Based on extracts from the Regimental Chronicles of The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Vol 24 1914-1915
On the 1st August 1914 the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment was quartered at Albuhera Barracks, Aldershot, and formed part of the 5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division, 1st Army Corps.
August 4th.—Great Britain declared war on Germany. Order for Mobilization received at 6 p.m.
August 5th—first day of mobilization. The Colours were taken to the Depot (Cowley Barracks) . Strength of the Battalion, 22 officers, 486 men, 10 horses. Required to complete, 9 officers, 590 men, 48 horses. Reservists due to join, 590 men. To be left behind, 116 men.
August 6th.—second day of mobilization. Strength of the Battalion, 25 officers, 620 men, 42 horses. Required to complete, 6 officers, 456 men, 16 horses. Reservists joined, 134 men. Reservists due to join, 456 men. To be left behind, 111 men.
August 7th.—third day of mobilization. Strength of the Battalion, 29 officers, 1,050 men, 42 horses. Required to complete, 2 officers, 26 men, 16 horses. Reservists joined, 549 men. Reservists due to join, 26 men. 1st Reinforcement to be left behind, 99 men Others to be left behind, 113 men.
August 8th.—fourth day of mobilization. Strength of the Battalion, 27 officers, 1,198 men, 58 horses Required to complete, 4 officers. Reservists joined, 599 men. 1st Reinforcement to be left behind, 99 men Others to be left behind, 113 men.
August 10th.—The Battalion went for a route march, with transport complete.
August l1th.—Companies at work in the field, musketry, etc.
August l2th.—Orders received for the Battalion (as part of the 5th
Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division) to entrain tomorrow for port of embarkation, and
proceed with the Expeditionary Force to
His Majesty the King, accompanied by Her Majesty the Queen, inspected the Regiment informally on parade to say good-bye.
SUMMARY OF THE SITUATION. THE ADVANCE TO AND WITHDRAWAL FROM MONS.
The British Expeditionary Force, consisting of the 1st Army Corps (1st and 2nd Divisions) and the IInd Army Corps (3rd and 5th Divisions), arrived in France on the twelfth day after Germany had declared war on France. The Germans were overrunning Belgium in great force, with a view to pushing straight on to Paris, and the French had advanced into Belgium to meet them. The task allotted to the British Expeditionary Force was that of prolonging the French line to the north-west, in order to prevent the enemy from making a wide enveloping movement on the Allies left flank.
On the 22nd August the British reached Mons, the Germans by that time having descended as far south as Charleroi. The British 1st Army Corps (Haig) took up a position along the Mons-Beaumont road, and the IInd Army Corps (Smith-Dorrien) in front of Mons, along the Mons-Conde canal, with cavalry between the two corps and about Binche. The two portions of the position, although the only feasible line of defence, formed an undesirable salient, which it was intended to hold solely for the purpose of delaying the German advance as long as possible. A straight line further back had been selected., and to this the troops were to withdraw when forced back.
At daybreak on the 23rd August the Germans commenced shelling Mons, and the brunt of the fighting which followed fell on the 3rd Division (IInd Army Corps) holding the line of the canal. The 1st Army Corps, thrown back on the right, took no active part in the battle of Mons; but the 5th Brigade (Haking), at the urgent request of the IInd Army Corps Commander, was moved up from Genly to Fraraeries and Paturages, in support of the much-harassed 3rd Division (Hubert Hamilton), and at dawn of the 24th August the remainder of the 2nd Division (Monro) endeavoured to relieve the pressure by making a powerful demonstration against Binche, now in the enemy's hands, since the British cavalry had been withdrawn and dispatched westward to protect the left flank. Under cover of this demonstration the IInd Army Corps was enabled to withdraw to the line Quarouble-Dour-Frameries, though suffering heavily in doing so at the hands of the Germans, who by this time had captured Mons.
On the afternoon of the 23rd August the British Commander-in-Chief had been informed that three German Army Corps were advancing against his front, and that a fourth had commenced a turning movement against his left flank, from the direction of Tournai. He was also informed that the French troops on his right were retiring. Consequently, he decided to withdraw forthwith to the previously-selected line extending from Maubeuge on the right to Jenlain (south-east of Valenciennes) on the left. During the day of the 24th August the IInd Army Corps halted on the Dour-Frameries line and threw up such entrenchments as time permitted, while the 1st Army Corps gradually withdrew to the eastern portion of the new line, i.e., from the fortress of Maubeuge on the right to Bavai on the left. Of this Corps the 5th Brigade (Haking) remained behind, its orders being to cover the withdrawal of the 3rd Division, with which object it held positions first at La Bouverie and then at Sars - la -Bruyeres, rejoining the 2nd Division at Bavai. On the morning of the 24th the 19th Infantry Brigade, which had been brought up on the previous day from lines of communication to Valenciennes, was pushed up towards Quarouble (to the north-east), to support the left of the IInd Army Corps, while the cavalry, further to the north-west, guarded the British left front and flank from the turning movement which was threatening.
The pressure on the IInd Army Corps throughout the 24th was very severe, two German Army Corps attacking its front, while a third threatened its flank. Still, by putting up a magnificent fight, in which the losses on both sides were heavy, General Smith-Dorrien succeeded in extricating his Corps, and falling back at nightfall to the line west of Bavai. That night, therefore, the general disposition of the British Expeditionary Force was as follows : The 1st Army Corps from Maubeuge to Bavai; the IInd Army Corps from Bavai to Jenlain; the 19th Infantry Brigade between Jenlain and Bry; and the cavalry on the left flank. But Sir John French had no intention of attempting to hold this position now that he knew that the French on his right were still retiring and could give him no support. He realized, moreover, that the enemy's object was to drive the whole British force towards Maubeuge and surround it. The troops were exhausted, the enemy vastly superior in numbers, and the situation dangerous. Sir John French ordered an immediate retirement to a fresh position about Le Cateau, and before daylight of the 25th August the whole British Army was in motion.
August 13th, 1914—(Aldershot to Southampton.) Left Aldershot by train at 12.30 p.m., with A and B Companies and most of headquarters. The remainder of the Regiment followed 1 1/2 hours later. The men had tea in the sheds before embarking, as this was more comfortable for them than having it on board. We embarked on the "Lake Michigan," and left at about 8 p.m. Very crowded indeed. Just lying-down room for officers, who were all together on a small bridge deck, but many of the men only had sitting room. Luckily the weather was fine and calm, or we should have had a bad time, as nearly all the men were on the upper deck, without shelter, and so crowded that it is best not to think of what would have happened if any of them had been seasick. However, as it was, even the worst sailor had no cause to feel ill.
The ship was a large one, an emigrant and cattle boat, belonging to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, and she carried, besides ourselves, the Highland Light Infantry, half the Worcestershire, some of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and some R.E. and A.S.C., including the chief baker of the Expeditionary Force.
August 14th.—(Southampton to Boulogne.) Towards morning it got a little cold, and by 5 a.m. most of us were awake. The men had breakfast at 5.30. They were all awake, and as there was plenty of hot water to be had, it was better for them to have their breakfast tea at once. Except for tea twice in the day, the rest of their rations consisted of biscuit and bully beef, brought with them (on the man) from Aldershot.
Passed Eastbourne at 9.30 a.m. We were going very slowly, as they did not want us at Boulogne before a certain hour, as other troops were disembarking there. We arrived at Boulogne about 2.30 p.m. We were the first regiment of our ship to disembark, and we marched away to our rest camp, two miles off, near the big Column (Colonne de la Grande Armee), put up as a memorial to the Great Army intended for the invasion of England in 1804, but which eventually marched against Austria.
A very hot march to our camp, amidst a good deal of cheering from the inhabitants, both at the landing place and in the streets. We found that the tents had been already pitched by L. of C. troops, and we were fortunate enough to be in a grass field. Some of the other camps were in stubble, which is nothing like as comfortable. It took a long time to disembark all the wagons, and our transport did not arrive until 11 p.m. By this time the men, tired by the uncomfortable voyage, had been long asleep, so we did not wake them to have tea.
In the evening Sir John French came round the camp. We did not know that he had arrived in France. In fact, we were in complete ignorance of the movements of anyone but ourselves
August 15th.—(Boulogne.) Had "Rouse" at 7 a.m, so as to give the men a good sleep. We were able to get fresh rations today, and I was also able to arrange with a cafe for two beer issues on payment. Had a parade in the morning, and read out the King's Message, otherwise nothing except the usual Company inspections of rifles, ammunition, iron rations, boots, socks, and feet. The men were thus able to have a good rest.
August 16th.—(Boulogne to Wassigny.) Left our camp at 8 a.m., and marched to the station. The French authorities allowed us 4 hours for entrainment, but as it took us only 1 1/2 hours, we had to wait for 2 1/2 hours, and did not get off until 1 p.m.
Our journey was a sort of triumphal progress. At every station, bridge, and level crossing there were cheering crowds, and wherever we stopped the whole population appeared to be there, offering us bouquets, chocolate, bread, fruit, sweets, scent, wine, beer, cigarettes, newspapers, and every sort of thing. Extraordinary enthusiasm everywhere; shouting, cheering, and handshaking. Such scenes in France between Englishmen and Frenchmen can certainly never have been witnessed before. The whole thing was most exciting and amusing. Our men enjoyed it immensely, and entered into the enthusiasm of the French most thoroughly. Nearly every man was wearing a tricolour ribbon in his jacket, or was waving a tricolour flag
We had a long journey (via Amiens, Albert, Arras, Douai, and Cambrai), and did not reach our destination—a little station named Wassigny—until midnight, after which some time was occupied in unloading the horses and wagons. We were then shown a grass field in which we were to bivouac, and as it was already 2 a.m. we lay down as we were in our greatcoats. The grass was very wet with dew, but it did not rain.
August 17th.—Had breakfast at 6, and we were glad of the hot tea, as we had not been able to cook since breakfast the day before. We got on the move soon after 7, and marched 3 1/2 miles to Mennevret, a good-sized village, where we were billeted chiefly in barns, which, on the whole, are better than houses in summer, as the men can be kept together. There was plenty of hay and straw in the barns, and this made comfortable lying, but it was necessary to be very careful not to strike matches or smoke.
The remainder of the 5th Infantry Brigade were billeted in the neighbouring villages.
August 18th.—(Mennevret.) Went for a ten-mile route march in the morning, through Tupigny and back by Verly. The weather was hot, and the country hilly, so it was rather a test for unfit men. The reservists are certainly marching better than they were doing at Aldershot, but 6 fell out unconscious, owing to the heat and the unaccustomed pack. They all came on again eventually, and they were in not long after the Regiment.
August 19th.—(Mennevret.) All the companies at drill, extended order drill, indication of targets, judging distance, etc., in fields near their billets. These exercises are what the reservists especially want. We received fresh meat and bread again for rations today.
August 20th.—(Mennevret.) Route march in a very hot sun, which made it difficult for some of the reservists, many of whom have been a long time in the reserve. Some are 3 years with the colours and 9 years with the reserve men, so that they have been away from soldiering for nearly nine years. In the evening got orders to move tomorrow.
August 2lst.—(Mennevret to La Groise, 11 miles N.E.) Paraded at 8.30 a.m. Weather cooler, and about midday there was a partial eclipse, which made it still better. Rather a slow march, with many checks and halts. The reservists are settling down in their places now, and today they carried the heavy weight well. Passed through Hannappes, Etreux, Oisy, to Mezieres, near La Groise. Fair billets.
August 22nd.—(La Groise to Pont-sur-Sambre, 15 miles N.E.) Quite a short march, as we started at 5 a.m. and got in at 12.30 p.m. Through Landrecies and Maroilles (bad road). Picketed side roads from Landrecies onwards. Cooler day. Fair billets. Our men were able to bathe in the river.
August 23rd.—(Pont-sur-Sambre to Paturages, via Genly, 20 miles.) We were not allowed to enjoy our billets very long, for at 1.30 a.m. we were roused up, and at 3.30 we marched. We had a hot march, with a lot of blocks and delays. Artillery fire could be heard all day.
We crossed the Belgian frontier near the old battlefield of Malplaquet, and arrived at Genly at 3 p.m. Here we were ordered into billets, but had hardly settled down when we were suddenly ordered off to Bougnies—a little to the east, and started at 5 p.m. On arrival there we found the remainder of the 2nd Division busy entrenching, while the 1st Division was in contact with the enemy a little farther on. We were told off to entrench a back position, intended to cover a retirement. Not a very pleasing job with which to begin a campaign ! We had supposed that we were going to advance through Belgium with the French on our right.
We had just begun to dig the trenches for this back position when the order was cancelled, and we were told to follow the rest of the 5th Brigade, who were starting off to make a night attack and turn some Germans out of a village called Frameries. I closed the Regiment as quickly as possible, and, leaving all transport behind (as ordered), started after the remainder of the Brigade at 9 p.m. We soon caught them up, and after a little time came to Frameries, where we found, not Germans, but the headquarters of General Shaw, commanding the 9th Infantry Brigade.
Here we learned something about the fighting that had taken place. The IInd Corps (3rd and 5th Divisions) had at first gone beyond Mons, but the position there was so bad that they had to retire fighting, through the town of Mons, to a position behind it. Today further fighting had taken place on this position, and some of our regiments had suffered considerably.
The reason that we (5th Brigade) had been brought here was to fill a gap existing between the 3rd and 5th Divisions, through which it was feared the Germans would penetrate. We therefore went along this gap (into which, however, the Germans had not come), filling it up by dropping companies at intervals. The Worcestershire and the Highland Light Infantry, being the two leading regiments, were used up in this way, but before it came to our (52nd) turn the gap had been filled up. So we were kept as a reserve in the square in the little town of Paturages. The Connaught Rangers, the fourth regiment of the 5th Brigade, had not come on to Paturages, having been ordered to stay behind and dig themselves in near Bougnies. The country hereabouts consists of large villages, coal mines, and slag heaps—a very cramped locality in which to select a defensive position, and the Worcestershire and the Highland Light Infantry had a hard job to pick out positions for their trenches in the dark, knowing that they would be shelled directly it was light.
1. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, 1914-15. Vol 24 : compiled and edited
by Lieut.-Colonel A.F. Mockler-Ferryman, London : Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1916
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