The Battles of Mons and Nery, 1914
By John Dudek @ The Wargamer
Many, if not most, historians agree that the most professional, well trained and effective army to enter the fighting on the European continent during that summer of 1914 was the British Army. Although comparatively small when compared to the opposing million man armies fielded by both Germany and France, it numbered but 80,000 men in two corps. However the British Army Expeditionary Force was comprised primarily of long service veterans and territorials who’d served a minimum of seven years for both king and country in wars ranging in size from the small colonial wars of empire to the Boer War in South Africa 14 years before. They were a hard bitten, professional lot of “Old Sweats” who saw the army as not only their occupation, but as an integral part of their very core of being and not merely as a temporary term of enlistment and national service. They knew the savage killing art of soldiering and every aspect of their terrible trade from muzzle to butt-plate. They could put a life saving tourniquet on a wounded arm using their teeth to tighten the knot, and still roar defiance at an oncoming enemy by firing 30 aimed shots at them in a “mad-minute” from their Lee-Enfield rifles. “These long service veterans had made the British Army their home and they would no more not be a part of it than for a fish to exist out of water.” The aforementioned .303 calibre Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle MK.III was perhaps the best designed bolt action rifle ever used on the battlefield and it continued to serve the British Army well into the 1950′s. Its smooth pull bolt action meant that a rifleman skilled in its use could quickly chamber and fire numerous rounds without ever losing the enemy’s sight picture, giving every British infantryman a devastatingly effective high rate of fire. It was said that Germany’s ruler Kaiser Wilhelm upon hearing of Britain’s declaration of war against them on 4 August 1914, derisively dismissed the six divisions and five cavalry brigades of the British Expeditionary Force soldiers now arriving in France as members of “This Contemptible Army”. Whether he ever spoke these words or not, the average German soldier would soon discover the British Army’s true worth and learn much from the bitter experience after meeting them in battle.