Immediately on the outbreak of war, the Germans invaded Belgium in great strength, with a view to pushing straight on to Paris, and the French advanced into Belgium to meet them. The task allotted to the British Expeditionary Force (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Divisions), was, therefore, 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 August 13th the 52nd, in the 2nd Division, embarked at Southampton on the Lake Michigan, landed at Boulogne next day, and proceeded by rail to the area within which the Division was to concentrate for a forward movement.
Arriving before Mons on August 23rd, the brigade was detached at night to fill a gap in the British line, and the Regiment, after entrenching a position, assisted to cover the withdrawal of other troops next morning and subsequently joined the column as rearguard.
In this memorable Retreat from Mons, which continued till September 5th, the Regiment was but little in touch with the enemy, and this period and that of the subsequent advance across the Marne are remarkable for magnificent marching and endurance under extreme fatigue.
Crossing the Aisne on September 13th, the Regiment consolidated and held for some days a section of the line in front of La Cour de Soupir, often under heavy bombardments, until the transfer of the British Army to Flanders in time to take part in the first Battle of Ypres.
At Langemarck on October 21st, the 52nd was on the left of the attacking line which made any progress, and, in spite of severe enfilade fire and heavy casualties, made an advance of some depth, and for forty-eight hours held the position against counter-attacks. Steady rifle and machine-gun fire, and careful use of ammunition, accounted in one night for over seven hundred Germans, found dead in front of the trenches next morning. Again with its left flank exposed, the Regiment stood its ground in the Battle of Gheluvelt on October 31st, and on the morning of November 11th was brought up from divisional reserve to restore a part of the British line. Here, in the hundredth year since Waterloo, and opposed to another Imperial Guard, the Officer Commanding the 52nd, hampered by conflicting orders, saw a chance and seized it, and Nonne Bosschen Wood was cleared of the enemy in a bayonet charge limited only by the unlengthened fire of some supporting French artillery, and the position secured.
In December the Regiment was moved to the area of Bethune, and was in the breastworks and trenches in regular reliefs until May, 1915.