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Comrades of the Great War


Conor Dodd
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I have a small lapel badge with this on it and is numbered on the back 295054. Is there anyway I can research it ? and does anyone know of the association ?

Conor

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I believe the 'Comrades of the Great War' was a forerunner of the British Legion. With what was going on in Russia at the end of the war and political strife in the UK, the term 'Comrade' sounded too revolutionary.

Terry

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Some in government at the time considered it a very political and were worried about it; to the extent that MI5 kept an eye on some of the senior members and known 'trouble makers'. It disbanded sometime in the early 20s.

Sadly no way of tracing your badge, Conor.

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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 however 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.

Terry Reeves

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