John Alcock, a member of the Cheadle Branch, Royal British Legion, in conjunction with Cheadle Discovery Centre, has prepared a study of the who, the why, the where, the when and the how of Great Britain's involvement in World War One. The Countdown to War will be published in serial form every week up to and including Wednesday 6th August, each article reflecting the events during that particular week 100 years ago, culminating in the first time the British Army engaged the German Army at Mons in Belgium in late August 2014. Please see the latest submission below. By 17th August the BEF had been transported to France, assembling at Maubeuge near the Belgian border on the left of the French Line.
The BEF was divided into two Corps of two divisions each. 1 Corps under the command of Major General Sir Douglas Haig, with 11 Corps under Lt General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien taking up the extreme left of the Allied line.
On 23rd August at Mons just inside the Belgian border, 1 Corps of the BEF faced the German 1st Army under General von Kluck, which was executing its left wheel through Belgium to take Paris. 1 Corps was outnumbered 5 to 1, but the Germans faced the firepower of the British Infantry for the first time, (who were trained to fire 15 aimed shots per minute), suffering heavy losses.
Sheer weight of numbers however forced the BEF to retire to avoid being outflanked and the retreat from Mons had begun.
The remaining two divisions of the BEF were quickly brought in to support the retreat. During the Battle of Mons, the BEF lost 1,600 while the Germans lost 5,000.
Within weeks, what the Kaiser called "the contemptible little army9' grew in size and stemmed the enemy advance, although the Germans made significant inroads into France.
The veterans of the BEF proudly referred to themselves as "The Old Contemptibles".
In November 1914 what became known as the Western Front was now established and despite to-ing and fro-ing during the following four years it remained largely unaltered as the two sides dug in. Machine guns and quick-firing rifles diminished but did not eliminate frontal attacks, the advantage now being with defenders, and the stalemate prevailed until 1918.