Why the British Army was so effective in 1914

Learning lessons from Boer War

When Britain despatched an Expeditionary Force (the BEF) to the Continent in August 1914, the German Kaiser issued an order of the day to his generals to “walk over General French’s contemptible little army”. But despite being heavily outnumbered, this small force, including many men from the West Midlands, played a vital role in stopping the seemingly overwhelming the German advance across Belgium and into France. Small in size compared with the much larger armies of France and Germany, the BEF was highly effective.

This was in stark contrast to the disasters that the British Army had experienced a few years earlier at the start of the Second Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa Why? In this new film Spencer Jones, Senior Lecturer in Armed Forces and War Studies at Wolverhampton University, describes the hard lessons that the British Army learnt in South Africa and how it successfully applied them on the battlefields of 1914. As a result, the British Expeditionary Force may have been “little” but as the Kaiser found out it was certainly not “contemptible”.

KEYWORDS: World War I, British Army, Boer War, Spencer Jones

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Spencer Jones