Wednesday, September 17, 2014

1914 September 11-20



Advanced to MONT NOTRE DAME and came into action with French Artillery on hill overlooking River VESLE. From [our spot we could see] wounded coming down, [so] things were warm[1] in front.

Everywhere are signs of the Germans flight, dead men and horses discarded equipment, overturned motors etc.

Everywhere the houses have been looted and the inhabitants seem overjoyed to see us, for they have suffered bitterly at the hands of the enemy.

Sept 13th    (Battle of the Aisne)

[We] marched at dawn [in the] pouring rain, no food, or time to get any.  
Took up position near PAISSY, from there [we marched] to CHIVY VALLEY to meet a German counter attack.
Our infantry suffered heavily, many wounded being near me.
The battery dropped into action, and we found an observing point on a high hill, directly in front. 

In running our wire, old George and I were very lucky to escape the bullets, for we were in full view of the enemy – they all but got us once, a bullet coming between our noses as we were deciding the best way to run our wire. 

We laid down, for they were shelling very heavy all around. This was in the afternoon and the sun was very warm. I couldn’t move, I must have been tired for I actually went to sleep, [until] a Staff-Officer later was talking near by [sic] he must have thought I got bowled over

We made our observing station under the shelter of a small rock, which undoubtedly saved us from getting completely wiped out of existence.

We fired heavy all day, and in the night the Battery moved a little to the right.

I remained on the hill on guard, and posted double sentries with order to shoot anybody, who approached without giving prompt reply to challenge. Towards dawn I lost two sentries and had very uncomfortable time searching for them, for the enemy was again very active.

Sept 14th

[There was] heavy fighting all day. Our little rock proved a haven of refuge, all day we were heavily shelled by ‘coal-boxes .

Major Johnson was killed near by [sic] and Major Madocks slightly wounded.

Some chaps dodged under our rock for shelter and gave us some tobacco; we were smokeless and foodless, my feast being that day a half biscuit, left from emergency ration.
Sept 15th

[Today was the] same as yesterday. The 113th and 46th Batteries on our left were heavily shelled [and had] many casualties, we were more fortunate.

[There was] very hard fighting all day – was by this time [I] quite used to the thunder like clap of the coal-boxes, and other a sundry missiles the Germans were flinging about wholesale.

Their artillery was superior, we had no heavy guns to compare to them, nor anything like their number – and we suffered greatly, for sometimes it was like Hell let loose.
Sept 16th

Heavy scrapping [all day].
 In the afternoon we took up another position on top of MOUNT GOURTONNE, which commanded a good view of the enemies [sic] lines.
 I galloped hard from our little rock and was sickened to see the dead horses lying around.
 As soon as the guns left the old position the enemy peppered it with shell[s], for we had been spotted by aeroplane.
 We took up position at night, [it] was raining hard [and I] was wet through, but had got used to that now. [I] slept under a gun limber [and] would have given anything for something hot to drink, and a good fire.

Sept 17th – October 13th

We have effectively formed our battle line known as the AISNE RIVER.
This long period of fighting all day and almost every night, seems to come to one as a second nature.
 We fire an average of 250 rounds per day – it is really siege warfare.
 Night attacks take place almost nightly [and] I have dug a hole at the back of a limber, as my home.
 All days seem to be alike [except that] some days the fighting is more severe than others. They shell us occasionally and it is never safe to move from one dugout or the shelter of the guns.
 Our wagon line are in the great caves,  which are a wonderful work of nature, but even there we have had quite a few men wounded, and several horses killed.
 At times when they shell us severely, we have had to desert the guns and take refuge in an adjacent cave, which undoubtedly has been the means of saving some lives.
 I slept in this cave one night, and on going to the guns before dawn next morning [I] lost my way and wandered towards the enemy’s lines. When it became light, I was lost and in a valley between us and the Germans. I was confused, and hardly knew what to do.
I could hear rifle bullets whipping uncomfortably near. The ground was full of great holes caused by the German heavy artillery. I knew that when it became light, [I] would be [in] a veritable death trap.
I was hopelessly lost and worse, unarmed, so I decided to take refuge in a shell hole and await throughout the day. [I would wait] until nightfall and try to make my way back. After a while, I decided I would chance it and rather get to our own lines or meet whatever came my way.
 After a deal of wandering and exciting moments, I met an officer who was forward observing, and he directed me to where he thought our guns were.
 I reached them without further mishap, and my off man and the others thought I had got swallowed, for nobody saw me go. Strangely the path I took from the cave, took me within 10 yds of the guns, by which I could see now daylight had well advanced – well! I laughed.

On the 20th
 I managed to get a bit drop of water to wash my face, for it had not seen water for 8 days and I had not shaved for over a fortnight. I looked at myself in somebody’s little pocket mirror – and thought what a picture I was.



Monday, September 8, 2014

1914 September 7 - 9




September 7th

Marched 3:45 a.m. joined [the] Advanced Guard to FALEYS.
 [On arriving we found that] engagement was in progress between our Cavalry and the enemy, but the enemy retreated before we could drop into action, [so we] continued [our] advance to JOUY-SUR-MORIN.

September 8th

[On our arrival at Jouy-Sur-Mor] fighting was in progress on our front. We turned to find a German [artillery] Battery [firing] at [us from] MONTSLAGIEL - [As the fighting continued], a thunderstorm [sprang up and] the Germans retreated.

[That night] we bivouacked in the rear of the 2nd Infantry Brigade. [There were] sounds of heavy fighting in front all night

September 9th

Marched at 4:00 a.m. with the Advanced Guard of 3rd Infantry Brigade to the river MARNE, and [the] Cavalry crossed the river. We finally stopped 2 ½ miles north of CHARLY.

Sir John French:
Our advance resumed at daybreak on the 10th, and we were opposed by the enemy’s strong rearguard. We were able to drive the enemy northwards and in the process we obtained thirteen guns, seven machine guns, about 2,000 prisoners, and a quantity of transports. The enemy left many dead.  

September 10th

Marched at 6 am, at head of [the] main Body, and was soon in the thick of the fight [that afterwards would be] known as the Battle of the Marne. 

We dropped into action in the open, my chum and I deciding to run our telephone wire, over a small ridge from our observing party to the Battery. [Doing so], a French Cavalryman galloped past me with blood running from himself and [his] horse.

I laid out my wire quickly to the guns, and as I was about to connect my instrument, [when] I heard a loud whining sound, [followed by] a horrific explosion, It was our christening of heavy artillery fire. [The bombardment continued] for two continual hours, it was Hell.

I crouched beneath a gun limber, and thought each moment was my last. I was like a jelly man, and must confess my nerves were for the time gone. I wanted to run anywhere, and it was only by the greatest effort of will power, I stood to my work and yelled out the orders to the Battery Leader, for the firing of the guns.

The Northampton and Sussex Regiments retired right through our guns, and drew the enemy’s fire on to us. Their retirement developed into a hopeless rabble and panic, our CRA Gen Finley and Colonel Sharpe with a few more Artillery Officers tried to stop them, and urge them to go forward, but it was no use.

While trying to stop them the genl[sic] was killed and two officers wounded, and both regiments lost very heavily. Nothing was between us and the enemy. The infantry in their mad rush broke my telephone wire [and] I thought my chum at the other end had got knocked over, he thought the same of me. So the Battery for a few moments was out of action, but the orders were passed down by Semaphore[1] by two more chums, and we set out to mend our wire.

 [In the] mean time the 60th Rifles advanced where the Northampton’s and Sussex retired, and the enemy continued their retreat, how thankful we [were]. 



[1] Semaphore Flag: Hand-held flags that are used to send visual messages



Friday, September 5, 2014

September 1-6 1914


[We] marched at 5:30 a.m. and [it was a] long march to MAROLLE Bridge. [We passed] COMPIEGNE [and found out later that] about a mile in our rear was attacked at dawn, L Battery H [indecipherable] getting knocked out. We moved just in time, but did not know how near we were to be out up, until later.
[Arrived] at 6:30 p.m. and I went to sleep by my saddle, [later] we were aroused by alarm at 11:30 p.m.

[We were asked] to move, for [the] Engineers were waiting to blow up the bridge. We got across, just in time and up went the bridge.

[The] German Cavalry were very close, [so] we marched through the night and halted on the roadside about 3:00 a.m. In less than a minute I was sound asleep on a friendly heap of stones.

Up again, marching again, how I longed for a sleep —anywhere. Continued retirement reached MEAUX at 5:30 a.m.


September 2nd

Marched via VARREDDES, GERMINGNY[1], and bivouacked near JOUARRE, [it was a] long and weary march - very hot.


September 3rd

Halted nearly all day east of SAMMERON [where] the rear guard was slightly engaged – weather hot.


September 4th

Marched to COULOMMIERS, [and] bivouacked early.  [I was able to] washed my underclothing. [i]


[I] thought we were going to have a day’s rest, but had to move quickly in the morning, and take up position SW of COULOMMIERS. We dug in and remained in action all night, leaving position at dawn; marched with Division to ROZNY


September 5th

In position at ROZNY, [but] no contact with enemy. 

We hear that the retreat is over, with the French we are to advance, how glad we were - anything but that continual marching

September 6th

We were advancing, occupied a position east of [the town] of VOINSLES [so that we could] cover advance of [the] 3rd and 5th Cavalry Brigades. [We] moved forward and occupied [the] line [between] Le PLESSIS, and ANDNOY. 

I dismounted behind the house and went inside, there I first saw house sacked by the Germans, [and] everything was destroyed. Outside I saw one of the Coldstream guards, killed by shrapnel, poor chap.

I thought then, I wondered if this means the breaking of a woman’s heart, or had he little children. It was my first close contact with a dead man, and it set me thinking. My thoughts were all with my dear ones at home. I shall always remember that hour, my real first initiation into the horrors of war. I cannot say I was afraid, it all seemed so strange, but we were advancing that was our cry we’ve got’em on the run, and we are going to have our own back. – bivouacked south of VOUDNOY.



[1] Perhaps is now known as Germingny-sous-Coulombs
[2] Perhaps renamed Rosnay-sous-Bois













Thursday, August 7, 2014

Journal entries

My plan is to release journal entries near the date they were written so you'll be involved in the action as it happened 100 years ago.

I am tempted to speed up the process, but it would not have the same impact on the remembrance of what happen in that moment in history.

Over all, it will take over a year to present the entire journal.

Use the comment section on my blog if you would like me to include digital images of some of the journal pages.

If you can not wait, there is always my book,

World War 1 - An Unkept Promise

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

August 4-5th 1914

My grandfather's journal begins:


August 4th
‘ General Mobilization, will it be declared?’ was the thought with me all day. My dear wife first gave me the news, but then I could not believe it, until we walked to the post office and saw the Official Declaration. And then I knew that, I should have to leave my home and dear ones — for ‘ Where?’ that was my one great thought.

And until then I never realized what it all meant; with the conflicting thoughts of my dear ones, and the fascination that I was going to participate in a real scrap. My mind was in a real whirl, and was so until I left home next day, for Newcastle-on-Tyne.  And then — ‘Where?’

August 5th
I do not dwell on the thought of leaving my dear little wife, my mother, and baby — the journey up north was one of enthusiasm, for the train was packed with reservists, rejoining the Colours, as I, and all, seemed absolutely mad to go and obliterate Germany!

World War 1 - An Unkept Promise

Saturday, July 26, 2014

New book

The Retreat South


August 25th

Rear guard action at FUGNIES[1]; Battery stampeded enemies’ Supply Column – day of alarms—bivouacked.

By first light the column was ready for another day of marching. The morning started out cool and Fred sat tall in his saddle while the infantry marched at a good pace. But by midmorning the heat returned along with the humidity. The infantry looked like wilting flowers, their arms dangled from their shoulders and tired legs dragged boots along the dusty road.
Men began to shed any unnecessary equipment in an effort to keep up. In order to lift spirits, one of the sergeants began signing a lively tune and for awhile others joined in. But the choking dust soon took its toll since most were without water.

August 26th

Marching from early morn to late at night through [the towns of MARBAIX, GOHELLE, to OISY.

Riding beside George we seldom spoke for our mouths were as dry as chalk. When we caught up with the limber Pudgie was driving all we could do was exchange head nods.
Late in the afternoon it became cloudy, which offered some relief from the baking rays of the sun. By evening we heard thunder and lightning flashes mimicked bursting shrapnel shells.
The wind picked up and soon we were marching through mud and faces looked skyward with mouths open to capture as much rainfall as possible. Some took off their hats to catch the rain.  

[It rained] all night, [but] no water for horses, [and marching in the heat] am sorry for infantry, we give them a lift now and then on horses and vehicles, am glad to stretch legs after long days in saddle.

The rain seemed to refresh the men, even though we were soaked and it continued to rain most of the night.
By early morning the clouds were replaced by the blazing sun, which quickly dried up any remaining remnants of last night’s shower and turned it into unbearable humidity.
Just three days ago our uniforms were clean, boots polished and a spark of determination in their eyes. From his saddle he looked over the ragged men who looked like they were molded from mud. There were many stragglers and we did the best we could to give them a lift on our wagons and limbers.
The Germans were nipping on our heels so we had to keep a steady pace.

August 27th

[We] marched via ETREUX, GUISE, to BERNOT [and] came into action several times to cover our retirement.

Our battery dropped into action on several occasions to keep the enemy at bay. He and George would drop back and setup a temporary observation post to direct fire, then leave the wire and return to the column before they were caught.
Every town they passed through was packed with refugees trying to escape before the Germans arrived. The worst town was Guise. He was deeply saddened by the look of horror and helplessness he saw on the faces of the people. In their panic to escape the fast approaching enemy they used whatever means of transportation they could find in order to take their treasures and keepsakes with them.
Later in the day he told George “The look of panic and horror on the faces of the refuges will haunt him the rest of his life.”

George responded, “I know what you mean, what scared me was the look on the faces of the children.”

“George, I felt so helpless. I wanted to help but there was nothing I could do.”
  
Was pitiful to see refugees at Guise, they were all horror stricken. [They were] removing what they could carry on any kind of cart. All rushing from the town, for the Germans came in the town as we went out.

Food and supply ordinance department was trying their best to keep the moving column supplied with food. What made their task more difficult was I and II Corps were on different paths.
They tried to predict the rate and direction of travel so they could dump a load of supplies at a cross road hoping they would be found. However, I Corps had missed the last supply stash and rations were getting low.

The column stopped to water their horses when a breeze carried the smell of freshly baked bread to his sensitive nose. He mounted his charger and followed the sent to a small bakery. Using what French he knew, he bartered with the baker and eventually walked out with a loaf of bread. He did not dear return to the column with a whole loaf, so he eat half of it and hid the remaining bread in his horse’s nose bag. 

Long night march, was lucky to stop to water horse near a bakery and managed to secure a loaf of bread. I was very hungry [for] food had been very scarce for a few days [i]– I needed no butter on the bread, and put the remainder in horse’s nosebag for next day. – [We] bivouacked in field about midnight. [ii]

I Corps had passed through the town of Bernot and they were marching towards Brissy. Around 4:30 in the morning the battery was ordered to a position near the town of Brissy to perform rear guard action to cover the Corps retirement.
Later they were ordered to cover Scots Gray and infantry who were fighting their way across the Oise River.

The lack of food, sleep and long marches began to take their toll. Some of the men had worn out their boots so they wrapped their feet in rags to continue marching.
The combination of the August heat and exertion slowed the marching pace. Men were so exhausted whenever the column stopped to rest they fall asleep in any position.
Some soldiers would fall asleep and collapse to the ground, while others dropped from exhaustion. Wagons tried to pick up the stragglers and sometimes a comrade would wake them up and get them back on their feet and started to sing in order to stay awake.
While riding his horse he often fell asleep in the saddle while the horse followed the other horses. Even the horses were exhausted and every so often he had to dismount and walk beside his horse to give him a rest.


August 28th

[We] marched at 4:30 a.m. and came in action near BRISSY[2] to cover retirement, and later to support Scots Greys and infantry fighting [their] way across [a] river.

[We] continued retirement, [and] everybody, men and horses, [were] dead beat – weather very hot.


August 29th

Slowed up, had rather easy day, and much needed short rest. [I had] a wash [and] overhauled telephones etc: - [At] ST GOBAIN [we] heard [the] news of 600 Manchester Fusiliers and section of the 118th Btty getting wiped out.

Soldiers of the 118th Battery, 26th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery were killed or wounded in action at Etreux on the 29th August 1914. Etreux is a village and commune in the Department of the Aisne 32 kilometers NE of St. Quentin and 20 Kilometers W of La Capelle. In the same action 600 Manchester Fusiliers were either killed or wounded.

August 30th

Marched to PINON, [a] long, [and] very hot march. [We] bivouacked in the grounds of lovely chateau, [where I] had a dip in [a] lake[3].

The address of the chateau is 6 Rue des Etangs and it lies southeast of the city of Pinon. The manner house has water on three sides and a large square body of water some distance behind the house. Rolling meadows surround the house and they eventually fade into forest.

August 31st

Marched at 3:30 a.m. [It was a] long, hard, hot march. [The] infantry [were] falling exhausted, at every halt. Men [would] go to sleep, sitting, standing, lying, all seem near knocked up – [We] marched till late at night, I slept for hours on and off in the saddle.

We were awakened around 1 a.m. and without a light we hitched up the horses and began our days march at 3:30 a.m. Not sure why they woke us up so early, perhaps to get a jump ahead of the Germans. With the nights being uncomfortably warm and humid the only benefit from getting an early start is that you don’t have to deal with sun.
By noon everything left exposed to the sun was too hot to touch. Bobby commented, “I bet if we sat a fry pan out in the sun for fifteen minutes we could fry an egg.” Pudgie was quick to respond, “That might be true if we had eggs.”

No longer do we march in column formation, the men stagger about the road like drunken sailors. They march until they drop and somehow force themselves to get-up and continue marching.
Uniforms tattered, a few are wounded and some march with their feet wrapped in their puttees, while others wear blood stained socks.




There seems no end to this constant marching or the heat. Water is in short supply and we are rationed only one pint for the day. We are not allowed to drink the local water for it may have been poisoned.
Everyone is so put-out from the lack of food, sleep and water, some of the men fall asleep while marching and fall over. Details are sent out nightly to find stragglers before the Germans do.

It was around 2 or 3 a.m. when we were called to formation. We started the days march at 5:30 a.m. in order to reach the Marolle Bridge before dark. Usually we stopped to rest after an hour or two, but today we continued marching for five hours. We were told we had to cross the bridge over the Aisne River before it was blown up.
Men were dropping like leaves in the fall and those that followed were unable to lift their legs to step over the fall so they walked around the bodies.

September 1st

[We] marched at 5:30 a.m. and [it was a] long march to MAROLLE Bridge. [iii]
[We passed] COMPIEGNE [and found out later that] about a mile in our rear was attacked at dawn, L Battery H [indecipherable] getting knocked out. We moved just in time, but did not know how near we were to be out up, until later.
[Arrived] at 6:30 p.m. and I went to sleep by my saddle, [later] we were aroused by alarm at 11:30 p.m.

[We were asked] to move, for [the] Engineers were waiting to blow up the bridge. We got across, just in time and up went the bridge.

[The] German Cavalry were very close, [so] we marched through the night and halted on the roadside about 3:00 a.m. In less than a minute I was sound asleep on a friendly heap of stones.

Up again, marching again, how I longed for a sleep —anywhere. Continued retirement reached MEAUX at 5:30 a.m.


September 2nd

Marched via VARREDDES, GERMINGNY[4], and bivouacked near JOUARRE, [it was a] long and weary march - very hot.


September 3rd

Halted nearly all day east of SAMMERON [where] the rear guard was slightly engaged – weather hot.


September 4th

Marched to COULOMMIERS, [and] bivouacked early.  [I was able to] washed my underclothing. [iv]


[I] thought we were going to have a day’s rest, but had to move quickly in the morning, and take up position SW of COULOMMIERS. We dug in and remained in action all night, leaving position at dawn; marched with Division to ROZNY[5].


September 5th

In position at ROZNY, [but] no contact with enemy. 

We hear that the retreat is over, with the French we are to advance, how glad we were - anything but that continual marching[v]

The soldiers of I Corps covered 250 miles and ten days and with little rest they fight their first offensive battle of the war.




[v] Ibid