With war brewing for the months before its opening campaigns in August all sides had had a chance to prepare for war. The German grand plan (known as the Schlieffen Plan after the German General who had devised it) was to go round the army and defences which France had been building up along the German border in preparation for another war against Germany. The Germans took advantage of the lack of French forces along the Belgium border and attacked through Belgium. As Belgium's neutrality had been guaranteed by Britain, the British sent units of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) to Belgium and France in early August.
The opening campaign was a crushing victory for the Germans and whilst there were moments of heroism by the British forces, the allied forces were pushed back in an action known as either the Great Retreat or the Retreat from Mons. The Allied lines were finally stabilised about 200 miles from their original positions along the Rivers Marne and Aisne.
With the lightning strike on Paris not now feasible, the German army raced to Channel coast, both to seize re-supply ports, but also to try to out-flank the Allied lines. One area which stood between the Germans and the sea was the higher ground round the Medieval city of Ypres (or 'Wipers' as it became known to the English). The First Battle of Ypres (there were four in all) was the result of a massive German attack along a long front, which the allies managed to halt and hold the line. It was a significant defensive victory and meant that the Germans could not encircle the Allies nor gain significant Channel ports, such as Calais.
The early days of very mobile warfare had passed and by Christmas defensive trench warfare had become the norm. It was from these trenches that the soldiers emerged at Christmas to play their famous match.
1914 Star (the Mons Star)
There are a great many sources for the background history of First World war (Wikipedia is a good starting point). For family historians a key record for the early weeks of the war is that regarding the awarding of the Mons Star medal.
The Mons Star was the nick name for the correctly named '1914 Star'. The same medal could also be called 'Pip' - as it was often awarded with the British War Medal and the Victory Medal - the trio of which were called 'Pip, Squeak and Wilfred'.
The 1914 Star covered the first 16 weeks of the war and included
- The Battle of Mons
- The retreat to the Seine
- The Battle of Le Cateau
- The Battle of the Marne
- The Battle of Aisne
- The First Battle of Ypres
The 1914 Star was awarded to servicemen and women and civilians of the British and Indian Forces who saw service in France and Belgium between the 5th August and 22 November 1914. Any personnel arriving on the 23rd November or later were not eligible for the 1914 Star, but where awarded the 1914/15 Star (which will be covered in a later blog).
As well as the Army this included the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve The 1914 Star was authorised in April 1917 by King George V. In all 365,622 Mons Stars were issued. Whilst the front was ornate, the reverse was plain to allow for the inscription of the recipient's service number, rank, name and unit.
In 1919 a bar (ie another medal of the same type) was sanctioned with the inscription "5th Aug-22nd November 1914". The 1914 bar was only awarded to those who had actually been under fire during the specified period. As the same ribbon was used as the later 1914/15 Star, to differentiate the 1914 and 1914/15 Star holders of the 1914 Star were permitted to wear the ribbon with a small silver rosette. this was often noted on Medal cards as the 'Clasp and Roses' or 'C&R'. This was not sent out unless applied for.
1914 Star records are held by the National Archives and two main collections exist:
1914 Star: officers: medal rolls 1914 Star C 502 at
1914 Star: other ranks other ranks: medal rolls at
These have not been digitised but can be seen at the National Archives and copies can be ordered. Individuals can be searched for my name.
Findmypast has a list entitled 'Royal Navy, 1914 Star Medal Roll 1914-1920' at
<a href="http://www.awin1.com/cread.php?awinmid=2114&awinaffid=212927&clickref=&p=http%3A%2F%2Fsearch.findmypast.co.uk%2Fsearch-world-Records%2Froyal-navy-1914-star-medal-roll-1914-1920" onmouseover="self.status='http://search.findmypast.co.uk/search-world-Records/royal-navy-1914-star-medal-roll-1914-1920'; return true;" onmouseout="self.status=''; return true;" target="_top">Findmypast</a>
which includes the Royal Marines.
Medal cards also list those men who were awarded the 1914 Star as in this example in top right quarter of this medal card where it is written '14 Star'.