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Kath

Comrades of the Great War

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Kath
Terry_Reeves

I posted the following in 2002 on the subject:

The "Comrades" were one of forerunners of The RBL. The first of The ex-servicemens organisations to gain national status was The National Association of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors, which was formed after a meeting in Blackburn in 1916 and was affiliated to The Trades Union and Labour movements.

The second organisation was National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers which was formed in April 1917 after an initiative by the radical Liberal MP for Edinburgh, James Myles Hogge who influenced much of The Federations early political position. The Federation had a strong anti-officer bias only being open to other ranks and those officers who had been commissioned from The ranks.

The Comrades of The Great War grew out of The protest surrounding the second reading in The House of Commons of The Military Service (Review of Exemptions) Act in March 1917. This act was highly contentious in that it provided for The re-examination of discharged disabled servicemen with a view to re-employing them in the armed forces. This was based on the premise that any man capable of making a living in civilian life was therefore also fit for work, in some capacity or other, in the military. This bill was challenged so vigorously by Hogge and the Federation to the extent that some felt that Hogge was trying to use these servicemen for his own political ends.

One of The proponents of this view was The Conservative MP, Lt-Col Sir John Norton- Griffiths (Empire Jack). Norton-Griffiths believed that unless ex-servicemen were kept clear of politics, then a revolution might ensue.He was unofficially supported in this by Lord Derby, then Secretary of State for War.

His idea was challenged by another Conservative MP, Colonel Wilfred Ashley, who argued that The executive committee of this new organisation should include members of The Houses of Commons and Lords. He received powerful backing for this from Field Marshall Sir John French, and Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook. Through the backers of this proposal, the Comrades were funded to the tune of £35,000.

The predominance of politicians and officers on the national committee put off many ex-sevicemen and recruitment was poor. Lord Derby moved quickly to make the Comrades appeal more widely to discharged servicemen and appointed Capt EBB Towse VC as chairman. This proved to be an astute move. Towse had served in The Boer War where he had won his VC and had been blinded whilst serving with Gordon Highlanders. He had also served in an honorary capacity in France during WW1 and had been mentioned in despatches for his services there. As a result recruiting improved dramatically. By late 1917 the Comrades of The Great War were providing a real challenge to the influence of The Federation.

Unfortunately The political background to these organisations led to much bitterness and rivalry which would not finally be resolved until they combined to form The British Legion in The 1920's.

TR

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Kath

Very interesting Terry, thanks.

Thanks, Mike. Forgot google.

I see there are quite a few surviving badges: I imagine the Certificates are rarer.

Kath.

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Philip Wilson

Kath

You will find more material on Comrades of the Great War

The British Legion Memorabilia Collectors Club

www.legion-memorabilia.org.uk/members.htm

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Kath

Thank you, Philip.

Kath.

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Mk VII

The Comrades of the Great War Club still have a club premises in Waltham Cross, and what is probably a hall in Goff's Oak (just called 'Comrades Club' now)

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cmf

And there's still a very popular Comrades' Club in Haltwhistle, Northumberland (numbered brass 'Comrades of the Great War' name-plate still at the entrance) . . . good crack and beer . . .

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Guest

I believe that my Grand Father, James W. B. Somerville was instrumental in getting Lord Haig to South Africa in 1921.

I have a photograph of them disembarking in Cape Town with my grandfather following Earl Haig down the gangplank. Unfortunately this photo is too big to download here but I am prepared to e-mail it to anyone interested.

I would also like to know of any further information on what I believe was the beginning of the British Empire Service League. In fact I have a lapel badge labelled The British Empire Service League in a green ring around a Springbok Head and the words South Africa below also in the green ring. and it has the number 8 stamped inside.

I Look forward to any comments.

KenMac

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