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Infantry Brigade: 1914

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Infantry Brigade: 1914
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Author(s): Edward Gleichen
Date Published: 2007/12
Page Count: 192
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-364-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-363-1

The retreat from Mons by men from some of from Britain's finest county regiments

The author of this book was a relative of Queen Victoria and a regular soldier. He had served in the Sudan with the Camel Corps and eventually became a Divisional commander during the Great War. Placed in command of a brigade of regulars in 1914, he took the 15th Infantry Brigade consisting of the first battalions of the Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Cheshire and Dorsetshire Regiments as part of the 5th Division into action in Belgium as part of the 'Contemptible Little Army' in an unequal attempt to stop the waves of German attacks which herald the beginning of the Great War on the Western Front. This largely day by day account covers a period from August 1914 to March 1915 and chronicles a hard and bitterly contested campaign of dogged retreat. Losses were appalling as the attrition decimated the tough but outnumbered British regulars. The actions and disposition of his troops are described here in cool detail by Gleichen as casualties mounted and his once proud battalions were whittled down to mere fragments and other remnants of regiments British and French were put under his command to be thrown in their turn into the maelstrom of battle.

Luckily the Germans had not noticed this either—or there would have been many more casualties than there were. As it was, a company of the East Surrey and another one (Allason’s) of the Bedfords did get through to the top of the wood and on to the edge of the open plateau; but this I did not hear of till later. When the greater part of the force had got through the opening into the wood they found a few Germans there and drove them back, killing some. Then they surged on to a horse-shoe-shaped road further on in the wood, and some men lost their direction and began firing in front of them at what they thought were Germans. But they were others of our own, and these began firing back, also without knowing that they were their friends. Consequently, although casualties were few, an unpleasant situation arose, and numbers of men turned about and retired down the hill into Missy, saying that our artillery was firing into them. This may have been true, for some shells were bursting over the wood; but whether they were English or German I do not know to this day.<br>
Anyhow, the stream of men coming back increased. They fell back into the village, and then came some certainly German shells after them. For an unpleasant quarter of an hour the little sloping village of Missy was heavily shelled by shrapnel; but the walls of the houses were thick, and though of course there were a certain number of casualties, they were not serious as long as the men kept close to the south side of the walls. Beilby (our Veterinary officer) for some reason would keep to the wrong side of the street and was very nearly killed, the fuse of a shell landing with a whump on a door not two feet in front of him, and a shrapnel bullet going through his skirt pocket; but he was not touched. The shrapnel were in bursts of four, and luckily Moulton-Barrett noticed it, for he calmly held up the stream of men till the fourth shell had burst, and then let as many as possible past the open space there till the next bunch arrived, when he stopped them behind cover,—just like a London policeman directing traffic.<br>
I remember one man falling, as we thought dead, close to where the Staff were standing. But he groaned, and Weatherby ran to pick him up. There was, however, no wound of any sort on him, and after a minute he got up and went on. I think he must have been knocked down by the wind of a shell—for he certainly was as much astonished as we were at finding no damage on himself.<br>
By this time I had given orders that the troops were to retire to their previous positions in and near the village, and it was getting dusk.<br>
Luard (Norfolks) and a party of twenty-five men were well ahead in the wood, and received the order to retire, for Luard was heard shouting it to his men. But nothing has since been heard of him, and I much regret to say that he was either taken prisoner with most of his men, or, more probably, killed.
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