The memoirs of Edward Groves

(1875 - 1961)

- Bravery on the battlefield -


In June 2011 I had the good fortune to finally attend a performance of War Horse at the New London Theatre on the West End. War Horse is a play based on the book of the same name by acclaimed children's writer Michael Morpurgo, adapted for stage by Nick Stafford. Originally, Morpurgo expressed misgivings in regard of attempting a play of his best-selling 1982 novel.  The storyline is as follows: "In Devon at the outbreak of World War I, Joey, young Albert Narracott's beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. Joey serves in the British and German armies, befriends Topthorn (another army horse), and gets caught up in enemy fire; death, disease and fate take him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in No Man's Land. But Albert cannot forget Joey, and, still not old enough to enlist in the army, he embarks on a dangerous mission to find him and take him home to Devon. The show has been running at the New London Theatre ever since it premiered at the Royal National-Olivier Theatre in South Bank, London on 17 October 2007. War Horse began performances at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre on Broadway in March 2011 and at the time of writing was being staged at the Lincoln Centre Theatre in New York and the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto.



After launching in the West End, the production was soon met with critical acclaim, most notably for its life-size horse puppets from the Handspring Puppet Company, a South African-based company. The Broadway transfer of the National Theatre's War Horse scooped best play – and five other accolades – at the 2011 Tony awards in New York. The Handspring Puppet Company, a puppetry performance and design company established in 1981 by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, situated in Cape Town, South Africa, was a recipient of the 2011 Special Tony Award, a non-competitive award.  The construction and design of the life-sized horse puppets is such that each horse is controlled by three actors – two to operate the legs and one to control the head and neck, with all three actors providing a variety of sound effects.

Apart from the enormous appeal the show holds, one of my motivations for wanting to attend a performance was down to my grandfather's involvement in the First World War in the trenches in Belgium and France and the story that has been passed on by word of mouth in the family from generation to generation, that of my grandfather having received a medal for his part in freeing a number of horses whilst under enemy fire. I recall my father stating that my grandfather spoke little of the war, having experienced the horrors associated with a such a large-scale conflict. It struck me at one stage during the performance of War Horse, in a scene where Joey is caught on the barbed wire on the battlefield, no doubt a frequent occurrence, that this might have been the reason for my grandfather having to take the necessary action which resulted in his bravery subsequently being acknowledged. The precise description that I recall was that "Dad (the entire family always referred to my grandfather in that way, regardless of the family association) crawled out of the trench under fire to cut them (the horses) free".  Although there is a reference in the memoirs to horses being hit by enemy fire, there is no mention of his having been awarded a medal however such a medal did exist in my grandfather's collection. The medals were for many years in the possession of my eldest brother, also named Edward, but were subsequently borrowed under false pretences by someone else in the family and sadly never returned. This has prevented me from gaining access to the actual medals for further research.

I have attempted to acquire my grandfather's military records however I believe these were destroyed during the bombing of London in World War II. I had initially understood that Edward Groves had been wounded in battle during the so-called Retreat from Mons, a coal-mining town in Belgium, however, according to his own memoirs, it was sometime after 6th September, 1914, in fact, that he was wounded whilst on the offensive, close to the river Aisne around the town of Vailly-sur-Aisne (near Soissons) in France.  This seems to coincide with details from the wikipedia website which refers to a decisive battle as follows: "The Allied retreat finally ended at the River Marne where they prepared to make a stand to defend Paris. This led to the First Battle of the Marne, which was fought from 5 to 10 September 1914. This battle would prove to be the major turning point of the war by denying the Germans an early victory".



Retreat from Mons - a background


The Retreat from Mons is documented as follows on wikipedia, which I am sharing under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, the purpose being so as to compare the historical detail with extracts from my grandfather's memoirs.


The Great Retreat, also known as the Retreat from Mons, is the name given to the lengthy, fighting retreat by Allied forces to the River Marne, on the Western Front early in World War I, after their holding action against the Imperial German Armies at the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914. The Allies were closely pursued by the Germans, acting under the Schlieffen Plan.

Le Cateau 

The Allies retreated from Mons, past Maubeuge (which fell to the Germans on 7 September after a successful siege), and the British troops were supposed to meet at the town of Le Cateau-Cambrésis (usually referred to as just Le Cateau). However, I Corps under Douglas Haig did not reach Le Cateau, getting no nearer than Landrecies. Thus a gap of some miles was opened up between I and II Corps. Several days were to pass before the two corps were reunited.

On the evening of 25 August, British II Corps commander General Horace Smith-Dorrien was faced with the prospect that, if his exhausted troops continued to retreat, they would be enveloped in a piecemeal fashion. He therefore ordered his corps to stand and fight to deliver a 'stopping blow' to the Germans. The Allies set up defensive positions near the town and prepared for the inevitable attack. As Haig's I Corps had not arrived, Smith-Dorrien's right flank was 'in the air' (unprotected). On the morning of the 26th, the Germans launched a heavy assault on the British positions, and the Battle of Le Cateau began. The four British divisions were attacked by six German ones. Using similar tactics to those used at Mons the British regulars were able to hold their own; rapid rifle and artillery fire inflicted heavy losses on the advancing Germans. However, when two more German divisions joined the battle, II Corps came close to defeat. By the afternoon, both British flanks began to break and the order to withdraw was given. Envelopment was prevented by the arrival of General Sordet’s French Cavalry Corps on the British left.


Smith-Dorrien's decision to turn and fight the Germans at Le Cateau was vindicated. The Germans suffered heavy casualties and another delay was imposed on their timetable, also Haig's I Corps was able to break away from Germans. However, the disagreement between Sir John French (who had opposed the action) and Smith-Dorrien was to have consequences in the coming months. Of the 40,000 Allied troops fighting at Le Cateau, 7,812 were killed, captured or wounded. Many British units had disappeared from the rolls altogether. About 2,600 men became prisoners of war, although in one extravagant German account it is suggested that 12,000 prisoners had been taken. Thirty eight British artillery guns were also lost.

Some senior British losses at Le Cateau were Lt-Col Charles Brett, CO 2nd Suffolks, Lt-Col Alfred Dykes, CO 1st King's Own, and Lt-Col Edward Panter-Downes, CO 2nd Royal Irish Regiment, who were all killed in action. Although none of the men have a known grave, all are commemorated on the La Ferté sous Jouarre memorial to the missing.

As the retreat continued south towards Paris, there were a number of small but vigorous holding actions by various units of the British rearguard:

  • Le Grand Fayt, 26 August

  • Etreux, 27 August

  • Cerizy (Moÿ-de-l'Aisne), 28 August

  • Action at Néry, 1 September

  • Crepy-en-Valois, 1 September

  • Villers-Cotterets, 1 September




St. Quentin

 With retreat all long the line, the commander-in-chief of the French forces, Joseph Joffre, held off the German advance through counterattacking. This was only done with the help of the Fifth Army under Charles Lanrezac.

On 29 August, the French Fifth Army attacked St. Quentin with its full force. Possessing orders captured with a French officer, Bülow was already aware of the counter-offensive and had time to prepare. The attacks against the town by the eighteenth corps met with heavy casualties and little success, but the tenth and third corps on the right flank was rallied by the commander of the first corps, Franchet d'Esperey. Advances on the right were made successfully against the Germans with Guise falling back, in addition to units of the Guard Corps and Bülow's elite.

The next day, the French continued the retreat back to the Marne, with the Germans refraining from following.

The Marne

 The Allied retreat finally ended at the River Marne where they prepared to make a stand to defend Paris. This led to the First Battle of the Marne, which was fought from 5 to 10 September 1914. This battle would prove to be the major turning point of the war by denying the Germans an early victory.

Field Marshal John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, began to make contingency plans for a full retreat to the ports on the English Channel followed by an immediate British evacuation. The French Military Governor of Paris, General Joseph Gallieni, was tasked with the defence of the city. He wanted to organise the French and British armies to counter the weight of the German advance. So, after consulting with Lord Kitchener, Gallieni managed to secure overall command of the BEF, and ordered Field Marshal French not to withdraw to the channel.

Gallieni's plan was a very simple one: All allied units would counter-attack the Germans along the Marne, hopefully halting their advance. As this was going on, allied reserves would be thrown in to restore the ranks and attack the German flanks. At noon on 5 September, the battle commenced when the French 6th Army, led by General Michel-Joseph Maunoury, accidentally stumbled into the forward guard of the German 1st Army under General Alexander von Kluck.

The British avoided joining the battle until von Kluck made a grave tactical error on 9 September 1914. Von Kluck commanded his forces to pursue and annihilate the French 6th Army as the latter retreated back towards the Marne. This command opened a 50 km gap between the German 1st and 2nd Armies on his right flank, a gap discovered by allied observation aircraft. The Allied forces quickly exploited this tactical error by attacking the flanks of both German armies, using the entire BEF as well as the French 5th Army.

German Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke suffered a nervous breakdown upon learning about the gravity of the error. His subordinates assumed command over the two flanked armies, which were withdrawn to regroup at the Aisne River. Von Moltke is said to have reported to the Kaiser: "Your Majesty, we have lost the war."

The total British casualties amounted to 1,701 of all ranks, killed, wounded or missing between 6 September and 10 September.

Some notable casualties for the British Army were Brig.-Gen. Neil Findlay, CRA 1st Division, who died as a result of wounds received on 10 September 1914 and is buried at Vailly British Cemetery and Lt-Col Guy Knight, OC 1st Loyal North Lancs. Knight died the next day and was buried at Priez Communal Cemetery.

The German retreat between 9 September and 13 September signalled the abandonment of the Schlieffen Plan. In the battle's aftermath, both sides dug in for trench warfare and four years of gruelling stalemate ensued. The defeat of the German Army on the River Marne was decisive. Their war plan, to quickly overcome France before turning attentions to Russia, had come to nothing despite the enormous efforts expended. It has sometimes been argued that Germany could no longer win the war after their defeat on the Marne in 1914.

Around six hundred Paris taxicabs, mainly Renault AG, were commandeered by Gallieni and used to transport six thousand French reserve infantry troops to the battle.

The tables were now turned with the Allies pursuing the retreating Germans. Their next major clash was to be the First Battle of the Aisne.



Retreat from Mons - a personal account by my grandfather


  My grandfather's own account of the events leading up to and his involvement in the Retreat from Mons and the defence of Paris is documented as follows. What struck me was the extent of the retreat, undertaken on foot one assumes for the great many soldiers, all the way from the mining town of Mons in Belgium to Vauciennes, east of Paris and ultimately, Orly, south of Paris. If undertaken today via roads and motorways, an equivalent route would account for the following distances: Mons - Le Catelet (94km)  - Vermand (20km) - Ham (20km) - Vauciennes (145km) - Meaux (91km) - Orly (58km) - Vinly (87km).



Chapter 20 (extract) - Preparing for the war

We began to realise that we were at war - the docks were thick with coal dust and it was hard to find a place where we could lie down. Eventually Dave Mitchell found an old table top which served us both. Before turning in our C.O. came below and read a very beautiful stirring message from His Majesty the King, which touched everybody deeply. We both slept very soundly and were awakened at 5.30 a.m. on reaching Le Havre, where we found a crowd of the inhabitants singing the Marseillaise, which the troops joined in singing. We disembarked at 6.15 a.m. and were kept hanging about the sheds.  

The mayor of the town was brought along, but he had no idea where we were to be taken, and nothing about rations, but many of the local men and women were acting as messengers and buying loaves of bread and other things for the troops. At last it was decided to camp at Harfleur, Napoleon's old camping ground, and we marched off at 7.30 a.m. Our pipers caused much excitement amongst the townspeople, many of whom thought they were women. Our route was lined with women, offering cakes, sandwiches and wine. This last item caused so much trouble in the ranks, that we had to give orders to all N.C.O.'s to see that no wine or beer was allowed in the ranks. 

The day was a very hot one in mid-August, and many of the men had fallen out, and were picked up by the numerous tradesmen’s carts that followed us. My pack began to feel like carrying a sack of potatoes, for in addition to my full kit, I had several slabs of chocolate and other things that my wife had slipped in. We had several French Boy Scouts acting as guides, fro remember, we were the very first British Battalion to land at this port, which afterwards became the most important during the war. The march became more gruelling, and the men more tired, and whilst still some few miles from Harfleur, we camped in an orchard for the night. This was about 5 p.m. and as no rations had so far arrived, the men were given orders to use emergency rations which each carried in his haversack. There was a stream flowing past where we were camping, and mostly everyone stripped and had a dip. Nobody was allowed to leave camp, and in fact, no one wanted to, we were all too tired, and just sat in groups and talked. 

Suddenly it started to rain and it kept on for hours. Dave Mitchell, the Armourer Sgt. and myself decided to lie together, and with one great coat under and two on top, we lay there soaked to the skin, but not too cold. I don't remember just how long we lay thus, but suddenly Dave had an idea: He had some large lumps of cocoa in his pack which he took out, and after a tremendous effort we managed to get a tiny fire going which became big enough to boil a mess tin of water, and behold, we had a drink fit for the Gods! Many other small fires started and ours became big and hot enough to warm us. I noticed, only a few yards away, our Colonel sitting with his back against a tree trunk, and I took my mess tin over to him, and asked "Would you like a drink of hot cocoa, Sir?" He thanked me and drank it, bringing the tin back and sitting beside our fire for the remainder of that awful night. 

At daybreak, we fell in and marched off and by 8 a.m. were pitching tents in Harfleur. The ground had been newly ploughed and was ankle deep in soft sticky mud, but the rain had now ceased, and rations were drawn and our first breakfast of stew and tea was enjoyed. More regiments and batteries of Royal Artillery were arriving, but this luxurious living was not for us, and we marched off again to Bolbec station, where, after waiting in more rain, we entrained for the Belgian frontier. I managed to get a bottle of brandy from the station cafe, costing 10d., and with this I doped several of the men who were beginning to shake with cold (and Dave and I had one too). 

Herded into horse and cattle trucks, we passed through the towns and villages, stopping only when water or fuel was needed. At these halts, we were besieged by women and girls asking for souvenirs, and in no time most of the troops had parted with their collar badges. One man, who had wandered too far from the station, was not able to make it back when the train started, and he commenced running, but had no hope of catching up, until a cyclist saw his plight, and immediately sat him on his bike, and came along like blazes, catching up level with the engine, when the driver pulled up the train, and the man got aboard. Three rousing cheers were given for the cyclist, who acknowledged this by raising his cap. 

At several halts on this long trip, the Army Service Corps had arranged ration dumps where we were issued with bully beef, and biscuits, and a dip in a large boiler of tea. Eventually we reached Amiens, where we detrained and commenced to march to the Belgian frontier, the town of Mons being our aim. Our quartermaster acting as billeting officer rode ahead and arranged billets for officers and men, and found no great difficulty in getting sleeping accommodation. Large barns, with lots of straw, were thrown open to us, but NO SMOKING in these places. There were beds for the officers in village houses. 

During this march we passed through many villages and towns that had begun to show the great shortage of men, who were all away on service - roads were unswept and many of the labouring jobs were being done by the women, and as we neared the frontiers and passed through these crowds of emotional women, we began to realise the terrible strain under which these poor folk were suffering. They were getting hourly details of the enemy's victorious advance, which the defenders were powerless to do anything about, and it was expected that with the British Divisions linking up with the French and Belgian armies, a halt would be made to any further advance. Foodstuffs were still being offered us as we passed villages, but no more wine. The orders had been passed along, that only water could be offered, and this order the people could not understand, as wine and home-made beer were the only liquids used in those parts. 

We halted two miles outside Valenciennes and prepared for our last march into Mons. The townspeople came to our camp in hundreds, but were beyond the sentries. Many of them spoke fluent English, and brought the latest news to us. Having a long march before us on the morrow, we turned in early, and with only our great coats as bedding, and an armful of straw, and slept until 4 a.m. when we were turned out by the Sgt-Major's whistle, and at 4.30 were on the road to Mons. What a march that was. I never felt the weight of my pack as I did that day. At the end of the march, half the men were being held up by the other half, and many were carrying two sets of equipment and two rifles. The heat was terrific during most those 17 hot, dusty miles. We marched straight into position on the banks of the Conde Canal (Mons) and in less time than it takes to tell, most of the troops had stripped and were in the water.

Chapter 21 (extract) - Facing the enemy 

Our front was covered by a line of skirmishers composed of Scots Greys and 17th Lancers, and so we were fairly safe from surprise. We then placed our outposts on the opposite bank of the Canal, and Dave and I went for a walk to look for our ammunition horse. We entered a pub to ask the landlord if he had seen one strolling alone, and had two bottles of English beer at his expense. The citizens almost killed us with their kindness - packets of cigarettes, fruit and cakes were pressed on us, and they took our rations away, offering to cook them for us. We had to send a man to show them how we made tea, as most of them had never seen the stuff before. That night we slept in happy ignorance of the fact that eight German Divisions were advancing against our division that was thinly extended in defence of the town. Sunday morning, the 23rd August began with heavy mist and some rain, but it became very hot later. The church bells were ringing and train loads of holiday makers were arriving, clad in their best Sunday clothes, and war seemed very remote. 

At about 8 a.m. Sgt. Rippington, who was out with a patrol sent in a message saying that they had sighted a patrol of German cavalry, and had opened fire on them, and thought he had killed one. He was ordered to withdraw his patrol, and all companies were told to take up positions on the north side of the Canal. Information reached us that the enemy were now advancing in mass formation, and their guns opened fire in the town. Shells were falling everywhere, and houses were falling in flames, whilst the civilians stood around in groups looking on until it became too hot for them. We had a splendid target when the enemy emerged from a wood in thick formation. They were checked several times with our accurate fire, but their heavily superior numbers just forced them through. Orders were given to retire to the South Bank, destroy bridges, boats and barges with explosives. The fighting now became fast and furious and priests could be seen touring the lines in ambulances, picking up the wounded and taking them off to dressing stations. The pressure and artillery fire became too much, and a general order for retirement was passed along the Brigade, our point of retreat being through Flenu to Frameries, about three miles south of the Canal. 

Meanwhile the enemy had broken through and crossed the Canal on our right and were sweeping along to get in behind and stop our retreat. Up till now we had been fighting without our packs on our backs, and now had to hastily grab them and hurry off. Dave Mitchell was away looking for extra ammunition and I was forced to carry his pack also, but after about ten minutes of this he came along and joined me. We halted when we found a strategic position, and after firing a few rounds we continued the retreat. At one halt, I was detailed to take a position with half the company behind a high stone garden wall, which we commenced loopholding with our bayonets, and just as we were making a satisfactory job of it, a shell burst in front and demolished the whole wall. Although several men had very bad bruises and scratches, no one was seriously hurt. Getting to the end of the village, we came upon a Belgian priest who held both hands up to halt us, and told our captain that a whole army of German was waiting a mile down the road we intended taking, and he pointed out the only possible way in which to avoid being captured. This was barred by a six foot high barbed wire fence, and our wire cutters were brought into use. When the opening was made, Capt. G.W. Browne said "Men, our very lives depend on this - STEP OUT", and off we went towards Jemappes, where we halted and took up our defensive position opposite a small bridge which the Royal Engineers had failed to destroy. This bridge caused a lot of trouble, as it had to be held during the night, and fighting went on until we moved off at 3 a.m. 

It was a breaking day, and now that we had the guns to back us up, we were more confident, although the enemy continued to stick to our heels. We fought them from the tops of slag heaps at the coal pits, from the tops of roofs, and from every likely position, but their numbers kept us moving. They always appeared in mass formation, and their casualties must have been heavy, for at that time our army was considered first class in shooting, for remember, we had to shoot for our pay! We made a very creditable stand at Jemappes, this being proved by the high casualties suffered by the Germans, and later by the inhabitants of the village. Our battalion was given the duty as rear guard to the Division. The roads were now congested with all the transport which was all drawn by horses and mules, and to add to this confusion hundreds of fleeing civilians, riding on country vehicles and walking, and all piled high with some household goods, helped to make our job more difficult.

My company was detailed to act as left flank during the retreat, and we had just closed in to get our instructions from our C.O. when the general galloped up and told Capt. Browne that two light guns of the German Army were digging in behind some bush away to our left. He suggested that half the company go out and get behind them, and hold them there whilst he brought the cavalry up. Capt. Browne ordered Capt G.V.I. to take the left half company out to do the job; when the men heard this some of them began to murmur, and grumble, and hearing this, I went and spoke to Capt. Browne, who immediately called out "All right, I'll take my half company", and away we went. Luckily there was a small farm that concealed our approach, and between the farm and the guns was a field of reaped wheat, all standing in stocks. The Captain told us to cross the open space crawling or crouching and upon reaching the wheat, each man would fix a bunch of the wheat on his bayonet point, and very slowly work his way in a half circle behind them and when near enough he would blow a long blast on his whistle, on which every man would discard the wheat and stand up, revealing themselves. 

Meanwhile, at a distance, the General was waiting and watching the operation, with a squadron of 3rd Hussars in waiting. To me, the pain of crawling on hand and knees was excruciating, but seeing how well it was going, made it worthwhile. It amazed me, however, how they did not spot us. But they were so intent on destroying our transport which was still blocking the roads, that they thought of nothing else. Suddenly the whistle sounded, and I was more pleased to stand on my feet than to capture a few Germans. The element of surprise had them transfixed, but after seconds they rushed for their guns, but at that moment the galloping cavalry came in sight and so ended this little drama. I am told that those were the first enemy guns captured by the British Army. 

We rejoined our other half company, and in extended order continued the retreat, over ploughed lands and fields of sugar beet, and climbing those awful six foot high barbed wire fences, one of which held me on the top strand upside down, so that a good many of my pack’s contents dropped to the ground, and I just had not time to stop and pick them up. I also left a piece from the seat of my pants, and was badly torn about the buttocks, but I just had not the time to do anything about it, as the enemy was close at our heels. We continued the retreat, halting occasionally to hold the advancing Germans until we reached the slagheaps before Frameries. Here we took up a position on top of a big slag dump, and had no sooner commenced firing that a perfect hail of bullets, together with shell fire, found us. The company water cart became perforated and lost all the water it contained, the driver was hit, and I turned the mules around and belted them on the buttocks with my rifle, and off they went - we never saw them again. The General, who had followed us up the dump and saw it all, ordered a retirement. Capt. Rose and Young were both killed here, and between this fight and Jemappes we lost more than a hundred killed and wounded. 

We reached the brewery at Frameries where more heavy fighting took place and the enemy was held by the fire we put into them, and that night we slept peacefully, whilst half a company of the Lincolns took over outpost duty from us, and we were complimented on the part we had so far played in stemming the German Advance. Before dawn next day, we continued the retreat, and by a series of merciful chances, we were able to prevent our being completely surrounded. 

We reached a small village in total darkness and halted to make enquires, but could not get any answer to our knocks on doors. Lieut. Lyons, who spoke French, made the people understand we were Anglaises, and then one after another doors were opened, and dozens of weeping women appeared with whatever refreshment they had, and cried the louder when they saw a dishevelled and dirty crowd before them. We were ingrained with layers of coal dust, a many with bandages and torn clothing, and lots without their forage caps which had fallen over during skirmishes. When told the Germans were so near they became terror stricken and began packing their things to get away as quickly as they could. Dave Mitchell complained about his feet and we managed to find an old pair of socks in one of the houses which he changed for his own. His feet were blood soaked and must have been very painful, but he carried on. On the move again, and back to rear guard duty - several men quite exhausted and we left them lying at the roadside. Lieut Stirling-Cookson was knocked out with shell fumes and put in an ambulance. Capt. G.V.I. missing! We saw our first aeroplane fight this day when a German plane was brought down by a British one. As we watched it fall, the Brigade Major galloped over and ordered Capt. Browne to send an N.C.O. and some men over to capture the pilot. Sgt. Jimmy James and four men ran across but were too late - the pilot had fled, leaving his plane in flames.

Another new sight appeared along the road, when a whole line of London buses and big furniture lorries made their appearance. How familiar they were, with such names as Maples, Waring & Gillow, Selfridge, Johnny Walker and others. We thought at once that they were come to give us a lift, but no such luck - they went on back the way they had come. I met one of the bus drivers, who had left our regiment, some years previously, and the Colonel saw me talking to him and called me over to ask "Who is that man. I seem to know his face". I told him his name was Skin Ingram, our old regimental goalkeeper, and he replied "Of course, I thought I recognised him", and he then talked for a while with Ingram. 

On the march again, and making for the village of Le Catelet in France (note: probably misspelt as "Le Cateru"], which was reached in drenching rain at 6 p.m. Had my first wash for three days. We found a decent billet for the company - a large barn with tons of straw, and a good issue of rations. Dave and I were invited to a kitchen, where a woman and five children lived - the man being away fighting - we dried our clothing before a big fire and then had something to eat. I tried to take their minds off what was going to happen by showing them some tricks. 

Orders were issued for every man to stand to arms, that meant turn out at a moment's notice. Some of the children took the mattress off their bed and gave it to Dave and I to lie on. Before turning in all officers and Colour Sergeants were summoned to the Colonel's billet, where we were told of the plan for the next day, which was to start at 2 a.m. We were each given a liqueur glass of cognac, and when we had got it down, I suggested to the Colonel that another like it would do as much harm - and we got it! Back to our billets we went, and on to the mattress, but anything but comfortable it was, with boots and puttees on, and 200 rounds of ball ammunition lying on our tummies. I fell asleep at last, and was awakened at midnight by Capt. Browne calling us, and he found that Dave had taken his boots and puttees off! What a noise he made, and ended by placing Dave in open arrest. Poor Dave! His feet were giving him much more pain than any wound cold would have done.

We were turned out at 2 a.m. and commenced at once to dig trenches in a fine open position, just behind a rise. We searched the village for all the large utensils that could hold water, and these were filled and taken in the trenches, together with supplies of ammunition and rations to last us. As far as the eye could see, brigades of men were feverishly digging in, when orders to man the trenches were passed along. We were expected to hold the enemy at this point until fresh reinforcements arrived, and hour after hour their massed attacks were turned back with heavy losses. General Shaw, our Commander, kept visiting us in the trenches and telling us how well we were doing, until it suddenly became known that the division holding the right of the line had been forced to give way, and to escape being surrounded they had to retire. This order did not reach some of the units, who remained in their trenches, and acted as cover for those who were leaving, eventually they were able to leave under cover of artillery fire. We were troubled much by enemy artillery, who seemed to have more guns that we had rifles, and shells were arriving over us in waves. One shell burst between the gun and ammunition limber and killed the whole gun's crew. The battery officer was carried away to the field dressing station in a waterproof sheet, with half his stomach blown open, and begging to be put out of his agony. I never saw a more gruesome sight, and could not say what happened to him. The drivers came up with the horses, but could not get near the guns for the intense enemy fire, and so my unfortunate half company had to run out and help them, and what a job! I think some of those horses must have been hit six or seven times, and we had three wounded men, but all the gunners were past help. Apart from this, we had a fairly easy day. Just before leaving our trench lance-corporal McNeish had swallowed a front false tooth, and I sent him to the dressing station for attention, but more of this later. 

We continued our roll of rear guard to our Division and except for the outpost duties at night we were not harassed severely. At night, we expected to protect the Division while they slept, and our sentries were posted in groups of threes, and relieved every hour. These reliefs were posted by Dave and I in turn, and just after posting the 2 a.m. groups and as I was returning to our reserve post, I heard a shot from the direction of our sentry line. I turned back to investigate, and found that a man on sentry had shot one of his own group. The night was very dark, and the man who was shot had been crawling about on hands and knees, scraping together some loose straw for a bed and had unknowingly worked his way to the front of the sentry, who, on catching sight of him, thought him to be one of the enemy, and fired. We carried him back and managed to catch a passing ambulance, but he was dead before reaching the next village. A Court of Enquiry was held next day, when it was proved to have been unintentional, as they were known to have been the greatest of friends.  

We managed to get a fire going in a deep mullah where the reflection did not show, and I made tea which was dished out to the men before going out to their posts. This was heavily laced with rum which was greatly appreciated. The Colonel stood at our fire for a long time, and was given a tinfull of tea, and although he detected the rum in it, he looked very hard at me, but said not a word, but drank it all up. A sergeant from another company, Bert Babbage, came along when he saw our fire, but the moment the C.O. saw him, he told him to get back to his own company at once, and poor Bert was frozen stiff. 

The Division moved off very early, and passed through Villeret, where they halted for a short time to collect stragglers, and then commenced a long weary march, with very little interference. Just march, march, march, all day, passing through towns and villages, and eventually reaching Vermand [north-west of Saint Quentin], where the Division stopped and had a meal. News that the enemy were again nearing our lines came through. We were forced to march again at midnight, and continued through the night with occasional ten minutes halts, and what an awful job it was to rouse the men when the march continued. Nothing less than a good prod with a bayonet would get them moving, and many of the men slept whilst marching mechanically. Many were lost through going off the road to lie down, and were left behind. They were captured and made prisoners. We reached Ham [south-west of Saint Quentin] at noon, where we handed over our job as rear guard to the Northumberland Fusiliers. We had very little opposition on crossing the river Aisne, and reached the town of Vauciennes [east of Senlis, a town north of Paris] where we washed at pumps and wells, and I was given an old razor by the Adjutant, Capt. Miller, who told me I looked disgusting, and on looking at my reflection in a pool, I had to agree. I had the most painful shave of my life, and threw the razor away, swearing that I would not use it again.  

We continued on our way, making as we thought towards the defence of Paris. It was then that the Kaiser's order to "Drive French and his CONTEMPTIBLE LITTLE ARMY INTO THE SEA" was heard. Well, they had already learned that even though we were greatly outnumbered in men and guns, we could give a good account of ourselves, and had begun to respect us. We crossed the river Marne at a place called Meaux [note: probably misspelt in the memoirs as "Mealix"]. It was about here that Capt. John Boyle joined us with our first reinforcement of 200 men from home. These were mostly drawn from the 3rd Reserve Battalion, and they ran into their first action of the war at Liverdy [this possibly refers to Liverdy-en-Brie]. We had so far been in action for ten days, ten days of weariness and confusion, blazing hot days and perishing cold nights - often lying in the village gutters at times, chasing pigs and cattle out to lie in their warm sheds, fighting through coal bings, ploughed fields and files of beet and grain, but feeling all this time that we were doing a good job. Fortunately the orchards were in full bearing, and we had the choice of apples, plums and cherries.

Chapter 22 (extract) - Wounded, then on the move...again! 

About the 6th September, when the German commander felt that he had got our line sufficiently on the run, he ordered the withdrawal of two divisions from his centre to take them over to the Russian front, where he was being hardly pressed. When this withdrawal was completed, and before they could close the gap, the French General, moving very quickly, rushed his nearest corps through and commenced encircling movement that might have brought hundreds and thousands of prisoners. The damage was done, and the Germans started a general retirement. We met their rearguard at Orly where we had some stiff fighting before dislodging them. We lost about 25 wounded, but none killed. That night we re-crossed the Marne. The bridges had been completely demolished and our brigade crossed on planks floating on some sort of pontoon. Only three or four could get on at a time, and the guns were at it all night. At daylight, the Lincoln Regiment attacked and charged the battery of guns, which were taken after a hard fight. The enemy were now in feverish retreat and batches of prisoners were being taken. These were thoroughly searched and their arms removed, and they were left behind and guarded by military police. It was a great change for us to become the hunters after having been hunted for so long. We met hundreds of wounded men lying by the roadside, and I never saw one passed by without being offered a drink of water. Tired and weary though we were, this change about made such a great difference in our troops. Later that day the enemy retreat stopped and a battle commenced which lasted all that day. Our part of the fighting took us into the woods at Vinly [note: this possibly refers to the town west of Château-Thierry] where we made a big haul of prisoners, but still not the numbers we expected, and it began to dawn on us that they had escaped. Odd batches were still being beaten up, but no signs of the great army. 

We continued pressing on, and met little resistance for three days, but still picked up odd batches of prisoners, all of whom we were pleased to have taken. Eventually we came to the river Aisne, and then discovered the enemy were heavily entrenched on a spot in front of Vailly-sur-Aisne (near Soissons) about a thousand yards on the North of the river. We had similar trouble in crossing with only a single plank footway, and the guns playing disastrously on this. Most of our brigade crossed during the night, and meanwhile the Royal Engineers had made satisfactory repairs to the bridge, so that the guns could cross. 

We commenced digging in, making shallow trenches to repel an expected attack, and suddenly I heard a shout on my right - "Teddy, I'm hit!" I ran across and found poor old Dave (Mitchell) had stopped one clean through the left side of his upper lip, and out on the right of his lower jaw. It was an awful gash, and I had to use two field dressings on it. Whilst tying him up, Dave asked me three times if I thought it would disfigure his face! He went back to the field dressing station, from where he was sent to a small village house. He was later taken prisoner, and spent over four years in P.O.W. camp. 

The enemy attacked furiously and their gunners found our range, and were sending hundreds of high explosive shell over, and causing heavy casualties, and whilst lying in the open trying to stem their infantry attack, I felt a dull thud on the left leg, and looking back to see what it was, found my puttee ripped off my leg, and a ghastly wound there. I called out to Sgt. Marshall to take over, and crawled and hobbled back to the dressing station, which I located in a comfortable dug-out on the other side of the river. The Sgt.Major (Barney Trout) and Sgt. (Dick Harrison) were both assisting all the wounded, and they gave me a tin of strong tea with a big dose of rum in it. The pain in my leg was now unbearable but they could not move us until darkness set in. I was carried back about a mile on a cottage door which was used in place of a stretcher, all of which were already in use, and deposited together with a number of other wounded, in a small village chapel, from which all seating had been removed, and the floor thickly covered with straw, upon which we were laid. The village priest and some nuns acted as nurses with their sleeves tucked up, bathing and washing the wounds, and carrying out those that died. Later they were joined by a medical detachment and two ambulances which were drawn by mules, and fitted with shelves on each side for lying down on. The more seriously wounded were rushed off first to a large field dressing station, two miles down the road, where they were given a fresh dressing and put on the train. 

I met a very old barrack room pal with this medical detachment, one Darky Wilson, whom I had last seen about ten years previously, and he made things very easy for me, and managed to get me away in the third lift. Arrived at the dressing station, my dressing was being removed, when the M.C.O. came along and looked at my identity disc, and then at me - it was our old M.O. from Roberts Heights (later Voortrekkerhoogte), South Africa, Capt. McQueen, and he was attached to our officers' mess for some time. When he had finished my dressing, he brought along Lt. Salmonson, who had a hand wound, and this officer belonged to my own Regiment. They brought along a nice plate of hot food from a cafe, and just previous to this Capt. McQueen had given me a nice dose of morphine to dull the pain, and before I could touch that tempting food, I was sound asleep. The next thing I knew, I was in a cattle truck along with about 30 others, rolling along towards the 1st Field General Hospital at Versailles

We had the most uncomfortable journey and I have no idea how long we were in those trucks, but we halted several times during the journey and were able to get water to drink, and the medical orderlies who travelled on the train, attended to some of the badly wounded men. At one halt, which must have been at a big town, hundreds of weeping women handed in bread and cakes, and I was able to send an army postcard to notify my wife that I was wounded and in hospital. No other information was permitted at that time. 

Arriving at Versailles, I was taken to the large Trianion Hotel, by ambulance, which was now the 1st Field General Hospital, and what a magnificent place it was, and how lovely to lie in a bed with blankets and sheets. Whilst being carried in on a stretcher, I met a Sgt. of the Medical Corps whom I had known, and he ordered the bearers to carry me to Sister Wilson's section. I found out later the reason for this, as this sister was a perfect angel, and nothing was too much for her to do. Names and particulars were taken and injuries noted, and I was rested for two days before being operated upon. I was in a room with five others - two of whom were very serious cases, and were given preliminary operations at once. We had a good many visitors, padres and local people, and we never wanted for cigarettes or reading matter. I managed to get a minister to post a letter which I had written home, explaining that my wound was in no way serious, for at this time the news reaching Britain was of the darkest, and at one time, all seemed lost. A number of slightly wounded men acted as orderlies, carrying and serving meals, and helping with the cleaning, and after a few weeks, a pair of crutches was handed over to me, and I was allowed to get up and go for a walk. I found the crutches a little difficult to handle at first, and could go no further than the corridor and back without tiring, but after a few days I was allowed to go down in the lift and spend some hours in the beautiful gardens. 

A letter from home at last! My family had been hurriedly evacuated from Gosport barracks, and had taken refuge at my sister Mag's house. This happened to all the married families as the quarters were required to accommodate the new Kitchener army, which was being organised by the thousands of men, who were volunteering for service. My wife told me in her letter how concerned they all were when they read in the casualty list that I was DANGEROUSLY WOUNDED, but my letter eased their minds considerably. 

We had fresh batches of wounded arriving every day and all passages and corridors had beds put in them. There were a good many deaths at the hospital, and I have seen as many as nine funerals in one day. The hospital began weeding out men who were fit to move, and these were sent to convalescent camps on the coast, and although I was still using crutches, I applied several times to be included in a batch, but was refused until the numbers of wounded men coming from the front line became so heavy, that I, with many others, was warned to make hurried preparations to leave, and the following morning we were taken to a nearby station and packed into carriages, eight in each, and left for the coast, destination St. Nazaire

It was a long and tiring journey, practically across the whole of France, but it was made much easier by the splendid attention we received at the various halts, from the French Red Cross, who treated us wonderfully. Arrived at St. Nazaire, we were met by the dozens of wagons and carts waiting at the station and driven to the convalescent camp, where we were inspected by a Board of Medical Officers. Those men not requiring urgent treatment were kept in camp, and the others sent back to the docks and on to a very large Red Cross Ship. I have completely forgotten the name of this ship, but I do remember it was a very large luxury liner of the South America trade, with numerous lifts to all decks, carpets everywhere, and most elaborate cabins. I managed to find out when we were leaving, and persuaded one of the lift boys to take a telegram for me. 

It was a long, but most pleasant trip, around the South Coast of France, and along the English Channel to Southampton. We slept two nights on the ship, having to proceed slowly owing to the danger of floating mines, and reached Southampton docks early in the afternoon, and went straight off the ship into a waiting train. This took a long time, owing to the large number of stretcher cases that needed careful handling. 


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