Tag Archives: Battle of Mons

Néry – Tuesday, 1st September 1914

On Monday, 31st August 1914 L Battery the Royal Horse Artillery had followed in the wake of the rest of the 1st Cavalry Brigade as it continued the retreat south from Mons.  It reached the village of Néry after the other units had begun to settle down into their allotted positions.  The allotment of positions within the village was as follows: -

  • 5th Dragoons at the northern end with their horses in the open.
  • 11th Hussars were billeted on the eastern face and up the east side of the village street, the men and horses being under cover – in houses, yards, barns, sheds, or lean-to’s.
  • Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) on the west side of the village street, and in the fields behind the village on this side, plus one squadron in a field further to the south.  All their horses were in the open.
  • The 1st Cavalry Brigade Headquarters was established in the main street.

L Battery was allocated a field to the south of the village in which to bivouac and assigned the sugar factory to serve as its headquarters.  In the north-west corner of the field were some haystacks and while the battery was completing its arrangements for the night Major Sclater-Booth the Battery commander made his way to the Cavalry Brigade Headquarters to ascertain what protective arrangements had been made to cover the bivouac of his battery.  He received orders that L Battery was merely required to block the two roads which led east and south from the sugar factory.  He was also told that the force would continue the march at 04:30 hrs the following day, 1st September 1914.

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Major Sclater-Booth returned to his battery and put in place the necessary arrangements to cover the southern end of the village and bivouac area.  Gradually the work was finished and, wearied with the day’s march under the hot August sun, men and horses settled down to rest. Silence brooded over the little village and the surrounding bivouacs that nestled around it on the western slope and at the bottom of the narrow valley, which was shut in to east and west by its guardian heights.

When the Cavalry Brigade readied itself the cool and very misty morning orders were issued to delay the march until 05:00 hrs due to the poor visibility which was less than 200 yards.  The battery, which was standing halted in mass with the teams hooked in, took advantage of this delay to let down the poles and water the horses by sections at the sugar factory.

The mist had hardly begun to lift and was as thick as ever when, just before 05:00 hrs Major Sclater-Booth and his officers walked down from the sugar factory towards haystacks at the northwest corner of the battery field.  Leaving the other officers by the haystacks, the Battery Commander walked on up the main street to Brigade Headquarters in order to get the latest instructions as to the resumption of the march.

Going into the house he found Brigadier-General C J Briggs and his Brigade-Major.  Major Sclater-Booth had hardly crossed the threshold when a high-explosive shell burst over the village and all hell broke lose as gun and rifle fire came into Néry from the heights to the east.  It was now about 05:05 hrs and the 1st Cavalry Brigade had been taken completely by surprise.

At the same moment Second-Lieutenant Tailby of the 11th Hussars, who had been sent out with a patrol to reconnoitre the high ground north of Néry, reached Brigade Headquarters.  Dismounting he entered and reported that his patrol had ridden into a body of German cavalry in the mist and had been chased back to the village.

As soon as firing broke out, the Brigadier, Brigade-Major and Major Sclater-Booth went out into the street to see what was going on.  The Brigade-Major dashed off to check that the necessary action was being taken as Major Sclater-Booth left to return to his battery.

Suddenly a mob of maddened horses came galloping wildly down the main street.  They were the horses of the Bays, stampeded by the enemy’s fire.  At the same moment a high-explosive shell burst among the surging mass of animals and rendered the road impassable.  Crossing over to the western side of the street Major Sclater-Booth ran behind the houses into to the field where C Squadron of the Bays had bivouacked during the night.  From here he could see the battery field, where three of the guns had been unlimbered and were being brought into action to answer the fire of the German battery.  As the flashes of his guns stabbed through the slightly thinning mist, he ran forward.  As he did so a shell burst immediately in front of him knocking him off his feet and put him out of action for the rest of the fight.

The German guns on the heights to the east about half-mile away were firing ‘Universal’ shells that were bursting over the Battery.  The din was terrific and there was one incessant roar of gun and rifle fire punctuated by the violent detonations of the shells.

Despite the disadvantage at which the British Cavalry and Horse Artillery were taken, and despite the heavy artillery, machine gun and rifle fire pouring into the open bivouacs around the village, all of the units of the 1st Cavalry Brigade were able to offer an effective resistance and hold on till assistance arrived from neighbouring troops.

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The Royal Horse Artillery Memorial at Néry.

On 1st September 1914 Néry was an inferno of exploding shells.  When the battle began, Captain Bradbury and the other officers of the battery were standing near the haystacks.  Suddenly, with no previous warning, a shell burst over the battery, and immediately afterwards the bivouac area came under very heavy rifle fire from the ridge.

Captain Bradbury was the first to react shouting ‘Come on! Who’s for the guns?’, as he ran from the cover of the haystacks towards the limbered guns.  Followed closely by the other officers he dashed across the field to the waiting guns.

The exposed Battery was taking fire and men and the horses were falling fast.  Reaching the guns Captain Bradbury took charge and with the assistance of the men who were engaged in steadying the horses got three of guns unlimbered and swung round to face the German battery.  Captain Bradbury with Sergeant Nelson and others manned one gun, Lieutenant Giffard took another and Lieutenants Campbell and Mundy were at a third.  The ammunition wagons were 20 yards away, and over that death-swept open space the ammunition had to be brought up.

L Battery had hardly got into action when the gun manned by Lieutenants Campbell and Mundy and their men was knocked out of action by a direct hit.  The other two guns opened fire on the enemy and the battle was joined.

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Heroic stand of ‘L’ Battery, R.H.A. at Néry, September 1st, 1914.  The artist is unknown; the postcard was published by Gale & Polden, Aldershot, as card. No. 1549.

These two guns of ‘L’ carried on an unequal struggle.  A few rounds only had been fired when Lieutenant Giffard, in charge of one of the guns, was severely wounded and all the detachment either killed or wounded.  This left only one gun – under Captain Bradbury – still in action.

Lieutenants Campbell and Mundy, when their gun was knocked out, at once ran to the gun where Captain Bradbury and Sergeant Nelson were working, while Gunner Darbyshire and Driver Osborn crossed and re-crossed the shell-swept zone behind the gun to bring up the necessary ammunition from the wagons.

Almost immediately after the two subalterns joined Captain Bradbury’s detachment Lieutenant Campbell was killed.  Lieutenant Mundy took up position close to the gun and acted as the Gun Commander, while Captain Bradbury carried out the duties of the layer and Sergeant Nelson those of range-setter.  The gun and the men manning it appeared to bear a charmed life and remained untouched.

At the beginning of the battle the German guns appeared to be working in two groups; one group taking on L Battery whilst the other firing on the 1st Cavalry Brigade in the village.  The resistance being put up by Captain Bradbury, Lieutenant Mundy and Sergeant Nelson however seemed to change the emphasis of the battle for the German Artillery and they began to move the guns ranged against the village around to those in the duel with L Battery which were approximately 800-yards away.  Thus the solitary gun of L Battery became embroiled in a duel with the guns of three German Batteries.

The action broke out with renewed fury as the massed guns of three German batteries made a determined effort to crush the single undaunted gun.  Lieutenant Mundy was seriously wounded and the tale of casualties began to mount up.  By 07:15 hrs only Captain Bradbury, who was still unscathed, and Sergeant Nelson, who had been severely wounded, remained keeping up the best rate of fire they could.

It was at this moment when Battery-Sergeant-Major George Thomas Dorrell arrived at the gun.  With ammunition running low Captain Bradbury set off for the wagons to fetch up more, but as he left he was hit by a shell and mortally wounded.  There now remained only the Battery-Sergeant Major and the wounded Sergeant Nelson and with only these two senior NCOs to serve it, the gun fired its last remaining rounds, before falling silent.

The end of the Artillery duel had come, but it had not been fought in vain for as its last discharge boomed and echoed over the battlefield reinforcement arrived and the day was saved.

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Battery-Sergeant-Major George Thomas Dorrell, V.C., Royal Horse Artillery.  Contemporary postcard, passed for publication by the Press Bureau on the 10 February 1917.

At 05.30 hrs the 1st Middlesex withdrew outposts and marched on Saintines, joining up with 19th Brigade Headquarters.  About 06:00 hrs the Brigade, having ascended the hills south of the Néry, was met by a messenger asking for assistance urgently for the 1st Cavalry Brigade and L Battery RHA, which were in battle with the enemy and had suffered very heavily.  Major F G M Rowley who was commanding the 1st Middlesex was ordered to march his Battalion to the British Cavalry’s aid.  The 19th Infantry Brigade war diary entry reads:

“The enemy appears to have got right round the Cavalry and had succeeded in placing some ten field guns within 800 yards of their camp.  The Cavalry had a great many casualties, whilst their horses were lying dead in rows.”

Major Rowley set off at once taking D Company, the nearest available Company, with him.  On arriving at the village he reported to Brigadier-General Briggs 1st Cavalry Brigade who sent the Middlesex to attack the German guns that were firing from the high ground east of the village. On reaching the eastern exits of Néry, D Company and the two Battalion machine guns under Lieutenant Jefferd went into action against the German Batteries.  Their rapid rifle fire and machine gun fire caused the German guns to cease firing within minutes.

Major Rowley then ordered D Company to advance and capture the German guns.  With bayonets fixed and yelling as they advanced the Middlesex men rushed across the small intervening valley and captured eight of the guns that had been firing on the 1st Cavalry Brigade and L Battery, RHA.

With the exception of some 12 dead or badly wounded Germans the gun crews had fled.  A few minutes later the German limbers were seen about 1,000-yards away, but they retired rapidly when fired upon and were seen no more.  The captured guns were found to be undamaged and two were still loaded.  There were no horses available however so the sights were removed and the elevating gear damaged.

20130705-The officer’s graves and memorial in the Communal Cemetery at Néry

The officer’s graves and memorial in the Communal Cemetery at Néry.

L Battery’s casualties amounted to 45 officers and men killed and wounded, out of a strength of 170.  Among the dead was Captain Edward Kinder Bradbury who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.  Sergeant Nelson and Battery-Sergeant Major Dorrell were also awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions that day.

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Edward Kinder Bradbury
(1881-1914)

David Nelson
(1876-1918)

George Thomas Dorrell
(1880-1971)

Captain Edward Kinder Bradbury – L Battery Royal Horse Artillery.

Published in the London Gazette dated: 25th November 1914.

“For gallentry and ability in organising the defence of ‘L’ Battery against heavy odds at Nery on 1st September.”

Sergeant David Nelson – L Battery Royal Horse Artillery.

Published in the London Gazette dated: 16th November 1914.

“Helping to bring the guns into action under heavy fire at Nery on the 1st Septemebr, and while serverely wounded remaining with them until all the ammunition was expended – although he had been ordered to retire to cover.”

Battery-Sergeant-Major George Thomas Dorrell – L Battery Royal Horse Artillery.

Published in the London Gazette dated: 16th November 1914.

“For continuing to serve a gun until all the ammunition was expended, after all officers were killed or wounded, in spite of a concentrated fire from guns and machine guns, at a range of 600 yards, at Nery on 1st Septemebr.”

The German Cavalry Division that attacked the 1st Cavalry Brigade on 1st September 1914 suffered heavily at the hands of the British.  They withdrew as the reinforcements came up into the surrounding forests and did not emerge until late next day.  It was still unfit to move on 4th September.

The three Victoria Crosses are displayed at the Imperial War Museum, in London, together with the No. 6 gun of ‘L’ Battery – The Néry Gun.  One of ‘L’ Battery’s ammunition wagons is displayed in The Land Warfare Hall at Imperial War Museum Duxford.

The Battle of Mons – In the footsteps of the 1st Battalion, the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kents) at St Ghislain

On 23rd August 1914 the Mons salient and the Mons – Condé Canal to the west of Mons was held by General Smith-Dorrien’s Second Army Corps.  Major General Sir Hubert I W Hamilton’s 3rd Division was deployed in the Mons salient and Major General Sir Charles Fergusson’s 5th Division along the Mons – Condé Canal from Jemappes westward to the Bois de Boussu.  Brigadier-General Gerald James Cuthbert’s 13th Brigade deployed in the vicinity of Mariette to Les Herbières with Brigadier-General Stuart Peter Rolt’s 14th Brigade further west between the rail bridge at Les Herbières and the road bridge two and half mile further west at Pommerouel.  The task allotted to the 5th Division was to hold back the advance of General Alexander  von Kluck’s German First Army thereby preventing them from turning the left flank of the Allied line.

In the area of Tertre / St Ghislain the 1st Queen’s Own (Royal West Kents) held the line of the Mons – Condé Canal .

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Second Army Corps Battalion Dispositions at Mons22nd August 1914.

In the footsteps of 1st Queen’s Own  (Royal West Kents) at St Ghislain

On the morning of 23rd the 1st Queen’s Own  (Royal West Kents) commanded by Lt Col A Martyn were deployed defending the Mons – Condé Canal in the vicinity of St Ghislain.  A Company commanded by Capt G D Lister had pushed around 400 yards out from the canal in support of a reconnaissance part of cyclists and Hussars that had been sent forward to locate the enemy.  B Company commanded by Major C G Pack Beresford was deployed in reserve in St Ghislain, C Company commanded by Major P Hastings was on the left linking up with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers to the west and D Company commanded by Captain R M G Tullock was on the right holding the railway bridge to the north of St Ghislain.

The A Company dispositions were: 1 Platoon commanded by Second Lieutenant SK Gore was deployed to the left of the main road, 2 Platoon commanded by Lt P F Wilberforce Bell and 4 Platoon commanded by Lt C K Anderson were echeloned back on the right and 3 Platoon commanded by 2Lt A A E Chitty was held in reserve behind 2 Platoon who occupied a small farm just East of the road.  1 Platoon’s field of fire was about 250 yards, whilst 2 and 3 Platoon had nearly twice that distance.  However the line of retreat to the main Battalion position was made difficult by numerous deep ditches and wire fences.

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Captain Lister detailed men to cut the wire, but there was scarcely time for work to begin before several of the cyclists came riding full tilt down the road from Tertre.  Five minutes later the German Infantry appeared in great numbers from Tertre and A Company had the satisfaction of opening up with highly effective rapid fire.  The Germans who emerged from Tertre were from the 12th Brandenberg Grenadiers of the German 5th Division.

Captain Walter Bloem, a reserve officer of the 12th (Brandenburg Grenadiers), left a detailed account of the engagement and describes how the 12 Grenadiers had halted in Baudour, a village about a mile NE of Tertre, after a twelve mile march.  They were having a meal when suddenly cavalry scouts galloped in to report contact with the English in Tertre and that the canal line was held in strength.  At once the 3rd (Fusilier) Battalion pushed forward to clear Tertre, the 1st (Bloem’s) was ordered to advance on its right through the woods N to NW of the village, the 2nd being for the time held in reserve.

Captain Lister’s A Company, 1st Queen’s Own  (Royal West Kents) was thus facing the direct attack of a whole German Battalion with a second Battalion threatening its left flank.  At first the German attack from Tertre made little headway against accurate and well controlled fire of A Company, but it quickly became clear to Capt Lister that his men would not be able to sustain their advanced positions for any length of time.  He had, however, received a request to cover the retirement of the cavalry and decided to wait for as long as he could.  A German field battery had been brought forward to the south of Baudour to support their infantry and this began to fire A Company’s positions.  The infantry attacking astride the Tertre-Hornu road increased so much in numbers that half of 3 Platoon, the Company reserve, had to be sent forward to reinforce 2Lt Gore.  A Company continued its steady rate of fire throughout and the German accounts testify amply to its effectiveness.

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German Infantry advancing in their massed formations at Mons.

The commander of the German 3rd (Fusilier) Battalion had to reinforce his leading company with two others and even then it was not till the 1st Battalion worked its way round Tertre and deployed beyond the Fusiliers that A Company reluctantly began to yield ground.  There was still no sign of the British cavalry for whose sake A Company was hanging on.  Captain Lister’s orders were to withdraw if things were getting “too hot” and he decided shortly before noon that he had to start retiring.

He brought up the rest of 3 Platoon to 2 Platoon’s position where they lined a deep dyke.  The reinforced 2 Platoon then laid down covering fire to allow 2Lt Gore’s men to withdraw.  All the while the 12th Brandenburg Grenadiers pressed closer and A Company sustained more casualties during this withdrawal than it had in the earlier part of the fight.

The Brandenburg Grenadiers continued to push forward and fought their way through Tertre, only to be stopped by the maze of wire fences, boggy dikes and the crossfire of the 1st Royal West Kents and 2nd King’s Own Scottish Borderers on the canal bank. They were halted 300 yards north of the canal by the heavy defensive fire put down by the British infantry and the nearby four guns 120 Bty RFA which were located on the towpath. Here they remained throughout the afternoon unable to make further headway.

Like many of the assaulting German Infantry Regiments that day the Brandenberg Grenadiers believed that they were faced by an array of machine-guns, so heavy was the rate of fire put down by the 1st Royal West Kents. It was not the case, however, though an understandable mistake as the concealed British infantrymen were all highly trained each capable of firing a round every four seconds. They caused heavy casualties and to the attacking German infantry, many of whom had never been under fire before, and the effect was devastating. The Brandenburgers suffered some 3,000 casualties including one of the Battalion Commander of the 3rd (Fusilier) Battalion, Major Praeger.  These casualties had been inflicted by the 300 or so British infantrymen who defended the Mons – Condé Canal bank at St Ghislain. The 1st Royal West Kents also suffered casualties.  Lt Anderson was killed before the retirement began.  Captain Lister was badly wounded and had to be left behind refusing to let his men risk their lives in trying to get him away.  2Lt Chitty was also hit but was got back safely.  90 out of the 200 men of the company who had deployed across the canal that morning were casualties of some form or other.  Of these two thirds remained on the far bank of the canal either killed or missing.  The company had done well; they had, as the Official History says, “made a magnificent fight and inflicted far heavier losses than it had received”.

As dusk fell, the 1st Queen’s Own  Royal West Kents and 2nd King’s Own Scottish Borderers were surprised to hear German Buglers sound ‘Cease-fire’ and then, moments later they heard the strains of ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’, sung with gusto, drifting across the canal.  The soldiers of the Royal West Kents answered with a mixture of catcalls and good-hearted abuse, they knew that they had inflicted terrible casualties on the Germans.  The 12th Brandenburg Grenadiers, 2 Brandenburgisches Grenadier-Regiment 12, were still defiant.  It was a defiance and courage that many on the southern bank appreciated as they too had been defiant that day and ‘Field Marshal French’s contemptible little Army’ had sent its own message to the Kaiser and his Generals ‘perhaps we are not so contemptible after all!’

A Soldier’s Story

Remembering Lt Colin Knox Anderson, who sadly became the first officer fatality of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment in the 1914-18 Great War.

At the outbreak of the Great War Colin Knox Anderson left his home at Star Hill and his job as a Civil Engineer in Rochester to join the 1st Battalion the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment).  He had been a Special Reserve officer with the 3rd Battalion since 1908.

Raised at “Hollywood” in Frindsbury, Rochester, Colin Anderson had been a boarder at Malvern College.  He was a keen sportsman being a good footballer and the opening bowler for a couple of local cricket clubs.

The 1st Royal West Kent’s were one of the very first British units to engage the Germans in the 1914-18 Great War when early in the morning of 23rd August 1914.  A Company was detailed to cross the canal bridge at Tertre and provide a defensive cover for a reconnaissance party of Cyclists and Hussars.

Unbeknown to them the German 1st Army had advanced more rapid than anticipated and the 200 or so strong A Company found itself facing two entire German Battalions from the German 5th Brigade supported by artillery.

The West Kent’s opened fire at about 500 yards range and although heavily outnumbered they were successful in holding the enemy on the other side of the canal whilst they made a fighting withdrawal back across the bridge.

Lt Anderson became one of the first British army officers killed in action in the Great War when he was hit, killed instantly by a gunshot wound to the head during this engagement.      His body was left behind when A Company retreated across the bridge, but he was later buried by the Germans in what is now known as Hautrage Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Colin Knox Anderson was just 26 years of age.

Ian R Gumm, at Willowmead, 11th April 2013

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The Battle of Mons – In the footsteps of 57th Field Company Royal Engineers along the Mons – Condé Canal

The forced march of General Smith-Dorrien’s II Corps to Mons on 22nd August 1914 was led by Major General Sir Hubert I W Hamilton’s 3rd Division with Major General Sir Charles Fergusson’s 5th Division following up behind.  The 3rd Division arrived in the vicinity of Mons at about 1:00 pm and the 5th Division around 3:00 pm.  On arrival the 3rd Division took up positions to the south and south-east of Mons as a consequence of the reports it had received about the engagements between the 5th Cavalry Brigade and the enemy.  Later in the afternoon they moved forward to take up positions in the Mons salient.  General Smith-Dorrien recognised that the salient was the weak point and he decided to prepare a second more defensible line running through Franeries, Paturages, Wasmes and Boussu to which his forces could retire once their positions in the salient became untenable.

In the Mons salient, the 3rd Division deployed with Brigadier-General Beauchamp John Colclough Doran’s 8th Brigade on the right and Brigadier-General Frederick Charles Shaw’s 9th Brigade on the left.  Brigadier-General Frederick William Nicholas McCracken’s 7th Brigade being held in reserve some five miles to the rear in the vicinity of Frameries and Ciply.

To the left of the 3rd Division the 5th Division took up positions along the Mons – Condé Canal from Jemappes westward to the Bois de Boussu.  Brigadier-General Gerald James Cuthbert’s 13th Brigade deployed in the vicinity of Mariette to Les Herbières with Brigadier-General Stuart Peter Rolt’s 14th Brigade further west between the rail bridge at Les Herbières and the road bridge two and half mile further west at Pommerouel.  This task was allotted to two of Brigadier-General Rolt’s Battalions, the other two being held in reserve.  Brigadier-General Count Edward Alfred Wilfred Gleichen’s 15th Brigade deployed south of the two forward Brigades and was tasked with preparing secondary positions.  This task was allotted to two of his Battalions with the other two being held in reserve near Dour.

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Second Army Corps Battalion Dispositions at Mons22nd August 1914.

In the footsteps of 57th Field Company Royal Engineers along the Mons – Condé Canal

On Saturday, 23rd August 1914 a company of the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers was holding a barricade at the northern end of the bridge at Lock No 2 over the Mons – Condé Canal at Jemappes.  The enemy fire onto this position become very heavy and the casualty toll increased to the point at which it was decided that they need to retire to the relative safety of the southern bank.  Whilst this was going on Lance Corporal Alfred Jarvis and Sapper Neary of the Royal Engineers were preparing the bridge for demolition.  This was one of five bridges within a three mile stretch of the Mons – Condé Canal allotted to the 57th Field Company RE that had to be blown.

Working from a small boat held in position by soldiers of the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers, Jarvis and Neary painstakingly applied the charges to the underside of the bridge and the girder supports.  All the time they were in full view of the enemy and under intense fire.  Captain Theodore Wright continually moved backwards and forwards along the canal bank in a car that he had commandeered encouraging his men.  As their situation worsened, Lance Corporal Jarvis sent the infantrymen back into cover whilst he continued to work on, exposed for more than another an hour.  Private Heron, 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers, continued to assist Jarvis throughout this period.  They occasionally had to expose themselves even more as they dashed back for extra explosives and to run out the leads.

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Pte Heron 1RSF winning the DCM assisting the Engineers at Jemappes Bridge.

As the enemy gunfire intensified, the Royal Scots Fusiliers received orders to withdraw.  The bridge was ready except for the electrical plunger that was required to set the demolition off.  There was, however, only one electrical detonator between the five bridges spaced three miles apart.  Ducking down in the boat, Jarvis pulled himself along the bank to safety where he met Captain Theodore Wright, who had by that time been wounded in the head.  Captain Wright told Jarvis to go back to the bridge and he would bring the necessary equipment.

Whilst Captain Wright set off in his car in search of the necessary equipment Lieutenant Boulnois and Sergeant Smith, Corps of Royal Engineers, cycled passed the Lock No 2 Bridge on their way to Pont Richebe, the road bridge near the Railway Station.  Seeing them, Lance Corporal Jarvis stopped them and obtained the plunger that Lieutenant Boulnois was carrying.  The lines were connected, the demolition charges set-off and the bridge was successfully put out of use collapsing into the canal.  Throughout, the company of the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers had remained in position holding off the enemy.

CaptWright&LCplJarvisJemappes

Capt Theodore Wright VC and L/Cpl Charles A Jarvis RE winning the VC at Lock No 2, Jemappes near Mons 23rd August 1914.

With the Lock no 2 Bridge destroyed Lieutenant Boulnois and Sergeant Smith set-off westward to catch up with Captain Wright.  They met him about halfway to the road bridge and it was decided that Sergeant Smith with the plunger and cable of wire would go with Captain Wright in the car to destroy the bridges at Mariette, which was further left, whilst Lieutenant Boulnois continued on to Pont Richebe.

Lieutenant Boulnois cycled on to Pont Richebe under fire from the Germans across the far side of the canal.  Reaching the road bridge he connected up the charges laid under the bridge aided by the RE Detachment commander Corporal Halewood.  Without the electronic plunger to set the charges-off, Lieutenant Boulnois decided to try using the electrical supply of a nearby house.  He wired the cables connected to the charges to a light switch in the hope that when he switched the lights on the charge would detonate the explosives.  Finally ready he operated the switch, but nothing happened.  Just at the point when he used the light switch the electrical supply to the village failed and Pont Richebe remained intact.

At Mariette, Major Yateman commanded a large force from the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers.  The area had remained fairly quiet, but at 3:00 pm Captain B T St John commanding C Company saw movement along the main road approaching the far bank of the canal.  A group of German infantrymen were gathering ready to assault across the canal about 100 yards away, so Captain St John ordered his men to open fire.  As the first shots were fired he had to order them to stop firing as a group of terrified schoolgirls ran across the road.  As the firing stopped they ran back again, only to repeat this exercise a number of times for about three or four minutes.  The German infantry took advantage of this situation to advance to the canal bank cutting the defensive wire that the Northumberland Fusiliers had laid.  Sheltering behind the coal sheds on the far side of the canal the Germans used their rifles to give covering fire as a field-gun was brought forward. Once in position the field gun fired at almost point blank range into the defending British soldiers.

It was about this time that Captain Wright and Sergeant Smith arrived in the vicinity of the Mariette bridges.  The charges were already in place having been laid by Sergeant Smith earlier in the day.  All that was needed was to connect them up, fix the lines to the electrical detonator and push the plunger. Captain Wright, with his head already bandaged due to his head wound, swung himself out over the canal underneath the main lift bridge to connect the leads. He made repeated attempts to grab the ends of the cables on the bridge, but each time he raised his head above the level of the towpath he was fired upon from by the German infantry behind their coal sheds about thirty yards away.  Eventually he gave up the attempt and was swinging himself back under the bridge when he lost his grip and fell into the canal. Sergeant Smith went in after him and managed to pull Captain Wright to the safety of the southern bank.  His valiant attempts to connect the leads failed, they were too short, and the bridge remained intact.

With the bridge still intact and the Germans pressing hard the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers that were still on the far bank withdrew across the bridge in to C Company’s defensive positions.  It was now 4:00 pm and, with the Germans pressing hard and crossing at Pont Richebe, Major Yateman decided it was time to withdraw.

Only one of the eight bridges allocated to 57th Field Company RE was destroyed on 23rd August 1914, but this in no way detracts from the heroism of those who attempted it.  Both Captain Wright and Lance Corporal Jarvis were awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery and Private Heron, 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his efforts in assisting Lance Corporal Jarvis at the Lock No 2 Bridge.

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Capt Theodore Wright VC and L/Cpl Charles A Jarvis VC.

Two months later, Lance Corporal Jarvis was wounded and invalided home.  On 14th September 1914 at Valley, Captain Theodore Wright was mortally wounded whilst assisting wounded soldiers into shelter during the passage of the 5th Cavalry Brigade over a pontoon bridge.  An officer of the Scots Greys wrote in a letter

“We got across the river the day before yesterday a bit before our time and we had to go back over a pontoon bridge considerably quicker than was pleasant, under a very heavy fire too. At the end of the bridge was an Engineer officer repairing bits blown off and putting down straw as cool as a cucumber – the finest thing I ever saw. The poor fellow was killed just after my troops got across. No man earned a better Victoria Cross.”

Captain Theodore Wright’s Victoria Cross was gazetted in the London Gazette, 16th November 1914.  His citation reads:

“For gallantry at Mons on 23rd August 1914 in attempting to connect up the lead to demolish a bridge under heavy fire, although wounded in the head he made a second attempt. At Vailly on 14th September 1914, he assisted the passage of 5th Cavalry Brigade over the pontoon bridge and was mortally wounded whilst assisting wounded men into shelter.”

Captain Theodore Wright is buried in the Vailly British Cemetery, 10 miles East of Soissons, France.

Ian R Gumm, at Willowmead, 7th April 2013

 

The Battle of Mons – The 4th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment at Obourg

Whilst the 4th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (4th R Fusiliers) were fighting the advancing German First Army at Nimy Railway Bridge and along the canal, the 4th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (4th Middlesex) was deployed in the hamlet of Obourg and around its railway station.

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Dispositions in the Mons Salient on 23rd August 1914.

In the footsteps of  4th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment at Obourg

The 4th Middlesex had landed at Boulogne on 14th August 1914 and marched to the transit camp that had been set up on the hills above the port.  Here they remained throughout the following day before entraining for an ‘unknown destination’ on the 16th.

The ‘unknown destination’ was the small village of Aulnoye, which is located to the south of Pont-sur-Sambre and east of the Forest de Mormal.  The Battalion arrived at 12 noon, detrained, and marched off at 15.30 hrs to Taisnières, which lay four miles south of Aulnoye.  In Taisnières they were reunited with the three other battalions of the 8th Infantry Brigade: 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots (2nd R Scots), 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment (2nd R Irish Regt) and 1st Battalion the Gordon Highlanders (1st Gordons).  The BEF was gathering in its concentration area between Maubeuge and Le Cateau about 25-miles or so southwest of Mons.

The French Armies were arrayed along the frontier between Charleroi and the Swiss Frontier.  With the German Imperial Army advancing through Belgium pushing back the Belgium Army before them the BEF readied itself to move forward towards Mons in order to take up positions on the left of the French Fifth Army.

On the evening of the 20th, Field Marshal French’s HQ issued orders for the movement northwards to begin and on Friday, 21st August 1914 the BEF set off towards Mons.  As they advanced 38 Divisions of the German Second and Third Armies attacked the 15 Division of General Lanrezac’s French Fifth Army and the Battle of Charleroi began.  The Germans assaulted across the River Sambre establishing two bridgeheads that the French lacking artillery were unable to reduce.  The arrival of the BEF on the French left was urgently required in order to ensure that the French left flank was not turned by the German First Army, which was advancing to the right of the German Second Army towards  Mons.

On 22nd August 1914 General Karl von Bülow’s German Second Army attacked at Charleroi again with three full German Corps putting the defending French under heavy pressure.  At the same time the BEF was beginning to occupy its defensive positions with the II Corps moving into a line stretching from Mons to Thulin to the west, whilst the I Corps was between them and the French along the line of Hautmont-Hargnies.  As the British infantry began to entrench themselves along the Mons-CondéCanal the cavalrymen of General Allenby’s Cavalry Division were pushed forward in a cavalry screen.  Given the situation developing at Charleroi, it was decided that if pressure grew on the outposts along the canal the II Corps would evacuate the Mons salient and take up a defensive position among the pit villages and slag heaps a little to the south.

Early on Saturday, 23rd August 1914 the German Third Army crossed the River Meuse threatening to cut off the French Fifth Army’s line of retreat and its centre began to give way.  General Louis Franchet d’Esperey Corps defending the right of the French Fifth Corps held the advancing German Third Army at bay delivering a well timed successful counterattack.  General Lanrezac recognised the danger his Fifth Army was in and requested that the BEF hold its positions along the Mons-CondéCanal for 24 hrs so that he could realign his units and Field Marshal French agreed.

The 8th Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier-General B J C Doran was deployed to the northeast of the Mons Salient guarding the right flank of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien’s British II Corps.  The 4th Middlesex to the north along the Mons-Condé Canal between Nimy and Obourg, the 1st Gordons and 2nd R Scots were to their southeast as the flank guard and the 2nd R Irish Regt was in the vicinity of Mons in reserve.

Lieutenant Colonel C P A Hull commanding the 4th Middlesex deployed his Battalion with two companies forward in a defensive line along the canal and two companies back in support.  B Company commanded by Major W H C Davy was on the left tying in with the 4th R Fusiliers at Nimy,

D Company commanded by Captain H E L Glass on the right in the vicinity of Obourg and the railway station and the two remaining companies were in reserve with Major William Henry Abell’s A Company left and Captain Oliver’s C Company right.

In the early morning of Saturday, 23rd August 1914 the forward companies of the 4th Middlesex were involved in minor exchanges with the German Cavalry.  At about 10:00 am they heard the attack begin against the 4th R Fusiliers at Nimy and all along the canal the men of the 4th Middlesex huddled in their shallow trenches watched the fir trees on the far bank intently for signs of movement.  About half an hour after the attack against Nimy had commenced infantrymen from the German 31st Infantry Regiment, 1 Thüringisches Infanterie-Regiment 31, appeared on the far bank.  They held back for a while as the German artillery commenced firing, but when they finally began their attack they advanced in close formation.  The Germans disregarded any cover and came forward firing from the hip.  When the Germans were about 500-yards away the men of the 4th Middlesex opened fire, Private Bradley later recalled the scene:

“They went down like ninepins.  You could hear a strange wailing sound and they ran for the fir trees.”

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The 4th Middlesex at Obourg.

Major Davy’s B Company was the most fiercely attacked but his men were well placed and protected putting up a very stubborn resistance.  Major Davy was wounded early in the battle, but continued to command his men.  By sheer weight of numbers the Germans succeeding in crossing the canal to the west of Obourg and having learnt by their experiences of the morning abandoned their massed formations deploying in extended order.  The situation of the 4th Middlesex and 2nd R Irish Regt who were deployed defending the area to the north-east of Mons was now precarious.  They were under observation from the heights to the north of the canal and had advanced German patrols pushing through Mons to their west and rear.

By 10:45 am Captain Glass’s men in the vicinity of Obourg station had either been killed or wounded.  The detachment commander, Lieutenant A B W Allistone had been captured and all but one lone soldier who had barricaded himself on the station roof were out of action.  The unknown private fired into the advancing Germans until he was subsequently hit and killed.  His brave action enabled his comrades who were able walk to make good their escape and withdraw into the main D Company defensive position.  Hard pressed from both flanks the two forward companies of the 4th Middlesex began to pull back.

The main railway station buildings were demolished in the 1980’s but a plaque commemorating the events that took place here can be found on a brick pillar located on the platform.

Ian R Gumm, at Willowmead, 5th April 2013

The Battle of Mons – The 4th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers at Nimy Railway Bridge

Whilst the Cavalry was firing the first shoots by the British in the war, the Infantry of the BEF was marching towards Mons.  General Smith-Dorrien’s II Corps followed behind the cavalry with Lieutenant-General Haig’s I Corps about ten miles behind them.  By the time that the Infantry arrived in the vicinity of Mons in the early afternoon of the 22nd August 1914 the French line at Charleroi had already been pushed back.  The border city was in German hands and the French line now extended south-westwards along the River Sambre.  General Sordet’s Cavalry was on the left of the French line forming a screen to protect their flank, but the Binche to Mons Road positions, intended to be occupied by the BEF, were now untenable.  With the French positions angled backwards the Mons to Beaumont Road to the rear of original BEF positions seemed to be the best alternative choice.  Thus the BEF deployed on a front stretching from Givry near the River Sambre north-westward to Obourg east of Mons, around the loop of the Mons – Condé Canal to the north of Mons and then westwards along the line of the canal almost as far as Condé.

The chalky ground in the vicinity of Mons and to the south and east was an area packed with small market gardens defined by their numerous wire fences which was typical of many provincial towns of the time.  To the south-east of the town the ground rises towards three distinct features: Mount Erebus, the rounded hill immediate to the south of the town; Bois la Haut, a hump of land about a thousand yards long orientated north to south that rises steeply on all sides except the eastern slope; and Hill 98 that lies south-east of the Bois la Haut and is dissected by a shallow valley.

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The Dispositions of the Opposing Forces on 23rd August 1914.

Radiating from Mons across the loop of the canal to the north were seven roads that spanned the waterway with their bridges.  The far bank of the canal was dotted with numerous small copses and the ground rises gently to the north-east towards Soignies.  To the north and north-west of Mons the ground was relatively flat.  Along the canal the land close by was cut by a network of man-made water courses about a mile wide.  The ground to the south of this web of waterways was a narrow belt of coalfields that had all the attendant mining confusion with its pitheads and slagheaps rising up from its scarred earth.  This mining area had virtually become one continuous mass of housing traversed by a maze of cobbled roads that seemed to lead to nowhere in particular.  Beyond this sprawling mass to the south the ground gradually rises to rolling chalk down land which is cut by numerous streams and characterised by the spurs rising up between them.

It was into this area the BEF deployed with its two Army Corps at approximately forty-five degrees to each other forming the shape of a broad arrowhead the point of which rested on Mons.  The right-hand side of the arrowhead followed roughly the line of the Mons to Beaumont Road for about nine miles, and the left-hand side of the arrowhead followed the Mons – Condé Canal running due west from Mons for around twenty miles.  At the point of the arrowhead the canal looped around to the north of Mons forming a bulge, or salient, about two miles long by one and half miles wide.

At 09.00 the German Infantry advanced in parade ground fashion towards the British positions occupied by the 4th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (4th R Fusiliers) in the vicinity of Nimy and the 4th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (4th Middlesex) along the canal to the east in the vicinity of Obourg.  The defending British Infantrymen opened fire.

In the footsteps of the 4th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers at Nimy Railway Bridge

The Railway Bridge and canal at Nimy was heroically defended by the 4th R Fusiliers on Sunday, 23rd August 1914 and a plaque under the bridge records the action that took place.  It was during the defence here that two of the first Victoria Crosses to be awarded in the 1914-18 Great War were won.

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The British positions in the Mons Salient on 23rd August 1914.

The 4th R Fusiliers moved up to the village of Nimy on the northern edge of Mons during Saturday, 22nd August 1914.  It had been a long march to Mons and the men were weary, but the canal bank offered little protection for the rifle companies who spent the night digging in and fortifying their fire positions using material that could be found in the surrounding area.

At 05:30 am on Sunday, 23rd August 1914 at the BEF’s advanced HQ at the chateau in Sars-la-Bruyère, Field Marshal Sir John French met with Lieutenant General Sir Douglas Haig, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and Major General Sir Edmund Allenby.  Field Marshall French ordered that the outposts along the Mons – Condé Canal were to be strengthened, the bridges across the canal to be prepared for demolition and that the men defending the canal should put up a stubborn resistance when attacked.  The commanders recognised that the British positions were not good and that the canal salient was very exposed and vulnerable to attack on three sides.

The morning of Sunday, 23rd August 1914 dawned with mist and drizzle that did not clear until approximately 10:00 am.  There were some early exchanges between the German cavalry and British infantry outposts during the early morning and during one of these that took place around 06:00 am in the vicinity of Nimy the 4th R Fusiliers captured two German Cavalry officers.  As the morning worn on there could be little doubt that the main blow would fall on the units of the II Corps spread thinly along the canal.

Just before 09:00 am the German heavy guns were moved into position on high ground to the north of the canal.  At around 09:30 am these guns opened fire on the positions of the 4th R Fusiliers and the 4th Middlesex deployed on their right.  By 10:00 am the German Infantry of the Gr IX Korps began attacking around the canal salient.

At Nimy the attacking German Infantry were from German 84th Infantry Regiment (1st Schleswigsches Infanterie-Regiment 84) and the men of the 4th R Fusiliers shot down the “feldgrau” in masses as they advanced in parade ground fashion.  The German 84th Infantry recoiled from the rapid fire that they put down.  Each British infantryman was firing at a rate of approximately one round every four seconds, a rate of fire so great that many of the Germans believed to be from massed machine-guns.  The hail of lead that flew across the canal into their advancing massed ranks reaped a heavy toll.

The standard of one shot every four seconds equates to fifteen aimed shots per minute.  This standard is credited to Norman Reginald McMahon, who was the Chief Instructor at the British Small Arms School, Hythe between 1905 and 1914.  Some attribute the creation of this standard to McMahon’s Boer War experience, while others point to McMahon’s early advocacy of machine-gun usage.  In either case, the standard was formalised in the Musketry Regulations of 1909 and earned McMahon the nickname of the “Musketry Maniac.”  To support this standard, 15-shot exercises were conducted.  These eventually became known as the “Mad Minute” and by 1912 failure in the exercise could be sufficient to discharge a soldier due to “inefficiency.”  By the beginning of the Great War it was not uncommon for many soldiers to exceed twenty hits per minute during this exercise.

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Brigadier-General Norman Reginald McMahon – late CO 4th Royal Fusiliers.

Norman Reginald McMahon, the “Musketry Maniac”, was none other than Lt Col N R McMahon DSO commanding the 4th R Fusiliers at Nimy.  Soon after Mons he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General, but prior to taking command of the 10th Infantry Brigade he was killed in action on 11th November 1914 during the First Battle of Ypres.

The 4th R Fusiliers held the western part of the Canal Salient and the 4th Middlesex the eastern part.  Lt Col McMahon deployed his companies as follows:

Y (or C) Company commanded by Captain Ashburner was deployed to the north of Nimy on the right of the Battalion’s AOR.  Their right tied in with the 4th Middlesex and their left was just to the north of Lock No 6.  Company HQ and two platoons were entrenched at the Railway Bridge and Captain Fred Forster with two platoons held Nimy Bridge.

Z (or D) Company under Captain Byng held positions at Lock No 6 and the Ghlin-Mons Bridge.

X (or B) Company commanded by Captain Carey was deployed in the vicinity of Nimy Railway Station with Battalion HQ.

W (or A) Company was the Battalion reserve and they were deployed in the north of Mons.

C Company 4th R Fusiliers commanded by Captain L F Ashburner had set up their positions with their left flank in the vicinity of Nimy Railway Bridge and their right flank near the Bridge at Bragnons further east.  In the centre of their line the swing bridge had been closed to prevent any movement across the canal.  At the Railway Bridge they had put a wire entanglement at the far end and used cable drums that they had wheeled onto the bridge before turning them on their sides to for a barricade.  A trench had been dug across the track in the canal loop and two machine guns were positioned in small emplacements constructed on the bridge’s buttresses.  With no thought of retreat the ammunition boxes were brought forward and distributed among the positions.

In the early hours of Saturday, 23rd August 1914 a German cavalry patrol was heard. They suddenly appeared on the road riding towards the bridge.  The bridge had been closed and as they approached Captain Forster’s men opened fire.  The officer was wounded, four of the cavalrymen hit and the two remaining turned tail and galloped back the way they had come.  The officer with his horse shot dead and wounded in the leg was taken prisoner.  This officer was Lieutenant von Arnim, son of the commander of IV German Army Corps, General Friedrich Bertram Sixt von Armin.

The German attacks at Nimy began at 10:00 am when they approached both bridges in column of route.  They were about 1,000-yards away when the 4th R Fusiliers opened fire with their machine guns and rapid fire from their rifles.  Within minutes the leading fours of each column were destroyed and the columns retreated from view.  The Germans then shelled C Companies positions before they advanced a second time in extended line.  They made a wonderful target for the men of the 4th Royal Fusiliers who seized upon every opportunity they were presented.

Whilst this was happening, the Germans moved some of their artillery around to the left of the Canal Salient and began firing at the British across the canal.  They took C Company by surprise who now found themselves being shelled from the left flank as well as from the front.

As the attack wore on, the Fusiliers received orders that they were to be ready to move at ten minutes notice.  The ammunition boxes were gathered as the battle raged and put on carts ready for the move.

At Lock No 6 the men of D Company were commanded by Captain Attwood and some of the fire directed against C Company fell on them.  The trench occupied by Lieutenant Harding’s platoon took hits and had to be abandoned, but otherwise they were not really troubled by the German attacks.  They had sunk all of the boats and set the barges on fire in case of retreat and all they could do was watch as Captain Ashburner’s C Company soaked up the punishment.

At the Railway Bridge the volume of fire coming from the Germans was beginning to tell and Captain Ashburner sent word to Nimy requesting reinforcements.  Captain Carey sent forward Second Lieutenant Mead’s platoon.  Mead was shot in the head almost immediately, but went back behind the trenches to have it dressed.  He returned shortly thereafter only to be shot in the head again, but this time he fell to the ground dead.  More reinforcements were sent for and Captain Bowden-Smith came forward with Lieutenant E C Smith’s platoon.  The fighting grew steadily hotter and the men of the Fusiliers began to fall.  Lieutenant E C Smith was killed as was Captain Fred Fisher at Nimy Bridge.  Captain Bowden-Smith was wounded and left dying at the bridge when they fell back.  Captain Ashburner sustained a head wound and Lieutenant Steele was also hit.

Lieutenant Maurice Dease commanding the machine gun section had placed his two guns on the south side of the railway bridge in the two sandbagged emplacements on the bridge’s buttresses.  These laid down deadly enfilade fire into the ranks of the advancing German infantry, but they soon came under fire themselves.  Every time one of them stopped firing he would dash across from the nearby trench to see what was wrong.  To do this once took courage, but to do it as often as he did was no ordinary feat of valour.

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The German Attack at Nimy Bridge on 23rd August 1914.

Herbert O’Neill tells the story of what happened in his book The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War:

“The machine gun crews were constantly being knocked out.  So cramped was their position that when a man was hit he had to be removed before another could take his place. The approach from the trench was across the open, and whenever a gun stopped Lieutenant Maurice Dease, the young machine gun officer, went up to see what was wrong. To do this once called for no ordinary courage. To repeat it several times could only be done with real heroism. Dease was badly wounded on these journeys, but insisted on remaining at duty as long as one of his crew could fire. The third wound proved fatal, and a well deserved VC was awarded him posthumously. By this time both guns had ceased firing, and all the crew had been knocked out.”

Lieutenant Maurice James Dease was in all wounded five times before he was eventually taken to a nearby dressing station.  At the dressing station he succumbed to his wounds and died.  He is buried along with many of the officers and men of the 4th R Fusiliers who fell in the battle in Saint Symphorien Military Cemetery.  For his actions at Nimy Lieutenant Maurice James Dease was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross and his entry reads:

“Though two or three times badly wounded he continued to control the fire of his machine guns at Mons’ on 23rd August until all his men were shot. He died of his wounds.”

His full citation reads:

“On 23rd August 1914 at Mons, Belgium, Nimy Bridge was being defended by a single company of Royal Fusiliers and a machine gun section with Lieutenant Dease in command.  The gunfire was intense, and the casualties were heavy, but the Lieutenant went on firing in spite of his wounds, until he was hit for the fifth time and was carried away to a place of safety where he died.  A Private of the same Battalion, who had been assisting the Lieutenant while he was still able to operate the guns, took over, and alone he used the gun to such a good effect that he covered the retreat of his comrades.”

When Lieutenant Dease was evacuated his place was taken by Private Sidney Frank Godley.  Private Godley was part of the machine gun section commanded by Lieutenant Dease and at the beginning of the battle was stationed on the bridge helping to supply ammunition to the guns.  After severe losses the orders came through for the 4th R Fusiliers to withdraw.  Private Godley remained behind to help man the machine guns and cover the retreat knowing full well that ‘if’ he survived the next few hours he would probably be taken prisoner.

When Lieutenant Dease was mortally injured Sidney Godley, despite his own serious wounds, took over the remaining machine gun and somehow single-handed managed to hold the bridge for two hours giving the rest of the 4th R Fusiliers the chance to complete their withdrawal.  When he finally ran out of ammunition he dismantled the machine gun and threw the parts into the Canal.  His actions had inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking German infantry.

During the fighting Private Sidney Godley had been wounded in his back and a bullet lodged in his head.  Despite these wounds he managed to crawl back from the bridge to the main road where he was helped to a nearby first aid post by two Belgium civilians.  As his wounds were being dressed the Germans overran the aid post and Private Godley was taken prisoner.

Sidney Godley was sent to Berlin where surgeons removed bullets from his head and back and he had surgery for skin grafts, his back alone requiring 150 stitches.  When he was fit enough he was transferred to a Prisoner of War (POW) camp at Doberitz.  It was here that he was informed that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross by the American Ambassador.  His entry reads:

“For coolness and gallantry in fighting his machine gun under a hot fire for two hours after he had been wounded at Mons on 23rd August.”

Alf Bastin, another prisoner of war at the camp, in his memoirs, outlined the story.  At the time it had been thought that Godley had not survived but it was eventually discovered that he was alive and was recovering in the German POW camp.

The following is Lieutenant Colonel McMahon’s account of Private Godley’s action at Nimy Bridge.

“On 23 August, 1914 at Mons, Belgium, Private Godley took over a machine-gun on Nimy Bridge when the lieutenant in charge of the section had been mortally wounded.  Private Godley held the enemy from the bridge single-handed for two hours under very heavy fire and was wounded twice.  His gallant action covered the retreat of his comrades, but he was eventually taken prisoner.  His final act was to destroy the gun and throw the pieces into the canal.”

Sidney Frank Godley’s award was gazetted on the 25th November 1914 and it was reported in the East Grinstead Observer of 26th February 1916 “that Private S F Godley, who won the VC but is now a prisoner of war in Germany, had the ‘honour’ of being invited to dine with German officers on Christmas Day because they understand the VC in England was equal to the Iron Cross in Germany.”

Sidney Godley’s full citation for the award of the VC was written by Lieutenant Steele and it reads:

“In defence of the railway bridge at Nimy, 23rd August 1914.

This afternoon Private Godley showed particular heroism in his management of the machines guns.  Lieutenant Dease having been severely wounded and each machine gunner in turn shot.  Under extremely heavy fire he had to remove three dead bodies to get to the gun.”

Private Godley remained a prisoner of war for four years until in 1918 he was able to walk out of the camp when the guards deserted their posts.  He subsequently made his way to Denmark and from there returned to England in December 1918.  He was presented with his VC by King George V in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace on 15th February 1919.  Sidney Godley died on 27th June 1957.  In 1954 he gave a radio interview and the following is an extract:

“The Germans came over in mass formation and we opened fire… We carried on until towards evening when the order was given for the line to retire.  I was then asked by Lieutenant Steele to remain and hold the position while the retirement took place, which I did do, although I was very badly wounded several times, but I managed to carry on.  I remained on the bridge and held the position, but when it was time for me to get away I smashed the machine gun up, and threw it in the Canal.”

Sidney Godley was the first Private to receive the VC in World War I, which was awarded as joint first of the war with that awarded posthumously to Lieutenant Maurice James Dease.

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Lieutenant Maurice Dease VC and Private Sidney Godley VC of the 4th R Fusiliers

Meanwhile on the right flank of C Company the swing bridge was also under threat.  A German soldier called Niemeyer jumped into the canal and swam to the bridge, setting the swing mechanism in motion to re-open the bridge.  Private Niemeyer was killed whilst performing this act of bravery, but the Germans now had a means by which they could stream across and get amongst the British soldiers defending Nimy and Obourg.  At 1:40 pm Lieutenant Colonel McMahon gave the order to withdraw which, according to the regimental history, was done in ‘perfect order’.

On the morning of the 23rd the strength of the 4th R Fusiliers had been 26 Officers and 983 other ranks.  In addition to the four officers who lost their lives at Nimy Railway Bridge the Battalion lost a further 150 casualties during their defence at the Mons – Condé Canal.  Following their withdrawal the Battalion reformed at Mons before moving into a new defensive position further south at Ciply.

Ian R Gumm, at Willowmead, 28th March 2013

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The Battle of Mons – The First Shot

The Battle of Mons began on 23rd August 1914 when General von Kluck’s German First Army launched a frontal attack on the British lines in order to remain in contact with the German Second Army engaging the French Fifth Army to the east.  The main thrust of General von Kluck’s attack fell on the British II Corps commanded by General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien.

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General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien commander of the British II Corps.

At 06.00 hrs on 23rd August 1914 the advance guard of the German Army approached the small village of Casteau where C Squadron, 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards commanded by Major Thomas Bridges was located.  Major Bridges gave the order to open fire on the German Cavalry and a short Cavalry battle ensued.  After a brief chase the German advance guard fell back.

In the footsteps of C Squadron, 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards at Casteau

At dawn on Saturday, 22nd August 1914 two patrols from Brigadier-General de Lisle’s 2nd Cavalry Brigade pushed forward across the Condé – Mons Canal to the north of Mons in the direction of Soignies.  These cavalrymen were from C Squadron 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards (4DG) commanded by Major G T M (Tom) Bridges and their mission was to reconnoitre the area in order to locate the enemy and determine their direction of advance.  As they neared the small hamlet of Casteau they made the first contact between with the German Imperial Army and the BEF in the 1914-18 Great War, it was approximately 07:00 am on Saturday, 22nd August 1914.

Cresting the hump of a shallow rise they saw four enemy cavalrymen advancing down the road towards them.  Moments later the German cavalrymen halted in their tracks, they had seen the British Dragoons.  Outnumbered the Germans immediately turned back towards the village and 1st Troop 4DG under Captain Charles Beck Hornby set off in pursuit.

The first blows struck by the British in the 1914-18 Great War were with the sabre when Captain Hornby’s 1st Troop caught up with the retiring Germans on the far side of Casteau.  4th Troop 4DG had followed them forward and were close behind as the mêlée passed along the road towards the Chateau.

At the chateau 4 Troop quickly dismounted to provide covering fire for 1st Troop who had by that time met the larger force of German cavalrymen that had been following behind the initial four.  Corporal Edward Thomas of 4 Troop was quickly in action and was the first to open fire.  In doing so he became the first British soldier to fire a ‘shot in anger’ in the 1914-18 Great War.

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The Charge of C Squadron 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards at Casteau near Mons on 22nd August 1914.

In this small meeting engagement C Squadron killed three or four of the enemy and captured three more.  These German cavalry were from the 4th Cuirassiers of the 9th Cavalry Division and were part of the advance guard of General Alexander von Kluck’s German First Army.  Captain Hornby later returned to his Squadron with his sword at the present, showing the German blood that was upon its blade.  For his leadership and courage during the charge Captain Charles B Hornby was awarded the DSO.

In the 1930s Edward Thomas gave an account of what happened ‘The Great War: I Was There’ , the following is an extract:

Major Bridges DSO, now Lieutenant General Sir Tom Bridges, gave the order “4th Troop, dismounted ready for action; 1st Troop, behind, draw swords ready to go!”  I can recall no tremendous sense of battle of ferocity of encounter event at that moment, or anything that seemed more exciting than one of the peace-time manoeuvres.

I saw a troop of Uhlans coming leisurely down the road, the officer in front smoking a cigar.  We were anxiously watching their movements when, quicker than I can write here, they halted, as if they smelt a rat.  They had seen us! They turned quickly back.  Captain Hornby got permission to follow on with the sabre troop, and down the road they galloped.

My troop was ordered to follow on in support, and we galloped on through the little village of Casteau.  Then it was we could see the 1st Troop using their swords and scattering the Uhlans left and right.  We caught them up.

Captain Hornby gave the order “4th Troop, dismounted action!”  We found cover for our horses by the side of the chateau wall.  Bullets were flying past us and all round us, and possibly because I was rather noted for my quick movements and athletic ability in those days I was first in action.  I could see a German cavalry officer some four hundred yards away standing mounted in full view of me, gesticulating to the left and to the right as he disposed of his dismounted men and ordered them to take up their fire positions to engage us.  Immediately I saw him I took aim, pulled the trigger and automatically, almost as it seemed instantaneously, he fell to the ground, obviously wounded, but whether he was killed or not is a matter that I do not think was ever cleared up or ever became capable of proof.

That was the first shot that was fired by a rifle in the British Army, and I cannot repeat too often that at that time it seemed to me more like rifle practice on the plains of Salisbury.

To the east Brigadier-General Gough’s 3rd Cavalry Brigade found the area two miles north of the canal to be clear of the enemy, whilst further east Brigadier-General Chetwode’s 5th Cavalry Brigade had located the enemy in the direction of Louvière.  They reported that all arms of the enemy were advancing from the north and that the French were withdrawing across the River Sambre.

At 10:00 am two Squadrons of the Royal Scots Greys from the 5th Cavalry Brigade that were holding the bridges over the River Sambre at Binche and Péronnes came into contact with elements of the German 13th Division.  The Germans did not try to force a passage across the bridges, but shelled the Scots Greys heavily though inaccurately.  The cavalrymen of the Scots Greys defended the bridges with rifle fire inflicting some thirty to forty casualties at the cost of one officer wounded.  The 3rd Cavalry Brigade who was two mile to the rear at Bray gave support to the 5th Brigade and D and E Batteries Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) deployed and fired a few shells.  A Troop of the 16th Lancers sent forward to support the Scots Greys came suddenly upon a party of Jager as they came over the hill to the west of Péronnes.  They charged the startled German soldiers.  E Battery RHA unlimbered to cover the Lancers and gave them covering fire for their return journey.  The 16th Lancers sustained one man wounded and lost three horses slain.

Ian R Gumm, at Willowmead, 26th March 2013

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