The British Expeditionary Corps

The British Expeditionary Corps was part of the British Army, which was built in the early 20th century to be relocated from the island to the mainland as a rapid reaction force, should it come to a war with the German Empire.



At the beginning of the twentieth century Britain felt increasingly threatened by the ever-increasing economic power and military armament of the German Empire. France, too, still remembered the lost Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, and longed for retribution. The fear of the loss of economic monopoly and the need for retribution led to the centuries-long enemies Britain and France from 1905 began to form an alliance and also worked out common military plans for the case of a war with the German Empire.

In 1908, the army in the United Kingdom was restructured and started to set up an expeditionary force to serve as a rapid reaction force for conflict in the colonies and mainland Europe in the event of a war with the German Empire. Unlike the other major European powers, Britain had no compulsory military service and the small army consisted only of volunteers who did a long military service. However, the army was excellent and equipped with the most modern weapons, also had the soldiers through the last conflicts have sufficient experience. Alone in the second Boer War from 1899 to 1902 served around 450,000 soldiers of the British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Army. Including the later Minister of War Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener of Khartoum.

With the Moroccan crisis of 1911, when German gunboats protected Morocco from German interests, the alliance between France and Britain was deepened and clear plans were already drawn up for the war. The British Expeditionary Force was assigned to the 5th French Army and was to take over its left wing and defend the north of France. By the year 1914, a total of four infantry and a cavalry division with a total strength of 160,000 soldiers were stationed.





Even before the war, the British soldiers had a fairly modern uniform, which was also not kept colorful by the color scheme but according to the requirements was dark.

In the headgear, the army initially put on the already used rigid khaki service cap M1905 whose cloth-covered umbrella was lined with black oilcloth. Already after the first winter of the war this was exchanged for a soft cap with folding ears and neck protection. In November 1915 followed the introduction of the MK I steel helmet, which was pressed in a deep drawing process from a manganese steel plate and met the requirements of the trench war. Due to the limited quantity of the helmet was initially issued only to the soldiers of the front line front, only in the course of time, all soldiers were equipped.


British soldiers with the MK 1 helmet


The uniform consisted of the khaki trousers M1902, which had two side pockets and could be attached with suspenders. Also, the uniform jacket M1902 was khaki, was buttoned with a series of brass buttons and had both at the bottom and at chest level pockets over. In the shoulder area fabric reinforcements were sewn in addition, this should facilitate the wearing of the coupling equipment and fabric twisters. The equipment stored in the belt and the bags included:
- cartridges
- water bottle
- stove
- pickaxe
- Handle of the pickaxe
- gas mask
- Food
- the bayonet
- personal items
The weight of the equipment was about 32 kilograms.

The boots were made of blackened leather with short laced nail boots, over the shank of which khaki-colored spine gaiters were rolled up below the knee.

As armament served in 1902 and 1903 introduced Enfield rifle no. 1 MkIII repeating rifle, which was characterized by a fast shot, robustness and insensitivity to dirt. During the training special emphasis was placed on the fact that the soldiers shoot with these rifles both fast and unerringly, since the British army had clearly fewer machine guns than other armed forces.


Enfield Rifle No. 1 MkIII

Enfield Rifle No. 1 MkIII


However, the deployed in the Expeditionary Corps Scottish infantrymen differed in part from the uniform of the English soldiers. So these soldiers wore a colored kilt instead of a pair of trousers, which was covered with light brown protective cover during the war.

As a headgear a shuttle was used instead of a cap.

During the war, however, the Scottish soldiers of the uniform were adapted to those of the English soldiers.




Use in the First World War:

With the invasion of German troops on 4 August 1914 in Belgium, Great Britain gave the German Empire until midnight the ultimatum to withdraw its troops from Belgium. After the deadline had expired, the German Empire and Great Britain were at war. Under the terms of the London Agreement of April 19, 1839, Britain was now obliged to assist Belgium militarily. At first, however, there were heated debates in parliament about whether the expeditionary force would not be brought to its own country rather than to France or Belgium.

At the same time Herbert Kitchener was appointed the new Minister of War. As one of the few Kitchener was aware from the beginning that this war would not be short but could probably last a few years. He ordered the extension of the army on the same day. With the army command 324 of 21 August 1914, initially only volunteers were recruited, with which six new divisions could be set up. This army also got the companion name "Kitchener's Army" or "New Army"

In the meantime, the first units landed from 11 August of the Expeditionary Corps in Le Havre, France, under the direction of Sir John French.


Sir John French


Especially during the first Battle of the Marne, from 5 to 12 September 1914, the strength of the Expeditionary Force became apparent when, together with French troops, they were able to stop the German advance on Paris with a surprising offensive and push back the German troops to the Aisne. On the subsequent run to the sea was also involved in the Expeditionary Force, which solidified the front in northern France.

In October 1914, then first the restructuring in five corps groups, after the end of the year, new troops from Britain followed, were formed from the 1st and the 2nd Army. In July 1915, February 1916, and May 1916, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Army were formed.

Here was also the weakness of the British Expeditionary Corps. At the outbreak of the war, the approximately 160,000 soldiers were well-trained professional soldiers, but at the beginning of 1915 only a few were alive. The new soldiers were volunteers who had never served in the military and had no combat experience. As during the war, the number of volunteers was no longer sufficient to fill the losses in the United Kingdom conscription had to be introduced.

Other units of the Expeditionary Force were deployed in the theaters of war in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East. In the course of the war, more and more soldiers from the Commonwealth were used. Soldiers from Canada, Australia, India and Africa served in some 40 divisions of the British Army. In total, the number of deployed soldiers amounted to 5,704,000, of which about 997,000 were killed and 2,300,000 were injured.


British soldiers at Flanders


British soldiers on the march to the front

A British Indian mixed unit


Scottish soldiers in the trench






You can find the right literature here:


Supplying the British Army in the First World War

Supplying the British Army in the First World War Hardcover – August 2, 2019

Napoleon famously said that an army marches on its stomach, but it also marches in its boots and its uniforms, carrying or driving its weapons and other equipment, and all this material has to be ordered from headquarters, produced and delivered. Janet Macdonald's detailed and scholarly new study explains how this enormously complex task of organization and labour was carried out by the British army during the First World War.

She describes the personnel who performed these tasks, from the government and military command in London to those who handled the items in the field. They were responsible for clothing, accommodation, medicine, transport, hand weapons, armament and communications – a vast logistical network that had evolved to keep millions of men in the field.

This meticulously researched account of this important subject – one which has hitherto been neglected by military historians – will be essential reading and reference for anyone who is interested in the modern British army, in particular in its organization and performance in the First World War.

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The British Army and the First World War (Armies of the Great War)

The British Army and the First World War (Armies of the Great War) Hardcover – July 6, 2017

This is a major new history of the British army during the Great War written by three leading military historians. Ian Beckett, Timothy Bowman and Mark Connelly survey operations on the Western Front and throughout the rest of the world as well as the army's social history, pre-war and wartime planning and strategy, the maintenance of discipline and morale and the lasting legacy of the First World War on the army's development. They assess the strengths and weaknesses of the army between 1914 and 1918, engaging with key debates around the adequacy of British generalship and whether or not there was a significant 'learning curve' in terms of the development of operational art during the course of the war. Their findings show how, despite limitations of initiative and innovation amongst the high command, the British army did succeed in developing the effective combined arms warfare necessary for victory in 1918.

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The British Army in World War I (2): The Western Front 1916–18 (Men-at-Arms)

The British Army in World War I (2): The Western Front 1916–18 (Men-at-Arms) Paperback – January 1, 2005

In 1916, Britain was finally forced to introduce universal conscription to replace the terrible casualties suffered by the pre-war Regulars, the Territorials and the eager but unprepared volunteers of the 'New Armies'. In 1917 and 1918, the vastly expanded British Expeditionary Force became the most effective of all the combatant armies in France, its improved weapons and tactics forged in the furnaces of the Somme and the Ypres Salient. Shaken but resilient under Germany's last desperate offensive in spring 1918, it swept forward to final victory. This second of three titles charts its changing appearance in colourful detail.

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British Army Cap Badges of the First World War (Shire Collections)

British Army Cap Badges of the First World War (Shire Collections) Paperback – July 20, 2010

The fascination with the British involvement in the First World War extends to all aspects of the conflict. The battles and their outcomes; the armies and their leaders; the conditions of trench warfare; and the controversies form part of the growing literature examining every aspect of a war that was to cast a shadow over the rest of the twentieth century, the effects of which are still being felt today.

For the British army, the cap badge is the most easily identifiable form of insignia. It represents a distillation of the pride of the regiment, its various battle honors and symbols borne proudly on the metallic emblem that was worn on all headdress, even within the trenches. Identification of the cap badge on old photographs is a first, important step in unraveling the military service of an individual.

Cap badges have been collected avidly since they were first thought of in the nineteenth century. Cap-badge collecting is as popular now as it has ever been; yet with a growing number of fakes and forgeries, there is a need for a book that illustrates clearly the main types, and allows the collector and family historian alike to understand their meaning.

Surprisingly, there are no real comprehensive web-based resources; and the available books (many of which are out of print), are often dull, arcane and poorly illustrated with grey, muddy images of otherwise spectacular badges.

This book illustrates, for the first time in full color and high quality, images of the main types of badges used by the British Army in World War I. In addition, contemporary illustrations of the soldiers themselves wearing the badges, and the wider importance of their symbolism, is also included. Employing the skills of an established writer (and collector) and artist, it provides a unique reference guide for all people interested in the World War I.

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