"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 all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers, to exterminate first, the treacherous English, and walk over General French's contemptible little Army." - Kaiser Wilhelm II, Aix-la-Chappelle, 19th August, 1914
“That Perfect Thing Apart” – The British Army, 1902-1914
The Old Contemptibles
The regular British soldier at the turn of the last century was unpopular. The Edwardian army drew its recruits from the very lowest rungs of society, primarily the destitute elements of the working classes: the uneducated, the unemployable, those eager to escape from the the law or an unwelcome marriage, or men simply wishing to escape the drudgery of manual labour and experience adventure. A few idealists joined through patriotic motives, but, for the most part, the average recruit took the shilling for three square meals a day and a secure occupation. Men could opt to join for life, or for a period of 7 years as a regular, before being released back into civilian life with the condition of being put on the reserve list for a further 5 years, therefore being eligible for calling-up within that time in the case of a major war.
By contrast, the officer corps was drawn from the aristocracy, and, to a lesser extent, the middle classes. Being an officer, especially in cavalry regiments and in the Guards was expensive – the basic pay could not hope to cover the cost of clothing and equipment, regular bills incurred by eating at the mess, and the expenses of the vibrant social life required of all commissioned men wishing to indulge in the bonhomie of their comrades. Despite their elevated social status, officers in the Edwardian army were far from the aloof, arrogant figures or popular myth. If the NCOs were the brutish older brothers to the private soldiers, then the junior officers were the kindly fathers – paternalistic, considerate of the needs of the men under their command, and imbued with a responsibility to set an example and lead by it.
"A Rapier Among Scythes"
The Second Boer War was a hard lesson for the British Army. Its recruits were shown to be unfit, under-trained, and its equipment and tactics in drastic need of overhaul. In the most significant military reforms since those of Cardwell forty years previously, the Haldane Reforms set about the creation of the “British Expeditionary Force” – a small but highly trained, highly mobile strike force of regular soldiers equipped with the finest weapons the industry at the time could offer. It would be, in affect, a “projectile launched by the Royal Navy”, able to intervene not just in the event of a war on the continent, but in any far-flung corner of the Empire. It would be a force of all arms – infantry, cavalry and artillery, and would be accompanied (despite the objections of a few pessimists in the military establishment), by small numbers of that new piece of technology – the aeroplane. One of the greatest military historians in the English language called the BEF “'the most highly trained striking force of any country - a rapier among scythes”.
The Boer War highlighted deficiency in marksmanship: the average soldier had for decades been trained only to fire in disciplined volleys at hordes of charging natives. At the turn of the century such approaches were completely inadequate facing opponents armed with modern European rifles and artillery, and who would engage from places of concealment whilst using fire and manoeuvre tactics. As a direct consequence of the appalling casualties sustained at the hands of Boer sharpshooters, the British Army increasingly taught greater use of fieldcraft, and in particular, marksmanship – the latter of which held the financial incentive of increased pay.
Equipment was also improved. The standard uniform was changed in 1902 from light khaki to a darker khaki-serge service dress tailored from tough-wearing wool; in 1908 leather webbing replaced with sets constructed of thick canvas – completely modular and at the time the most advanced load-bearing infantry equipment in the world. Despite the superiority of the Boers' Mauser rifle in range and accuracy, the retained the Lee-Enfield rifle and improved on the design until a British Mauser replacement could be perfected. Until that time, the British soldier compensated for the new Short Magazine Lee-Enfield’s so-called “deficiencies” by playing to its strengths. The SMLE had the smoothest bolt-action and largest magazine capacity of any infantry rifle in the world. Emphasis was placed on rapidity of fire with the average soldier being capable of firing fifteen aimed rounds per minute at a man-sized target at the range of 200 yards. Coupled with the increasingly prominent Marksman qualification, the result had the potential to be devastating. Cavalry units were also equipped with the infantry SMLE and were trained in much the same way, but cavalry being cavalry, still relished the use of lance and sabre over any other arm.
New support weapons were also introduced. Two machine guns of either Maxim or Vickers design were allocated per battalion, and field artillery was improved with the addition of gun-shields to protect their crews. Greater numbers of howitzers firing explosive shells were provided in order to engage targets hidden from the ubiquitous direct-firing field artillery equipped with air-bursting shrapnel shells, which were devastating to troops caught in the open.
Despite the leaps and bounds made by the British Army since 1900, this small professional army - whilst being able to punch above its weight in any situation - was untried, and untested against the conscript armies of continental Europe, where quantity had a quality all of its own.
If any one date, monolithic in context and consequence, can be singled out as the tipping-point in human history, it would be this. Not since Bonaparte had every major European power clashed in violent conflagration, and it was in this same crucible that the armies of Europe would once again come to battle, armed not with musket, cannon, and sabre - but with the machine gun, quick-firing artillery, and the magazine rifle. The consequences were horrific and untold in their magnitude. In August 1914, the British Army marched to its own destruction.
To the men of the British Expeditionary Force who landed in France during the heady Summer days of August 1914, the tragedy yet to unfold but known to history would not have even been contemplated. They were there to assist their French allies by fighting the Germans (unusual considering British history up to that point…), and force the Kaiser’s armies from Belgium - that much was clear. As it marched through France towards the Belgian border, the BEF neared the site of its first battle and its place in legend - the small Belgian mining Town of Mons.
Richard Homes' War Walks - Mons (Part 1)
Richard Homes' War Walks - Mons (Part 2)
Richard Homes' War Walks - Mons (Part 3)
The Great War - Mons
The Great War - Le Cateau and The Retreat
Mons and Le Cateau were not the end of the story for the BEF. Throughout the following days during The Retreat, the BEF fought dozens of small rear-guard actions, suffering heavily but always exacting a far greater toll on the enemy before retiring. Battered and bruised after the Great Retreat, the BEF took an active if small part in Marshall Joffre’s strategic masterstroke that would save France and turn the tide of the war – the First Battle of the Marne. As both sides consolidated their positions in the aftermath and dug trenches which were to last four more years, the BEF was moved northwards to defensive positions around the strategic city of Ypres. In October, it was thought that the German army was spent as an offensive force, and that the Teutonic juggernought encountered in August and stopped only at the Marne would never again rear its head. The next thirty days would prove this assumption very wrong indeed.
Starting on October 20th, the Germans threw two armies against the French and British positions defending Ypres. The ensuing battle was a holocaust as yet unseen by the British Army – depleted, overstretched, and with their supporting artillery low on shells, the BEF held on against the odds. Entire companies were blown out of their trenches by massed artillery bombardments, which were shortly followed by massed waves of infantry, both of which the Germans could supply in great quantities. Where ground was lost, it was savagely regained with bayonet and rifle butt. The most remarkable example of this enduring fighting spirit was displayed by the 2nd Bttn. Worcesters, who were ordered to recapture the Chateau of Gheluvelt and prevent the German’s exploiting the gap they had opened in the British line. In a charge over open, shell-swept ground, the Worcesters took the German’s occupying Gheluvelt by surprise, and drove them out inflicting great loss and preventing disaster. One officer called the attack “an immortal story of the tenacity and courage of the British Race”. Until word of the Worcester’s success reached Field Marshall John French, the commander of the BEF had prepared the following communiqué to his French counterpart before loading his revolver and preparing to assemble his bodyguard of the 2nd Cameroons:
"I have no more reserves. The only men I have left are the sentries at my gates. I will take them with me to where the line is broken, and the last of the English will be killed fighting."
Field Marshall French was later heard to say “The Worcesters have saved the Empire”.
The situation, however, was dire. Cooks, grooms and drivers were handed the rifles of the dead and thrust into the fray as the battle ebbed and flowed and the fight for Ypres came to a crescendo. This came on November 11th when the German Army played its final hand, and deployed the Prussian Guard. The Guard, “not one under 6 foot tall”, were the elite of the Imperial Army – its Immortals. As the Foot Guards and Guard Grenadiers came on, they took casualties from marksmen attempting to pick-off officers and NCOs, but the majority of the now catastrophically depleted British force held their fire. The few remaining British officers waited until the Guard reached the short range of 30 yards, then gave the order to rapid fire. Against that storm of lead, the 15, 20, 30 rounds fired in that “mad minute”, the German line wavered, halted, then turned and started to fall back. In the woods at Nonne Bosschen, the retreat of the Guard turned into a rout as companies of British light infantry counter-attacked with the bayonet. This would be the last major German attack of the Battle. Ypres had been held, but barely:
"As a captured Prussian Guards officer was being taken back past a British battery, he asked his escort: 'What have you behind that?' 'Divisional headquarters,' he was answered. 'Almighty God!' was his summing up."
In Ypres, last remaining obstacle between the German army and the Channel had been preserved, but it came at a cost. The Old World Died at Ypres, and with it, the pre-war Regular Army of the British Expeditionary Force. It was a sacrifice but it was not one given in vain. Ypres was Britain’s Thermopylae, and it would be four long years and an army swelled first by volunteers, then by conscripts which would see its own Plataea at Amiens in 1918. The seeds of victory were sown in 1914, and for it the Old Contemptibles had made the ultimate sacrifice. Britain's professional volunteer army had been destroyed forever.
"Those who still live have little enough to show for it today: three medals - Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred.
Across the red white and blue watered ribbon of Pip is a thin silver bar, bearing the inscription 'August 5th-November 22nd, 1914'. It means that they fought at Mons and Le Cateau; on the Marne and the Aisne; and in the First Battle of Ypres.
These are the only men who can proudly say : 'I was there'. Yet this is not strictly true: every English man, woman and child was there..."
The Royal Enfield Fusiliers
I have a passionate interest in the BEF of 1914, and the pre-war regular army. This project is intended to juxtapose this enthusiasm with the Imperial Guard, creating a truly unique Warhammer 40,000 army with historical context and inspiration. This force is the 4th Battalion of the Royal Enfield Fusiliers, named in honour of the 4th Royal Fusiliers who held the Nimy Bridge at the Battle of Mons in 1914.
The army will contain elements inspired by the BEF of 1914 and the Edwardian army of the preceding ten years, such as appearance in terms of uniform, heraldry, and rank insignia and also weaponry, such as revolvers, Long Lee Enfields, Vickers Machine Guns, and carriage-mounted field artillery. However, I have accepted that a lot of historical license must be taken notwithstanding. This is a science-fiction army, and I’d like it to be playable and competitive! Consequently, the force will contain Leman Russes and other anachronistic pieces of hardware, despite tanks only becoming available to the British Army in 1916. However, whenever such contextual liberties are taken, I like to put the correct spin on things and think “if this was available to the pre-war Edwardian army, what would it look like?” Consequently, the tanks have no trench-defeating equipment such as fascines and un-ditching beams, but still retain the unnecessary rear-mounted wheels thought to assist steering. Another example is my grenade launcher infantry. Mills Bomb cups used to launch grenades from the SMLEs were only available in 1916, but the infantry have a 1914 appearance – they wear the peaked service dress cap instead of the steel Brodie helmet, and lack the complex battle insignia introduced with the rapid expansion of the army during and after 1915.
However, I have still imposed the following primary restrictions on myself to avoid the army departing too much from its original inspiration:
- No Chimera Transports
- No Psychers
- No Ogryns
- No self-propelled artillery
- No Ratlings
The Royal Enfield Fusiliers will be a primarily foot-infantry force or “gunline” in the gaming vernacular, augmented by tanks (Leman Ruses), armoured cars (Sentinels), cavalry (Rough Riders), and field artillery (Heavy Weapon Squads) to add a competitive edge and a more combined-arms approach.
Model Ranges – Converting and Adaptation
I intend to make the army as characterful as possible and utilize elements of 28mm figures from other model ranges contemporary to the period.
Main List of WW1 Miniature Ranges and Manufacturers
28mm WW1 Miniatures - Part 1
28mm WW1 Miniatures - Part 2
Heads - Renegade Minitures (Early War British)
(North Star UK - Signallers, special characters, etc)
(Brigade Games US - Signallers, special characters, etc)
(Gripping Beast head sets/Packs)
(Eurkea Miniatures - WW1)
(Old Glory 25mm)
(Copplestone WW1 Range)
(Battle Honours 25mm Assorted)
(North Star WW1 Artillery)
(Comparing WW1 AFV Scales)
(North Star Rolls Royce Armoured Car)
(Soviet BA-12 Armoured Car)
(Old Glory WW1 Vehicles)
(Old Glory UK)
(Retrokit WW1 and Interwar Vehicles)
How I Paint
Here's how I paint my miniatures. All models have a Chaos Black base coat.
Tin Bitz layer
Brazen Brass layer (leaving recesses in TB)
Shining Gold highlight
[For gold rather than brass, add a Burnished Gold Highlight at this stage]
Shining Gold/Chainmail mix extreme highlight (to edges, etc)
Dark Angels Green first coat
Catachan Green second coat (leaving recesses in DA green)
Badab Black ink wash
Camo Green drybrushed highlighting
Graveyard Earth base layer
Scorched Brown painted into deep folds/recesses in cloth
Mix of Scorched Brown and Graveyard Earth painted into medium folds/recesses in cloth
Mix of Graveyard Earth and Bleached Bone painted onto raised portions of cloth to highlight
P1908 Canvas Webbing
Graveyard Earth base layer
Desert Yellow coat, leaving recesses in GE
Bleached Bone highlight (edges, raised folds, etc)
Dark Flesh layer
Dwarf Flesh highlight (leaving recesses in Dark Flesh)
Elf Flesh highlight (taking not of cheekbones, flat surfaces, etc)
Layer of darkened Scorched Brown.
Layer of Scorched Brown, leaving recesses.
First highlight of Snakebite Leather darkened by Bestial Brown.*
*Then it was a case of highlighting with a progressive mix of Snakebite Leather and Bestial Brown with the paint becoming lighter for the most raised areas of the flesh. I employed two or three subsequent highlight stages.
The Story So Far
Battalion Command Squad
Platoon Command Squad with Grenade Launchers
Veteran Squad (Regulars)
Infantry Squad (Reservists)
Missile Launcher HWS (18pdr Field Artillery)