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A Twilight of Centaurs

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A Twilight of Centaurs
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Frederic Coleman
Date Published: 2013/12
Page Count: 476
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-240-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-239-4

The American, his motor car and the cavalry in its last great conflict

This essential Leonaur Original, combines two works by American author Frederic Coleman, and has been published to coincide with the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Coleman, an American member of the Royal Automobile Club, together with a number of like minded volunteers, offered his own motor vehicle and services as a driver to the war effort. In 1914 they and their collection of superior cars arrived at the Western Front to be used as chauffeurs and couriers by staff and regimental officers of division and brigade. For many the Great War means massive armies locked in a war of attrition fought over a ‘ No Man’s Land ‘ fringed with barbed wire behind which helmeted soldiers cowered in squalid trenches. For much of the war that image is accurate, but it was not always so. In the early stages infantry marched, cavalry charged and artillery was pulled into action by horsepower, just as it had been for hundreds of years. The invading Imperial German Army, superior in numbers and equipment of every kind, swept through Belgium and France as the allied armies fought and retired before its might. Coleman was allocated to the 2nd Cavalry Brigade of De Lisle as part of Allenby’s First Cavalry Division. He kept a meticulous diary that enabled him to write these well crafted and detailed books full of anecdote, narrative and action. ‘President’ Coleman (as he was christened by the cavalry) was an eyewitness in the very heart of the conflict and in the company of the officers and men of the British Army’s cavalry regiments he takes the reader from the campaigns of 1914 and the retreat from Mons to the war of stalemate of 1915. His descriptions of cavalry in action on the field of battle are riveting. Aside from his fascinating insights into some of the last campaigns of mounted soldiers, Coleman also provides the reader with a thrilling account of his own adventures with his trusty and almost indestructible motor car.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

A wrong turning at a crossroad put me in advance of the 2nd Brigade. I ran into a bit of sniping fire, but it soon ceased as our advance guard went forward. We were in touch with the enemy every foot of the way, though we had not as yet found him in force. Seven or eight Uhlans rode from behind a cluster of stacks, less than a thousand yards from us, and galloped to the north, a handful of our troopers hotfoot after them. Then heavy rifle fire in front, and, soon after, our guns.
Oh, the fascination of it! The glory of a galloping regiment of cavalry, flowing over a green field in line of squadrons! On we pushed. Past a little village in a valley, tucked away so cleverly one came upon it unawares, then on to a rise of ground, another dip, then a steep hill, and suddenly a shell burst right in front. I pulled up short. The fascination of it was like to run away with me when our own cavalry was chasing the German cavalry. Also it was like to run away with my judgment. A car might get further forward than necessary, perhaps even further forward than was wise.
Bang! bang! Two German shrapnel. Whizz, over and beyond, with a bang behind. Crash! One fell to the right, between two squads of galloping troopers. The horses reared and shied, but not one fell. The second group rode through the white shell-cloud, and dashed on.
Rifle fire ahead, and bang came a shell, bursting over me. Bang! Much too close!
I went into the village of Montcel to seek the protection of its buildings, leaving the car.
I passed up the wide street, deserted except by a dead German officer in front of a cottage, and gained the further edge of the cluster of mean houses that composed the village.
Behind a friendly stone wall, I stopped and took out my glasses. The stubble stretched away towards a line of woods.
Diagonally, across the broad road that led north from the village, came a line of horsemen.
Magnificent in the morning sun they rode, a solid line rising and falling with regular cadence, as though mechanically propelled.
The 1st Garde Dragoner Regiment of Berlin, of the Garde Cavallerie Division of the Garde Corps, the proudest, finest cavalry of the German Army—over one hundred of them, seeming double the number to me—were charging across the fields.
On they came, like machine-made waves on a machine-made ocean.
Then from the left shot other horsemen, one well ahead, another not far back, and a scattered scurrying bunch of two score behind, riding like mad, full tilt at the ranks of German pride and might bearing down upon them.
Colonel David Campbell, of the 9th Lancers, close on his heels Captain Reynolds, his adjutant, and forty-five of his gallant regiment were charging more than double their number of the flower of the enemy’s horse.
The Germans quickened appreciably, and their lances waved downwards to the rest. Their pace was slow compared with the whirlwind rush of the smaller band.
I was on the wall when the impact came. Crash! went the 9th into the Garde. Colonel Campbell and Captain Reynolds were down, and horses reared and staggered. I wondered that none of the chargers funked it. Each horse seemed imbued with the spirit of his rider. Not one charger “refused.”
No sooner had the smash come than I realised the wall was no place for me, so off I dashed to my car and safety.
The 9th scored heavily off their more numerous foes. A few fell, but more than double the number of Germans bit the dust. Crack British troopers proved their undoubted superiority, man for man, by the number of German dead and wounded we found on the field. Galloping on, the 9th circled round the village and away to the rear.
The Germans stopped, and many of them dismounted. One of them went coolly through the pockets of Reynolds, lying with an aluminium lance through his side. A farrier-sergeant lay dead near a pond at the village end. The Germans knocked in his head and tossed his body into the pool.
All this happened in the twinkling of an eye. Some of the Garde penetrated the village street, but returned after a gallop down and back.
By this time Colonel Burnett, of the 18th Hussars, with a dismounted squadron, had worked round to the left with a machine-gun. When he opened on them, the Germans mounted and swung by him and into the full line of fire.
That squadron of the 18th had a splendid target. The result was a field strewn with many German dead. The rest galloped away, leaving their wounded behind them.
One of the 9th, running out from the village to pull the lance from Reynolds’s side, was shot dead by a wounded German lying near.
Strange sights were seen by some of the men in that charge. A non-commissioned officer of the 9th ran his lance full through a German officer, who, thus impaled, stuck at the lancer and severed his hand at “the” wrist. One trooper of the 9th ran his lance straight through a German till his hand touched the doomed man’s breast. A German horse was seen galloping away with a corpse pinned to its back by a lance.
Colonel Campbell, who so gallantly led the charge against such odds, received a nasty lance-wound through the shoulder.
I brought my car into the village. Entering a cottage in search of a sheet to throw over the disfigured face of a dead German officer, I found two women, who had been in the house during the fighting. They told me the Germans had spent a night in the village, and had treated them quite well. The German cavalrymen had food, said the elder woman, and left money therefore. She showed me a ten-cent Netherlands piece and a ten-cent Belgian coin, with a hole in the centre, with which the Huns had paid her.
In an orchard, around which ran the stone wall on which I had stood, we found two Germans hiding. One was the trumpeter of the Dragoner Garde, with painful lance holes in both his legs. A 9th trooper gave a German a cigarette and politely struck a match for him. The other prisoner was unwounded, and had been concealed near us, loaded Mauser in hand, for an hour or more. His discovery led to the orchard being thoroughly beaten, but no more game materialised.
By 9.30 the heat was as fierce as that of the average summer noonday. The general and his staff were scanning the country round from a stack not far in front. After I had delivered the papers taken from the prisoners found in the orchard, the general suggested I should break the lances of the dead German troopers who here and there dotted the field. I had not visited half a dozen before I found that some of the supposedly dead Germans were still alive. This necessitated a journey to advise our medical officer of quarry for him. Thereafter I mounted the stack in the heat and watched I Battery of the R.H.A. shell the wood in front of us.
A fine fight, Montcel. A fair charge, the smaller force scoring off the larger one by pure merit in handling of horses and weapons. The crack cavalry regiment of the Prussian Army met one of the best British cavalry regiments that day to the bitter cost of the former. Its casualties must have reached well-nigh one hundred all told. The Second Cavalry Brigade lost 8 killed, 22 wounded and 5 missing during the whole of the morning.