The Comrades of the Great War was an old soldiers organisation set up in 1917 to represent the rights of ex-servicemen. It was set up, in part, as a response to the left leaning National Association of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors and the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors. Much of its early work was in supporting those who had left the forces and there was a strong anti-Bolshevist tone to the organisation. Members of the Comrades of the Great War were entitled to wear its lapel badge which featured the Union flag, indicating its conservative and national leanings:
Like many of the badges produced for societies at the time, these badges are serialised on the reverse and a record would have been made of who had which badge:
In 1917 the Luton News reported on a meeting in the Town Hall about the new Comrades of the Great War:
There was considerable enthusiasm at the Town Hall on Sunday, when a meeting was held to explain the objects of the new organisation for discharged soldiers and sailors, known as the Comrades of the Great War. The Mayor (Councillor Charles Dillingham) presided over a fair attendance consisting mostly of discharged men.
The Mayor at the outset emphasised the fact that he was out to help the discharged men and no special organisation, but he would have nothing to do with any which had a political aim. He had been convinced that the Comrades was a bona fide organisation.
Capt Towse VC (Chairman of the General Committee of the Comrades movement, who lost his sight in the South African War) had a very hearty reception. He said he had been in the Army all his life, and had to be in the work again in this way, although sightless. He had been working in France amongst the boys in hospital at his own expense.
The Comrades movement had been started by officers and men, and its first object was comradeship, with an enormous affiliation throughout the Empire, by means of which the comrades of the Army and Navy who had done their bit could stick together, and have due recompense. Any man with the badge would be made welcome in any part of the Empire.
The clubs or lodges would be looked after entirely by the men, as the whole movement would be. Grievances would be thrashed out and, if necessary, taken right to Parliament. A big object was to press the claims of the widows and orphans.
Then there were objects as the further treatment of the disabled, the settling of men on the land and the perpetuating of the memory of those who had fallen. They did not want costly memorials, but just a simple scroll in the clubs of those who had fought by the side of the men who had gone under.
The speaker next referred to the Federation [DS&S] and expressed their willingness to meet the representatives of that organisation at a round table conference. The Comrades were not begging for members, but had no fear of getting them. It was quite straight.
After what he (the speaker) had done for the country, was it likely that he was out to exploit the wounded man? He had been a soldier all his life, and loved the soldier – drunk or sober. The whole trouble today was that they did not understand each other.
Capt Towse explained that they had five politicians on the Comrades Committee, and here Mr W. J. Mabley interrupted by saying that the men should elect their own MPs without going to professional politicians. Capt Towse replied that the men could do so if they wished, but meanwhile they could not force their way into Parliament without they were members of the House. The present Committee were holding their office in trust for the men who would later elect their own representatives, and their only axe to grind was the real interest of the men.
The Comrades of the Great War was accused of being more interested in politics than supporting old soldiers, with its publications having a tendency to blame former soldier’s ills on the Jews, Bolsheviks and female workers. The organisation was short lived, the febrile politicisation of the veterans organisations fading away by 1920 and it was to be one of a number of organisations that amalgamated to form the British Legion that continues to provide support for soldiers to this day. Not all branches of the organisation chose to be associated with the British Legion however, and some independent ex-servicemen’s institutions can trace their lineage back to the Comrades of the Great War such as the Coulsdon Comrades Club.