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Remembered Today:

Thoughts on a history of the Old Contemptibles Association?


ArmyOfficer

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Hello All

 

I've been studying and walking the Battle of Mons for a long while now -- and my interests are going beyond the battle and towards how the battle was remembered by its participants: the Old Contemptibles in particular.  Now that I've retired (last week) and am starting post graduate work in History, I'm considering doing a dissertation on the Old Contemptibles Association and, in particular, the impact it may have had in shaping our understanding of the Battle of Mons.

 

I've not found any such history, nor have I found any central archive of OCA records (they all seem preserved by chapters if at all) to draft one, but I've got a methodology to pull together what I can, but am interested in any of your thoughts on:

 

     - Worthwhile:  Would it add to the body of knowledge?

     - Feasible:  If any of you have explored the OCA and its history -- is the source material out there?

 

Any thoughts would be appreciated.....

 

Thanks

 

Kevin Marcus

 

 

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Kevin

 

I think that it is the most worthwhile project. You might start with the 1919 Peace/Victory Parade, when a contingent of Old Contemptibles formed a discrete contingent. Research is not going to be easy, but if you keep going it is amazing what you can track down. A good start would be the Imperial War Museum archives and the Liddle Archive at Leeds University. I am sure that a number of Forumites can give you more precise leads.

 

What wouldl be interesting is how they thought of themselves after the war and whether this changed. Was there any political aspect to the Association and why did it eventually fold? Did they pursue any corporate view on the conduct of the BEF during August-November 1914?

 

We are here to help. Good Luck!

 

Charles M

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I think it's a very interesting subject, and one I know little about.

 

No doubt the newspaper archives would be an invaluable resource. There are thousands of articles about their doings over the decades. The first I can find describes the association, which numbers about 1500, inviting Haig to join the Glasgow branch in May 1919 (although later articles claim that it was formed in June 1925?). By the mid-1950s, it is claimed that the organisation has dwindled to 8000 members, with the average age now 69.

 

Best of luck, if you decide to pursue this. I'd certainly like to read it.

Edited by IPT
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If you trawl the GWF you will probably find some interesting leads. I think George Armstrong Custer (GWF member in the past but no longer active) mentioned some time ago that the Old Contemptibles used to celebrate Armistice Day in the early years. The solemn hand-wringing came in later when religious worthies allegedly took the lead at a national level. Allegedly many OCs were displeased that their annual get-together was hijacked. I have no idea if this is remotely true however it would be an interesting starting point. The way the War is commemorated/remembered today is quite different to how it was commemorated a hundred years ago when tens of thousands OCs were still active. This seems to be an area worth exploring as it would potentially challenge modern perceptions.

 

One other aspect is the way memories are formed, stored and retrieved. A lot of modern study into the great war puts considerable emphasis on oral history recorded many decades after the events. Transcriptions of these have been used to offer a different perspective of the War. There are some historians who are very skeptical about the value of oral history and the integrity of old men's memories. It would be interesting to explore how these memories changed over time. There are a few very interesting books that might help: The Great War: Myth and Memory by Dan Todman is worth reading and touches on how the war was remembered by its participants and society. 

 

Memories were also shaped by the published histories which helped form ideas about the Old Contemptibles - not all of them were accurate. I would argue the British perceptions of the Battle of Mons are dominated by the Official History's version of events, which was further embedded by some homogeneous cut-and-paste histories written a few decades ago before the archives became more freely accessible. Edmonds, the author of the OH 1914 had a breakdown a few weeks into the campaign (later recovered) and I have often wondered if he was the most suitable person to write an objective history of this period. The OH does much to position the BEF as supremely trained but massively outnumbered. It is a rather simplistic and sometimes rather distorted version of history.

 

Few historians have tried to deconstruct the OH version or challenge many of its broader comments on the BEF of 1914. If your study is confined to the OCA and the Battle of Mons (rather than the Retreat or the crossing of the Aisne and Marne and First Ypres) a small percentage of the Old Contemptibles actually fought at Mons. The 1914 Star was awarded to 360,000 men. At Mons there were just two Army Corps each of just two Divisions. Not counting LOC or Army troops that equates to 48 battalions or 48,000 men. Not all were engaged and some were only lightly engaged. The force of the advancing Germans was met by a very small number of British battalions.Total including support arms would be 80,000, or less than quarter of all those awarded the 1914 Star. Trying to separate those who fought at Mons from the other Old Contemptibles would be challenging.I Corps suffered 169 infantry casualties during the whole of August 1914 of which 98 were the R Irish caught at Le Pilly, days after Mons. Effectively Mons was fought by II Corps, meaning roughly half of the BEF was properly engaged at the Battle. Less than 2% of all British casualties in 1914 occurred at Mons. It's only significance was that it was the first major engagement. Militarily it was insignificant compared to subsequent events. 

 

More recent academic studies have started to challenge some of the received ideas on the BEF in 1914. Some 44 British Infantry regiments carried the Battle honour 'Mons' of these there are a significant number that didn't lose a single man.

 

The colloquial term 'Mons Star' for the 1914 Star is very misleading. If one looks at the 1914 Star medal roll of any battalion that fought at Mons, close to 40% disembarked after the Battle. The 4th, 6th 7th and 8th Divs  - all recipients of the 1914 Star - never saw Mons, or indeed did the 21 TF battalions in theatre in 1914. I have done some reasonably detailed work on the survivability of the first cohorts. The casualty ratios for the first off the boats is exceptionally high. For the infantry, 90% became casualties of whom at least 30% were killed during the war - fatality ratios nearly three times the British average for the war -  however Mons was an insignificantly small part of their story. Ypres really dominated the memories of the men who were awarded the 1914 Star. 

 

I think it would be an interesting study if you could trace the primary material. 

Edited by Guest
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Kevin Marcus - you need to talk to Mrs Teddy Noyes. She was the last (I think) Chairman of the OCA. You should be able to contact her via the Western Front Association.

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  • 5 months later...

As I said on my previous post Teddy Noyes started a data base for OCA material in the 90s. A lot of the material came from me. I

have still got original paperwork here and am trying to find a good home for it.

 

Rosalie - granddaughter of Arthur Thomas Smith late 4th Batt.Middx Regt., an Old Contemptible.

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  • 8 months later...
On 07/11/2016 at 18:48, ArmyOfficer said:

.... is the source material out there?

 

 

When working as a volunteer in the IWM I looked through a large number of the OCA's journals in what was the Lower Stacks. That area has now been redeveloped but the journals were vacuum packed ready to be relocated (Duxford??). Assuming they did not dispose of or lose them, they should should be a good source of information.

 

Howard

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3 hours ago, ArmyOfficer said:

Thanks Howard - I am going there for research, hopefully soon. 

Good luck. If they say they do not have them, put in a FOI request to see when, how and why they disposed of them. I looked through at least 30-40 editions looking for mention of my Grandfather so I know they had them a few years ago. They have a bad record of suppling the local paper waste companies with our history. When I was a map volunteer, we sorted 68 boxes of duplicate maps and we (WFA) offered to take them away but they refused. I doubt they still exist. Elsewhere on the forum are posts about the IWM getting rid of books. Get in quick.

 

Howard

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I have a few items from my grandfather e.g. OC membership card, order of service for the Remembrance Parade & memorial Service, St Paul's Cathedral 1966, photo and cutting from the Standing Down parade and service in Bournemouth.   Nothing outstanding, but if little else is around worth saving.   I'd like them to go to a proper collection.  Otherwise I'll offer them to a local museum in his home town.

 

Edwin

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  • 5 weeks later...

I'm doing research into the women in my family, but came across the members card for the Old Contemptibles belonging to my great grandfather. His membership number is 0 and he was Council General (Glasgow)and a life member. His name was Samuel Evans and my great aunt Kate has written a fairly whimsical poem about him which has him lying about his age (16)to join up for the Zulu war and later lying about his age (52) to join up for the Great War. I dont suppose this is of any interest, but Kate writes about him as a great philanthropist and at the same time an alcoholic. Someone who built Salvation Army corps in Stirling and Glasgow and then a bicycle manufacturing company, but at the same time struggling to properly support his wife and 15 children. If anyone does happen to have further information (perhaps more objective than the fairly sentimental family stories I have) please do post.

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I know of at least one standard belonging to a local branch of the OCA, and I think that I've seen others from time to time.

 

The one that I know of is in a Church in Newport, South Wales and, as far as I can remember, it's from the Newport Branch. If you'd like to PM me with your details, I'll see if I can get you a contact in the Church.

 

Best wishes!

 

 

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