How ‘chums’ and Contemptibles set standards at the Minster

Over the coming days, as we head into November and towards  Remembrance Sunday, DAVID MORGAN will be relating some of the stories of the fallen who are commemorated at Croydon Minster

Like old soldiers, the regimental standards just fade away

In the “old days” – which is now any time before March of this year – when conducting tours around the building, I was often asked questions about the military flags in the church. What they represent are memories, which in some ways are more poignant at this time of year.

The regimental standards hanging on the west wall of Croydon Minster are from the Queens Royal Regiment (4th Battalion) that were laid up after the Regiment was disbanded following the Great War.

The Battalion had a long list of Battle Honours, including Gallipoli in 1915, Egypt 1916-17, Palestine 1917-18, France and Flanders 1917-18, North West Frontier 1916-18, Afghanistan 1919.

Of the 1,000 Croydon men who went off to war with the battalion, just 204 returned.

Harry Mann MBE, known as “Sergeant Harry” to all, was a driving force behind the Battalion’s Old Comrades Association and he worked tirelessly for these men who would parade annually in the church.

The plaque at the Minster commemorating Croydon’s links with the Queen’s Royal Regiment

To the other side of the main door on the west wall hang the two flags from the Battalion’s cadet division, together with the Croydon Old Contemptibles Association standard.

It represents some of the comradeship and lifelong bonds between the men who served in that “war to end all wars”, bonds forged often in some of the most horrific of circumstances.

The Old Contemptibles Association was formed in 1925. Membership was limited to veterans of the regular army who had served in the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders within range of enemy artillery from the outbreak of war in August 1914 until November 22 that year and, according to the Association’s own records, “had thus taken part in the desperate early battles and retreats before the advancing German forces, before the tide turned and the allies counter-attacked at the Battle of the Marne.”

The Association’s name, the “Old Contemptibles”, was a show of defiance taken directly from a notorious Order of the Day issued by Kaiser Wilhelm II that August which referred disparagingly to Britain’s “contemptible little army”. The derogatory title was adopted enthusiastically by soldiers in the BEF.

The proud old ‘chums’ of Croydon’s Old Contemptibles, laying up their standard in 1972, in what was then still known as Croydon Parish Church

The Association had 192 branches, where all members were known as “chums”. The Association’s national organisation was eventually wound up in the 1970s; the Croydon branch had been presented with its standard in Croydon Minster in 1934 and continued to parade it there until 1972.

Their standard, and the others, will hang in the church until there is so little of the material left that they can no longer hang from their pole.

When that time comes, the tradition is that the remnant will be carefully taken down and buried in the church grounds, just like the troops that they represent: “An old soldier never dies, he just fades away.”

UPDATED Nov 1 to correct the dates concerning the OCA standard at Croydon Minster

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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