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The Old Contemptibles

Updated on January 28, 2018
agvulpes profile image

A passionate lover of his native Australia, Peter loves to share with the world the wonders of this beautiful Country called Australia.

This is a story of brave young men and one in particular who we will call Harry!

Taken from their families and friends at a young age and with other countrymen they were thrown into the deep end of a War!

This War. World War 1 also known as The Great War, was not of their making but he and his mates did not shirk the responsibility of what they believed was defending their Country.

This story will enlighten you to just how these men came to be called "The Old Contemptibles"

We will  see what Harry and his mates were faced with way back in the early 1900s and how he and his buddies earned the name "Old Contemptibles"

Old Contemptible badge that Harry wore with pride!
Old Contemptible badge that Harry wore with pride!

Area of London where Harry grew up!

Young Harry's stamping ground!
Young Harry's stamping ground!

A Little about Harry

Harry was born 1893 in Stepney London, and grew up in the Cockney region of London. Cockney's are well know for the turn of phrase called 'Rhyming Slang', as used in the movie "My Fair Lady"

I believe that the qualification to be called a Cockney is to have been born within the hearing distance of the Bow Bells.

Some classic examples of cockney rhyming slang are:

  • Plates of meat = Feet
  • North and South = Mouth
  • Mince Pies = Eyes

You get the idea ?

Harry's early years

The young life of Harry was I believe pretty much what all young men did when growing up at the start of the new century.

In those times very little schooling was given to children of the working class and being a strong young man as soon as he could he was bundled off to work.

I believe he was about 10 or 11 years of age when he started working on the wharves of London. He loved to play soccer and like most youngsters had aspirations to play for England. However due to turns of events his ability with the round ball was never put to the test .

It was in these formative years that Harry met and fell in love with a beautiful young girl called Beatrice!

In 1914 England was plunged into a War not of their making,  called the War to end all Wars and ceremoniously called World War 1 or The Great War.

Start of the Great War

On the 28th June 1914, an event that young Harry and his English mates did not know about, and quite possibly if they had known would not have cared about in the slightest, occurred in Sarajevo.

That event which was the catalyst for the First World War was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand . This in turn set in motion in an almost domino effect, due to allegiances, alliances etc, that forced England to come to the defense of France, which was an Ally of England!

A more detailed account can be read at: 'First World War'

It was in the early years of World War 1 that Harry and his mates decided that they should enlist and so started his Army career.

Having no other skills other than being a strong young man,  Harry was given the grand title of 'Driver'.  Now a Driver in those days was not to drive the Colonels and Generals around in their fancy Rolls-Royces.

Oh no,  Harry was not a Truck Driver he was a Horse Driver!

Rather than cars, truck or lorries,  in the Great War the English Army primarily used Horse drawn carriages to transport supplies and armaments, and that is were Harry came to the fore. Harry being a strong stocky man  was able to control the horses and guide them to the Front and place them wherever  the Generals wanted  the Huge Guns to be positioned!

The Royal Field Artillery in which Harry served was moved around the arenas of Mons, Aisne, Marne, and 1st Ypres.  Where they defended steadfastly against the German advancement

During his first years of service Harry had come to the conclusion that there was a possibility that he may not survive this Great War.  I will recount an anecdote later on!  On coming to this decision he vowed that god willing he would marry his childhood sweetheart 'Beatrice' at the first available opportunity.

That opportunity arose but not in the way that Harry would have wished!

This is an anecdotal account of how Harry managed to get home to marry his beautiful sweetheart.

Soldiers helping the wounded at ypres, typical of the conditions!
Soldiers helping the wounded at ypres, typical of the conditions!

Leave to get married

As I have told you earlier Harry was a Driver, which meant that he rode and drove the horses used for pulling around the huge guns that were deployed during this Great War.

If you have a look at the images you will see that the terrain was not all that horse friendly. Consequently many horse were bogged deep into the quagmire. This is where strong young blokes like Harry came to the rescue. They had to dig the horses out of the mud and slush armed only with a shovel,

In their desire to save the horses lives these Drivers laid aside their arms (In World War 1 it was usually only a rifle, next to useless in this mess ) and began digging out the horse with a shovel.

All the time they were digging the horses out they were under heavy fire from much larger German forces.

It was on one of these occasions that Harry, concentrating on digging out his horse did not notice an enemy soldier approaching him until it was almost too late. Sensing some threat he swung around just as the soldier fired his rifle!

In an instant it was a fight for survival with Harry coming off the victor armed only with a shovel and his will to survive.

With all of the excitement and Adrenalin rushing he was not aware until after he recovered his breath that the rifle shot had actually removed the top of his index finger.

After this he was granted leave to recuperate and was repatriated home to England .

Harry returned from the War to marry Beatrice, his childhood sweetheart!
Harry returned from the War to marry Beatrice, his childhood sweetheart!
Harry and Beatrice do get married In August 1917
Harry and Beatrice do get married In August 1917

Marriage as Promised

When Harry had recovered sufficiently and before he was to return to France he took this opportunity to marry his one and only childhood sweetheart Beatrice

The wedding took place during August of 1917 and was carried out at their parish church St.Benet's in Stepney, a suburb of London

No Time to Rest there is a Battle to be Won

After recovering from his wounds Harry and any other soldier capable were shipped back to the front to save France from being invaded.

And it is with much pride that so few men resisted the might of the German Forces to prompt their leader to send the message that coined the phrase of 'The Old Contemptibles'

The medals that Harry wore on his chest every Anzac Day
The medals that Harry wore on his chest every Anzac Day

Statement by the Kaiser, Wilhelm ll

It is widely believed that the title of Old Contemptible came from the famous "Order of the Day" handed down from headquarters and reportedly written by the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, Aix-la-Chappelle, on the 19th August, 1914 which read:-

"It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your energies, for the immediate present upon one single purpose, and that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers, to exterminate first, the treacherous English, walk over General French's contemptible little Army."

There is some debate if this is in fact the correct translation, but it is widely accepted to be accurate.

The Old Contemptibles Association certificate Harry cherished until the day he died!
The Old Contemptibles Association certificate Harry cherished until the day he died!

All's well that ends well

Fortunately for me as, if you have not guessed already, Harry and Beatrice are my Father and Mother :-) Harry survived the traumas of the war and did return to his lovely bride Beatrice.

To finish the story in a nutshell.

After the Great War they settled down and started raising their family.

By the time they had three children they had decided that England was no longer a good place to live , mainly because of the cold and Dad's injuries.

After much discussion between Harry and his brother John (women did not get much of a say in those days) John decided to migrate to Canada and Harry and Beatrice wanted their new home to be Australia.

Both Harry and Beatrice had 8 more children in Australia, me being the last born, they have both long passed away but my memories of them come back when I hear and see certain events, such as the Anzac Day Parades.

Harry and his mates matching proudly behind their Old Contemptible Banner
Harry and his mates matching proudly behind their Old Contemptible Banner

Have you ever heard of 'The Old Contemptibles'

See results

Special Request

I have done my best through research and talking to my own relatives and friends to make sure that  the information in this Hub is accurate.

Some information in this Hub cannot be verified so I cannot vouch for it's 100% accuracy.

If anyone has further information or feels that the information expressed here is inaccurate, please feel free to forward me any relevant data you have at your disposal and I will investigate and include it in the above story.

You can contact me from the 'contact agvulpes' at the top of this page!

© 2010 Peter


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    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Australia

      G'day Les and thanks for sharing your story with us :)

      There were not a lot of men referred to as 'Old Contemtibles' so it would not be a long stretch to think that our fathers knew each other?

      What a shame it was NOT the 'War to end all Wars'.

      Yes I believe that we should all be proud and mighty thankful for the doggedness with which these brave men resisted the German push. Who knows what the world would be like now?

      Les thanks again for sharing your story about another brave 'Old Contemptible' :-)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My Father was an Old Contemtible and his was also a Driver in the Royal Field Aritillery, His medals are the Mons Star & Bar, The Victory Medal and of course the War Medal, like your "Harry" he was the War to end all Wars from 1914-18, and as a regular soldier he also seen service in India and Mesapotania. This is the first time I've looked up the Old contemtibles Association and I'm amazed at how many other people have done the same. Like Harry my Dad was extremely proud of his membership and always paraded with the Association on Remembrance Day parades in Newcastle and wore his lapel badge with pride, I still have both his medals and Certificate but unfortunately have lost his lapel badge.

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Australia

      Thanks mquee I really appreciate your kind words, it's nice to know that you enjoyed my story on the Old Contemptibles. :-)

    • mquee profile image


      9 years ago from Columbia, SC

      Great family story with a history lesson as well. Nothing could be better. I truly enjoyed reading this hub.

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      @attemptedhumour, I must say up front that I abhor war of any description and it such a waste. I feel that if the people that declared the war had to first fight the battle there would be a lot less wars.

      It seems to all boil down to some one's greed !

      Well as far as the good outcome goes Harry and Beatrice produced quite a family here in Australia and I must say that everything in the garden was not always that Rosey!

      They had to contend with the Great Depression on their arrival in Australia!

      We often reminisce and wonder if our father would have been different if he had not gone through the traumas of WW1 and been part of the Old Contemptibles?

      Thank you for dropping in and contributing to the conversation :-)

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      @wvierra thanks for an insightful comment. I have been struggling emotionally to come to terms with writing this Hub ever since I joined HubPages. I felt that it should be written but there were not only my own considerations but those of my many relatives living here in Australia in fact they are all over the world.

      Thanks for your prompt and I am indeed considering writing a sequel to the Hub but it is a way off yet :-)

    • attemptedhumour profile image


      10 years ago from Australia

      World War one tends to get overshadowed by ww two. I have recently read three books concerning the (not so) great war. The conditions the soldiers fought under were appalling, as was the casualty rate. Your story was well crafted and moving. Most people kept their experiences to themselves and suffered accordingly. One book was a true story 'In a foreign field' where a small French village had a few British soldiers thrust upon them. Of course they were taken in, but with dire consequences for all parties. Thanks for supplying a rare, good outcome, from that tragic era.

    • wvierra profile image


      10 years ago from Collinsville

      Its amazing how rich your family roots can be that nobody in the world would ever know, that is unless you tell the world. That you have done well, I loved the story about your father and mother, I loved the way you have written it, it takes a person back into that time and gives them a feeling of being there. Thank you for sharing a bit of your families history, and I hope to read more.

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      Thanks earnestshub for such a nice comment. Yes you could say my dad was brave to take on such a monumental move but don't forget the woman who stood beside him for all those years. Beatrice was his rock !!!

      There are many stories but this one was mainly to do with the Old Contemptibles Association and the many brave men that made up this group.

    • earnestshub profile image


      10 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your parents and the time in which they lived. I wonder how many similar stories are to be told?

      Your father was brave to move to Australia at that time. It would take a lot of intestinal fortitude to just pick up and move to the other side of the world in an age when long distance travel meant risking your life on a boat for months on end.

      Unimaginable now..

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      Wow oliversmum. Thanks so much for your warm touching comment. I hope you know just how much I appreciate these kind words. You really did bring tears to my eyes. :-)

      You indeed have shown me another way of looking at this story of my ancestry!

      I agree with you that we must not glorify war but we must never forget the brave people who fought these wars (not of their own making) who fought for what they believed to be the right thing!

      We must also not forget the loved ones that these brave soldiers left behind, never knowing if they would ever again see their beloved. It must have been horrible for women like Beatrice.

      Thank you once again, oliversmum, I do so love you commenting on my Hubs :-) (Hugs)

    • oliversmum profile image


      10 years ago from australia

      Agvulpes. Hi there. This is a beautiful tribute to the Men and Women who took part in this Great War.

      On a more personal note Harry who was one of the Hero,s known as The Old Contemptibles. What they went through and what they achieved was incredible.

      Your Mum and Dad would be so proud of you for writing this hub, As I am. x o.

      I am also happy that Harry married his true love Beatrice, otherwise things would be a lot different.

      Thanks Harry and Beatrice.

      It is so very important that these heroic Men and Women not be forgotten and I am sure that they wont be when folks can read about these incredible people in hubs like this one.

      Thanks so very much for sharing it with us. :) :) (hugs)

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      Thanks so much sweetiepie for your kind words. There is possibly more being found out about my family tree than ever before due to the immediacy of the internet!

    • SweetiePie profile image


      10 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I loved reading about Harry and Beatrice's story, and then was happy to find out they were your parents. Very nice nod to your family tree in writing this tale.

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      Thanks dallas93444 for the kind comment. A book hmmm I had enough troubles with my emotions writing this Hub so I think I will leave the book writing to the younger generation. Thanks for the suggestion I appreciate your comment :-)

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      10 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Great human interest saga. Perhaps a book?

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      I have brothers who saw service in WWll, and they have the same 'don't want to talk about it' syndrome. Which to some people may be misinterpreted to mean indifference rather than 'blocking' the horrors out of their memory bank. I believe it was called 'shell shock'

      An interesting quote from Wikipedia:

      "In World War I, shell shock was considered a psychiatric illness resulting from injury to the nerves during combat. The horrors of trench warfare meant that about 10% of the fighting soldiers were killed (compared to 4.5% during World War II) and the total proportion of troops who became casualties (killed or wounded) was 56%. Whether a shell-shock sufferer was considered "wounded" or "sick" depended on the circumstances. The large proportion of World War I veterans in the European population meant that the symptoms were common to the culture, although it may not have become popularly known in the United States."

      Full article :

      My research shows that the 'debriefing' carried out these days helps a lot to take away this problem.

      Chistopher thanks for contributing to this interesting discussion!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 

      10 years ago from St. Louis

      Righty o, Ag, my father barely spoke of WWII, and my Grandfather never mentioned The Great War.

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      MJ, yes MJ there were plenty of emotions at my end as well and raw nerve ends I may add! It took a long time to write this story :-)

      I know these people are your Great Grandparents and you should be very proud of both of them because I think that they did a pretty good job raising the family that has gone on to produce many good Aussie citizens.

      I would like to hear if your Dad thinks I have given a reasonable account of history up to this point?


      (I keep all names out of Hubpages to protect peoples privacy, If you want to contact me drop me an email)

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      @brendonW, G'day mate how are you doing and great to see you here reading about your Great Grandfather. As kids growing up ourselves we did not know what Harry had been through, after the war times were very tough in London and when they arrived in Australia it was about the time of the 'great depression'. That is a whole other story. Yes Harry was a 'special' person indeed.

      I'm glad I could shed some light on your heritage and thanks for taking the time out to come and read my Hub.

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      @Christoph, G'day mate, it's nice of you to drop in and leave such a nice critique of my Hub. I did not know a lot about Dad as he did not speak too much about his experiences and I had to piece it together with help from other family members.

      Thanks very much for your kind comment!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow. Have just read your Hub...brings loads of emotions to the fore. Will print off and give the dad (Tom). It also happens to be that these people are my Great Grandparents. xx

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hi Ag, Its was great to read this account of Harry.

      Amazing to think what he went through in making a life for himself and his family. Truly a nice outcome for a wonderful man.

      And that he's also happens to be my Great Grandfather, makes me feel even more blessed to be here with my own family. Thank you.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 

      10 years ago from St. Louis

      Great story, Ag, and the fact that it turns out to be your father even more cool!

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      @PaperNotes, Oh dear I am sorry that this story made you cry. Although in a way it is nice to know that I was able to convey my own emotions that I felt while writing this Hub. It has taken me nearly two years to think that I was anywhere near being a good enough writer to tell this story. So in this regard I am happy that I made you cry, and being a father and a grandfather myself, I would offer you a Hug when only Hugs will do (Hug)

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      @drbj, thanks so much for taking the time to read my Hub and your kind words.

      "Old Commendables" yes that may have worked but remembering that he was the 'enemy' I myself would have preferred "Old Contemptibles" Almost the old fashioned method of giving him the 'bird'

      Thanks for your great comment!

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      G'day Tony, sorry but I removed your comment for security reasons. Will you send me an email, see the "contact agvulpes" in the box just under my profile on the top right hand of this page!

      Thanks mate!

    • PaperNotes profile image


      10 years ago

      This made me cry, I don't know why. Maybe it's the romantic side and the daughter in me that brings out the tears after reading your hub.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      10 years ago from south Florida

      Fascinating story, agv, I read every single word. Perhaps the Kaiser really meant to say, "Old Commendables," because that's what those heroes really were!

    • agvulpes profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Australia

      Thank you for commenting. You know he never spoke about it and I can now understand why. It must have been horrendous, first of all the conditions were appalling the demands were continuous and there was always someone close enough to call out and waiting to kill you!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Very nice tribute to your father along with a good story of WWI.


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