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The Old Contemptibles Paperback – 1 Aug 2005


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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; New edition edition (1 Aug 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071955649X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719556494
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.7 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 786,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Neillands has given us a worthy tribute to their sacrifice (Sunday Times)

The book stands as a tribute to the bravery of an army that never really had a chance (History)

Tells the story of the BEF's first weeks of war neatly, cirsply and clearly (Literary Review)

Informed and explicit, this is military history at its best (Western Daily Press)

Brings to life the horrific experiences of ... the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 (Soldier Magazine)

'Fascinating detail' (The Times)

'Fascinating account' (The Sunday Times)

Book Description

Highly respected military historian examines the British army's disastrous start to the First World War.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Stephen Brunt on 28 May 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must for anyone interested in studying the First World War. The introductory chapter outlining the developments leading up to the war amongst the main protagonists is one of the finest I have ever come across. Robin Neillands explains the events leading up to the conflict and the actions of nations and individuals concerned with a clarity that is both educating and easy to understand. He goes on to describe in great detail the magnificent contribution the Old Contemptibles made during the early days of the conflict, and how important this truly disciplined band of regular soldiers were.I would certainly recommend this book to anyone wanting a greater understanding of how the war to end all wars unfolded.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mrs Norma D Fox on 5 Aug 2010
Format: Paperback
A very informative guide to the early days of the British Expeditionary Forces battles, a subject often glossed over in books on the Great War as they concentrate on later battles. At last, I have a picture of what life was like for my grandfather who was a regular soldier for ten years before WW1 was declared and became a member of the BEF.
Very well written and not at all stuffy! Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rugby3 on 11 Oct 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This book's strength is its absorbing analysis of the conditions before WW1 that led to the British Army sending its professional but small (180,000) fighting force against four million German troops. Amazingly, they held the line, at huge cost. The book tells how the army gallantly sacrificed itself at Mons and the Marne, on the Aisne and at Le Cateau, and Neillands lucidly lays out the story behind those battles. No student of WW1 should miss this insightful untangling of a difficult subject.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ian Barker on 12 Dec 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a well-researched and very readable account of the British Expeditionary Force of 1914.

Neillands starts with the pre-war plans of the major nations, all of which hinged on 19th century tactics and very little of which survived contact with the enemy. The British plan to mobilise and ship an army to France worked perfectly. However, the planners had failed to recognise that it was the wrong army - equipped to fight the Boers and lacking the heavy weaponry needed for war against an industrialised opponent.

The book then moves on to the fighting itself, the retreat from Mons, the "stopping blow" at Le Cateau, the counter attack on the Marne and finally the grinding attrition of first Ypres. At times you really need a map to follow the action but the author is nothing if not thorough.

Although it took heavy casualties at Ypres the fact that the BEF line didn't break in the face of much larger forces is down to the training and professionalism of the ordinary soldiers. Their rate of rifle fire was so rapid that at times the Germans believed they were using machine guns. In acknowledging this Neillands makes a valid point that although the final months of 1914 set the pattern for the next four years of conflict they also sowed the seed of Germany's defeat.

I'll make my usual gripe about uncorrected OCR errors in the Kindle edition - especially annoying here as they often involve numbers making them impossible to interpret - but overall this is an excellent account and well worth reading for anyone interested in Britain's role in the Great War.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a well researched and detailed account of the first terrible four months of the BEF's wartime experiences on the Western Front up until the end of 1914, by the end of which they had suffered nearly 60,000 killed, wounded or missing (though the French and Germans had each suffered some half a million). However, I can't say I enjoyed the account - for me, it was rather dry, with an excess of detail about manoeuvres and which units were fighting where under whose command on which different parts of the front. When I read military history, actual descriptions of the fighting I usually find less interesting than discussion of the strategy and politics, which I didn't think there was enough of here. There are some moving passages, though, good historical background from 1870 in the opening chapter and a short but appropriately reflective epilogue. The unfitness of Sir John French to be BEF commander comes across very clearly.

The main faults for me in the Kindle edition were the complete absence of any maps, which made following the action difficult, or photos or tables/diagrams. There were also a lot of typos.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By allan on 30 Jan 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My father was a regular soldier and he was an Old Contemptible and unfortunately he didn't tell me much about it. The only thing I do remember was during the retreat he would, with others, march quickly up the road and have a doze and be awakened by his comrades as they caught up with him. Apart from the Battle of Mons I was able to piece together some of the other battles he was engaged in. I found the differences of opinion between the Generals a bit upsetting to think of all the men that died, my father although wounded a couple of times he lived to a good age. He was a member of the Old Contemptibles Assoc until he died. I found the book very informative, a little bit hard going but well worth it. I would have liked to have known more about the regiments that took part in that conflict.
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