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Liz in Eastbourne

French's Contemptible Little Army - again

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Liz in Eastbourne

Thanks, Sepoy.  It's clear from the beginning, with Churchill's speech (#12), that this was  a very good recruitment tool.

 

There is evidence of scepticism about it even then, e.g. in the Spectator 31 October 1914:

 

SIR,
—In Monday's Times, p. 6, it is now denied officially from Berlin that an Army Order was ever issued by the Kaiser in which contempt was expressed for the army of General French. In your comment on my letter in your issue of October 17th you pointed out that the previous denial was only semi-official, but the main point is that no proof whatever has yet been forthcoming of such an Army Order having been issued.
—I am, Sir, etc., 
F. R. CAVE. Bath.

 

http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/31st-october-1914/16/frenchs-contemptible-little-army
 

Edited by Liz in Eastbourne
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Liz in Eastbourne

It would be interesting to check if there's anything we haven't seen before in Liddell Hart's papers at King's College London.  Whoever described this file is absolutely clear that this description was not the Kaiser's:

LIDDELL HART: 15/2/50

1927-1968

Papers relating to the Western Front, Aug-Dec 1914, including extracts from notes of the War Council, 5 Aug 1914, to decide initial destination of the BEF; notes and correspondence on the 'contemptible little army' statement, referring to British troops, falsely attributed to Kaiser Wilhelm II and used by British authorities as a propaganda and recruiting slogan; account of unofficial Christmas truce by Frank and Michael Wray, 1 London Rifle Bde; notes from mainly French and German publications, 1920-1932, notably French official history of the war, Les Armées Français dans la Grande Guerre, Tome I, Vol II, compiled by the Historical Section, French General Staff, (Imprimerie National, Paris, 193[6]), on conduct of Battle of the Marne by the French High Command, Sep. 1 file

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2ndCMR
Posted (edited)
On 14/02/2018 at 09:16, David Ridgus said:

Liz

 

Like Michael and Pat I can add nothing of value, but it has been fascinating to see the evidence trail laid out so clearly.

 

I've always thought it highly unlikely that Wilhelm would have said something so crass about a service he had been attached to for decades and I'd always assumed it was pure propaganda and invention. However both the mistranslation and the 1899 dinner theories seem strong runners.

 

I fear in the end the final sentence you arrive at may need to be a masterpiece of bet hedging!

 

David

 

Anyone inclined to think that the ex-Kaiser's chastened tone post-WW1 was his revealed nature might care to reread his annotations on the correspondence around the declaration of war, where he gave full flight to his adjectives and actual personality.

 

Quote

Mr Ponsonby has been making a careful investigation into the truth of the statement that the Kaiser directed his generals to concentrate their energies upon the single purpose of walking over ‘General French’s contemptible little army’.  He has got a German general to make a search of the files of the newspapers of his country, and he says that he has nowhere been able to find a report of a speech by the Kaiser referring to our army in such terms, and to clinch the matter he has obtained a statement from Doorn by the Kaiser that he never said anything of the kind.

 

One can only laugh at such childish credulity!:rolleyes:

 

And those who might be inclined to take post-war denials at face value should perhaps reread Dr. Fritz Fischer's books for a short course in duplicity.

 

The comment is indeed in line with his behaviour and mentality, and of course the reputation of the British Army was at a very low ebb indeed after the 2nd Boer War.  Small wonder that German planners generally felt that army, and the troops of the Empire and Dominions, could be discounted in connection with continental warfare.  Was it "...contemptibly small army...."?  I doubt it makes any difference.

 

There is another possibility: that the Kaiser made such comments elsewhere; entirely likely given his anger, frustration and fear at the time, and British intelligence becoming aware of those and choosing to make use of them, chose to deflect from the source?

 

But if that was so, would it have been wise to invent such a detailed and specific ascription which could be easily denied?  It could just as easily have been merely reported that the Kaiser had made such comments; the propaganda value in the climate of the time would have been as great.

 

In the wake of defeat, such an insult would rebound upon the defeated; all the more reason to erase and forget. 

 

Whatever the true facts, if it was a widely issued order, it will have been impossible to erase all trace of it from diaries, memoirs etc.

 

 

 

 

Edited by 2ndCMR
the missing "if"

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David Filsell

I confess that when I re-posted recently on this topic I had forgotten  about the earlier one. At bus-pass age memory of catches the number 39 from time to time.

However I am now pretty convinced that the term was an invention and also that all the material drawn together would make a very useful reference for future questioners .

Thanks to all for the contributions to both threads on the topic.

R\egards

david 

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healdav

Strangely, I came across a very similar phrase made by a British Admiral (not about the British Army) during the Napoleonic Wars. Having made a note of it, I now can't find the note!

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Ron Clifton

Sir James Grierson, who was designated as the commander of II Corps but who died of a heart attack on a train during the mobilisation, had been British military attache in Berlin around the turn of the century. The Kaiser apparently had a high opinion of him, calling him "der gute Colonel Grierson", which again tends to confirm that his opinion of the British Army as a whole was not dismissive.

 

I have also read, possibly in Gerhard Ritter's The Schlieffen Plan, that the response of a senior German general, when asked what he would do if the British landed their Expeditionary Force, was that he would send a policeman to arrest them. This suggests that the concept of a "contemptibly small army" was more likely to have originated with the German General Staff than with the Kaiser, if indeed it originated in Germany at all.

 

Ron

 

 

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2ndCMR
Posted (edited)

In keeping with the Kaiser's reported remark that the Canadian Expeditionary Force having come across in 30 (some) ships would go back in 30 rowboats.

 

Ever the whirling Dervish poor Willy. 

Edited by 2ndCMR
slight correction.

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Derek Black

It seems obvious to me, from both the lack of evidence to support it and the reasoned discussion of the comments by those of the time, who were in a position to know for sure, that the Kaisers comments were fabricated for morale boosting reasons.

 

That so many people then, and still today, hold such special meaning to the “contemptible” remark may be why there is an underlying desire for it to be true.

 

So much has been built on the back of this untruth.

A source of pride for those who thought it was in reference to them, their families and friends also seeing it as a badge of honour.

No one wants to feel they believed a lie and built a legend around it, no matter the good intent at the time.

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