Primary Documents - Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Contemptible Little Army, 19 August 1914

Kaiser Wilhelm II in exile at Doorn following the war Reproduced below is the text of an army order issued by the German Kaiser, Emperor II, on 19 August 1914.  Irritated by Britain's 'treacherous' decision to go to war against Germany, and contemptuous of the initial forces sent to fight - Sir John French's British Expeditionary Force (BEF) - he issued an order that Sir John's 'contemptible' little army be defeated forthwith.

Wilhelm's army order was the subject of much debate at the time and since.  With its existence seemingly demonstrated by the British controversy abounded with regard to the Kaiser's meaning - did he regard the BEF to be itself contemptible or was it contemptible simply on account of its small size?

In any event, British Army regulars from 1914 quickly seized upon the description and adopted it as something of a badge of honour - after the war they took to calling themselves 'The Old Contemptibles', a name that stuck.

Army Order Issued by Emperor William II, 19 August 1914

It is my Royal and Imperial command that you concentrate your energies, for the immediate present, upon one single purpose, and that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers to exterminate first the treacherous English and walk over General French's contemptible little army.

Headquarters, Aix-la-Chapelle

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

A "Dixie" (from the Hindi degci) was an army cooking pot.

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Primary Docs