British Expeditionary Force (World War I)

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was the six-divisions the British Army sent to the Western Front during the First World War. Planning for a British Expeditionary Force began with the 1906–1912 Haldane reforms of the British Army carried out by the Secretary of State for War Richard Haldane following the Second Boer War (1899–1902).[2]

British Expeditionary Force
Active1914–1918
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Allegiance George V
BranchBritish army
TypeArmy
Size247,400 (1914–1915)
2.04 million[1] (1916–1918)
Nickname(s)BEF
EngagementsSee below
Commanders
Commander-in-chief (1915–1918)Field Marshal Douglas Haig
Commander-in-chief (1914–1915)Field Marshal John French
Principal battles of the
British Expeditionary Force
1914
Battle of Mons
Battle of Le Cateau
First Battle of the Marne
First Battle of the Aisne
Battle of La Bassée
First Battle of Ypres
1915
Battle of Neuve Chapelle
Second Battle of Ypres
Battle of Festubert
Battle of Loos
1916
Battle of the Somme
Battle of Fromelles
1917
Battle of Arras
Battle of the Messines
Battle of Passchendale
First Battle of Cambrai
1918
Battle of the Somme
Battle of the Lys
Second Battle of the Aisne
Second battle of the Marne
Hundred Days' Offensive
Battle of Amiens
Second Battle of the Somme
Battle of Ephey
Second Battle of Cambrai
Battle of Sambre

The term British Expeditionary Force is often used to refer only to the forces present in France prior to the end of the First Battle of Ypres on 22 November 1914. By the end of 1914—after the battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Aisne and Ypres—the existent BEF had been almost exhausted, although it helped stop the German advance.[3] An alternative endpoint of the BEF was 26 December 1914, when it was divided into the First and Second Armies (a Third, Fourth and Fifth being created later in the war). "British Expeditionary Force" remained the official name of the British armies in France and Flanders throughout the First World War.

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, who was famously dismissive of the BEF, allegedly issued an order on 19 August 1914 to "exterminate ... the treacherous English and walk over General French's contemptible little army". Hence, in later years, the survivors of the regular army dubbed themselves "The Old Contemptibles". No evidence of any such order being issued by the Kaiser has ever been found.