Old Contemptibles, British Expeditionary Force

In the west cloister of Westminster Abbey is a memorial to the "Old Contemptibles", or British Expeditionary Force 1914. The mural monument, of limestone and Welsh blue slate, was designed by Donald Buttress, and shows the badge of the Old Contemptibles Association at the base. The inscription, with some gilded letters, reads:

Remember THE OLD CONTEMPTIBLES The British Expeditionary Force which served in Flanders within range of the enemy mobile artillery between 5 August and 22 November 1914. At the first battle of Ypres their stand against a force of ten times their number prevented the German advance against the Channel ports. Unveiled 15 July 1993 by H.M. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

The B.E.F. of 1914 consisted of a cavalry division and several infantry divisions. Its commander was Field Marshal Sir John French. The troops of the Force were later joined by re-inforcements from Canada and India. The first battle was at Mons on 23rd August 1914, from where the great retreat was made in order to maintain an unbroken line with allied forces being pushed back by superior numbers. The retreat halted on the Marne and the counter-attack culminated in the first battle of Ypres. The name 'Old Contemptibles' arose from an Order of the Day issued by the Kaiser, which mentioned 'Sir John French's contemptible little army'. All ranks of the BEF who served in France and Flanders within range of the enemy artillery during the period mentioned on the memorial were entitled to call themselves 'Old Contemptibles'.


15th July 1993




Cloisters; West Cloister

Memorial Type


Material Type


Old Contemptibles, British Expeditionary Force
Old Contemptibles, British Expeditionary Force memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster