Encyclopedia - The Old Contemptibles

Photograph of Kaiser Wilhelm II The name self-adopted by British troops belonging to the regular army in 1914, the term was supposedly derived from a comment made by the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II.

The Kaiser, upon hearing that German forces were being held up in France while en route to the French capital, is said to have exclaimed his exasperation of "Sir John French's contemptible little army"

The Kaiser's comment may have stemmed from anxiety surrounding execution of the German Schlieffen Plan designed to knock France out of the war within six weeks of its inception, as well as reflecting his opinion of the size of Britain's pre-war regular army (which was rather smaller than the major continental armies).  Any delay to the German Army's progress was therefore of concern.

Interestingly the term is also said to origin from a mistranslation of a letter from the Kaiser to the commander of the German First Army Alexander von Kluck, in which he supposedly wrote: "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 your skill and all the valour of my soldiers to exterminate the treacherous English, and walk over French's contemptibly small army."

Whatever the actual origin the British regulars were delighted thereafter to be referred to as 'The Old Contemptibles' and named their post-war veterans' association accordingly.

A 'Gearsman' was a tank crew member responsible for managing the gears.

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