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The Old Contemptibles

Updated on January 28, 2018
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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'

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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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