averaged twenty miles a day.

I went through the Battle of Mons without a scratch, but a piece of shrapnel wounded me in the left arm during the Aisne tussle. With other wounded soldiers, I was taken to the village of Chevy et Beaulumne (sic – Chevy et Beaulne) and for four days we were treated in a barn because it was unsafe to move out, the Germans keeping up a deadly fire on the road near at hand. Many of the R.A.M.C. were wounded and some killed, through venturing out of the barn to bring in more wounded.

At Angiers (sic – Angers) we were attended by a German doctor, who had been taken prisoner by the British. He was a perfect gentleman, and one of the finest doctors attending our wounded.”

Private Froom, who was given quite a rousing welcome when he returned home on Monday night, had received treatment at the King Edward VII Hospital at Cardiff, and he wishes to return thanks for the care and attention shown him by the medical staff.”

After recovering from his wound, Froom was transferred to The Royal Warwickshire Regiment and served with the 1st Garrison Battalion being appointed Acting Company Quartermaster-Sergeant, before being posted to the Labour Corps.

John Froom returned to Barry on being demobilised and was employed as a labourer at Barry Docks, living with his wife Elsie at 29 Kingsland Crescent. He was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star in September 1933 and joined the Barry Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association. Chum Froom was also a member of the Barry and District Amateur Gardening Association.

Information regarding applications for membership of the Association is fragmentary, no central roll of the Chums having been preserved. However, during the course of many years of research the author has come across details preserved with individual service records that form held at The National Archives at Kew in Soldiers’ Documents Classes WO 363 and WO 364. In some instances, this information has proved of great interest, particularly with reference to how stringent the criteria for membership was adhered to and the process by which those details were confirmed before an applicant was admitted to become a Chum. It is also enlightening to find that, in the cases that the author has come across, an individuals’ conduct while in the service was no bar to entry. As long as the applicant qualified for the 1914 Star and was issued with the “clasp and roses” for the medal, the number and nature of offences that they had committed while serving was disregarded.

Some application forms relating to particular branches are preserved. That of Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, the creator of “Old Bill,” is preserved among the papers of the Croydon Branch held by the Imperial War Museum. Another significant survival are some eighty application forms that pertain to the Chums of the Keighley Branch, which are in the care of the “Men of Worth” project, but perhaps the largest surviving collection is held at Durham County Record Office and consists of a file of around 120 application forms for membership to the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Branch, including those of Chums who died while still members or resigned from the Branch. The file classification for these forms is D/DLI 13/5/3.

Among the applications preserved at the Durham County Record Office is that of Chum James Robb. On 27 May 1932 Robb, who had served with the 2nd Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, was officially admitted as a Chum of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association. Having applied to join the branch his service record and eligibility for the 1914 Star with clasp were checked, and having been officially verified and accepted Robb paid his 1/6d for an Association Badge and Branch Membership Card, his number 453A being stamped on the reverse of the badge. At the time of his application to the Branch, James Robb lived with his wife Mary and their four children, all under the age of fourteen, at 9 Drury Lane in Jarrow-on-Tyne and stated that he had been unemployed for twelve months, having worked as a labourer since being discharged in 1919, but would be willing to “try anything.”

Born 10 October 1892, 9526 Private James Robb attested for 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry on 29 December 1911. Mobilised following the declaration of war he was drafted to France on 22 October 1914 with the Third Reinforcement for the 2nd Durham Light Infantry, being posted to “C” Company on his arrival at the Battalion. Private Robb was wounded during the successful attack mounted by the 2nd Battalion at Hooge on 9 August 1915 and news that he had been admitted to No. 6 British Red Cross Hospital at Etaples was briefly reported in The Jarrow Express on 27 August:

“Word has been received that Private J. Robb, of the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry, whose home is at Jarrow, has been wounded and is at the Liverpool Merchants’ Mobile Hospital.”

James was later transferred to the Labour Corps, being issued with the service number 355378, and was discharged as physically unfit for service on 3 March 1919. He was subsequently issued with his Silver War Badge on 29 March, and the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star were despatched to him on 9 June 1920, being sent to his home at 85 High Street in Jarrow-on-Tyne. In 1939 James, his wife Mary and their four children were recorded as living at 55 Princess Street in Jarrow, and by this time he had found work as a general labourer.

Chum James Robb was still a member of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association when he died in 1968, aged 76.

Branch Standards

Old Contemptibles Mons 1928

The Banner presented by Lady Amherst at the head of the Chums in Mons on 11 November 1927 (Authors’ Collection).

The Founder Branch of the Association at Hackney was presented with its first banner by Lady Amherst of Hackney in 1925. This was suspended between two poles and was carried regularly by the Chums at parades and events organised by the London Area during the 1920s and 1930s, and can be seen displayed prominently in numerous photographs and newsreels of this period.

In June 1927, following the decision to expand the Association, other branches began to form around the country, the first being at Woolwich. Later that same year, in August, the Grand Council of The Old Contemptibles’ Association decided that the new branches would be given dispensations to carry their own standards, but unlike the one presented by Lady Amherst these would be mounted on a single pole.[28] In order to be able to obtain a Standard, a Branch would first have to obtain official sanction from Headquarters of the Association, and then raise the money to pay for it. The cost of an official pattern Standard in 1937 was £16.5.0d. (carraige paid), the equivalent to around £1,100 at 2018 prices, so was a considerable investment.[29]

The officially-sanctioned Branch Standards were manufactured by Toye & Co. Ltd. and consisted of a silk sheet, fringed with gold, and the ground was watered red/white/blue to imitate the ribbon of the 1914 Star. The motto and badge of the Association, together with the name of the Branch emblazoned on a scroll beneath the badge, was hand-embroidered in gold wire. The Standard was also supplied with a waterproof case. The finial of the Standard was a facsimile of the Association Badge in brass.

Of such importance was a Branch Standard to the Chums that it was treated with the same reverence as the Colours, Standards and Guidons carried by regiments of the British Army. Therefore each Standard was ceremonially presented and consecrated, and local newspapers frequently reported on these occasions. One such presentation was that to the Sunderland Branch on 13 December 1931, which was also filmed by the Pathe Gazette. The ceremony was recorded in great detail in the local press:[30]

Sunderland Old Contemptibles’ Baptism


“Carry on With Same Spirit of Courage That Carried You Through the War”


“Sunderland Branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association received its baptism yesterday, when following a short, simple, but impressive ceremony at which the branch standard was dedicated and presented, the “dispensation” from head-quarters was later handed over to the President, Major F. J. Gilbertson.

There were 350 ex-Servicemen on parade in the Garrison Field, and the Presenting Officer was Field-Marshal Sir George F. Milne, G.C.B., G.C.M.G., D.S.O., President of the National Old Contemptibles’ Association, and Chief of the Imperial General Staff of the War Office.

The newly-formed branch had the support of the Newcastle and Hartlepool branches, the 7th Durham Light Infantry Old Comrades’ Association; Sunderland, Roker and Fulwell and Boldon Colliery branches of the British Legion; Sunderland branch of the Old Coldstreamers’ Association, and members of Toc H.

The band and bugles of the 7th Durham Light Infantry supplied music for the service, which was conducted by the Honorary Chaplain, the Rev. Canon A. Silva-White, after Sir George had inspected the parade, accompanied by Major Gilbertson and General G. Walker, Vice-President of the Sunderland branch.

The standard bearer, Mr J. H. Laing, with his escort, marched forward and laid the flag on the drums.

“Reverend sir, on behalf of the Old Contemptibles, we ask you to dedicate this standard,” invited Mr L. Readman, Chairman of the branch, who was in charge of the parade.

“We are ready to do so,” signified Canon Silva-White.

“Our help in the name of the Lord,” he said.

“Who had made heaven and earth,” responded the parade.

“The Lord be with you,” concluded Canon Silva-White.

“And with Thy spirit,” came the response.

Following a prayer in which the ex-Servicemen dedicated themselves afresh to “the love of our King and our country, and to the welfare of mankind; to the maintenance of honour and the sanctity of man’s plighted word; to the preservation of order and good government.”


The Standard they dedicated “to the hallowed memory of our comrades whose courage and endurance add undying lustre to our emblems, and in continual remembrance, and our solemn oath, and in token of our resolve faithfully and truly to keep it to the end.”

Presenting the Standard Sir George Milne charged the branch to remember the cause of which it was a symbol, and the honour in which it was to be held.

“I came here to renew old acquaintanceships of the early days of the War,” he said: “to show you after these many years that we still hold together the same bond of comradeship that held us together in those early and sad days of 1914.

I want you all to remember that we are devoted to the same cause; the service of our King and country. I greatly sympathise with you in the hard days that are here, but I beg you to show exactly the same spirit as you did in the bad days of 1914 and the very difficult days of 1918.

I want you to carry on with the same spirit of courage that carried you through the War, and which will, I am certain, carry this country through the difficult times now. Courage is what we all have to show.”

“The Last Post” was sounded, followed by a two minutes’ silence, and “Reveille.” The parade then marched past Sir George, who took the salute.

Following the parade the Old Contemptibles were entertained to tea at the Bridge Hotel, where their head-quarters are situated, thanks to the kindness of Messrs. William Jackson Ltd.

Mr L. Readman presided, supported by Major Gilbertson.

Among their guests were the Deputy Mayor (Ald. I. G. Modlin), Major R. Norman Thomspon (President of Sunderland Branch of the British Legion), Mr G. N. Cock (Chairman of the British Legion), Major-General G. Walker, and Captain Peter Batten.

A band of willing women helpers had decorated the room with flags and bunting, and they saw to it that the service was up to the minute.

Major Gilbertson read a number of letters apologising for absence.

Letters were received from the King and the Prince of Wales, wishing the new branch every success.

Lieut.-Gen. Sir Herbert Uniacke wrote:

“We ‘Chums’ belong to what is perhaps the most exclusive organisation in existence. It’s like has never been seen before and can never be seen again.”

Letters were also sent by Captain Sir George H. J. Duckworth-King Bt., the Rev. Owen Spencer Watkins C.M.G., C.B.E. (Hon. Chaplain to the King), Brigadier-General Sir Loftus Bates, Lord Londonderry, Mr Samuel Storey, M.P., Major-General Montgomery, the Rev. Pat McCormick (St Martin’s-in-the-Fields), and Lord Barnard.

Major Gilbertson said how deeply the Sunderland Association appreciated the fact that Sir George Milne had come amongst them.


The standard which he had presented that day, the emblem and symbol of their Association, would never intentionally be slurred or lowered by word, deed, motive, or gesture by any of their members.

Their Association was so exclusive that some day it would cease to exist altogether. Some people said it was a dying Association, but the Sunderland Branch was very much alive, and they were falling over each other in their efforts to make it as strong as possible.

Mr Readman, who presented Sir George with a beautiful model of a Spanish galleon, said that there had been so many moments in his life which he had considered as the proudest, but that day had exceeded them all.

The branch was only little more than ten weeks old yet, but due to the hard work everyone had put in it had exceeded his wildest hopes.

They were delighted that Sir George Milne had come from London to Sunderland. It must have meant sacrifice on his part to come on a day he could have been resting, but they deeply appreciated it.

They hoped that the little memento would remind him of the day he had given them all tremendous pleasure and satisfaction.


Sir George Milne, acknowledging the gift, said how much he had enjoyed seeing them all on parade.

“The happiest recollection I shall take away from Sunderland,” he added, is the fact that as I went round your ranks you all looked me straight in the face and smiled.”

Dr Modlin, Capt. Batten, and Mr Parker also spoke.

Dr Modlin reminded Sir George that Sunderland was no mean town and though he might not know it its history began in the seventh century. It was actually a town before Newcastle.

At a concert afterwards the following sang: Messrs E. B. Judge, H. Nairn, J. Logan, W. W. Wardropper, F. W. Blakey, and G. Wilkinson, of the Sunderland branch; Alderson and Whitfield, of the Newcastle branch; and Wilson, Dodsworth, and Smith, of the West Hartlepool branch. The accompanist was Mrs E. B. Judge, and a dance was given by Mrs R. Brown, of Usworth.

The branch later marched to the Town Hall, and Sir George Milne shook hands with each man in farewell.”

Not all ceremonies went to plan. The Chesterfield Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association was formed at The Park Hotel on 28 February 1931 and held their first Church Parade on 16 August of that year. It was decided that this would be an appropriate occasion for the Branch Standard was presented and dedicated. The original service was to be held at St Thomas’s in Brampton but the Rector demanded that the Mayor and Corporation of Chesterfield attend “in state,” so the venue was changed to Christ Church, Stonegravels, the dedication of the Branch Standard taking place at the war memorial in the churchyard.[31]

The following is an incomplete list of dates on which Standards were presented and dedicated to Branches of the Association:

Christchurch NZ Standard

Auckland (N.Z.) Branch: 8 April 1934.[32]

Aylesbury Branch: 11 June 1939.[33]

City of Bath Branch: 25 August 1935.[34]

Basingstoke Branch: 30 July 1939.[35]

Bedford Branch: 17 July 1938.[36]

Birmingham Branch:  Presented 5 May 1929.[37] Dedicated 28 July 1929.[38]

Bishop’s Stortford Branch: 2 April 1939.[39]

Brentwood Branch: 25 June 1939.[40]

Bristol Branch: 16 June 1935.[41]

Burnley Branch:  24 July 1931.[42]

Canterbury Branch: 3 May 1931.[43]

Chelmsford Branch: 7 October 1934.[44]

Cheltenham Branch: 19 September 1948.[45]

Chester Branch:  3 September 1939 (Church Service Only).[46]

Chesterfield Branch: 16 August 1931.[47]

Chippenham Branch: 24 July 1938.[48]

Christchurch (N.Z.) Branch: March 1935.[49]

Cirencester Branch:  7 May 1939.[50]

Clacton-on-Sea Branch: 30 April 1939.[51]

Coventry Branch: 17 January 1932.[52] (Destroyed by enemy action 14/15 November 1940). Second Branch Standard presented and dedicated on 26 April 1942.[53]

Croydon Branch: 11 June 1934.[54]

Derby Branch: 1 November 1931.[55]

Devizes Branch: 2 May 1937.[56]

Dorchester Branch: Presented in 1939.[57]

Dorking Branch: Originally scheduled to take place on 3 September 1939, but postponed.[58]

Dover Branch: 18 June 1939.[59]

Dublin Central Branch: 16 August 1930.[60]

Durham City Branch: 16 September 1934.[61]

Evesham Branch: 11 September 1938.[62]

Exeter Branch: 1 October 1932.[63]

Folkestone & District Branch: 23 October 1929 (Presented at Second Annual Branch Dinner).[64] Dedicated on 27 October 1929.[65]

Gloucester Branch: 22 May 1938.[66]

Grantham Branch: 11 June 1939.[67]

Grimsby Branch: 11 June 1939.[68]

Guildford Branch: 23 April 1939.[69]

Hartlepool Branch: 14 August 1932.[70]

Horsham Branch: 28 May 1939.[71]

Huddersfield Branch: 12 March 1932.[72]

Hull & District Branch: 17 June 1934.[73]

Lancaster Branch: 9 November 1930.[74]

Leamington Spa Branch:[75]27 August 1938.[76]

Lichfield Branch: 3 June 1934.[77]

Market Harborough Branch: 18 June 1933.[78]

Middlesborough Branch: 2 October 1938.[79]

New South Wales Branch: 22 April 1938.[80]

Northampton Branch: 14 April 1935.[81]

North Bucks Branch:  25 June 1939 at Wolverton.[82]

Nottingham Branch: 30 June 1929.[83]

Perth (Australia) Branch: 15 November 1936.[84]

Plymouth Branch: 22 July 1934.[85]

Redhill & Reigate Branch: 19 September 1937.[86]

Romford Branch: 26 June 1938.[87]

City of New Sarum Branch:[88]Presented and Dedicated in 1930.

Slough Branch:  28 June 1931.[89]

Stafford Branch: 16 July 1939.[90]

Stockton Branch: 15 September 1935.[91]

Taunton Branch: 28 August 1938.[92]

Tonbridge Branch: 14 May 1939.[93]

Torbay Branch: 10 December 1939.[94]

Trowbridge Branch: 31 July 1938.[95]

Tunbridge Wells Branch: 11 June 1933.[96]

Uckfield Branch:  22 May 1938.[97]

Uxbridge Branch: 2 September 1934.[98]

Wandsworth Branch:[99]30 September 1928.[100]

Wellingborough Branch:  October 1939.[101]

Weymouth Branch:  4 October 1931.[102]

Wigan Branch:  Presented and Dedicated in 1936.

Wimbledon & District Branch:  21 August 1932.[103]

Winchester City Branch: 16 April 1939.[104]

Worthing Branch: 14 May 1939.[105]

The Old Contemptibles’ Association of Northern Ireland did not adopt the style of Standard used by The Old Contemptibles’ Association, but instead had their own design of “Colours.” The Belfast Section had a Colour consisting of a dark blue sheet with fringe and scroll-work in gold. The finial of the Colours is a crown surmounted by a lion. The first King’s Colour was presented to the Belfast Section by Major-General W. J. N. Cooke Collis, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland District, at a ceremony held at Victoria Barracks in Belfast on 26 October 1935. The King’s Colour, which was much different from the Branch Standards issued by The Old Contemptibles’ Association, took the form of a Union Flag with a representation of the 1914 Star, surmounted by a crown, with the name of the Association encircling the star embroidered in gold wire.[106] The King’s Colour of the Ballymena Section was presented at the Town Hall on 10 November 1936.[107]

A series of photographs taken during the 1930s in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, donated by Harry Brooks, show Chums of the “Cardiff Group” of The Old Contemptibles of Wales displaying their Branch Standard outside their headquarters, the Old Contemptibles of Wales Club and Institute at 22-24 Churchill Way. The Standard is of a different design to the official Old Contemptibles’ Association version, and consists of a dark blue sheet with gold embroidery and a Union Flag in the upper left canton. The finial is of the “spear” type.[108] Another Standard of a different style was carried by Victoria (British Columbia) Branch, together with a Union Flag as a Queen’s Colour, and featured prominently in a photograph of the Chums taken during a visit to Nanaimo in July 1969.[109]

When Branch Standards were laid up, the ceremonial also imitated that used by the British Army on such occasions. The Standard of the Peterborough Branch was laid up at a service held at The Church of St Kyneburgha at Castor on 9 July 1967, attended by The Duchess of Gloucester. Permission for the Standard to be laid up there had been sought by the Honorary Secretary, Chum Wellington “Middy” Middleton, and together with the Book of Remembrance which contains 273 names of Chums who belonged to the Peterborough Branch, the Standard is still cared for inside the church.[110] The fate of other Branch Standards have been less fortunate, and some examples are highlighted in the following list:

Slough Branch Standard

The Standard of Slough Branch laid up in St George’s Memorial Church at Ieper (Ypres) (Authors’ Collection)

Acton Branch: Laid up in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 14 July 1974. Removed from the Crypt when it was converted into a coffee bar and deposited in the church archives. The standard was later disposed of and its present whereabouts are unknown although a photograph, taken in 2013, showed the Standard to be in private hands.[111]

Birmingham Branch:  Laid up in St Philip’s Cathedral.

Bishop’s Stortford Branch: Originally laid up in St Matthew’s Church. Removed for restoration and preservation in 2006. Loaned to Bishop’s Stortford Museum in September 2017.[112]

Blackpool Branch: Laid up in the Church of St John the Evangelist on 9 July 1972.

Bournemouth Branch: Laid up in the Parish Church of St Peter.

Braintree Branch: Originally laid up in St Peter’s Church at Bocking. Later moved to St Matthew’s Church in Braintree.

Brighton and Hove Branch: Laid up in St Peter’s Church in Brighton on 12 November 1972.

Queensland (Australia) Branch: Laid up at St John’s Cathedral on 23 August 1942.[113]

Bristol Branch: Sold at auction on 17 February 2009 for £90. In private hands, current location unknown.

Camden Town Branch: Laid up in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 14 July 1974. Removed from the Crypt when it was converted into a coffee bar and deposited in the church archives. The standard was later disposed of and its present whereabouts are unknown, although a photograph taken in 2018 showed the Standard to be in private hands and possibly being offered for sale.

Caterham Branch: Laid up in St Luke’s Church at Whyteleafe. Permission was given to parade the Standard on 4 August 2014.[114]

Chelsea Branch: Laid up in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 14 July 1974. Removed from the Crypt when it was converted into a coffee bar and deposited in the church archives. The standard was later disposed of and its present whereabouts are unknown.

Chester Branch: In the custodianship of the Cheshire Military Museum at The Castle in Chester.

Chesterfield Branch: Laid up in Christ Church at Stonegravels.

Chippenham Branch: Laid up in St Paul’s Church.

Cirencester Branch: Laid up in St John the Baptish Parish Church.

Clacton-on-Sea Branch: Laid up in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 14 July 1974. Removed from the Crypt when it was converted into a coffee bar and deposited in the church archives. The standard was later disposed of and its present whereabouts are unknown.

Colchester Branch: Laid up in the Garrison Church.

Coventry Branch:  The first Branch Standard was destroyed during the air raid on Coventry that took place on 14-15 November 1940. The second Branch Standard was laid up in St George’s Church at Coundon on 26 November 1972.[115]

Croydon Branch:  Laid up in St John the Baptist Church.

Dorchester Branch: Placed in Holy Trinity Church for “safe keeping” on 17 December 1939.[116]

Dublin Central Branch: In the custodianship of the Dublin Central Branch of the Royal British Legion.

Durham City Branch: Originally laid up at Durham Cathedral on 29 April 1951. Now on display at Durham Museum.

Edmonton Branch: Laid up in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 14 July 1974. Removed from the Crypt when it was converted into a coffee bar and deposited in the church archives. The standard was later disposed of and was gifted to the In Flanders Fields Museum at Ieper (Ypres) in October 2008.[117]

Epsom and Ewell Branch: Laid up in St Mary’s Church at Ewell in 1973.[118]

Gloucester Branch: Laid up at Christ Church in Brunswick Square in 1974.[119]

Godalming Branch: Laid up in the Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul in 1966.

Gosport and Fareham Branch: Laid up in the Royal Garrison Church at Portsmouth.

Guernsey Branch:  Laid up in the Town Church at St Peter Port.

Hastings Branch: Laid up at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery on 4 August 1971.

Hendon Branch: Laid up in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 14 July 1974. Removed from the Crypt when it was converted into a coffee bar and deposited in the church archives. The standard was later disposed of and was gifted to the In Flanders Fields Museum at Ieper (Ypres) in October 2008.[120]

Hertford Branch: Laid up in Holy Trinity Church at Bengeo.

Ipswich Branch: Laid up in St Matthew’s Church. Displayed at Ipswich Town Hall in August 2014 for the Ipswich Centenary Exhibition.

Keighley Branch: Laid up c.1968  in Keighley Shared Church (of St Andrew and Temple Street Methodist) in a glass frame. Restored by the “Men of Worth” Project and paraded in 2014 to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War. Held in safe keeping at Keighley Civic Centre.[121]

Leamington & Warwick Branch: Laid up in All Saints’ Church at Leamington Spa on 9 November 1969.

Manchester & Salford Branch: Held by the Imperial War Museum (FLA 2342).

Marlborough Branch: Laid up in St Peter’s Church.

Melbourne (Australia) Branch: Laid up in the Scots’ Church at Port Philip on 16 July 1978.

Newport Branch: Laid up in St John the Evangelist Church, Maindee.

Nottingham Branch: Laid up in St Mary’s Church, High Pavement.

City of Oxford Branch: Laid up in St Giles’ Church.

Perth (Australia) Branch: Presented to the City of Perth on 26 February 1937. The Standard was placed in the Lord Mayors’ Parlour.[122]

Peterborough Branch: Laid up in the Church of St Kyneburgha at Castor on 9 July 1967.

Portsmouth Branch: Laid up in the Royal Garrison Church at Portsmouth.

City of Old Sarum Branch:[123]Laid up in the Church of St Mary’s at Braemore on 6 October 1974.

Sidcup Branch:  Laid up in the War Memorial Chapel at St John the Evangelist Church.

Scunthorpe Branch: Originally laid up in the Church of St John the Evangelist. Removed when church became redundant in 1984 and placed in the care of North Lincolnshire Council. Later transferred on permanent loan to the Scunthorpe Branch of the Royal British Legion.

Slough Branch: Laid up in St George’s Memorial Church at Ieper (Ypres).

St Alban’s Branch: Laid up in St Paul’s Church.

Staines (Magna Charta) Branch: Laid up in St Mary’s Church at Staines.

Stockport Branch: In the custodianship of the Cheshire Military Museum at The Castle in Chester.

Thurrock (Grays) Branch: Laid up in the Chapel of St Mary at the Royal Star and Garter Home on Richmond Hill.

Tonbridge Branch: Laid up in St Peter and St Paul Church.

Walthamstow Branch: Laid up at the Vestry House Museum.

Wellington (N.Z.) Branch: Originally laid up in St Mark’s Church at Basin Reserve. Later donated by the church to the National Army Museum at Waiouru.

Wimbledon & District Branch: Laid up in Christ Church at West Wimbledon.

Old Contemptibles’ Association of Northern Ireland:

Ballymena Section: Laid up at Ballymena Services Club at 52 Trostan Avenue.

Belfast Section: Laid up at Belfast City Hall in 1957.

Cenotaph Flags

Several Branches of The Old Contemptibles’ Association made successful applications to the Imperial War Museum to be granted flags that had been flown from the Cenotaph at Whitehall on Armistice Day, and are quite separate to the Branch Standards. Records of the correspondence are still held by the Imperial War Museum. IWM EN1/1/FLA/006 contains the records relating to the transfer of flags to the Duchy of Cornwall Branch, Romford Branch, West Ham Branch and Woolwich Branch[124] in 1928, and EN1/1/FLA/007 contains correspondence relating to the application by the Portsmouth and District Branch. The flag received by the Portsmouth Branch was subsequently placed over the main entrance door of the Royal Garrison Church on 12 February 1930, and a brass plaque was later placed there to commemorate the occasion. File IWM EN1/1/FLA/015 relating to the distribution of flags from the Cenotaph to the following branches:

  • Aldgate Branch
  • Barking Branch
  • Downham & District Branch
  • Folkestone & District Branch
  • Gravesend & District Branch
  • Liverpool Branch
  • Sheppey Branch
  • South-West London Branch
  • West London Branch

The flag that was awarded to the Barking Branch was handed over into the care of St Margaret’s Church for safe-keeping on 26 February 1933.[125] Further correspondence can be found in file EN2/1/FLA/009. The application made by the Derby Branch was accepted in January 1941, and the flag was used by the Chums on 24 August during their annual Service at St Augustine’s Church.[126] Further flags were issued in January 1946, including one to the Colchester Branch.[127] The Nottingham Branch also received a Union Flag, the award being reported by The Nottingham Evening Post on 17 January 1946:

Cenotaph Flag For Nottm. Old Soldiers

“A signal honour is coming the way of the Nottingham branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association this year. One of the flags from the Cenotaph in Whitehall has been allocated to it, and a special parade will be held to receive it.

This was revealed at the annual meeting of the branch, held at the Spread Eagle Hotel, Goldsmith-street, Nottingham, last night, when the attendance of 80 was the best for a long period.

The reserve fund of the association is now in the region of £900. Membership is 230.”

The Union Flag was dedicated at St Mary’s Church on 26 May during the Branch’s annual service at there, in memory of their comrades who had died during the Great War, and laid up on the south aisle of the Church. A plaque was subsequently affixed to the wall beneath the flag.[128]

Another flag was placed in the care of the Chesterfield Branch in 1946, and a brass plaque was later fixed beneath it inside Christ Church at Stonegravels, in whose care it had been placed:



To the Glory of God,

and the Imperishable Memory of

The Fallen of the Wars (1914-1918)(1939-1945)

This Flag Flew from the Empire Shrine

in Whitehall, London, and was given to

The Old Contemptibles Association by

The Director General of the Imperial

War Museum. It was Allocated to the

Chesterfield Branch, Who handed it

Into the Safe Keeping of This Church,

This Day of Our Lord

Sunday the 24th of March 1946


The original flag is no longer in position and its current whereabouts are unknown. However the Standard of the Chesterfield Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association rests close by.[129]

The flag given to the Isle of Wight Branch in 1947 was placed into the care of St Nicholas-in-Castro Chapel at Carisbrooke Castle and laid up at a ceremony held on 29 June 1947.

Association Badges

Old Contemptibles Association Badge

Association Badges are a fairly common sight at car boot sales, internet auction sites and there are probably several thousand that reside in museum and private collections, as well as in the possession of the families of Chums. Manufactured for the Association by Toye & Co. Ltd., the design consists of a voided crossed swords, enclosed in a circlet bearing the legend OLD CONTEMPTIBLES’ ASSOCIATION, with two central scroll on which is superscribed “1914” and “AUG. 5 TO NOV. 22”, the qualification dates for the clasp to the 1914 Star issued to those eligible to receive it. On the reverse of the badge is stamped a unique number, which corresponded to that issued to a Chum on his official acceptance into the Association. The Badge remained the property of the Association, and in 1937 cost 1/-, the Chum signing a declaration to hand in his badge should he resign or be dismissed from a Branch. A frequent question regarding the numbers stamped on the reverse of the badge is if a central Headquarters Roll still exists for the Association, so that the identity of the Chum to which it had been issued can be ascertained. Sadly, no such roll is extant, and was probably lost or destroyed many years ago on the disbandment of the National Executive in 1976. However, due to the survival of the application forms for the Keighley and Newcastle-upon-Tyne Branch, and a few individual examples held in private collections, some are known. During the early days of the Association the London Area also published nominal rolls of Chums that included their badge numbers. However, these sources only represent a fraction of the total number of badges issued.

Another number that appears on the rear of the Association Badge can usually be found on the crescent-style clip used to fix it through the buttonhole of the wearer’s jacket. This number, 726374, relates to the Registration Number of the insignia of The Old Contemptibles’ Association.

In spite of the strict ruling regarding the return of Association Badges on a Chum resigning or leaving a Branch, these emblems were open to abuse. In a letter to the Editor of The Derby Daily Telegraph published on 5 November 1937, Chum King of the Derby Branch made it very clear to the readers of the importance of the Badges within the Association, and the contract into which the Chums had entered when they were issued with them:

“Sir, My attention has been drawn to a recent report in your paper of police court proceedings in which the accused pleaded for leniency on the grounds of being an Old Contemptible.

Now, while this statement may be correct and the person concerned may have been wearing our association badge, my committee desire me to make it quite plain that this person is no longer a member, having forfeited all rights some years ago.

Unfortunately, there are at the present time a considerable number of past members walking the streets wearing our badge who are strictly not entitled to do so.

Some obviously joined to gain possession of the badge and flaunt it in the eyes of the public, giving everyone the impression that they won the war. Others, quite genuine good fellows, have fallen behind with subscriptions or stay away through apathy.

To those in the latter category we offer an invitation to rejoin on the payment of a purely nominal sum, to cover H.Q.’s subscriptions.

To the others we give timely warning that legal steps will be taken in the near future to enforce the return of the badge, which is strictly association property, and only on loan to the wearer.

The fee paid will be returned on the production of the badge.

If any of the general public are approached by individuals wearing the badge, claiming to belong to our association, and are in doubt as to their bona-fides, they are earnestly requested to communicate with the undersigned, and so help us to protect the good name of the Old Contemptibles’ Association. – Yours, etc.,


Hon. secretary Derby Branch

Old Contemptibles’ Association.”

The importance of the Badge was further emphasised by the frequent appeals on behalf of Chums who had lost theirs, or Badges that had been found following parades or social functions:

Derby Daily Telegraph – 27 January 1931:

“Mr F. S. Cooper, hon. secretary of Derby branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association, informs the “Derby Telegraph” that badges 973A and 689 have been lost. He asks the finders to return them to his home “The Briars,” Cowsley-road, Derby, or the Wilmot Arms.”

“The Old Contemptible” – No. 30, June 1936:

“BADGE No. 8559. At the Drill Hall, Handel Street, W.C.2. On the 15th March upon the occasion of the London Area Parade. Will the finder please return to Chum C. A. Knight, Hon. Sec., Southall Branch, 28, Warwick Road, Southall.”

“The Old Contemptible” – No. 46, October 1937:

BADGE FOUND. Badge No. 7703 was found in a taxicab in Ypres, and was handed to Chum Carter of Newcastle, on a recent visit. Will the Chum to whom this was issued kindly apply to me.[130] (Or the Branch Secretary to whom issued).

“The Old Contemptible” – No. 258, July 1955:

“The undernoted Badges have been lost by Chums. Finders should return them to the General Secretary (Rule 75(e)). 1657-C; 4474-C; 1396-D; 1627-E; 1884-E.”

Branch Patrons were issued with their own Badge, which unlike the Association Badge had was unvoided, and consisted of a circlet bearing the legend OLD CONTEMPTIBLES’ ASSOCIATION in gold, enamelled in dark blue, over a scroll superscribed PATRON, the enamelling of which was sky blue. In the centre of the Patrons’ Badge was a white heraldic rose. The Old Contemptibles’ Association of Northern Ireland had their own design of badge, a gold cross pattée with blue enamel and a central circle in green. Honorary Branch Chaplains who were not Old Contemptibles also had their own badge.

Other variations have been noted by the author of badges issued to Officers of The Northern Ireland Association, an enamelled, and probably unofficial, badge to the Great Western Railway Branch of the Association, and a stylised version of the 1914 Star attributed to “The Old Contemptibles’ Wives’ Social Club.”

Old Contemptibles’ Association Membership Certificates and Insignia


Chums could also purchase Membership Certificates from the Association, the design having been executed by Chum W. C. Phillips of the Brighton Branch, as well as two versions of blazer badge. The cheaper woven version was available to Chums via their Branches and in 1937 cost 1/6d each. A more expensive badge, in gold wire and blue appliqué, was priced at 40/- in 1955. The Executive Committee turned down a suggestion for an Association tie-pin made in September 1929, and a design for a gold badge was also rejected. However, the design for an Association tie submitted by the Portsmouth Branch was approved, the right of sale being vested in the Executive Committee.[131] The tie, which comprised a stripe in the colours of the medal ribbon for the 1914 Star on a black ground, could be purchased for 2/3d. in 1937, with bulk orders of no less than One Dozen being priced at 26/-. In his notes for The Old Contemptible No. 43 of July 1937 Chum Thomas Quick, the Honorary General Secretary of the Association, announced that car pennants were available for purchase provided that these were ordered via Branches. The pennant, on blue material with a woven badge, was priced at 3/6d.

Old Contemptibles’ Association Memorial Plaques (Grave Markers)

Cast in bronze, memorial plaques to Chums of the Association are frequently noted placed on their graves in cemeteries across the country. These could be purchased from the Honorary General Secretary of the Association,[132] and were stamped with the name, regiment and service number and Branch to which the deceased had been a member. On occasion these plaques were the only means by which the place of burial could be marked as they provided a cheaper alternative to a headstone. In 1937 the cost of these memorial plaques was 10/-.

Unfortunately many plaques have been removed or stolen from graves over the years and have been sold to collectors. One recent example, offered for sale in 2018, was that for Chum Private George Janes, who was a member of the Harrow and Wembley Branch and died in 1949, aged 64.

Born on 6 December 1884 at Roxeth in Middlesex, George Janes had attested for the Dragoons of the Line in 1907, being issued with the service number D/291, and served in India and South Africa with the 1st (Royal) Dragoons. At the declaration of war he was stationed with the Royals at Potchefstroom. Private Janes returned to England with the regiment, arriving at Southampton on 19 September 1914, and disembarked at Ostend on 8 October. He served with the Royals in France and Flanders through the entire course of the war and was discharged on the termination of his period of engagement on 22 May 1919. On leaving the Royals, George worked as a master boot and shoe repairer and was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 30 November 1938, by which time he and his wife and daughters were living at 14 Crown Street in Harrow-on-the-Hill.

Memorials to The Old Contemptibles Association

Captain John Patrick Danny – The Founder of the Association

 Captain Danny Old Contemptibles Association

Captain Danny, who died at his home at 68 Gunton Road in Clapton on 20 May 1928, was buried with full military honours at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington on 25 May.[133] On 29 August 1929, the Executive Committee received a request from the Hackney Branch to subscribe to a suitable headstone to be placed over his grave.[134] Two years later, Chums from the London Area paraded around the grave of their founder as General Sir George F. Milne, the President, unveiled the headstone that bore the badge of the Association which he had founded. Trumpeters of the Royal Artillery from Woolwich sounded the “Last Post” and “Revielle,” and following the ceremony the Chums marched past their President, led by the Band of the 10th Battalion, The London Regiment (Hackney) (T.A.). A newsreel item on the ceremony was also filmed by Pathe Gazette. For many years the Chums continued to make a pilgrimage to the graveside of Captain Danny, usually on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of his death.[135] Chum Thomas “Ted” Legg, of the Hackney Branch, continued to tend Captain Danny’s grave until the late 1960s.[136] Ninety years after his death, the grave of Captain Danny is overgrown, neglected and largely overlooked by all but a few people who have heard of him.

Captain Danny Grave

The Grave of Captain John Patrick Danny, a photograph taken by Sheldon K. Goodman in November 2017 (Courtesy of Sheldon K. Goodman)

On 29 August 1948 Lieutenant-General Sir James Ronald Edmonstone Charles K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., President of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, unveiled a plaque fixed to the wall of the Hackney United Services Club at 69 Powerscroft Road, commemorating the formation of the Association. It reads:


The ceremony was also filmed by British Movietone, as part of a newsreel reporting on the events organised in London for Mons Week. Again, the memorial at Powerscroft Road has experienced neglect and was, until recently, covered in graffiti. However, recent photographs show that the Red House has been renovated and the memorial cleaned.


Chums of the Founder (Hackney) Branch outside the Hackney United Services Club “The Red House” on 23 May 1964 (Authors’ Collection).

The Old Contemptibles’ Association Memorial at St Martin-in-the-Field

The Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square in London held a particularly important position in the early history of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, and for several years the Chums held special services there following their annual parades on Horse Guards and wreath-laying ceremonies at the Cenotaph at Whitehall. The services were also broadcast live by the B.B.C. during the 1930s.

On 30 May 1954 a memorial, subscribed to by the Chums of the Association, was unveiled in the Crypt by Field Marshal Lord Ironside G.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. The ceremony was extensively reported on in the press the following day:

“A special service was held in the main body of the church and during the singing of the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers, the unveiling party went to the crypt, where “Old Contemptibles,” holding standards, lined each side of the black marble arch that forms the memorial. The standards were lowered as the Field-Marshal left fall the Union Flag.”[137]


The Memorial in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields (Authors’ Collection).

The memorial itself consisted of an arch constructed from black marble, with the legend “Mons to Ypres, 1914” emblazoned in gold. Wrought iron gates were erected led through the arch into the memorial arch and two panels, one on each pillar, commemorated the soldiers, seamen, Royal Marines and members of the Royal Flying Corps who died during the fighting between August and November 1914.[138]

On Sunday 14 July 1974, the Crypt was again the setting for another important ceremony, when the London Area of the Association entrusted six Branch Standards into the care of the Church. The Branch Standards that were laid up at the church were those for Acton, Camden Town, Chelsea, Clacton, Edmonton and Hendon.

Sadly, this memorial no longer exists, as it was removed during renovation work carried out during the 1980s when the Crypt was converted into a coffee bar and the arch was subsequently destroyed. The six Branch Standards, after being held in the Church Archive for a period, were also dispersed. Of these, four are known to survive but the exact location of all but two of them is unknown.

The Royal Garrison Church of All Saints at Aldershot

Aldershot can be said to be the spiritual home of the Chums, who held their annual Church Parades at the Royal Garrison Church for many years during August up until 1974. As well as reminders of the Chums of the Aldershot Branch, the Church also contains the Memorial Windows that were presented by members of The Old Contemptibles’ Association and unveiled by Field Marshal Lord Ironside G.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. on 28 June 1959. Another memorial to a Chum, that in memory of Major-General Sir Eric Bertram Rowcroft, K.B.E., C.B., was dedicated on 23 August 1964 during the Golden Jubilee Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving.


The cover of the Order of Service for the Golden Jubilee Aldershot Parade, held on “Mons Day” – 23 August 1964 (Authors’ Collection).

The road leading up to the Church was officially titled “Old Contemptibles’ Avenue” and declared open by Major-General R. A. Bramwell Davis C.B., D.S.O., the then-General Officer Commanding Aldershot District, at a ceremony held on 24 August 1958. An information board commemorating the event is in situ.

A notable figure in connection with the organisation of the annual Church Parade at the Royal Garrison Church was Chum William Nassau “Paddy” Smyth M.B.E., who was the Honorary Secretary of the Aldershot Branch. Born in Ireland on 18 October 1890 (some records state 30 October), Paddy Smythe was a former Coldstreamer and had enlisted for the regiment in January 1907. After serving for three years with the Colours, Smythe was transferred to the Reserve and joined the Metropolitan Police. He married Katie Sixsmith at St Philip’s Church in Clerkenwell on 18 July 1914, by which time he was serving as a Detective with the force.

As 7105 Private W. Smythe, Paddy was mobilised following the declaration of war and landed in France with the 3rd Battalion on 13 August 1914. He was sent his 1914 Star by post on 1 February 1919 and was issued with the clasp and roses for the medal on 25 April 1921. By 1939, Paddy was working as a factory storekeeper in Aldershot, residing at the Miss Daniels Soldiers’ Home on Barrack Road.

For his devoted work on behalf of his fellow Chums, Paddy was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the New Years’ Honours of 1965, the award being announced in The London Gazette on 1 January. Paddy married Audrey Luck at Aldershot in 1966 and in his retirement was a familiar figure in the town, working as a “lollipop man” helping local schoolchildren to cross the road.

In 1969, Chum Smythe wrote to his fellow Chums explaining the arrangements for the 1970 parade at Aldershot:

“Well, Chums, the National Parade for 1969 is now past history and by the volume of letters which I have received everyone seems to have enjoyed the whole day, that is as it should be. Thanks, Chums, for making the day such a success.

Now, Chums, our parade in 1970 will D.V. be held on Sunday, August 2nd: why it has been brought forward is several branches and Chums wrote to say they were being penalised from attending the parade as they would be away on the dates we selected, they all want to attend the parade, so now, Chums, you have had your wish granted.

At the moment several branches have booked in to attend the 1970 parade, this is your chance now. No branch will be put on the list unless they send me a letter to say they will be attending, a few branches were at the bottom of the list this year, they had only themselves to blame for not sending a letter to say they were attending.

It is far too early to get out details, but it will follow on the same lines as this year.

That is all for now, Chums – keep well and God bless. Your old Chum and friend.


Chum Paddy Smythe M.B.E. died on 18 January 1974.

 The Old Contemptibles’ Association held their last national parade at the Garrison Church of All Saints in Aldershot on Sunday 4 August 1974, sixty years after the outbreak of the Great War. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who attended the service, later wrote to the each of the “Chums”:

“I was very pleased when your late President, Brigadier Roupell, invited me to join in your Diamond Jubilee Service, and I am glad to have been able to talk to so many of you.

It is fitting that the last National Service of the Old Contemptibles Association should be held in Aldershot, in the Royal Garrison Church. This was the peacetime home of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions who mobilized her in August 1914, and who, as part of that Contemptible Little Army which you so proudly took your name, earned their place in history in the great battles that began on 23rd August 1914 on the line of the Mons Canal, and in the months that followed.

Today’s moving Service will have brought back memories of that time 60 years ago when you stood together with your comrades and for three months held the enemy against overwhelming odds. It was a feat of arms unparalleled in our history. This was indeed your finest hour.

I am happy to have this opportunity as your Sovereign to thank you personally, on behalf of myself and our country, not only for what you did on the field of battle to keep us free and independent, but also for the example you set in courage, fortitude and comradeship.

We shall always remember those who lost their lives and those who were disabled. We should also remember that the qualities displayed by the Old Contemptibles have inspired many other afterwards – in the 1914-1918 war, in the last war, and for over half a century. These qualities have never been more needed than they are today, and although this is your last National Service, I can assure you that the courage and self-sacrifice of you and all your Chums will never be forgotten.”[140]

The Old Contemptibles’ Memorial at Westminster Abbey

The memorial to The Old Contemptibles located in the West Cloister of Westminster Abbey was paid for by subscriptions from members of the public and was designed by Donald Buttress. The plaque is fabricated from Stamford limestone and blue Welsh slate, with the lettering in gold. The memorial was dedicated on 15 July 1993 in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother and six of the last surviving Chums of the London and South-East Area of The Old Contemptibles’ Association. The unveiling of the memorial was performed by Chum Basil Farrer, Vice-Chairman, assisted by his great-grandchildren Daniel and Luke Taylor.

Old Contemptibles Memorial Westminster Abbey 1993

The Memorial to The Old Contemptibles at Westminster Abbey, taken on 15 July 1993 (Authors’ Collection).

The Royal Star and Garter Home, Richmond

A memorial board recording Old Contemptibles who were in-patients at the Royal Star and Garter Home on Richmond Hill is located inside the Chapel of St Mary on the lower ground floor.

Branch Memorials and Rolls of Honour

Birmingham Old Contemptibles Memorial

The Memorial Tablet to the Birmingham Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association inside St Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring (Courtesy of Matt Felkin).

Many of the Branches of The Old Contemptibles’ Association wished to commemorate not only their comrades who had fallen during the Great War but also their fellow Chums who had died in the years that followed. Numerous memorials and Branch Rolls of Honour were erected over the years but what happened to many of them is unknown. It is certain that some are now lost forever, having been destroyed when the Churches in which they were placed were deconsecrated or the public houses and clubs that they used as their Branch Headquarters were renovated or demolished.

It was clear to some of the Chums that, after they had gone, the memories of their Association would fade quickly. In 1975, the last remaining members of the Coventry Branch made provision to have a wreath placed at their Roll of Honour located inside the Chamber of Silence inside the city’s War Memorial. Each Chum paid £3 towards the cost of the wreath, and as Chum Dick Orrill noted:

“If we didn’t arrange things like this in advance we might fade away with no-one capable of winding us up properly.”[141]

Another Chum added:

“It’s a fine state to be in. Those other b——s had theirs for free, and we’ve got to buy our own.”[142]

The following list of Branch Memorials and Rolls of Honour is fragmentary, but at least illustrates the different means by which the Chums wished to commemorate their deceased comrades:

Aldershot Branch: Memorial Tablet inside the Royal Garrison Church of All Saints.

Birmingham Branch: Memorial Tablet inside St Martin’s-in-the-Bull Ring.

Birmingham Branch: Branch Roll of Honour Board in the custodianship of Birmingham City Council and in storage at the Council House.

Birmingham Branch: Framed Roll of Honour Scroll previously held at The Albion Hotel/The Old Contemptibles Public House on Edmund Street. Last noted in the custodianship of the Birmingham County Headquarters of the Royal British Legion in 2010.[143]

Bishop’s Stortford: Marble Memorial Tablet inside St Michael’s Church.

Bournemouth Branch: Wooden Memorial Plaque inside St Peter’s Church.

Coventry Branch: Memorial Plaque at the Royal Warwicks Club on Priory Street (1956).[144]

Coventry Branch: Wooden Roll of Honour Board inside the Chamber of Silence of the Coventry War Memorial at the War Memorial Park.

Croydon Branch:  Memorial Plaque inside Croydon Minster.

Dover Branch: Memorial Plaque at Maison Dieu Hall (1971).[145]

Dover Branch: Memorial Bench located in Granville Gardens on Marine Parade.

Edinburgh Branch: Roll of Honour unveiled at 14 Brunswick Place on 12 December 1932.[146]

Edinburgh Branch: Memorial Bench dedicated to the Chums of the Branch in Crown Square at Edinburgh Castle.

Gloucester Branch: Roll of Honour at Christ Church in Brunswick Square.

Gloucester Branch: Branch Memorial dedicated at Christ Church in Brunswick Square on 14 April 1977.

Guernsey Branch: Memorial Window in the Town Church at St Peter Port.

Isle of Wight Branch: Memorial Board in the custodianship of Calbourne Mill Military Museum.

Isle of Wight Branch: Wooden Roll of Honour Board in the Newport and Carisbrooke Royal British Legion Club on Pyle Street in Newport.

Jersey Branch: Memorial Plaque inside St Andrew’s Church, Mont Cochon in St Helier.

Leeds & District Branch: Memorial Plaque inside Leeds Minster (Church of St Peter), Kirkgate.

Leeds & District Branch: Framed Roll of Honour held at Leeds Ex-Serviceman’s Club on Mill Street.

Leyton, Walthamstow & Chingford Branches: Triptych Memorial Board at the Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow.

Manchester & Salford Branch: Triptych Memorial Board at the Museum of The Manchester Regiment in Ashton-under-Lyme.

Melbourne (Australia) Branch: Brass Memorial Plaque unveiled at Cairns Memorial Church in East Melbourne on 7 March 1948.[147] The church was later destroyed by fire and the plaque was relocated to Maldon Athenaeum Library Hall.

City of Oxford Branch: Large version of The Old Contemptibles’ Association badge on display in Oxford Town Hall, presented by the Branch to the City of Oxford in 1964 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War.

City of Oxford Branch: Memorial at St Michael-at-the-North Gate Church.

Peterborough Branch: Book of Remembrance inside the Church of St Kyneburgha at Castor.

Portsmouth Branch: Memorial Plaque inside St Mary’s Church at Fratton.

Portsmouth Branch: Branch Roll of Honour (1929-1976) held by Portsmouth History Centre (X/942A/1/14).

Plymouth Branch: Book of Remembrance located at St Andrew’s Church on Royal Parade.

Ramsgate Branch: Brass Memorial Plaque inside St George the Martyr Church. Presented on 7 November 1954.

Rhondda Branch: Stone Memorial Tablet inside St Andrew’s Church at Tonypandy. Unveiled on 23 August 1954.

Romford Branch: Stone Memorial Tablet inside St Edward the Confessor Church.

Sidcup Branch: Memorial Tablet inside the War Memorial Chapel at St John the Evangelist Church. Unveiled on 8 April 1951.

Slough Branch: Book of Remembrance and Memorial Tablet inside St Mary’s Church.

Stockport Branch: Triptych Memorial Board at The Armoury on Greek Street.

Stoke-on-Trent Branch: Brass Memorial Plaque inside St Mark’s Church at Shelton.

Staines (Magna Charta) Branch: Triptych Memorial Board at St Mary’s Church.

Sunderland Branch: Branch Roll of Honour unveiled on 14 April 1935 at Norfolk House on Press Lane.[148]

West London Branch: Memorial Board at the Inverness Lodge Club, Boston Manor Road in Brentwood.

Wigan Branch: Wooden Memorial Board inside St Patrick’s Church at Hardbybutts.

Welfare and Benevolent Funds

In addition to the efforts made by individual Branches to provide material and financial assistance to Chums and their dependents, the Association set up its own central Distress Fund to assist members in financial difficulties, and also a Surgical Aid Fund to provide support for their medical needs. The schemes were supported by subscriptions given by the Chums and by donations from Branch Patrons, and applications for assistance had to be made via Branch Secretaries.

For many years Chums of the Association also subscribed to the Convalescent and Holiday Fund, which supported a ward of five beds at the Kitchener Memorial Home at Lowestoft. The ward was opened on 24 July 1937 by Lord Milne and had originally been endowed by the London Area of the Association for the use of its members. The principal donor was Lord Wakefield and as a consequence the beds were initially dedicated as “The Lord Wakefield Ward.” Available for eleven months of the year, the ward was later made available for Chums from other branches outside London. The facility enabled Chums who were in need to rest and recuperation to be able to travel to the coast without cost to themselves, have free board while at Lowestoft and, if required, be supported financially during their stay.

These benevolent schemes were also supplemented by donations from the public obtained by collections, such as the “Mons Week” appeals, and Chums continued to be supported by these fund into the 1970s.

Links to other organisations were fostered by The Old Contemptibles’ Association. Chums who were in-patients at the Royal Star and Garter Home at Richmond and The Queen Alexandra Hospital Home at Gifford House in Worthing were regularly included in local and national events held by the Association, such as the annual Church Parade at Aldershot, and participated in social functions organised by Branches.

One long-term resident at Gifford House, who was also a member of the Worthing Branch, was Chum Dennis Dwyer. Born on 24 June 1886, 6927 Private Dennis Dwyer had served with the 1st Battalion, The Dorsetshire Regiment. He had joined the Dorsets on 8 September 1903, and disembarked at Le Havre on 16 August 1914. Severely wounded during the fighting at Pont Fixe on the La Bassee Canal, Private Dwyer was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley on 19 October 1914. He was discharged as physically unfit for service, due to his wounds, on 18 May 1915 and was later issued with a Silver War Badge. He was sent the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 14 September 1921. Chum Dwyer died on 27 September 1953 and his comrades from the Worthing Branch paraded their Standard when he was buried in the Gifford House plot at Durrington Cemetery.[149]

Particularly close links were maintained with St Dunstaners at Ovingdean and Brighton, who formed their own sub-branch of the Brighton and Hove Branch. A pilgrimage to the battlefields that was made by the Chums of St Dunstan’s was reported by The Yorkshire Post on 10 August 1955:

“A party of St Dunstan’s Old Contemptibles will later this month be revisiting some of the battlefields which were the last places they saw before being blinded in action 41 years ago.

The trip has been organised by Sergeant Alan Nichols, of Portslade, a former Leeds ex-Serviceman and the first blind and handless soldier to enter St Dunstan’s. He is chairman of the Chums, the name used by the group. A party of 28, with wives and friends acting as escorts, will included Mr M. Goundrill, of Keyingham, near Hull, one of the few blind survivors of the Battle of Mons.

They will leave the St Dunstan’s Centre, at Ovingdean, Sussex, on August 21, and sail from Dover to Dunkirk, going on to Ypres and the Menin Gate. The next day they will visit Mons and Brussels, where wreaths will be laid, and on the third day they will tour battlefields in the St Quentin area. Their visit will end with a day in Paris.

Sergeant Nichols, who claims to have built the first air raid shelter in this country at his Hampstead home early in 1938, was later invited to Leeds to erect a specimen shelter alongside the Civic Hall.”

Born at Leeds on 14 February 1889, 9891 Private Alan Mitchel Nichols joined The Durham Light Infantry on 19 February 1904 and in 1914 went out to France with the 2nd Battalion, disembarking at St Nazaire on 9 September. He received two bullet wounds to his legs while fighting on the Aisne and was admitted to 1st Western General Hospital at Fazakerley on 1 October. He was drafted back to the 2nd D.L.I. the following year and was again wounded, this time when a consignment of bombs exploded prematurely.

Appointed an Acting Serjeant and posted to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion at South Shields, Nichols was employed as a bombing instructor. In September 1916, while demonstrating how to destroy a barricade with an explosive charge he suffered catastrophic injuries when it exploded due to an incorrect fuse being fitted. Serjeant Nichols lost both hands and the lower part of his arms, his sight, and was reported to have around 500 other wounds caused by fragments of the charge and the barricade entering his body. He also lost a lung, had the hearing in one ear destroyed and had to have two of his ribs removed. As a consequence of his severe injuries, Nichols was discharged on 19 July 1917 and was issued with a Silver War Badge. Up to 1939, he had been operated on nineteen times in hospital.

Following his discharge, Alan was admitted to St Dunstan’s at Regent’s Park in London to learn how to adapt to living without his sight or hands. He was trained as a typist and was fitted with aluminium hands, with articulated fingers, and successfully passed his examinations. He later moved to the West Country, living at Fowey in Cornwall, and became the representative for St Dunstan’s covering Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, and then to Portslade, near Brighton. Nichols published a book of his experiences, “Sons of Victory: 1914-1918”, in 1950, and was a member of the Brighton and Hove Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association.

St Dunstaner and Chum Alan Nichols died in Southlands Hospital at Shoreham-by-Sea on 14 May 1959.

The other St Dunstaner and Chum mentioned in the article was 2688 Private Mark Ernest Goundrill, who served with the 1st Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers in 1914.

Born on 11 December 1887, Mark Goundrill was employed as a joiner and wheelwright when he attested at Beverley on 6 January 1909. He served with the 1st Battalion at home and in India, being posted to the Pioneer Section on 2 October 1911, and was stationed at Cambridge Barracks in Portsmouth when war was declared. Private Goundrill disembarked at Le Havre on 14 August 1914 and was in action at Jemappes nine days later. He was appointed Lance-Corporal on 5 October 1915, and in 1917 went home on leave, marrying Ella Maud Abel at St Augustine of Hippo Church in Newland on 26 June 1917.

Returning to the 1st Battalion, Lance-Corporal Goundrill was severely wounded on 22 August 1917 when a shell exploded close to him, and suffered injuries to his head, left arm and left leg. His left eye was removed while he was being treated in No. 1 General Hospital at Etretat, and he was evacuated to England on 20 September and admitted to 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester, remaining there until 18 May 1918. Posted onto the strength of the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion at East Bouldon on 28 May, Lance-Corporal Goundrill was discharged as physically unfit for service on 12 September and was later issued with a Silver War Badge.

Mark Goundrill was sent his 1914 Star by post on 17 June 1919 and was not issued with the clasp and roses for the medal until 8 October 1955, after he had returned from his pilgrimage. He is recorded in the 1939 Register as being totally blind, residing with his wife Ella and their son Owen, who was born on 26 March 1921, at ‘High Field’ on Church Lane in Keyingham. Mark was elected as President of the Keyingham Branch of the British Legion in 1959, and served in the role for several years.

Chum and St Dunstaner Mark Goundrill died at his home on Church Lane in Keyingham on 13 July 1976.

Another St Dunstaner was Chum William Foxon, who was a member of the Leicester Branch. Born in 1878 at Leicester, 5013 Lance-Corporal William Henry Foxon had attested for The Leicestershire Regiment on 16 July 1897 and served with the 1st Battalion in South Africa, later being issued with the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Talana, Defence of Ladysmith, Laing’s Nek and Belfast, as well as the King’s South Africa Medal with clasps for South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902. Posted to India following the war, Private Foxon was still serving there, with the 2nd Leicesters at Ranikhet, on the outbreak of the Great War. He disembarked with the 2nd Battalion, which formed part of the Garhwal Brigade of the Meerut Division, at Marseilles on 12 October 1914.

Appointed a Lance-Corporal shortly after arriving in France, Foxon was severely wounded during the fighting around Festubert at the end of 1914. As a consequence of his injuries he lost his sight, and Foxon was discharged as physically unfit for service on 18 April 1915, being subsequently issued with a Silver War Badge. William married Ruth Edith Saunders at St Saviour’s Church in Hammersmith on 29 September and was admitted to St Dunstan’s at Regent’s Park in 1916, where he learned skills to enable him to earn a living in civilian life. He was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star in May 1935.

William Foxon died at St Dunstan’s West House Residental Home, on Portland Place in Brighton, on 12 January 1956, and an obituary was printed in The St Dunstan’s Review published that month:

“We record with deep regret the death of W. H. Foxon, a permanent resident at West House.

He originally enlisted in 1897 and was discharged in April, 1915, having been wounded at La Bassee. He came to St Dunstan’s in the following year and trained as a boot-repairer and mat-maker. He lost his wife in 1931. He had not been able to work for some years and he subsequently came to West House. He had been spending a few months with friends in Leicester, and had only just returned to West House, where he died on January 12th.”[150]

Another tribute was paid by Chum J. Noble, the Acting Honorary Secretary to the Leicester Branch:

“We in Leicester have followed with very deep interest the course of events in connection with our old friend and comrade, the late Chum Foxon.

We are much heartened by the many kindnesses and attention he received during his stay with you, and also by the splendid way in which his interment was carried out.

It is the very special wish of the Branch that I should convey to you and your staff our deep appreciation of the way our departed Chum was looked after by all of you during his last days, and thank you so very, very much for all you have done.

It is very nice to know that a friend of ours should be so happily found amongst such good friends as all of you in Brighton have proved yourselves to be.”[151]

Chum Foxon’s effects, valued at £460 12s. 3d., were left to the charity.

At least two Branches made provision to support their Chums by registering themselves as charities in their own right. The Leeds & District Branch was registered with the Charity Commission on 20 April 1964, and was not removed from its register until 10 November 1992, by which time it was recorded as having “ceased to exist.” Following the closure of the national Old Contemptibles’ Association, the Birmingham Branch registered itself with the Charity Commission on 29 November 1977. The purpose of their charitable status was:

“To relieve poverty, sickness and distress of Old Contemptibles resident in the Birmingham area, their widows and their dependants in need.”

The charity was also removed from the register on 2 December 1996 as it had “ceased to exist.”

“Old Contemptibles” Locomotive

Built in Glasgow by the North British Locomotive Company in 1927, the Royal Scot Class Locomotive 46127 of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway was christened “Old Contemptibles” in 1936. The naming ceremony was reported on by The Aberdeen Journal on 30 November 1936:


“Old Contemptibles” to the number of 250 gathered at Euston Station to see an L.M.S. locomotive christened “The Old Contemptible” on Saturday. The ceremony was performed by General Sir Felix Ready.

Lady Haig, who arrived unexpectedly on the platform, addressed the men, referring to them as “comrades of my husband.”

The locomotive was in service until 8 December 1962, when it was withdrawn and broken up at Crewe the following year. The badge of The Old Contemptibles’ Association which was fixed above the nameplate of the engine is on display at the National Railway Museum in York.

“The Old Contemptibles” Public House

On the corner of Edmund Street and Livery Street in the centre of Birmingham, across the road from Snow Hill Railway Station, there is one very visible reminder of the Chums of The Old Contemptibles’ Association. The nature of the continued commemoration of their name would have no doubt been approved by them. The pub, originally The Albion Hotel, was where the Birmingham Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association was raised in 1928, and thirty-five years later was renamed in their honour.

The Birmingham Daily Gazette of 7 February 1928 reported the formation of the Branch:


“A branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association has been inaugurated in Birmingham, with headquarters at the Albion Hotel, Livery-street.

The Association is open for membership from all ranks who served in France or Belgium from August to November, 1914, and who are in possession of the 1914 star and clasp.

The next meeting will take place at the branch headquarters on 21 March.

The secretary is H. Turner, The Post Office, Walford-road, Sparkhill.”

Apart from a short period following the outbreak of the Second World War, the Albion Hotel continued to serve as the Headquarters of the Birmingham Branch and in January 1953 this link was further enhanced when Mitchells & Butlers Ltd. decided to rename the pub in their honour. The ceremony, which took place on 31 January 1953, was reported in detail by the April/May 1953 edition of the company’s magazine – “The Deerstalker”:

“History was made on 31st January last when the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Alderman W. T. Bowen, performed a re-naming ceremony at “The Albion” Livery Street. As a compliment to the members of the Old Contemptibles’ Association who have been meeting here for the past 25 years, it was decided to rename the house “The Old Contemptible.”

A sign, designed by Bruce Bairnsfather, and depicting a typical British Tommy of the Kaiser’s War, was unveiled by the Lord Mayor to the strains of “‘Tipperary” heartily sung by the assembled company of old soldiers, whose lungs of brass, trained on the barrack square, proclaimed them to be very far from fading away. Mr Lawrence Mitchell, who presided, revealed that the change of name was the suggestion of Councillor E. H. Richardson, Secretary of the Old Contemptibles’ Association, and said that the Company was proud to institute a permanent memorial to a grand body of men.

The timing of the renaming ceremony was particularly appropriate, as it coincided with the Silver Jubilee of the foundation of the Association, and the house had been its headquarters during the whole of that period. Mr Lawrence said that so far as could be ascertained, this was the first house to be called “The Old Contemptible.”

After the unveiling of the sign, Mr. Bruce Bairnsfather gave an amusing account of the events that led up to the creation of “Old Bill” during his service in the front line trenches. His short breezy talk revealed that, had he not become a successful artist, he might well have topped the bill at “The Hippodrome.”

Not the least impressive part of the proceedings was the inspection by the Lord Mayor of a Guard of Honour provided by members of the Association. While spectators huddled together in the biting wind, the parade of old comrades, many without hats or coats, stood stiffly to attention, disdaining the whirling blizzard as unworthy of their notice. Five of our colleagues from Cape Hill, who were in the parade, Hoppy Walker, Charlie Matthews, Mickey Austin, Harry May and Tom Conniff were joined by an ex-servant of the Company, Billy Hart.

On the conclusion of the formal part of the proceedings, the members of the Association enjoyed a grand spread, and over a pint or two of good honest beer, were able to re-live many of the good old days way back in 1914. It was a memorable day for these grand old veterans, and enabled them to realise that their deeds of valour in the very early days of the First World War had earned enduring remembrance.”

The original sign painted by Captain Bairnsfather is in the safe-keeping of military historian Taff Gillingham, and it is anticipated that it will be eventually displayed at Brook Farm Camp at Hawstead, near Bury St Edmunds.

One particularly amusing snippet regarding the social activities of the Branch was recorded by The Birmingham Daily Post on 14 November 1968:


“Some members of the Birmingham branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association have complained in recent years that the food at their annual dinner was served cold. So last night the association made sure it was all cold – it held a cold buffet supper instead.

It was the first time since the branch was formed in 1927 (sic) that its function was an informal one. The social was held at the branch’s headquarters at the Old Contemptible Inn, Edmund Street. Mr David Lloyd, the Midland television personality, showed films of 1912 and onwards.”

In 2007 “The Old Contemptibles” was purchased by Nicholson’s Pubs and was significantly and sympathetically renovated. Of particular interest is the collection of photographs and artefacts relating to the Birmingham Branch and The Old Contemptibles that are displayed within the pub, which help to keep their memory green when other memorials have been lost or neglected.


Birmingham Branch Old Contemptibles Association.

“We weren’t heroes, mate. We just did what we were bloody well told.”

Chum Edwin Francis “Ted” Farley M.M.  Formerly 9777/2646627 Corporal E. F. Farley M.M., 3rd Battalion, Coldstream Guards. Chairman of the Birmingham Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association in 1978.[152]

 As the commemorative events marking the centenary of the Great War draw to a close, there is an opportunity to perhaps build on the interest that has been generated by studying in more detail what happened to those who returned home. Quite naturally, the focus of many of the projects and official commemorations has been on those who died, and to carry out research on those named on countless war memorials is a comparatively straightforward task in comparison to finding out information on those who survived. Although this article has only scratched the surface, while much material regarding the activities of the Association has been lost, it is clear from the authors’ own research that a rich seam of sources still survives and more is yet to be uncovered.

Serious study of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, and its Chums, has the potential of providing valuable information on the nature of remembrance and commemoration, and the wish by some ex-servicemen to continue in some form the comradeship that existed in wartime. Evidence of how ex-servicemen bonded together by a common experience, or in the case of the Chums the distinction of being issued with the 1914 Star with “clasp and roses,” strived to help each other in times of unemployment or illness; organised social events for their families and continued to remember their comrades who died not only during the Great War but in the years that followed, is worthy of more attention and may provide a better and more rounded understanding of the experiences of  “those who had served under fire or who had operated within range of enemy mobile artillery in France or Belgium during the period between 5 August and 22 November 1914.”[153]


[1] The Guardian, 22 June 1978.

[2] Coventry Evening Telegraph, 14 October 1930.

[3] NA HO 144/6819.

[4] Yorkshire Post, 22 May 1928.

[5] The Scotsman, 6 April 1928 &

[6] Birmingham Daily Gazette, 10 February 1930.

[7] Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 23 August 1935 & The Old Contemptible – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 43, July 1937, pp. 4-5.

[8] The Old Contemptibles’ Association Silver Jubilee Grand Re-Union Programme, p. 14.

[9] Burnley Express, 21 December 1938 & Middlesex Chronicle, 21 January 1939.

[10] Falkirk Herald, 8 August 1931 & Radio Times, 3 August 1930 and 2 August 1931.

[11] Radio Times, 15 April 1934, Western Morning News, 16 March 1936 & Essex Newsman, 21 May 1938.

[12] The Old Contemptible – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 30, July 1936, p. 1 & Dundee Courier, 15 July 1936.

[13] The Scotsman, 14 August 1939.

[14] Birmingham Daily Gazette, 1 August 1930.

[15] James Coyle died at Leeds in 1957.

[16] Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 11 May 1935.

[17] Birmingham Daily Post, 20 April 1954. Attempts by the author of this article to establish if the photograph still exists at St Andrew’s received no response from the club.

[18] Born in 1882, 4754 Private Frederick Hatchwell attested for the Dragoons of the Line at London on 11 April 1900. At the time of his enlistment he was working as barman. He was posted to the 1st (Royal) Dragoons three days later and was drafted to South Africa on 7 December 1900. While on active service Hatchwell was awarded a Good Conduct Badge on 11 April 1902, and later received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902. He returned from South Africa with the regiment in October 1902 and continued to serve with the Royals at Shorncliffe and in India until he was sent home to England in January 1908 Hatchwell was transferred to the Reserve on 10 April 1908. He was appointed as a postman in Leatherhead on 8 March 1909[18] and enlisted for the Section D Army Reserve on 18 April 1912, ten days after his original period of engagement had expired. Private Hatchwell was mobilised at the outbreak of the war and was posted to No. 6 (Scottish) Cavalry Depot at Dunbar. As his regiment was stationed in South Africa and not deployed with the initial British Expeditionary Force, Hatchwell and nearly sixty reservists of the Royals were posted to 5th Veterinary Section, Army Veterinary Corps, and he landed in France on 16 August 1914. Hatchwell was later transferred to the Army Veterinary Corps and was issued with the service number R/644. He was also appointed an Acting Sergeant and by the end of the war held the rank of Staff Sergeant. On being demobilised, Frederick returned to Leatherhead and his postal round. He married Gladys Olive Genner in 1936 and was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 19 October 1938.

[19] Local Branch or Area appeals for donations to assist unemployed or sick Chums had been organised since the late 1920s, but 1948 was the first year in which the Association made a national fundraising effort.

[20] Dover Express, 20 August 1948.

[21] The Old Contemptible – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 258, July 1955, p. 8.

[22] Nanaimo Daily News, 6 July 1964. Fifty years before Bill was H/8997 Private W. Hulme of the 20th Hussars. Born in the Dresden district of Longton in North Staffordshire in 1892, Wilfred was working as an electrician when he attested for the Hussars of the Line at Stoke-on-Trent on 5 December 1912. He was posted to No. 3 (Northern) Cavalry Depot at Scarborough on 9 December to commence his training, and on 14 March 1913 joined the 20th Hussars. He did not accompany the regiment on active service in August 1914 but was instead posted as a reinforcement to the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues), disembarking with the Blues at Zeebrugge on 7 October 1914. Private Hulme was wounded in February 1915 while serving dismounted in the trenches near Zillebeke and was evacuated to England on 12 February. He was sent to join 13th Reserve Regiment of Cavalry at Colchester on 1 December 1915 and was drafted back to France on 25 March 1916 to rejoin the 20th Hussars. He remained at the front until 18 April 1917 and was posted to 5th Reserve Cavalry Regiment. On 26 July 1919 Hulme joined the 14th (King’s) Hussars and remained with them until he was transferred to the Section B Army Reserve on 4 January 1920, being sent the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 12 November of that year. Private Hulme was mobilised from the Reserve on 9 April 1921, as a consequence of the threat of widespread industrial unrest, but was stood down again on 6 June. Wilfred was finally discharged on the termination of his period of engagement on 4 December 1924, his military conduct being described as “exemplary.” By the time of his discharge Bill Hulme had emigrated to Canada and was residing with a Mrs Walker at 471 8th Avenue West in Vancouver. He applied for a replacement clasp for his 1914 Star on 12 November 1924 and this was dispatched to him the following year. Bill and his wife Ruth later settled on Gabriola Island where she was the proprietor of the Trentham Convalescent Home, while he worked as a cook. A member of the Victoria (British Columbia) Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, Chum Hulme often attended functions wearing his undress “blues” uniform, with overalls and spurs. He also sent frequent letters to the editors of The Old Contemptible and corresponded regularly with fellow Chums of branches in Britain and Australia, once making an appeal for a replacement 20th Hussars collar badge to be sent to him as one had been lost when he had his uniform dry-cleaned. Chum Bill Hulme died in 1978.

[23] Nanaimo Daily News, 6 July 1964 and 7 July 1964.

[24] Northampton Mercury, 6 December 1935.

[25] Chum Albert Edwin Arthur Cowley came from Bishops Itchington in Warwickshire and was born on 8 April 1892. He had been employed as a railway engine cleaner before attesting for the Coldstream Guards on 10 June 1912, and was a Lance-Corporal (his regimental number was 9626) when he disembarked at Le Havre with the 1st Battalion on 14 August 1914. Cowley was taken prisoner a month later, on 14 September, during the fighting on the Chemins des Dames near Troyon, and was held in captivity at Dulmen. A brief reference to a communication that he had sent home from Germany was reported in The Leamington Spa Courier on 30 October 1914: “Mr William Cowley has received a postcard from his son, Corporal Albert Cowley, of the Coldstream Guards (who was reported “missing”), stating that he is a prisoner of war in German and in good health.” Cowley was presented with his 1914 Star on 19 March 1919 and discharged as physically unfit for service, suffering from deafness, on 9 July 1919, being subsequently issued with a Silver War Badge. The clasp and roses for his 1914 Star were sent to him on 27 June 1921. Chum Albert Cowley died at Coventry in 1983, aged 91.

[26] Mrs Nellie Maie Woodier was the widow of Chum Frank Woodier D.C.M., who had joined the Coventry Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association in 1934 and was elected as Chairman in 1941. He died in 1970, and Mrs Woodier became assistant secretary to the Branch. Nellie Woodier died at her home at 3 Martyr’s Close in the Cheylesmore district of Coventry on 14 November 1988. Her late husband, 8261 Private Frank Woodier, had joined The Cheshire Regiment at Coventry on 4 September 1906 and had served with the 2nd Battalion in India before being transferred to the Reserve on 2 February 1914. Mobilised following the declaration of war, Woodier disembarked at Le Havre with the 1st Battalion on 16 August. He was taken prisoner following the rearguard action fought at Audregnies on 24 August 1914 and was held captive at Soltau until he escaped in 1918 and reached Holland. Woodier was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his escape in 1920. Demobilised on 13 February 1919, he received his 1914 Star on 10 July and was issued with the clasp and roses for the medal on 4 August 1920.

[27] The Old Contemptible – The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 46, October 1937, p. 20.

[28] Yorkshire Post, 22 May 1928 & The Old Contemptible: The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 434, March 1970, pp. 15-16.

[29] The Old Contemptible: The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 46, October 1937, back inside cover.

[30] Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 14 December 1931.

[31] Derby Daily Express, 17 August 1931 & Sheffield Independent, 2 March 1931 and 17 August 1931.

[32] Auckland Star (New Zealand), 9 April 1934.

[33] Bucks Herald, 16 June 1939.

[34] Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 31 August 1935.

[35] Reading Mercury, 5 August 1939.

[36] Bedfordshire Times & Independent, 15 July 1938.

[37] Birmingham Daily Gazette, 6 May 1929.

[38] Ibid, 29 July 1929.

[39] Hertford Mercury and Reformer, 7 April 1939.

[40] Essex County Chronicle, 30 June 1939.

[41] Western Daily Press, 17 June 1935.

[42] Burnley Express, 29 July 1931.

[43] Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald, 9 May 1931.

[44] Essex Newsman, 13 October 1934.

[45] Gloucestershire Echo, 4 September 1948.

[46] Chester Chronicle, 2 September 1939 & 9 September 1939.

[47] Sheffield Independent, 17 August 1931.

[48] Wiltshire Times & Trowbridge Advertiser, 30 July 1938.

[49] Christchurch Press (New Zealand), 20 March 1935.

[50] Cheltenham Chronicle, 13 May 1939.

[51] Essex County Chronicle, 28 April 1939.

[52] Lichfield Mercury, 22 January 1932 & Coventry Evening Telegraph, 8 November 1937.

[53] Ibid, 23 April 1942.

[54] Eastbourne Gazette, 14 June 1933.

[55] Derby Daily Telegraph, 23 October 1931.

[56] Western Daily Press, 4 May 1937.

[57] Western Gazette, 22 December 1939.

[58] Dorking & Leatherhead Advertiser, 1 September 1939.

[59] Dover Express, 23 June 1939.

[60] Belfast News-Letter, 18 July 1930.

[61] Northern Daily Mail, 17 September 1934.

[62] Gloucestershire Echo, 11 August 1938.

[63] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 7 October 1932.

[64] Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald, 26 October 1929.

[65] Ibid, 2 November 1929.

[66] Western Daily News, 23 May 1938.

[67] Grantham Journal, 10 June 1939.

[68] Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, 12 June 1939.

[69] Surrey Advertiser, 29 April 1939.

[70] Northern Daily Mail, 15 August 1932.

[71] West Sussex County Times, 2 June 1939.

[72] Yorkshire Post, 12 March 1932.

[73] Hull Daily Mail, 18 June 1934.

[74] Lancashire Evening Post, 10 November 1930.

[75] The Standard was later carried by the Leamington and Warwick Branch.

[76] Warwick & Warwickshire Advertiser & Leamington Gazette, 3 September 1938.

[77] Staffordshire Advertiser, 2 June 1934 & Tamworth Herald, 9 June 1934.

[78] Market Harborough Advertiser & Midland Mail, 16 June 1933.

[79] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 3 October 1938.

[80] Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 1938.

[81] Northampton Mercury, 19 April 1935.

[82] Northampton Mercury, 30 June 1939.

[83] Nottingham Journal, 30 May 1929.

[84] Perth Sunday Times (Western Australia), 8 November 1936.

[85] Western Morning News, 23 July 1934.

[86] Surrey Mirror, 17 September 1937.

[87] Essex County Chronicle, 1 July 1938.

[88] Salisbury Branch.

[89] Uxbridge & West Drayton Gazette, 3 July 1931.

[90] Coventry Evening Herald, 19 July 1939.

[91] Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 16 September 1935.

[92] Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser, 16 July 1938 and Shepton Mallet Journal, 2 September 1938.

[93] Kent & Sussex Courier, 19 May 1939.

[94] Torbay Express & South Devon Echo, 12 December 1939.

[95] Wiltshire Times & Trowbridge Advertiser, 6 August 1938.

[96] Kent & Sussex Courier, 9 June 1933.

[97] Sussex Agricultural Express, 27 May 1938.

[98] Uxbridge & West Drayton Gazette, 31 August 1934.

[99] Also known as S.W. London District Branch No. 1.

[100] Norwood News, 5 October 1928.

[101] Northants Evening Telegraph, 23 August 1939.

[102] Western Gazette, 9 October 1931.

[103] Norwood News, 12 August 1932.

[104] Western Gazette, 21 April 1939.

[105] Worthing Gazette, 17 May 1939.

[106] Belfast News-Letter, 28 October 1935.

[107] Ballymena Weekly News, 14 November 1936.

[108] IWM HU 103482-103484.

[109] Nanaimo Daily News, 15 July 1969.

[110] Born on 23 December 1892 at Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, Chum Wellington Middleton had joined The Suffolk Regiment in 1911, his regimental number being 8233, and served with the 2nd Battalion at Aldershot and Curragh Camp. He disembarked with the 2nd Suffolks at Le Havre on 17 August 1914. Private Middleton was taken prisoner at Le Cateau on 26 August and was sent to the Prisoner of War camp at Doebertiz. Repatriated following the Armistice, Middleton was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star 19 July 1921. He was appointed as a Postman by the General Post Office on 28 April 1924, initially working at Wisbech and Wimblington, but by 1939 he was residing and working at Whittlesey. Chum Wellington Middleton died at Whittlesey in 1981.

[111] The scroll below the Association Badge on the Standard bears the legend “East Acton Branch.”

[112] Herts and Essex Observer, 7 September 2017.

[113] Brisbane Courier-Mail (Queensland), 24 August 1942.

[114] Kenley and Caterham Branch Royal Air Force Association Newsletter – November 2014-January 2015, p. 3.

[115] Coventry Evening Telegraph, 23 November 1972.

[116] Western Gazette, 22 December 1939.

[117] Daily Mail, 25 October 2017.

[118] Epsom Herald, 24 May 1973.

[119] Gloucestershire Archives P154/3 IN 4/2.

[120] Daily Mail, 25 October 2017.

[121] Keighley News, 12 September 2014.

[122] Perth Daily News (Western Australia), 26 February 1937.

[123] Salisbury.

[124] The award to the Woolwich Branch was reported by The Illustrated Police News on 2 February 1928.

[125] Essex Newsman, 4 March 1933.

[126] Derby Daily Telegraph, 29 January 1941 & 22 August 1941.

[127] Essex County Chronicle, 18 January 1946.

[128] Nottingham Evening Post, 28 May 1946.

[129] A new Union Flag (not from the Cenotaph), but with the finial of the old flag attached to the pole, was presented on 29 April 1989 to Sea Cadets at Chesterfield, but was subsequently given into the custody of the Combined Services Association. The new flag was considered to be a “Queen’s Colour” and therefore could not be carried on parade by a youth organisation. (Information supplied to the author by John Wallace).

[130] Chum Thomas Sidney Quick, then Honorary General Secretary of The Old Contemptibles’ Association.

[131] The Old Contemptible: The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 434, March 1970, p. 16.

[132] The price of a Memorial Plaque in 1937 was 10/- (“The Old Contemptible” No. 46, October 1937).

[133] Yorkshire Post, 26 May 1928 & East London Observer, 2 June 1928.

[134] The Old Contemptible: The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 434, March 1970, pp. 15-16.

[135] Daily Herald, 21 May 1935 & Yarmouth Independent, 30 May 1936.

[136] Chum Thomas Edmund “Ted” Legg was born on 4 July 1896 at Portsmouth, Thomas was the son of Mark and Elizabeth Legg and prior to joining the Army had been employed as a baker, but he was working as a light porter when he attested at Gosport on 2 December 1912. At the time of his enlistment as a Regular soldier, Thomas was serving with 1st Wessex Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (Territorial Force), his regimental number being 732. As 71135 Gunner T. E. Legg he had landed in France with XLII Brigade, Royal Field Artillery on 19 August 1914 and by the Armistice had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Legg was transferred to the Section B Army Reserve when he was demobilised on 31 May 1919 and was discharged on 3 December 1924 on the termination of his twelve years’ period of engagement. Thomas was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 4 October 1920 and went on to serve in the Merchant Navy before he rejoined the Army on 29 August 1932, enlisting in the Royal Engineers. He was finally discharged in 1954 as overage. Thomas later joined the Founder Branch (Hackney and District) of The Old Contemptibles’ Association and served as President before the branch finally closed. He moved to Clacton-on-Sea shortly before Christmas 1973 but died on 19 January 1974.

[137] Birmingham Daily Post, 31 May 1954.

[138] Manchester Guardian, 31 May 1954.

[139] The Old Contemptible: The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles Association, No. 429, October 1969, p. 1.

[140] A copy of the letter is in the authors’ collection.

[141] Coventry Evening Telegraph, 16 June 1978.

[142] Ibid.

[143] The Dugout – Newsletter of the Dorset and South Wiltshire Branch of The Western Front Association, Issue No. 5 (2010), pp. 2-4. Several enquiries made by the author to the Birmingham County Headquarters R.B.L. to obtain access to the Roll of Honour had failed to receive a response.

[144] Coventry Evening Telegraph, 12 November 1956.

[145] The Old Contemptible: The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 454, November 1971, p. 4.

[146] The Scotsman, 13 December 1932.

[147] The Age (Melbourne, Victoria), 8 March 1948.

[148] Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 15 April 1935.

[149] Worthing Herald, 2 October 1953.

[150] St Dunstan’s Review – For Men and Women Blinded on War Service, No. 433, January 1956, p. 12.

[151] St Dunstan’s Review, No. 434, February 1956, p. 7.

[152] Coventry Evening Telegraph, 5 October 1978.

[153] Taken from Army Order 361 of 1919, published on 16 October, specifying the qualification criteria for eligibility to receive the “clasp” for the 1914 Star, which was also a prerequisite for admission to The Old Contemptibles’ Association.

“I Want To Tread Over All The Path My Son Last Trod.” Pilgrims on the British Legion Great Pilgrimage of 1928


“As we stood in that great hall with the names of tens of thousands of those of our comrades who had no known burial place inscribed on its panelled walls I saw near by some of our women-folk with the tears gently rolling down their faces and a brave smile come stealing forth, I wondered whether the sacrifice had been worth it, whether the League of Nations and the Pact to outlaw war would bear fruit or whether our sons and daughters would be plunged into a struggle with which our own great war would fade into insignificance. As the smile came and as later in the ceremony the sun came forth in all its glory so the hope of the former came in full strength, and we marched past our Prince with the consciousness that we had done our best and, come what may, posterity could point no finger of scorn at the present generation.”[1]

In August 1928, some 11,000 pilgrims made the journey from Britain and the Irish Free State, as well as individuals from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, to the former battlefields of France and Flanders as part of the British Legion Great Pilgrimage.

This article records the experiences of eleven of those 11,000 pilgrims, and their impressions of what it was like to take part .

Great Pilgrimage 1928 VCs Birmingham Daily Gazette 4 August 1928

William Hartley Barnes M.S.M., who lived at 20 Grove Lane in Padiham, near Burnley in Lancashire, travelled with “T” Train Party from Yorkshire to take part in the Great Pilgrimage.

Born on 24 November 1884, William was employed as a carpenter when he attested for the Royal Engineers at Burnley on 7 April 1915, being issued with the service number 89430. On the outbreak of the war Barnes was a member of the National Reserve, having previously served with the 5th Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment (Territorial Force). He embarked for Egypt on 14 June and was posted to 71st Field Company, which formed part of 13th (Western) Division. After serving at Suvla, Barnes was appointed a paid Lance-Corporal on 8 December and promoted to 2nd Corporal on 5 February 1916. He went on to serve in Mesopotamia and was promoted to Corporal on 13 May, and advanced to Sergeant on 3 July. He spent one month in India on leave the following year, and was admitted to hospital on 15 October 1918 suffering from malaria. Embarking for home on Boxing Day, Sergeant Barnes was posted to the Royal Engineers Depot at Chatham on 19 February 1919 and was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve when he was demobilised on 25 March. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal on 22 September 1919.

One of three men from Burnley who went on the Pilgrimage in 1928, William was interviewed when he returned by a journalist of The Burnley Express regarding his experiences. For him, the pilgrimage was personal as he went to visit Ploegsteert where his brother, 8393 Sergeant John Barnes, who served with “D” Company of the 1st Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment and had been killed on 7 November 1914 during an attack mounted through Ploegsteert Wood to Le Gheer. After laying a wreath there, William visited a cemetery where many of his brother’s comrades were buried:

“Close by is a cottage known as the “Lancashire Cottage,” which, during the war, was the headquarters of the East Lancashire Regiment. The man who tenanted the cottage during the war is still in occupation, and he told Mr Barnes that he would always remember the lads from Lancashire. If any visited the spot where he lived he would always welcome them.” [2]

William Hartley Barnes M.S.M. died at Burnley in 1978, aged 93.



“We joined the big pilgrimage to France in August. I would not have missed it for anything. It will live in my memory as long as I live. About 11,000 people made the pilgrimage – every class and creed – some of the highest and some of the lowest in the land, all there to visit the battlefields and the graves of their dead. It made one realise the war brought everyone level – all suffered alike.

The organisation was wonderful; special trains were waiting at London, where we all had our different parties, numbered “A” to “W.” Each member wore a badge, with the letter of his party attached. Special boats took the pilgrims to France, where a hot meal was provided on arrival at Calais. I belonged to the overseas party “A”, which was billeted at Amiens, and visited the battlefields from there each day. We visited Beaucourt Hamel, (sic) in the Somme Valley. All along the route were objects of interest – stumps of trees, an old tank, a cemetery, etc. – and on arrival there we found that a section of the Somme is being cared for by Newfoundland. The trenches are left in their war-time condition, the old duck-boards are still down, although now broken and rotting; dug-outs are intact; and the trenches wind in out of each other for miles. The ground around about is strewn with relics of old rifles, shoes, dixies, water-bottles, barbed-wire, etc., and one can see the broken remains of a machine gun, and beside it a helmet, rifle, and water-bottle of the gunner – telling all plainly that he died at his post. A beautiful monument is built there to the Scottish Highlanders, and Lady Haig, who was there as a pilgrim, was visiting it at the same time as we were. We all stood motionless as a Scottish piper, with his bagpipes, struck up a “Scottish Lament.”

We also visited the famous Vimy Ridge, the scene of such fierce fighting. The Germans held the Ridge right up to 1917. It is a long range of hills. One can easily see why the enemy fought so hard for it, as it commands miles of country. The movement of troops for miles around could be seen from the Ridge. It is simply honeycombed with trenches. One can walk through them for miles. Their construction is wonderful; the dug-outs etc., are specially built, and a great under-ground tunnel connects with the front line. Men, munitions, and supplies were all brought into the line in this way. “No Man’s Land,” in between the trenches, is ploughed up by shell-fire. There are holes everywhere, and one can hardly take a step between. We thought the enemy fire was bad enough; but our own fire must have been hell! I remember how we used to shell it for days without a break. A beautiful monument is being built on top of the Ridge, in memory of the Canadians who eventually captured it. A monument, also, is being built on the left of the Ridge to the Frenchmen who took that portion of the line. It is a nice idea – a big column, with a beaconlight always burning at the top which never goes out. It stands as a silent reminder of those sleeping beneath. Thousands and thousands of our men and Frenchmen fell at Vimy.

We went over to Arras, Albert, Poperinghe, etc., and Ypres Salient (where I received my wounds). Ypres Salient is now a cemetery. The cemeteries are beautifully kept; every grave is marked by a white stone, as the wooden crosses at first used rotted very quickly. Every stone is exactly alike, row after row. On many stones are the name and rank of the soldier; but on many others no name appears – just the simple words, “A British Soldier: Known Unto God.” The main gate, built at the entrance to Ypres, is a monument to the boys who were missing and have no known graves. It has 60,000 names on its panels, and on one panel – No. 23 – is devoted to the Australian boys. I found the name of my cousin – Claude Bower. He was reported missing after a big battle at Ypres.

It was at the Menin Gate that the big ceremony was held in honour of our dead. The Prince of Wales, King and Prince of the Belgians, Marshal Foch, Admiral Jellicoe, etc., were present, and 11,000 pilgrims. There was no hitch of any kind. Each party was allotted a place and marched to it. Our party was on the right side of the Gate. It was a most impressive sight. Flags of every Division and country which took part in the war were flying from the ramparts. After the service there was a march past – women first. It was splendid to see them trying to keep in step to the band – old and young women, mothers and widows; many wearing rows of medals. Then came the men; every man with his medals up, swinging along, shoulder to shoulder, as in the old days. The Prince of Wales, King of the Belgians, and all the Royal party stood on a raised dais, on the right of (the) Menin Gate, and the Prince took the salute.

The towns in the war area are now re-built, and a good proportion of the battlefields are cultivated and growing crops. Wild flowers and scarlet poppies are growing on every side. Roads have been re-made, and everything looks prosperous. No mud to be seen anywhere, as you go through the trenches – so different to the grim days of conflict!

The French people turned out in thousands to give us a welcome. They cheered, waved, and gesticulated, and when a little rank of blinded men from “St Dunstan’s” marched by, arm-in-arm, the roar that went up could be heard for miles.”[3]

Born at Armidale, Selby Garfield Bower was aged twenty-three years and seven months and stated that he was employed as a grazier when he attested for the Australian Imperial Force at Sydney on 17 November 1914.  Issued with the service number 1504, he sailed from Australia with the 3rd Reinforcements for the 2nd Battalion on 10 February 1915 and was promoted to Corporal on 11 February.

After training in Egypt he was posted to the 2nd Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula, joining the battalion at Anzac Cove on 5 May. Bower was appointed a Lance-Sergeant on 22 June, but on 25 August was admitted to 3rd Australian Field Ambulance suffering from influenza. Evacuated to Mudros, Bower was admitted to No. 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station before sailing for Malta on 31 August and being sent to St Patrick’s Hospital for treatment. On 10 September he embarked on the H.T. Scotian for England, and on his arrival was admitted to the London War Hospital at Epsom on 18 September. While being treated in hospital at Epsom Lance-Sergeant Bower met Lydia Mary Jones, a nurse at the London War Hospital, and they married in 1916.

Following his discharge from hospital and convalescence at Weymouth, Lance-Sergeant Bower was posted to the 1st Training Battalion A.I.F. at Perham Down on 6 July 1916 and was drafted to France on 31 July. He joined 1st Australian Infantry Base Depot at Etaples on 1 August and was sent back to the 2nd Battalion, rejoining the unit on 10 August at their billets in Pernois. On 12 September, while serving in the front line near Zillebeke, Lance-Sergeant Bower received severe wounds to his left leg and foot, fracturing his fibula and tibia, from a German minenwerfer shell burst. He was admitted to 1st Australian Field Ambulance before being evacuated to No. 17 Casualty Clearing Station at Remy Siding. From there he was sent to Boulogne and was admitted to No. 3 Canadian General Hospital on 18 September before sailing on board the H.M.H.S. St David for England. Bower arrived at the Queen Mary Military Hospital at Whalley on 19 September where he remained until 13 March 1917 when he was transferred to the 3rd Australian Auxillary Hospital at Dartford. On his discharge from hospital, Bower was posted to No. 2 Command Depot A.I.F. at Weymouth on 26 April. Unfit for further service at the front, Bower embarked on board the Hospital Ship A.14 on 21 July, and arrived back in Australia on the H.M.A.T. Euripides on 19 September.  His arrival back home was reported by The Armidale Advertiser on 25 September:

“By Saturday morning’s mail there returned to Armidale Sergt. Selby Bower, a son of Mr Geo. Bower, the well-known Armidale wool-buyer. Three years ago this month the gallant Sergt. answered the call of King and country, being among the first to do so from this district. He returns with a badly injured foot and leg, but with the knowledge of a duty worthily discharged. He was always a popular young fellow, and his wide circle of friends have given him a very hearty welcome home. Sergt. Bower was attached to the 2nd Battalion and saw practically the whole of the Gallipoli campaign up to shortly before the memorable evacuation. He participated in the famous Lone Pine charge, and passed through the whole campaign scathless except for slight illness. Afterwards he went to France, and survived the multitudinous dangers at Pozieres and on the Somme until finally, at Ypres, a 12-inch German minenwerfer shell burst near where he and nine of his comrades were standing. All the rest were killed, the Sergt. alone escaping, though with a sadly damaged foot. This occurred at night time, and the Sergt. had been dodging these little German favours all day. Though at first his recovery was despaired of, six months in hospital made a very big difference, especially the devoted care and attention of one excellent English nurse, who subsequently became Mrs Bower. It was indeed a romantic love affair. Mrs Bower is due in Australia by the next mail boat.

The Sergt.’s leg is some three inches short at present, and he is to undergo an operation at Randwick to have the bones reset and lengthened. Despite his many stirring experiences the young soldier looks exceedingly well, though he cannot walk without crutches. As to the war generally he says there is much yet to be done, and every man possible is needed, chiefly to bring the battalions up to their proper strength and give the boys so long out there a decent rest. He says the German organisation is wonderful, but their soldiers are long-distance fighters only. Never did he have a chance to get into a hand-to-hand contest – they always either ran or threw up their hands.”

Lance-Sergeant Bower was discharged as physically unfit for service, as a consequence of his wounds, on 14 March 1918, and received his war medals at a ceremony held at the Town Hall in Armidale on 3 September 1921.[4] Selby worked as a butcher after the war, but he and Lydia left Armidale in 1923 when he purchased the Coliseum Picture Theatre at Lithgow. They lost everything when the building was destroyed in a fire during the early hours of 31 August 1924.[5]

On 12 May 1928, the Bowers sailed for England on board the S.S. Koln, and during their trip stayed with Lydia’s mother.[6] It was during this visit that Selby went to France and Flanders as part of the British Legion’s Great Pilgrimage.

Mentioned in Selby’s letter was his cousin, 6 Private Claude Bower, who served with “A” Company of the 33rd Battalion, Australian Imperial Force and who is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. Claude had attested at Armidale on 11 August 1915 and at the time of his enlistment was aged eighteen and employed as a groom. He embarked from Sydney on 4 May 1916 and landed at Southampton on 9 July. Private Bower was drafted to France on 21 November 1916 and was killed on 14 October 1917.

Claude’s brother, 7213 Private William Eric Bower, enlisted for the Australian Imperial Force at Armidale on 31 December 1916. Aged eighteen and seven months, he was employed as a car driver when he attested and left Sydney with the 24th Reinforcement for the 13th Battalion on 7 February 1917. Arriving at Devonport on 11 April, Eric Bower joined the 4th Training Battalion at Codford Camp and was drafted to France on 18 October, being taken onto the strength of the 13th Battalion six days later. Eric was severely wounded in the abdomen on 8 August 1918 and died of his wounds at 11.10 a.m. the following morning after being admitted to No. 61 Casualty Clearing Station. He is buried at Vignacourt British Cemetery: Plot VI, Row A, Grave 13, and the following inscription is carved at the base of his headstone:

In Loving Memory of the Noble Son of Mr & Mrs Bower

Age 19. (R.I.P.)

Great Pilgrimage 1928 Vimy Ridge

Another Australian who went to France on the Great Pilgrimage was Arthur John Williams, who was a member of the Geelong Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia. Formerly 3615 Private A. J. Williams, 3rd Pioneer Battalion, Australian Imperial Force (8th Reinforcements), he wrote to his friends at Geelong and recounted where he had visited while in France and Belgium:

“Dear Brownie and comrades at Geelong,

I promised to write and tell you something of the British Legion Pilgrimage to the battlefields of France, so here goes.

Saturday, August 4th, was a very wet day in London and promised anything but fine for our trip. At Victoria Station I met two members of the Geelong branch, E. A. Alsop and W. J. F. Butterworth. They were very well and asked to be remembered in me letter to all “digger” cobbers in Geelong. They also joined the Pilgrimage as did many Australians from all parts of the Commonwealth.

The trip across the Channel was very rough, and hundreds failed to appear at the dinner table. Arriving at Calais we had tea and supper there and entrained for Amiens, arriving there about 2 a.m. Sunday, where we were all sent to our billets (just like old times) and Sunday being a free day we were at liberty to go where we liked so three others and myself got a taxi and visited “Villers Bret,” Corbie, passing through Hamel to Sailly Laurette, then to Cressy and Chipilly where we inspected “Big Bertha” the great gun that fired upon Paris 75 miles away and eventually captured by the Australian Third Division. Then on through Fay and back another route, so we saw a good deal of the country through which we passed in 1918.

There is not a sign of a trench, or a dug-out, (except, of course, where they are preserved) and in their place miles and miles of splendid crops of all sorts; one can hardly credit that the people who cleared away all signs of devastation, and are building up new villages in places where the old ones were destroyed, building is going on everywhere.

Monday we visited Beaumont Hamel, and the Newfoundland Park where fine monuments have been erected, trenches preserved, duckboards and all. The Ulster Cemetery is close by, and in company with several others I also paid a visit. These cemeteries are kept beautifully and made one almost wish that he were one of the “Glorious Dead.”

Tuesday we visited Vimy where the Canadians are building a wonderful monument which I should like to see when finished. The tunnels and trenches are concreted, and lighted with electricity, and should last for all time.

Wednesday we went to Ypres. This, of course, was the crowning day of the whole tour. The people are re-erecting a beautiful city, though there are still evidences of the ruthless destruction, particularly to the great Cloth Hall, part of which is being left in its original condition as a monument. The early morning was damp, but when we got out of the train the rain stopped and the day turned out full of sunshine. The Menin Gate Memorial is a beautiful thing, where are engraved the names of over 35,000 (sic) soldiers who have no known grave. The Prince of Wales and the Crown Prince of Belgium were there among the thousands of people, and the march past of 11,000 pilgrims was a great sight.

On Thursday I visited the cemetery at Sailly Laurette, where I found the graves of four of my old comrades who were killed in the battle of Bray on August 22, 1918. They were buried side by side, and Les Parrott, of Geelong, will remember them well – Lieut. J. McConnell, Sergt. M. H. Lewis, D. G. Bethune, and C. E. Marriott, all of the 3rd Pioneer Battalion. I am sorry that I did not get the names and where buried of some more Geelong boys. There must be hundreds lying at peace in the many cemeteries that I visited.

The whole Pilgrimage was wonderfully organised, and everyone concerned deserves the greatest credit. We arrived in Paris yesterday evening and I have been very busy sight seeing ever since. Paris is a fine city with its crowded streets with the taxis flying around like flies.

To-day I visited the Arch de Triomphe, where the French Unknown Soldier is buried, and also the Perpetual Flame which is most unique. I also visited the Effel (sic) Tower and went to the top from where a wonderful view of Paris and the surrounding landscape for miles can be obtained. The trip is nearing the end, and I hope to get back to London on the 13th.

I hope you have not fallen asleep while reading this – or perhaps you were like Jack Brownlee – had some refreshments half way through. Anyhow I trust that this letter finds all the Geelong boys well, including yourself, and with best wishes from yours in comradeship

A. J. Williams.”[7]


Born on 7 January 1889, Archibald Candler, better known as Archie, attested for the Coldstream Guards at Bury St Edmunds on 15 August 1905, stating his profession as musician. Issued with the regimental number 6301, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion and appointed as a Drummer. In 1908 Candler, who had already earned his first Good Conduct badge, transferred to The Suffolk Regiment and was issued with the regimental number 7715. He served with the 2nd Battalion and was on the Permanent Staff at the Regimental Depot when war was declared, playing regularly for the Depot football team. Drummer Candler rejoined the 2nd Battalion at the Curragh and sailed from Dublin for France, disembarking at Le Havre on 14 August 1914. Promoted to Corporal while on active service, Candler was severely wounded in the leg at Sanctuary Wood on 25 September 1915 and was discharged as physically unfit for service due to his wounds on 25 May 1916 while on the strength of the Regimental Depot. Archie was subsequently issued with a Silver War Badge.

In the years following the war Archie was employed at Robert Boby Ltd. in Bury St Edmunds, where he worked as an engineer’s bookkeeper. He married Olive Ruby Lilian Game in 1922, and also joined the Royal Ancient Order of Buffalos and the British Legion branch in the town.

On his return from the Great Pilgrimage to his home at 40 Guildhall Street in Bury St Edmunds, Candler was interviewed by a journalist of The Bury Free Press and gave his impressions of what he had seen while on the pilgrimage:

“It is marvelous how they have cultivated the land around. There are big shell holes that have never been filled up, and in the middle of the wheat fields you can see these big, cement redoubts, built by the Germans; gun emplacements, and so on, which are so substantial – nearly a yard thick – that they will never be able to shift them. The people there are rebuilding their own houses at night-time, after they have done their day’s work. Some are living in the front and the backs are all blown out. The majority are in our Army huts and corrugated iron built up for shelter till they are in a position to build proper houses. Barbed wire is still about and some of the women tore their stockings and skirts on it.”[8]

Among the places Archie visited was Vimy Ridge:

“We went all round the ridge and through the trenches, and here and there dud shells were sticking up, and there were a few rifles lying about. In the evening we were entertained to an open-air concert, with bands. We visited some of the cafes, and in a body like that, of 450, there was not a man the worse for drink. The way it was conducted and the way the people behaved themselves was splendid.”[9]

Archie also saw the names of comrades from the 2nd Suffolks commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, and brought back two souvenir ashtrays, one from Hill 60 with bullets for legs, and another of the Menin Gate.

Archie was elected as Chairman of the Bury St Edmunds branch of the British Legion in 1935 and on 26 October 1955 was presented with his gold badge, to mark his twenty years of service in the role.[10]

Archie Candler died at his home at 40 Guildhall Street on 4 April 1960.


“To put it into a few words, I have never had such a four days in all my life. Everything was done that could be done, both by the headquarters organisation and the municipal authorities, and the solemnity of the occasion was the dominant note. The Mayors of the different places extended both hands of welcome and friendship, and public buildings were thrown open to us. There was a magnificent reception wherever we went. At Armentieres we laid a wreath on the War Memorial. Our visit to Vimy Ridge impressed us all. There were still signs of the war to remind us of what those sleeping in the cemeteries and their comrades went through. At Ypres the great service of remembrance was most touching. Many of the war-stricken villages have made wonderful recoveries, but the people in them still remember Tommy for what he was in the war and opened their doors in welcome.”[11]

Born on 8 February 1873, Captain Arthur George Cleale, of the Chelmsford Branch of the British Legion, had been in business as a cycle agent and ironmonger prior to the Great War, and was later as a garage proprietor. During the war he had served with the 1/2nd Battalion, The Essex Volunteer Regiment and “C” Company, 2nd Volunteer Battalion, The Essex Regiment, being commissioned as a Temporary Lieutenant on 7 September 1916, and a Temporary Captain on 10 March 1917.[12] As well as being involved in the activities of the Chelmsford Branch of the British Legion, Captain Cleale served as Chairman of the Chelmsford Volunteers’ Association and as a Director of the West Essex Permanent Building Society.

Arthur Cleale died at St John’s Hospital at Chelmsford on 5 July 1957.

Great Pilgrimage 1928 Vimy Ridge Mother

Born at Canterbury on 16 July 1877, Ellen Fowler trained as a nurse at St Mary’s Hospital in London between 1892 and 1895. During the Great War she served as a Staff Nurse with the Territorial Force Nursing Service, and registered with the General Nursing Council of England and Wales on 21 April 1922. At the time of the Great Pilgrimage in 1928 Nurse Fowler was residing at Salisbury House, on the Whitstable Road in the St Thomas’ Hill district of Canterbury. In an article that she wrote for The British Journal of Nursing later that year, she recalled her visit to Vimy Ridge:

“On August 7th we all went to Vimy, picking up our luncheon again at the station. We walked to the Ridge, Lady Haig with us. We sat down there for a while, afterwards going on to Grange Trench, where the German and Canadian trenches met; they have now been concreted and a new road is being constructed for conveying material for building the great National Memorial; even now the work done impresses one.

I noticed a poor old mother toiling up the Ridge, and went and asked her if I should try to get her a seat in a char-a-banc for it was very hot and there was about a mile further to go, also many young people, who could have walked, took up the seats; but she pathetically replied, “I want to tread over all the path my son last trod.”[13]

Ellen Fowler died in 1945.


Mrs Mary Ann O’Connor (left), who lived at 31 Acorn Street in the Netherthorpe district of Sheffield, was a member of “T” Party of the British Legion Great Pilgrimage in August 1928. She wore the medals issued to three of her sons who had died during the Great War:

10389 Lance-Corporal John Francis O’Connor, who was killed on 18 November 1914 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry). He is commemorated on Panel 47 of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

14296 Driver Michael O’Connor, who served with 112th Battery, XXIV Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and died of wounds on 20 July 1915. He is buried at Hop Store Cemetery: Plot I, Row C, Grave 24.

201267 Private Thomas O’Connor, who was killed in Italy on 15 June 1918 while serving with the 9th (Service) Battalion, The York and Lancaster Regiment. He is buried Granezza British Cemetery: Plot I, Row D, Grave 1.

All three of Mrs O’Connor’s sons were also commemorated on the Roll of Honour inside St Vincent’s Catholic Church on Solly Street in Sheffield.

Mrs O’Connor carried the Sheffield Branch Standard during the ceremony held at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, in place of ex-Sergeant Bernard Birch, who was ill and could not attend the Pilgrimage.[14]

Mary, who was born in County Mayo on 9 July 1867, later lived at 28 Moorfield Flats in Shalesmoor and died in 1945, aged 78.


Mrs Flora Sharpe, who lived at 77 Queen’s Road in Bury St Edmunds, also took part in the Pilgrimage. She had the opportunity to visit the grave of her husband, 3/9607 Company Sergeant-Major Charles Sharpe, who had served with the 7th (Service) Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment and died of wounds on 20 October 1915 after being admitted to the West Riding Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers.[15]

C.S.M. Sharpe had served for 23 years with The Suffolk Regiment, enlisting at Aldershot in 1888, seen service in South Africa with the 1st Battalion and 8th Battalion, Mounted Infantry (he was Mentioned in Despatches) and was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1907. He was discharged in 1911 and worked went to work in Bury St Edmunds. He joined the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion shortly after the outbreak of the war and landed in France with the 7th Suffolks on 30 May 1915. C.S.M. Sharpe was mortally wounded during the fighting for the Quarries near Hulluch on 13 October 1915, and he is buried at Lillers Communal Cemetery: Plot IV, Row D, Grave 10.

Flora was interviewed by a journalist from The Bury Free Press following her return from the Great Pilgrimage, and said:

“I have come back with more content now that I have seen my husband’s grave, and if it is any comfort to other mothers that I have seen the graves of their sons – it would be to me – they can rest assured that every cemetery I saw is well kept and it is like entering a pretty English garden.”[16]

Flora Sharpe died at Bury St Edmunds in 1962, aged 83.


Great Pilgrimage 1928 Worthing Widow Photo

Mrs Gertrude Bowley, who lived at 6 Warwick Place in Worthing, was one of the widows who took part in the British Legion Great Pilgrimage in August 1928. Her late husband, M2/269520 Private Frank Bowley, who worked as a milk carrier before the war, had served with 594th Mechanical Transport Company, Army Service Corps, attached to X Corps Heavy Artillery. He had died of wounds after being admitted to 105th Field Ambulance R.A.M.C. on 28 July 1918, aged 34, and is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery: Plot XXVIII, Row G, Grave 18A. Two photographs taken by Mrs Bowley, one in the preserved trenches on Vimy Ridge and another taken beneath the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, were reproduced in The Worthing Gazette on 15 August 1928.

Born on 2 August 1884, Gertrude Bowley never remarried and died at Worthing in 1969, two months before her 85th birthday.


72352 Private Augustus Stanley Bearman served with the 15th (Service) Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) (Nottingham), and had died on 27 February 1918. Born at Bocking in 1885, he was the eldest son of Harry and Ellen Bearman, who lived on Market Place in Braintree, and married to Clara Stone at St Matthew’s Church in West Kensington on 11 September 1911. Their son, Bargrave Stanley Bearman, was born on 18 March 1913 and was baptised at Holy Trinity Church in Upper Tooting on 27 April. Augustus lived with his family at 70 Boundaries Road in Balham.

Augustus was employed as a drapers’ assistant when he attested for the Royal Flying Corps at Battersea on 8 December 1915, having previously been rejected for service by another Recruiting Office for showing symptoms of heart disease. Issued with the service number 38956, Private Bearman was drafted to France on 27 August 1916 and posted to No. 13 Balloon Company R.F.C. On 7 May 1917 he was awarded seven days’ Field Punishment No. 2 for “neglect of duty.” On 1 September he was drafted to the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division Infantry Base Depot to be trained as an infantryman, and on 24 September was transferred to The Sherwood Foresters, being posted to the 15th (Service) Battalion.

Private Bearman was killed as a result of an accidental explosion while unload Stokes Mortar bombs from a G.S. Wagon while working at the 35th Division Salvage Depot at Kempton Park Camp, south of St Julien. The Salvage Officer of 35th Division later wrote to Private Bearman’s father:

“The men of the Salvage Corps join with me in offering our deepest sympathy to you. It must be some consolation to you to know that Pt. Bearman died in faithful exercise of his duty, and gave his life for his country. We had learned to appreciate his soldierly qualities.”[17]

News of his death at the front was reported in The Essex Newsman on 9 March:

“On Thursday Mr Harry Bearman, Market Place, Braintree, received official intimation that his eldest son, Augustus Stanley Bearman, 32, formerly R.F.C., latterly Notts and Derby Regt., was killed in action by an explosion in France on Monday. Before the war the deceased was engaged in the drapery business of Messrs. Harper Bros. at Balham. He was married and leaves a widow and little son. He was one of the choristers at St Peter’s, Bocking, when that church was opened, and sang there for several years. He was educated at Braintree College House School under Dr Amott, and was well-known and esteemed. Mr and Mrs Bearman have two other sons serving in the Army.”

Following the explosion, Private Bearman’s body was placed in a Nissen Hut at Kempton Park Camp before being buried at No Man’s Cot Cemetery, where his grave can be found at Row B, Grave 29.

On 18 May No. 6 Infantry Record Office at Lichfield sent Clara her late husband’s personal effects consisting of letters, photographs, cards, photo case, his mirror, wallet and pocket book. Probate was granted to his widow on 24 July, his effects being valued at £451 9s. 2d., and she was also awarded a weekly Widow’s Pension of 20/5d, effective from 16 September 1918.

On 5 December 1920, and memorial tablet was unveiled at St Peter’s Church in Bocking by Mrs Hills, the wife of the churchwarden, to his memorial. The inscription reads:

“To the glory of God, and in memory of Augustus Stanley Bearman, late of the Sherwood Foresters, beloved husband of Clara Bearman, and eldest son of Harry and Ellen Bearman, of this town, killed in action in France (sic), February 27, 1918, aged 32 years. Many years a chorister of this church. His life for his country, his soul to God.”[18]

Mrs Clara Bearman had the opportunity to visit her husband’s grave while on the Great Pilgrimage, which was reported by The Essex Newsman on 18 August 1928:

“WAR GRAVE FOUND. – A party of 30 from Braintree took part in the British Legion pilgrimage to the battlefield scenes in France, among them being the widow and brother of the late Mr A. S. Bearman, who fell in action, and to whom there is a memorial tablet in St Peter’s Church. The pilgrims were able to locate the grave, upon which they found the inscription of which they had been previously notified.”

The last sentence of the inscription that had been included on his memorial tablet at Bocking was also carved at the base of his headstone.

Clara never remarried and later lived at Bagshot in Surrey. She died in 1973 while a resident in the Home of Compassion Nursing Home at 58 High Street in Thames Ditton, aged 88, and was buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s in West Molesey on 5 October.

Arthur Oswald Brown, a member of the Biggleswade Branch of the British Legion, was one of the 11,000 pilgrims who went to France and Belgium on the Great Pilgrimage in August 1928. Born at Langford in on 28 February 1881, Arthur had been employed as a coach painter and, although he had attested under the Derby Scheme did not see service overseas. He later became the licensee of The Lion Inn on Caldecote Road in Biggleswade.

Arthur sailed for France with “B” Train Party and on arriving at Amiens complained that he was suffering from pains in his stomach. A French doctor was called, and it was determined that Mr Brown was suffering from colic. Told to rest, Arthur did not take part in the excursions of Beaucourt and Vimy Ridge, but was determined to be present at Ypres on 8 August for the service at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. This he did, and he also took part in the march- past of the British Legion pilgrims that followed.

On returning to London Arthur went to visit his daughter at Highbury and he was taken ill at her house. Admitted to Middlesex Hospital on 10 August, it was discovered that he was suffering from acute appendicitis and was operated on immediately. A further operation took place the following day but Arthur died that same evening, 11 August, at the age of 47. His funeral took place at Biggleswade on 16 August.[19]

Great Pilgrimage 1928 Birmingham Pilgrims

“In the past week on this pilgrimage I have rubbed shoulders with members of the Legion from all parts of the country, men broken in limb and health but not in spirit for the defence of what they believed to be the right, men who have missed death and disaster miraculously, and thank God for it; men who have touched the border-line of eternity and, in their own phrase, “got away with it.”[20]


[1] An extract from an article written by “A Pilgrim” from Thame in Oxfordshire who was a member of “B” Train Party of the British Legion Great Pilgrimage to France and Flanders in 1928, describing the ceremony held at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial on 8 August. The full article was published in The Thame Gazette on 21 August 1928.

[2] Burnley Express, 15 August 1928.

[3] Selby Bower wrote his letter to Mr H. E. Williams, of Armidale, New South Wales, and it was reproduced in The Armidale Chronicle on 12 January 1929.

[4] Armidale Chronicle, 27 August 1921.

[5] Armidale Chronicle, 9 June 1923, Sydney Sun, 1 September 1924 & Armidale Express, 9 September 1924.

[6] Armidale Chronicle, 18 April 1928.

[7] Geelong Advertiser (Victoria), 23 October 1928.

[8] Bury Free Press, 11 August 1928.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Bury Free Press, 28 October 1955.

[11] Essex Newsman, 11 August 1928.

[12] London Gazette, 3 July 1917, 1 October 1917 & 8 December 1917.

[13] “Impressions of the British Legion Pilgrimage to France,” The British Journal of Nursing, Vol. 76 September 1928, p. 237.

[14] Sheffield Independent, 6 August 1928.

[15] Bury Free Press, 30 October 1915.

[16] Bury Free Press, 11 August 1928.

[17] Essex Newsman, 23 March 1918.

[18] Essex Newsman, 11 December 1920.

[19] Biggleswade Chronicle, 17 August 1928.

[20] An extract from an account of the British Legion Great Pilgrimage of August 1928, written by Charles James Mullett, who was a journalist working for The Thanet Advertiser and was representing the Ramsgate Branch of the British Legion. The full article was published in The Thanet Advertiser on 10 August 1928.

Old Comrades Remember

137th brigade riqueval bridge

Birmingham Daily Gazette – 28 September 1935:



“SIR, – There are at least four dates which will ever stand out in the memories of all who had the honour of serving in the 1/5th, 2/5th, 3/5th Battalions of the South Staffordshire Regiment – the date of going overseas, 4 March; Hohenzollern Redoubt, 13 October; Gommecourt, 1 July; St Quentin Canal, 29 September. The last-named anniversary is now due and to all my old comrades I wish “Many happy returns.”

Whatever recollections these and other dates recall, there will always arise the thought of: “I wonder what’s happened to old So-and-So; I’d like to meet him again!

Three years ago, due to the generosity of one of our comrades, a reunion dinner of three battalions was held in Walsall. It was a great success, and this has increased with two succeeding ones. The committee are most anxious to get more names on their list, so that the definitive date, etc., of the next reunion (about 4 March) can be notified to all.

Just a postcard, with name and address and battalion, sent to H. J. Drew, 14, Dorothy-street, Walsall – that all it needs. I want to emphasise that it is an all-ranks evening. Even if a man thinks his address is already known, send it in again. If he knows any other fellows, put their names on his card. It is so easy to say “I’ll do that tomorrow.” Do it now, please, and so ensure a real big reunion night.

Many thanks, Mr Editor, for an allowance of your valuable space. I would like to meet “old So-and-So” again! – Yours, etc.,

A. E. Machin (Major).

Barr Common, Walsall.”

Alan Edward Machin was born on 5 September 1893 and was the eldest son of Edward James Machin, a bridle cutter and fancy leather goods manufacturer, who lived at Maybank, 19 Foden Road in Walsall. An old boy of Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Alan Machin was employed at his father’s firm when he attested for the “Non-Manual Section” of the 5th South Staffords, being issued with the regimental number 8864. He embarked for France with “C” Company of the 1/5th South Staffords in March 1915 and was promoted to the rank of Corporal and appointed Lance-Sergeant before being commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant (on probation) in the 3/5th Battalion on 12 February 1916. Machin was posted back to France on 9 May 1916 and rejoined the 1/5th South Staffords a week later. He was wounded on 1 July 1916 during the assault at Gommecourt and was evacuated to England two days later, being sent to a hospital in Manchester for further treatment. Second-Lieutenant Machin was confirmed in his rank on 16 December 1916. After being discharged from hospital, Machin served with the 5th (Reserve) Battalion returned to France on 20 July 1917 rejoining the 1/5th Battalion on 29 July. Alan Machin was wounded twice more, on 30 March 1918 and on 29 September 1918 during the crossing of the St Quentin Canal at Bellenglise, having been appointed an Acting Captain and serving as Adjutant. He was also Mentioned in Despatches, the award being announced in The London Gazette on 9 July 1919. Alan Machin retired in February 1919 and lived at 93 Persehouse Street in Walsall on his return home.

Machin resumed work at his family’s leather goods works in Walsall, and was commissioned as a Temporary Captain with the 5th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment (Defence Force) on 9 April 1921, remaining with the battalion when the Territorial Army was re-formed. He was promoted to the rank of Major on 19 July 1924 and was Second-in-Command of the 5th South Staffords until returning to the Reserve of Officers the following year. Alan Machin also served as chairman of the Aldridge Branch of the British Legion and in 1939 was residing with his wife Gladys and son Ivatt at 14 Barr Common Road near Aldridge.

During the Second World War Machin served as a Group Commander in the Local Defence Volunteers and the Home Guard, his area including units raised at Streetly, Aldridge, Rushall, Pelsall, Wednesbury and Darlaston.

Alan Edward Machin died at his home at 1 Little Hardwick Road in Aldridge on 30 September 1982, shortly after his 89th birthday and the day after the 64th anniversary of the storming of the St Quentin Canal at Bellenglise, during which operation he had been wounded.

A Russian with The South Staffords: 39532 Private Afanacia Topako, 1/5th Battalion (Territorial Force)

39532 Private Afanacia Tapako attested for The South Staffordshire Regiment at Fresnoy-le-Grand on 6 February 1919. Born at Vladivostok on 12 May 1898, Afanacia (his surname is spelled as Topako in some records)  had previously served in the Imperial Russian Navy during 1915 and 1916, but at the time of his attestation gave his trade as an engineer, residing at the Sailor’s Home on Golding Street in Hull. He became a British subject on his enlistment.

Serving with the 1/5th Battalion, Tapako was appointed Lance-Corporal and promoted to Corporal on the day of his enlistment, and became a Lance-Sergeant three days later, before moving with the battalion to Cologne on occupation duties. Lance-Sergeant Tapako was posted to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion on 24 June 1919, and then to the Depot at Whittington Barracks on 29 July 1919, where he was reverted to the rank of Corporal for misconduct, before being posted to the 2nd Battalion on 27 October. He was appointed an unpaid Lance-Sergeant on 28 February 1920, being paid on 20 March before being reverted to Corporal for a second time on 6 April. Tapako was tried by District Court-Martial on 22 April for drunkenness and was reduced to the rank of Private, before being discharged on 2 June 1920 as his services were no longer required.

Afanacia gave his address on discharge as 37 Meeting Street in Wednesbury and in September 1921 he married Getrude Sylvia Wall. By 1939 Afanacia and his family lived at 119 Bryce Road in Brierley Hill, and he was employed as a cupola man at a local foundry. 

Afanacia Tapako died in June 1962, his death being registered at Rowley Regis.

“I Could Write More, But Am Fed Up Writing About My Adventures”: S/3643 Private Isaac Cliffe – 1st Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders


The eldest son of Moses and Maria Cliffe, Isaac Cliffe was born at Sheffield on 23 November 1893 and was employed as a cabinet maker when he attested for The Gordon Highlanders at Sheffield on 2 September 1914. He was drafted to the front on 3 January 1915.

Private Cliffe received a gunshot wound to the left shoulder on 17 March 1915 while in the front line at La Clytte and was admitted to No. 8 Field Ambulance, before being moved to No. 8 Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul. From there, he was transferred to No. 14 General Hospital at Wimereux on 18 March. On being released from hospital, Cliffe was sent to No. 1 Convalescent Camp on 21 March before being posted to the base details at Le Havre on 31 March. He transferred to No. 3 Infantry Base Depot at Rouen on 8 April and rejoined the 1st Gordons on 11 April. Granted leave on 20 November 1915, Cliffe returned to his unit on 28 November. He was deprived seven days’ pay on 8 February 1916, although the nature of his offence is not recorded. Cliffe was wounded for a second time on 2 March, during the attack mounted by 3rd Division to retake The Bluff on 2 March 1916. The 1st Gordons lost 245 killed, wounded and missing, but the position was recaptured and over 250 German prisoners taken, for the loss of 1.622 British casualties. Sent to No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station, suffering from wounds to his leg and ankle, he was admitted to No. 26 General Hospital at Etaples on 3 March, from where he wrote to his parents, who lived at 52 Division Street:

“Just a few lines to let you know I am getting on quite nicely. Hope to hear the same of you. We are having some very nice weather out here lately. The hospital I am in is a very nice place, and is situated on the coast of France. We can see the sea from our ward windows quite well. I suppose you would like to know how I got wounded? Well, it is not a bad yarn!

About 3 p.m. on March 1 we left our billets for the trenches and had tea on the road two hours later. The trenches were reached about 9 o’clock. It was very quiet all night, with the exception of a few trench mortars, which our boys kept putting over. Four hours after midnight we crept out on the front of our trenches waiting for our officers to give the word. This came about 4.30. We advanced to within 10 yards of the enemy’s lines before being spotted. Then the fun began! It was as if Hell had been let loose. What with the guns, machine guns, rifles, bombs and trench mortars. It was an awful row. On the boys advanced, and barbed wire did not stop them. They all went forward like Britishers always do, fearing no foe.

We managed to reach the German trenches with few casualties. Then the order came to “jump into the trenches.” I dropped into the trench at the side of one of the lance-corporals. Then the Germans let us have a few rounds, along with some bombs, just to let us know a war was going on! We potted back at them for a while, and then I had to look around me. The “lance-jack” was by my side, but slightly wounded.

You can imagine things were a bit desperate. One fit man and one wounded, and the Germans kept firing away at us and throwing over a few bombs. However, we were well under cover and kept on hoping for the best. I can assure you we both said a prayer under our breath. We heard our bombers at work and our hopes revived, but these were later shattered to the ground.

We were both determined to make a fight of it, when into the dug-out dropped and unarmed German, with his head covered in bandages. His first words to us in broken English were “Don’t shoot comrades, mercy comrades.” We could see tears in his eyes and he was trembling like a leaf. He said to us, “You come, officer talk English.” We gave him a drink of coffee out of one of our bottles and followed him to another dug-out. Out of this place walked a German officer. His first words, in good English, were, “Your mate hit?” I replied, “Yes.” He then pulled out his field bandage and commenced to dress my mate’s wounds. I looked at him in astonishment. Meanwhile the Germans in the trench had all gathered round to see what was going on, some of them crying “Comrades.”

Then the officer looked at our numerals and appeared to be very much surprised to see that we were Gordons. He said “I will see to you in a while,” and so we sat tight and listened to the screaming shells which were being put over by both sides at a great rate. Then up came one of our bombers. He cried a few words in German to a sentry on look-out, who replied with a shot from his rifle. Our bombers then threw a bomb, which dropped near to my feet. Then he went back.

Meanwhile the bomb burst and a large piece of shrapnel hit me on the left ankle. It gave me an awful shock. Then out stepped the German officer. He came towards me, saying to a couple of his men who were near, “Search the man.” This they did without hesitation. The sentry cried out, “Him no throw bombs.” The officer later – about 6.30 – came to me and said “You throw a signal to your men, telling them to come over and take us all prisoners.” I started shouting to the boys to come and take them over, but they could not hear me.

I then waved some white mufflers the Germans haded me to signal with, but this made no impression. The officer then said, “You go over and fetch your men.” So over I went and fetched a few of the boys. We made for the German lines again, and there the Germans stood with their hands up, waiting to be taken over. We took them over, and the remainder of our chaps set to work to build a parapet, whilst I made for the dressing station. I could write more, but am fed up writing about my adventures.”[1]

On being discharged from hospital, Cliffe was sent to No. 6 Convalescent Depot on 15 April, before being posted to No. 3 Infantry Base Depot on 30 May. He returned to the 1st Gordons on 15 June.

Gordon Highlanders 1916 

Private Cliffe was wounded for a third time on 18 August 1916 while fighting on the Somme, when the 1st Gordons advanced from trenches in front of Maltz Horn Farm to succeeding in taking the sunken Hardencourt Road for the loss of 261 killed, wounded and missing. Admitted to No. 8 General Hospital at Rouen with a gunshot wound to his right thigh, he was transferred to No. 18 Convalescent Depot before being sent to No. 6 General Hospital for further treatment. Cliffe was evacuated to England on board H.M.H.S. Western Australia on 7 September and admitted to Berrington War Hospital at Shrewsbury on three days later. He remained there until discharged on 30 September.

Cliffe was drafted back to France on 4 February 1917 and sent to No. 18 Infantry Base Depot, from where he was admitted to hospital shortly after his arrival with an infection to his left leg. Later diagnosed as impertigo, Cliffe was treated at No. 24 General Hospital before being sent home on board the Hospital Ship Antwerpen on 12 April.  He was admitted to 3rd Northern General Hospital at Sheffield and remained there until 13 August 1917. Drafted back to France on 10 November, Private Cliffe was posted No. 18 Infantry Base Depot before being drafted to the 1/6th (Banff and Donside) Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, joining the battalion on 21 November. Wounded two days later, suffering a gunshot wound to the neck during the fighting at Bourlon Wood, Cliffe was evacuated to No. 21 Casualty Clearing Station before being sent to No. 18 General Hospital at Dannes Camiers  on 24 November. He was sent back to England on board the Hospital Ship Ville-de-Liege on 2 December and admitted to 1st Northern General Hospital at Newcastle-upon-Tyne the following day. Cliffe was discharged from hospital on 18 January 1918 and posted to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders.

He was transferred to the 39th (Service) Battalion of The Royal Fusiliers at Plymouth on 4 March 1918 and was issued with the regimental number J/2473, the prefix denoting that his battalion was one of those that had been formed in January 1918 from Jewish volunteers for service in Palestine. Cliffe was posted to the 42nd (Reserve) Battalion the following day, and remained at Plymouth, being transferred to the Base Details for the Jewish Battalions on 27 July. Private Cliffe was found to be absent without leave at 11.30 a.m. on 21 August 1918 and was arrested by military police at Temple Meads Station the next day. He was charged and on being found guilty was deprived of 20 days’ pay, which was later amended to him forfeiting five days’ pay. He was also absent from parade on 15 November 1918 and received seven days’ confinement to barracks as punishment.

Private Cliffe transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve on his demobilisation on 5 June 1919, his conduct being described as Very Good. Isaac gave his home address as 181 Devonshire Street in Sheffield, and twenty years later he still resided there with his widowed mother Maria, recorded in the 1939 Register as working as a market vendor.


[1] Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 28 March 1916.

A Ceylonese Volunteer on the Somme: 9563 Corporal (Acting Sergeant) Dionysius Bartholemew Seneviratne, 13th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)

Beaucourt November 1916

23 November 1916:

“Just a line to let you know that I am in hospital with chronic bronchitis due to exposure in the trenches. I was slightly wounded last month, but I was well enough to join my chums when they went over the top a few days ago. On the 13th (sic) our battalion went over the top at dawn. We got to their front line trenches with about 20 casualties, and we captured about two hundred Germans. This, however, was just the beginning. Our main objective was a village about a mile in front of us, so we moved without delay. We took their second line of trenches too without trouble. Up to then we had lost nearly fifty men.

Then came the real thing. They had a very strong defence in their third line of trenches, and it was simply swarming with Germans –men belonging to the Kaiser’s famous “Prussian Guard.” Their machine guns played havoc with us. It was the most terrible sight I had ever seen. Two of my greatest chums fell by my side, shot through the heart, and another bullet made a tidy hole on the side of my steel helmet. In spite of all this we rushed on, mad with anger, at the sight of our comrades falling. We reached the top of their parapet at last, and these Germans were of better stuff than their comrades. They stood to us, or rather what was left of us, with rifle and bayonet. This was where I found out the secret of England’s glory. We were outnumbered three to one, but our chaps fought like heroes. The corporal of my section, a tall, strong Irishman, killed three of them with his bayonet in about as many seconds. My life was saved by my skill with the bayonet. This was where I learnt the value of the lessons in bayonet fighting I had received while in training. After five minutes hand-to-hand fighting the Germans knew that though numbers were on their side, skill was on ours; so they dropped their rifles and up went their hands with the usual “Mercy Comrade.” We were the victors. My best pals had fought and given their life cheerfully. We were left to hold on to what we had gained over two thousand yards in two days, and we held on to the captured trenches for five days like grim death, although the Germans shelled the place like fury.

We were reinforced that night, and the following morning we proceeded towards the village, which was our objective. At every trench we came to the Germans surrendered as they had been taught a terrible lesson the previous day. At last we reached our goal, but it was only to find the place untenable owing to the cold, and to add to this we had a fall of snow and all of us were drenched to the skin with no shelter except the little holes we had dug, which were full of water by the snow melting. At last we were relieved, and then we dragged our weary selves back, about twenty of us nearly half dead with chronic bronchitis and rheumatic fever; so we were despatched to hospital in stretchers. I am much better now, and when I am quite fit I shall go back to do my duty once more.

By the way, who do you think is Colonel of our Hospital – Sir Allan Perry,[1] our late P.C.M.O. He heard of my being here, and came to see me several times. He has been kindness itself, and he told me he would write to you.”[2]

9563 Corporal (Acting Sergeant) Dionysius Bartholemew Seneviratne, a Sinhalese volunteer from Colombo serving with the 13th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), wrote the letter to his brother describing his experiences during the fighting at Beaucourt between 13 and 19 November 1916. His battalion, which formed part of 111th Brigade of 37th Division, was tasked with attacking Beaucourt Trench at 6 o’clock on the morning of 14 November.

The operation was described in the Battalion War Diary:

“The battn. formed up for attack in four lines of half companies – No. 3 Coy. under 2nd Lt. HARDING on the left, No. 4 Coy. under Capt. KELLY on the right – supported respectively by No.s 1 Coy. under Capt. LANDER & No. 2 Coy. under Capt. SPENCER. The 13th Rifle Br. were to attack on the left & the 13th K.R.R.C. on the right. At 6 a.m. a creeping barrage opened 150 yds. in front of our line – unfortunately the battn. moved off too soon & a certain number of casualties were caused by our own barrage. However, this was re-adjusted by withdrawing about 50 yds. During the rest of the advance to the objective, this battn. was considerably harassed by machine gun fire from BEAUCOURT village & from positions on the south of the river.[3] Very little resistance was met with at the objective, the Germans readily surrendered at BEAUCOURT, but on our left flank there was a strong point about Q.12.c.8.7. which resisted with great determination. Had the 13th Rifle BR. come up on our left there would have been little difficulty here, but as it was, they did not, until very much later in the day – when they were ordered to establish touch with 51st Divn. on our left. When the first objective was taken, the 13 K.R.R.C. were on our right & the 13th R. BR. in rear of us. No. 4 Coy. was pushed out to hold an advanced position in front of the line. According to the original orders, the advance should have proceeded to the RED LINE at Muck Trench to RAILWAY trench Q.6.d.7.8. – R.7.a.4.7. This advance was not immediately continued until the battn. was being re-organised, also there was considerable difficulty dealing with the German strong post on our left. During the night of 14/15, stong patrols were sent out to find MUCK trench, & endeavoured to get touch with 51st Divn., who were supposed to be in MUNICH trench Q.6.c.5.4. Neither the trench or the 51st Divn. could be located, so the battn. stayed in the line captured.”[4]

The 13th Royal Fusiliers were relieved from on 19 November, having lost nine Officers wounded, 50 Other Ranks reported killed and 180 wounded.

Dionysius Seneviratne was serving with the Ceylon Light Infantry at the outbreak of the war and, at his own expense, sailed to England to join the British Army. Although his service record does not survive, it is recorded on the Roll for the British War Medal and Victory Medal that he also served with the 18th (Service) Battalion (1st Public Schools), 17th (Service) Battalion (Empire), and 1st Battalion of The Royal Fusiliers, before being transferred to The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) and issued with the regimental number G/30632.

Seneviratne was a Sergeant with the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Royal West Kents at the time he earned the Military Medal for gallantry during the closing weeks of the war, the award being announced in The London Gazette on 21 November 1919.[5] He also served with the Army of Occupation on the Rhine following the Armistice.

Dionysius Seneviratne returned to Ceylon after the war and was employed with the Civil Service. He was commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant in The Ceylon Light Infantry in 1921, later being promoted to the rank of Major, and was also a member of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Major Dionysius Bartholemew Seneviratne M.M. died in 1936.


[1] The Daily News (Perth, Western Australia), 27 January 1917.

[2] The Honourable Sir Allan Perry M.B., L.S.A., M.R.C.S., D.Ph., M.D., who had been the Principal Civil Medical Officer for Ceylon before the war.

[3] River Ancre.

[4] TNA WO 95/2538/3

[5] TNA WO 372/23/164633

Chum William Ernest James Gage – Leeds Branch, The Old Contemptibles’ Association

Captain Gage Old Contemptibles

William Ernest James Gage was aged eighteen when he enlisted for The Rifle Brigade in 1906, and by 1914 was serving at Cork with the 3rd Battalion and held the rank of Serjeant. He disembarked from the S.S. Lake Michigan at St Nazaire on 12 September, and was soon in action on the Aisne. Later appointed Company Quartermaster-Serjeant, Gage was commissioned in 1915 and was wounded during the fighting for Delville Wood the following year.[1] After lengthy treatment in hospital, Gage returned to France and was attached to X Corps School as an instructor. In 1919 Lieutenant Gage volunteered for service in North Russia and was attached to the 46th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). For his services during the campaign he was subsequently Mentioned in Despatches, notification of the award being published in The London Gazette on 3 February 1920. He retired from the Army with the rank of Captain on the General and Special List. William Gage was issued with his 1914 Star on 12 January 1919, and applied for the clasp and roses for the medal on 26 January 1920. He was issued with them on 7 January 1921, by which time he was residing at 24 Harrington Street in Regent’s Park.

After leaving the Army, Gage joined the London and North Eastern Railway Police at King’s Cross Station in 1921 as a Constable, and was promoted to Detective Sergeant in 1925, transferring to Leeds.[2]

In August 1927, while on holiday at Brighton, Gage jumped into the sea at Banjo Groyne and saved a twelve year-old boy from drowning. The rescue had been witness by two people, but when asked his name Gage refused to give it to them. However, when his wallet was found, having been washed up on the beach, his actions were reported in the local press:[3]



“News has come to light of a plucky rescue from drowning at Brighton. Detective Sergeant William Ernest James Gage, of the Leeds Central Railway Police, was sitting on one of the Brighton groynes when a boy aged about twelve fell into deep water, and was in danger of being carried out by the tide which was running strongly.

Gage, stripping off his coat, jumped in, brought the boy to the shore, and escaped unnoticed through the gathering crowd. An American, from a motor car on the promenade, however, noticed that as Gage was scrambling into his jacket after the rescue, he dropped a wallet. Running to the water’s edge the American recovered the wallet from the sea, and finding in it a cutting from “The Yorkshire Evening Post” he forwarded the wallet to that newspaper, there being apparently no definite information about the owner beyond the fact that he lived at Leeds. The newspaper will restore the wallet to Detective Sergeant Gage, whose address is 9, Oswald Avenue, Leeds. Gage is still on holiday at Brighton and was away from the town yesterday.

The American, who did not disclose his identity, sent with the wallet a letter which stated: “If this incident is typical of the British seaside tripper, it has never been my fortune to witness its equal.”[4]

William Gage was subsequently awarded a Certificate by the Royal Humane Society for his actions, and was presented with it at a function held at the Abercorn Rooms in the Liverpool Street Hotel in London, where he was attending the annual dinner of the London and North Eastern Railway Police. In a speech given at the presentation, the Chairman of the L.N.E.R., William Whitelaw, remarked:

“We, who know Sergeant Gage, are not surprised either at his courage or his modesty. Indeed, had it come to our knowledge that he had acted otherwise we should have been inclined to be incredulous.”[5]

On being presented with the framed certificate, Gage was reported to have “expressed his appreciation in the briefest possible terms, and then resumed his seat under the cover of the prolonged applause from the guests and his fellow policemen.”[6]

William Gage was one of the founder members of the Leeds and District Branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, which was formed on 12 December 1927, and was elected as Honorary Secretary, and later Branch Chairman. From the initial membership of ten, the branch increased to 281 Chums within two months.[7] Many of the Chums were unemployed and Gage worked tirelessly on their behalf in canvassing local employers to offer jobs to those men, and for donations to assist those in need, supported by regular articles published in The Leeds Mercury.

On 25 August 1929, Gage made a radio appeal on behalf of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, which was broadcast from the B.B.C. studio at Leeds:

“Fifteen years ago today began the retreat from Mons, where the original B.E.F. was, by overwhelming masses of the enemy, dubbed ‘The Contemptible little army.” Tonight, by the courtesy of the B.B.C., I am privileged to speak of the survivors, now known for all time as ‘Old Contemptibles.’

Throughout the retreat they suffered heavy losses, lack of food, water, and sleep; dazed and stunned by continuous onslaughts in sweltering heat – bearded, unwashed, and plagued with vermin. With clothing in rags, they became mere automata incapable of marching; in bloody bandages they staggered along like drunken men – their eyes fixed with a glassy, semi-conscious stare on the feet of comrades in front; barefooted, or with bits of puttees wrapped round swollen and bleeding feet.

Staff work fell to pieces; Regiments became lost, intermixed, or forgotten; acting on their own initiative, everyone was far too exhausted to understand or care much what happened. During the retreat and subsequent advance – Listen! THE FLOWER OF ENGLAND’S MANHOOD PERISHED; THE OLD REGULAR ARMY PRACTICALLY CEASED TO EXIST… AND ENGLAND NEVER KNEW!

This is the first appeal ever broadcast for surviving ‘Old Contemptibles,’ alone; without regard to caste, creed, or politics, we were brought together four years ago, into a Bond of Brotherhood known as ‘The Old Contemptibles Association,’ with Field Marshal Sir George F. Milne (C.I.G.S.) as President. NOT to work on conflicting lines, or in opposition to other organisations, but to maintain that Grand Spirit of the 1914 Army, by doing all we can for our less fortunate Chums.

Many are today out of work; many in consequence are suffering acute distress, dreading the future of homes for which they endured the agonies of the damned – 15 years ago. I appeal tonight as an ordinary member; please help us to help these men.

North Regional Branches exist at Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Blackburn, Wigan, Chorley, Lancaster, Hull, Hartlepools, Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Harrogate. Each in proportion to its strength is grappling with the same problem; the prayer of the sufferers, is for ‘Work before Charity.’

Most are fit, able-bodied, active men; trained disciplinarians, trustworthy to a degree – willing to tackle anything offering a living wage. Others, for various reasons, are fitted for light work only. Among them, we find not a few veterans of the Boer War of 30 years ago – men who were fighting when I was a boy.

My appeal, therefore, is not primarily for donations, but for offers of employment in any capacity, from any direction, please.

We want all the help we can get now.

Precisely what YOU said in 1914, is it not?

Pending arrival of the jobs we seek, financial assistance will be welcomed, for alleviation of numerous distress cases.

The Association’s Chairman has kindly consented to act as Hon. Treasurer and Employment Clearing House; may his post-bag be a heavy one!

Address to:- ‘The Rev. E. H. Carew M.A., No. 4 Marine Crescent, Waterloo, Liverpool.’ Please mark your envelope ‘Wireless Appeal,’ and indicate if your response is for the benefit of any particular branch or area.”[8]

However, the work that Gage did on behalf of his fellow Chums concealed his own personal difficulties.

On 8 May 1932 William left his home on Seaforth Grove in Harehills, telling his wife Katherine that he was going to attend a band concert at Roundhay Park in aid of raising funds for The Old Contemptibles Association. He took with him an attaché case, in which it was reported that he had placed his service revolver, and instead of going to the park he made his way to the Central Railway Station in Leeds. Showing his L.N.E.R. police pass to the guard, he then boarded at train for London at 5.40 p.m. When he did not return home that night, Mrs Gage reported that her husband was missing to Leeds City Police.[9]

A couple of days after his disappearance, Mrs Gage received a letter from William, written while he was staying at a hotel near King’s Cross, informing her that he was going to St Thomas’s Hospital for treatment for his war wounds. However, when she took the letter to the Town Hall, she was informed that his bowler hat, clothing, warrant card and Old Contemptibles’ Association badge were found on the beach near the Banjo Groyne in Brighton. Two letters were also found with the clothing, one addressed to Mrs Gage and a second to the Coroner:

“Sorry to bother you. I hope you will know how I have waited for the tide to come up, but bad legs don’t help to prevent worries do they, sir? It is strange how one spends one’s last moments with Kipling.”[10]

Mrs Gage went to Brighton as a search was mounted to find his body, it being presumed that he had gone into the sea from the beach to drown himself. For several days his fate was uncertain, and the circumstances of his disappearance were widely reported in the press.

On 21 May, having booked himself into a lodging-house on Ebury Road in Pimlico, William Gage took his own life by gassing himself over a fire in his room. At the inquest into his death, held at Westminster Coroner’s Court on 24 May, Mrs Gage gave evidence:

“Mrs Katherine Gage, the widow, told the Coroner (Mr Inglesby Oddic), there had been trouble about money matters.

The Coroner: Had he been spending it on racing? – I don’t know.

Was he giving you what he used to? – No.

You were getting into difficulties? – Not very bad.

Did he get good pay? – Yes.

Mrs Gage said that her husband had been with the railway company for some years. He was highly thought of and had had no trouble there.

She received a long letter from him, the gist of which was that he intended to take his life. He said he was very worried and mentioned that she had been cross with him. She did not think that caused him to go away. She believed he was in some difficulty that she knew nothing about.

She had been asking her husband to try to let her have a little more money, and when she asked him what he had done with his money he would not tell her.

Her husband was buried in a shell hole and gassed during the War. His legs were temporarily paralysed. He was treated at St Thomas’s Hospital about six months, and they cured him.

Mrs Gage said she had been unable to find out what were the debts referred to.”[11]

On considering the evidence put before him, the Coroner returned a verdict of suicide, while of unsound mind.

When news reached Leeds that William Gage had taken his own life, the following tribute was published in the “North Country Gossip” column of The Leeds Mercury:

War Victim.

“No class of the community will be more deeply shocked by the news of the death of Captain W. E. Gage than the war veterans for whom he did so much work. The circumstances of his death are particularly sad – he was really, I suppose, a victim of war strain after all these years.

The pity is that he who did so much in comradeship for other war sufferers could not gain courage from their sympathy in his own time of trouble.

He was a very quiet man, and, as he went about his work for the Old Contemptibles’ Association, spoke little about his own troubles. I knew Capt. Gage for nine years, and he never once mentioned that he had been wounded.”[12]


[1] Leeds Mercury, 11 May 1932 & 23 May 1932.

[2] Yorkshire Post, 25 May 1932.

[3] Yorkshire Evening Post, 25 August 1927 & Leeds Mercury, 26 August 1927.

[4] Yorkshire Post, 26 August 1927.

[5] Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 December 1927.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Leeds Mercury, 2 February 1928 & Yorkshire Post, 23 April 1928.

[8] Leeds Mercury, 26 August 1929.

[9] Yorkshire Post, 11 May 1932 & Leeds Mercury, 12 May 1932.

[10] Nottingham Evening Post, 24 May 1932.

[11] Gloucestershire Echo, 24 May 1932, Leeds Mercury, 25 May 1932 & Yorkshire Post, 25 May 1932.

[12] Leeds Mercury, 23 May 1932.

“Unbeaten, Hale, Hearty and Cheerful”: Second-Lieutenant Christopher Hollins Lucas

1 April 1918:

“As you have doubtlessly noticed, our division (the 19th) has received special commendation for its work in the great battle still raging, and though I, of course, am not permitted to tell you anything about it just now, I can say that we were in the thick of it from the very first day, and once again we have come through with remarkable good luck, and, incidentally, I trust, given old Fritz something to remember us by. It has been, of course, the most wonderful, exciting, and awful experience that has yet befallen me, and the same applied to practically everybody, for it is by far the most stupendous battle ever waged in the world’s history of war. Still, here we are, still unbeaten, hale, hearty, and cheerful, and all the boys going strong. We ourselves had six days of it, solid, on the go in action the whole time, day and night, though I must admit that, despite all, we fed remarkably well in the circumstances.”[1]

Second-Lieutenant Christopher Hollins Lucas served with the 8th (Service) Battalion, The North Staffordshire Regiment, and was killed on 10 April 1918 when his battalion were involved in trying to stem the German advance along the Messines Ridge on the second day of the “Georgette” Offensive.

Aged 21 when he died, Second-Lieutenant Lucas had arrived in France on 26 May 1917 and was the son of Christopher and Florence Lillian Lucas, who lived at 28 Cambridge Road in King’s Heath. His death was reported in The Birmingham Daily Post on 23 April 1918:

“Sec. Lieut. C. H. LUCAS, North Staffordshire Regiment, son of Councillor C. Lucas, 28, Cambridge Road, King’s Heath, was killed in action on April 11 whilst leading his men. He was twenty-one years of age, and was educated at Camp Hill Grammar School and Birmingham University, where he joined the University O.T.C., but resigned in December 1916, and became a Sergeant-Instructor to a battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. In March 1917, he received a commission, and went out to France in May, 1917, and took part with his battalion in all their engagements from that time, including the great battle that commenced on March 21, in reference to which he wrote a letter describing the troops as “unbeaten, hale, hearty and cheerful,” which appeared in the ‘Daily Post’ on April 15.”

The History of the 8th North Staffords, written by J. Crewe and published by Hughes and Harber in 1921, recorded the aftermath of the action in which Lucas had been killed:

“A and B Companies’ fine effort to retake Messines had cost them dear, Captain W. A. Meir and Lieutenant C. Lucas were killed, Lieuts. E. W. Deane, T. Wake, and W. B. Thorley were wounded, and only a very few N.C.O.’s and men were left untouched. To the great sorrow of everyone, Lieut. Wake died the following day, and Lieut. Thorley eleven days later. B Company were thus left without Officers. Captain Meir, and Lieuts. Lucas and Wake had been with it all their time in France, and their deaths were a particularly heavy loss to those who had served under them in their Company. The three were devoted to each other and to the Company they had commanded so gallantly and well.”

Second-Lieutenant Lucas has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. His medals were sent to his mother on 13 October 1921, and were sold, together with his memorial plaque, at auction in 1995.


[1] Birmingham Daily Post, 15 April 1918.