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Introduction

Every year on Armistice Sunday there are dwindling groups of old soldiers in their eighties and nineties who gather amidst the fallen leaves in front of war memorials throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. They are the men who served in the First World War, or the Great War as they call it, a conflict as far away from today's generation as the Crimean War was to them in their youth. Some of these old soldiers were Regulars, others Territorials, many Kitchener Army volunteers or conscripts. Occasionally, amongst the array of medals on their chests, one will spot the 'Mons Star,' the name given to the I9I4 Star. If the medal ribbon has a bar or rosette, then one can be sure that the wearer was in France and Belgium under fire at some time between 5 August and 22 November I9I4. As likely as not, he was a member of the old Regular Army, perhaps even an 'old sweat' who served in the original five divisions of the British Expeditionary Force, the BEF, who were sent to France before I9 August I9I4. The survivors who wear the I9I4 Star are known as 'Old Contemptibles', a name which seems familiar even to younger generations. But why remember the 'Old Contemptibles'?