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Remembering the British Expeditionary Force

09 August 2012

On 9th August 1914 - five days after Britain declared war on Germany - the British Expeditionary Force began embarking for France.

A tiny force compared with the enormous continental armies of a million or more men, the BEF was an entirely professional force made up of long service volunteer soldiers.

It had the best-trained and most experienced soldiers and so was able to fight extremely effectively in the early months of the war - in spite of facing overwhelming numbers.

It fought a number of important engagements in the late Summer and Autumn of 1914. The BEF thus played a large part in halting the German advance.

By the end of the year, the original BEF - supposedly called "that contemptible little army" by the Kaiser - had ceased to exist. In December it was divided into the First and Second Armies, although it was called the British Expeditionary Force throughout the First World War.

Those" old contemptibles" of the BEF, who fell in the fighting of !914, are buried or commemorated in cemeteries and on memorials from Mons to Ypres.  

The cemetery pictured is St. Symphorien Military Cemetery in Belgium, which contains many casualties from the Battle of Mons. Among those commemorated in the cemetery is Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment who was fatally wounded during an encounter with a German patrol two days before the battle, thus becoming the first British soldier to be killed in action on the Western Front.