NARRATIVE Several causes had made it desirable to transfer the British Array from the Aisne to the north-west, in which direction both the Germans and the French had been manoeuvring for some time, each with the idea of outflanking the other towards the seaboard. General Castelnau had brought the French 10th Army up on the left of the Allies in the endeavour to turn the flank of the Germans., who, however, met the movement by pushing farther north, until the opposing forces reached the neighbourhood of Lens and Lille.
Early in October Sir John French had realized that, the fighting on the Aisne having taken the form of trench warfare, the British Army would be more usefully employed on the left of the French, which would, moreover, give him the advantage of being nearer the Channel ports, and so shorten his lines of communication. General Joffre having acquiesced, the transfer commenced on the 3rd October, and was completed by the 19th, French troops relieving the British on the Aisne. The relief in the face of the enemy of so large a force was a very fine performance, and was carried out without a hitch.
In the meanwhile the Germans were pressing on Antwerp, whither the Belgian Army had withdrawn previous to the entry of the enemy into Brussels in August. On the 7th October the British 3rd Cavalry Division and the 7th Division arrived from England at Zeebrugge, and although too late to assist in the defence of Antwerp, which fell on the 9th October, were in sufficient time to help materially in the withdrawal of the Belgian army from the fortress.
At this time General Foch was in command of all French troops north of Noyon, with his headquarters at Doullens, where he was visited by the British Commander-in-Chief, and joint plans of operations were decided on. Briefly, these were that the IInd Army Corps was to join on to the French left on the Bethune-Lille road, on arrival at the line of the Aire-Bethune Canal wheel to the right (eastward), and attack the flank of the enemy menacing the left of the French Army; the IIIrd Army Corps, as soon as it came up from the Aisne, was to move on the left of the IInd Corps, and prolong the line northwards; while the 3rd Cavalry Division and the 7th Division were to cooperate as soon as they had completed their work in connexion with the withdrawal of the Belgian Army from Antwerp.
Between the 11th and 19th October everything went like clockwork; the two Corps wheeled up to the east, and, after heavy fighting, reached a line running roughly from Givenchy, through Violaines and Fromelles, to the north of Armentieres; and the 7th Division and 3rd Cavalry Division, which had reached Ypres from Dixmude on the 14th, had pushed forward 6 miles east, and occupied Zonnebeke, Kruseik, and Zandvoorde. This was, however, the end of the forward movement, for the Germans, set free from the siege of Antwerp to the number of some 90,000, were already arriving on the scene.
Turning now to the 1st Army Corps, the last to leave the Aisne, and that with which we are more immediately concerned, we find that it reached the neighbourhood of Ypres on the night of the 19th October, and, as the enemy appeared to be endeavouring to push through on the northern flank of the British, between Ypres and the sea, it was decided to dispatch Haig's corps to the north of Ypres, to join on to the left of the 7th Division.
Lieut.-Colonel H. R. Davies's Diary.
October 14th.—(La Cour de Soupir to Vauxcere, thence to Fismes, and on by train.) Left the trenches at La Cour de Soupir at 12.30 a.m., and marched by Soupir and Mard to Vauxcere, going into billets there at 3.30 a.m., and getting a little sleep. In the afternoon we marched to Fismes, and left by train at 6.20 p.m. We had to crowd 45 men into trucks intended for 40, and even then had to leave the whole of B Company behind, to come on by the next train. This was because Brigade Headquarters were in our train, and the French arrangements do not admit of the size of the train being increased. The officers were fairly well off, some in carriages and some in open trucks with the wagons, but the men were very crowded.
We are now on the way round to Belgium again, though we do not yet know exactly where.
October 15th.—(By train to Hazebrouck and on to Morbeck (Morbeck is the Flemish spelling ; Morbecque the French. Although the plaw is in France, the people all speak. Flemish among themselves.—H. R. D.).) In the train all day, by Amiens, Boulogne, Calais, and St. Omer. Not a very well-arranged journey, as there was only one proper halt—that at Amiens. Lost two horses out of a truck, and a man was very seriously injured by climbing on to the look-out (found on some French trucks) and then being struck when the train entered the big tunnel north of Boulogne. We went very slowly, and did not arrive at Hazebrouck until 11.30 p.m. Dillon, who had gone on ahead as Brigade Billeting Officer, met us, and leaving one company to unload the transport, we marched to Morbeck about 3 miles south. Very good and clean billets ; the best we have had so far.
From Major Eden's Diary.
October 16th.—(At Morbecque.) It was nearly 3 a.m. before we got to bed, but some kind people provided us with hot coffee, which was very welcome. The whole of the 5th Brigade assembled here now. The Germans have scarcely been near this place. The day passed in peace and quiet until 8 p.m., when all, except company commanders, had gone to bed, and then came orders that we were to be prepared to move at dawn.
October 17th.—(Morbecque to Godewaersvelde, 12 miles.) Marched off at 7 a.m., and passed through Hazebrouck and Steenvoorde. A raw and chilly day. At 11.30 a.m. we reached the outskirts of the town of Godewaersvelde, where at 1 p.m. we went into very fair billets. Visited by the Divisional Commander in the afternoon. October 18th.—(Halt at Godewaersvelde). A quiet day.
October 19th.— (Godewaersvelde to Poperinghe, 7 miles.) We were settling down for another quiet night, when orders came at 3.30 p.m. that we were to march at 4.30 p.m. Crossed the Belgian frontier and reached Poperinghe at 7 p.m., but not settled into billets until 10 p.m., as the Belgian system differs from that of the French, in that it is first necessary to obtain an order (billet de logement) for certain houses to be occupied. The billets are quite good. I was told today that several doctors had remarked on the exceptional fitness and good marching of the Regiment.
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