Obvious printer's errors have been corrected; all other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling has been retained.
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE RT. HON. DAVID LLOYD GEORGE, M.P., TO WHOSE PREVISION, ENERGY AND TENACITY THE ARMY AND THE EMPIRE OWE SO MUCH.
FIELD-MARSHAL VISCOUNT FRENCH OF YPRES, K.P., O.M., ETC.
London Constable and Company Ltd. 1919
Page PREFACE ................................................ xi
I—PRELIMINARY ...................................... 1
II—THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE ................. 16
III—THE SAILING OF THE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE .......... 31
IV—THE RETREAT FROM MONS ........................... 56
V—FURTHER COURSE OF THE RETREAT ................... 81
VI—THE BATTLE OF THE MARNE ........................ 113
VII—THE BATTLE OF THE AISNE AND ITS PROGRESS UP TO SEPTEMBER 30TH ........................... 142
VIII—THE SIEGE AND FALL OF ANTWERP .................. 175
IX—THE LAST DAYS OF THE BRITISH OPERATIONS ON THE AISNE—THE NORTHERN MOVE ................ 193
X—THE BATTLE OF YPRES—FIRST PHASE, OCTOBER 15TH TO OCTOBER 26TH ........................... 214
XI—THE BATTLE OF YPRES—SECOND PHASE, OCTOBER 27TH TO OCTOBER 31ST ................... 237
XII—THE BATTLE OF YPRES—THIRD PHASE, NOVEMBER 1ST TO NOVEMBER 10TH ........................... 257
XIII—THE BATTLE OF YPRES—FOURTH AND FINAL PHASE, NOVEMBER 11TH TO THE END OF THE BATTLE ..................................... 277
XIV—THE ENTRY OF THE TERRITORIAL ARMY .............. 287
XV—A REVIEW OF THE ALLIED PLANS IN THE WEST AT THE CLOSE OF THE FIRST BATTLE OF YPRES ...... 301
XVI—THE OPERATIONS OF DECEMBER 14TH-19TH, 1914 ..... 320
XVII—THE CLOSE OF THE YEAR 1914 ..................... 332
XVIII—AMMUNITION ..................................... 347
INDEX ................................................. 363
LIST OF MAPS.
1. GENERAL MAP OF NORTHERN FRANCE AND BELGIUM.
2. MAP TO ILLUSTRATE THE RETREAT FROM MONS AND BATTLES OF THE MARNE AND THE AISNE.
3. MAP TO ILLUSTRATE THE CAMPAIGN IN BELGIUM, 1914.
Le Marechal FRENCH commandait en Chef l'Armee Britannique au debut de la Guerre.
Comme on le sait, les allemands ont cherche en 1914 a profiter de leur superiorite numerique et de l'ecrasante puissance de leur armement, pour mettre hors de cause les Armees Alliees d'Occident, par une manoeuvre enveloppante, aussi rapide que possible.
Apres avoir cherche en vain la decision a la MARNE, puis a l'AISNE et a la SOMME, ils la poursuivent successivement a ARRAS, sur l'YSER et a YPRES.
A mesure que dans cette course a la mer, le terrain disponible se restreint devant eux, les coups se precipitent et se repetent plus violents, les reserves s'engagent, de nouveaux Corps d'Armee entrent en ligne nombreux et intacts. La reddition d'ANVERS assure d'ailleurs a l'ennemi d'importantes disponibilites.
Mais deja l'Armee Belge, appuyee de troupes francaises, arrete les allemands sur l'YSER, de NIEUPORT a DIXMUDE. Apres avoir pris part aux actions de l'AISNE, l'Armee Britannique a ete transportee dans le Nord. C'est ainsi qu'elle s'engage progressivement de la BASSEE a YPRES, s'opposant partout a l'invasion.
Bref, les allemands, apres avoir vainement developpe leurs efforts de la Mer a la LYS, des le 15 octobre, sont dans l'obligation, a la fin du mois, de vaincre a YPRES, ou bien leur manoeuvre echoue definitivement, leur offensive expire en Occident et la Coalition reste debout.
Ainsi sont-ils amenes, sur ce point d'YPRES, dans une lutte acharnee, a concentrer leurs moyens, une forte artillerie lourde largement approvisionee, renforcee de minenwerfers, de corps d'armee nombreux et renouveles.
Quant aux Allies, ils sont reduits a recevoir le choc avec des effectifs restreints, des munitions comptees et rares, une faible artillerie lourde. Toute releve leur est interdite par la penurie de troupes, quelle que soit la duree de la bataille. Pour ne citer qu'un exemple, le premier corps britannique reste engage du 20 octobre au 15 novembre—au milieu des plus violentes attaques et malgre de formidables pertes.
Mais a cette derniere date la bataille etait gagnee. Les Allies avaient inflige un retentissant echec a l'ennemi: ils avaient sauve les communications de la Manche et par la fixe le sort et l'avenir de la Coalition.
Si l'union etroite du Commandement Allie et la valeur des troupes ont permis ces glorieux resultats, c'est que le Marechal FRENCH a deploye la plus entiere droiture, la plus complete confiance, la plus grande energie: resolu a se faire passer sur le corps plutot qu'a reculer.
La Grande-Bretagne avait trouve en lui un grand soldat. Il avait maintenu ses troupes a la hauteur de celles de WELLINGTON.
Avec l'emotion d'un souvenir profond et toujours vivant, je salue le vaillant compagnon d'armes des rudes journees et les glorieux drapeaux Britanniques de la Bataille d'YPRES.
Marechal de France.
For years past I had regarded a general war in Europe as an eventual certainty. The experience which I gained during the seven or eight years spent as a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and my three years tenure of the Office of Chief of the General Staff, greatly strengthened this conviction.
For reasons which it is unnecessary to enter upon, I resigned my position as Chief of the Staff in April, 1914, and from that time I temporarily lost touch with the European situation as it was officially represented and appreciated.
I remember spending a week in June of that year in Paris, and when passing through Dover on my return, my old friend, Jimmie Watson (Colonel Watson, late of the 60th Rifles, A.D.C. to the Khedive of Egypt), looked into my carriage window and told me of the murder of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his Consort. I cannot say that I actually regarded this tragedy as being the prelude which should lead ultimately to a great European convulsion, but in my own mind, and in view of my past experience, it created a feeling of unrest within me and an instinctive foreboding of evil. Then came a few weeks of the calm which heralded the storm—a calm under cover of which Germany was vigorously preparing for "the day."
One afternoon, late in July, I was the guest at lunch of the German Ambassador, Prince Lichnowski. It was a small party, comprising, to the best of my recollection, only Princess Henry of Pless, Lady Cunard, Lord Kitchener, His Excellency and myself. The first idea I got of the storm which was brewing came from a short conversation which I had with the Ambassador in a corner of the room after lunch. He was very unhappy and perturbed, and he plainly told me that he feared all Europe would be in a blaze before we were a fortnight older. His feeling was prophetic. His surprising candour foreshadowed the moral courage with which Prince Lichnowski subsequently issued his famous apologia.
On July 28th Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The military preparations of the Dual Monarchy inevitably led to a partial mobilisation by Russia against Austria, whereupon the German Emperor proclaimed the "Kriegsgefahrszustand" on July 31st, following this up by declaring war against Russia on August 1st. On August 2nd German troops entered Luxemburg and, without declaration of war, violated French territory. Great Britain declared war against Germany on August 4th and against Austria on August 12th, France having broken off relations with Austria two days earlier.
On Thursday, July 30th, I was sent for by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and was given private intimation that, if an expeditionary force were sent to France, I was to command it. On leaving the room I found some well-known newspaper correspondents in the passage. I talked a little with them and found that great doubt existed in their minds as to whether this country would support France by force of arms. This doubt was certainly shared by many.
I remember well that on the morning of Saturday, August 1st, the day upon which Germany declared war on Russia, and it was known that the breaking out of hostilities between Germany and France was only a question of hours, I received a visit from the Vicomte de la Panouse, the French Military Attache in London. He told me that the Ambassador was much disheartened in mind by these doubts and fears. We talked matters over, and he came to dinner with me that night. Personally, I felt perfectly sure that so long as Mr. Asquith remained Prime Minister, and Lord Haldane, Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Winston Churchill continued to be members of the Cabinet, their voices would guide the destinies of the British Empire, and that we should remain true to our friendly understanding with the Entente Powers. As the result of the long conversation I had with the Vicomte de la Panouse, I think I was successful in causing this conviction to prevail at the French Embassy.
England declared war on Germany on Tuesday, August 4th, and on the 5th the mobilisation of Regulars, Special Reserve and Territorials was ordered. On Wednesday, August 5th, a Council of War was held at 10, Downing Street, under the Presidency of the Prime Minister. Nearly all the members of the Cabinet were present, whilst Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, Sir Charles Douglas, Sir Douglas Haig, the late Sir James Grierson, General (now Sir Henry) Wilson and myself were directed to attend. To the best of my recollection the two main subjects discussed were:—
1. The composition of the Expeditionary Force.
2. The point of concentration for the British Forces on their arrival in France.
As regards 1.
It was generally felt that we were under some obligation to France to send as strong an army as we could, and there was an idea that one Cavalry Division and six Divisions of all arms had been promised. As to the exact number, it did not appear that we were under any definite obligation, but it was unanimously agreed that we should do all we could. The question to be decided was how many troops it was necessary to keep in this country adequately to guard our shores against attempted invasion and, if need be, to maintain internal order.
Mr. Churchill briefly described the actual situation of the Navy. He pointed out that the threat of war had come upon us at a most opportune moment as regards his own Department, because, only two or three weeks before, the Fleet had been partially mobilised, and large reserves called up for the great Naval Review by His Majesty at Spithead and the extensive naval manoeuvres which followed it. So far as the Navy was concerned, he considered Home Defence reasonably secure; but this consideration did not suffice to absolve us from the necessity of keeping a certain number of troops at home. After this discussion it was decided that two Divisions must for the moment remain behind, and that one Cavalry Division and four Divisions of all arms should be sent out as speedily as possible. This meant a force of approximately 100,000 men.
As regards 2.
The British and French General Staffs had for some years been in close secret consultation with one another on this subject. The German menace necessitated some preliminary understanding in the event of a sudden attack. The area of concentration for the British Forces had been fixed on the left flank of the French, and the actual detraining stations of the various units were all laid down in terrain lying between Maubeuge and Le Cateau. The Headquarters of the Army were fixed at the latter place.
This understanding being purely provisional and conditional upon an unprovoked attack by Germany, the discussion then took the turn of overhauling and reviewing these decisions, and of making arrangements in view of the actual conditions under which war had broken out. Many and various opinions were expressed; but on this day no final decisions were arrived at. It was thought absolutely necessary to ask the French authorities to send over a superior officer who should be in full possession of the views and intentions of the French General Staff. It was agreed that no satisfactory decision could be arrived at until after full discussion with a duly accredited French Officer. I think this is the gist of the really important points dealt with at the Council.
During the week the Headquarters of the Expeditionary Force were established in London at the Hotel Metropole, and the Staff was constituted as follows:—
Chief of Staff Gen. Sir Archibald Murray. Sub-Chief Brig.-Gen. H. H. Wilson. Adjutant-General Major-Gen. Neville Macready. Quartermaster-General Major-Gen. Sir William Robertson. Director of Intelligence Brig.-Gen. Macdonogh. C.R.A. Major-Gen. Lindsay. C.R.E. Brig.-Gen. Fowke. Military Secretary Col. the Hon. W. Lambton. Principal Medical Officer Surg.-Gen. T. P. Woodhouse. Principal Veterinary Officer Brig.-Gen. J. Moore.
It was about Thursday the 7th, or Friday the 8th, August, that Lord Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War, and on Monday, the 10th, the Mission sent by the French Government arrived. It was headed by Colonel Huguet, a well-known French Artillery Officer who had recently been for several years French Military Attache in London.
As before mentioned, one of the most important matters remaining for discussion and decision was finally to determine whether the original plan as regards the area of concentration for the British Forces in France was to be adhered to, or whether the actual situation demanded some change or modification. There was an exhaustive exchange of views between soldiers and Ministers, and many conflicting opinions were expressed. The soldiers themselves were not agreed. Lord Kitchener thought that our position on the left of the French line at Maubeuge would be too exposed, and rather favoured a concentration farther back in the neighbourhood of Amiens. Sir Douglas Haig suggested postponing any landing till the campaign had actively opened and we should be able to judge in which direction our co-operation would be most effective.
Personally, I was opposed to these ideas, and most anxious to adhere to our original plans. Any alteration in carrying out our concentration, particularly if this meant delay, would have upset the French plan of campaign and created much distrust in the minds of our Allies. Delay or hanging back would not only have looked like hesitation, but might easily have entailed disastrous consequences by permanently separating our already inferior forces. Having regard to what we subsequently knew of the German plans and preparations, there can be no doubt that any such delayed landing might well have been actively opposed. As will be seen hereafter, we were at first hopeful of carrying out a successful offensive, and, had those hopes been justified, any change or delay in our original plans would have either prevented or entirely paralysed it. The vital element of the problem was speed in mobilisation and concentration, change of plans meant inevitable and possibly fatal delay.
Murray, Wilson, Grierson and Huguet concurred in my views, and it was so settled.
The date of the embarkment of the Headquarters Staff was fixed for Friday, August 14th.
During the fateful days which intervened, daily and almost hourly reports reached us as to the progress of mobilisation both of our Allies and our Enemies. From the first it became quite evident that the German system of mobilisation was quicker than the French. There was reason to believe that Germany had partly mobilised some classes of her reserves before formal mobilisation. The splendid stand made by the Belgians in defence of their frontier fortresses is well known, and the course of the preliminary operations on the Belgian and Luxemburg frontiers, as well as those in the neighbourhood of Nancy, gave us hope that the wonderful army of which we had heard so much, was not altogether the absolutely invincible war machine we had been led to expect and believe. During this most critical time, my mind was occupied day and night with anxious thought. I will try to recall those days of the first half of August, 1914, and crystallise the result of my meditations. This will serve to show the doubts, fears, hopes and aspirations, in short the mental atmosphere in which I awaited the opening of the campaign.
In the ten years previous to the War, I had constantly envisaged the probable course of events leading up to the outbreak of this world-war, as well as the manner of the outbreak itself. In imagination I had seen the spark suddenly emitted in some obscure corner of Europe, followed by the blowing-up of one huge magazine, such as the declaration of war between Russia and Austria would prove to be, then the conflagration spreading with lightning speed, and I had seemed to have a foretaste amid it all of the anxious hesitation which would precede our entry into the war.
I have been a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence since 1906, and have assisted at the innumerable deliberations of that Aulic Council. It was somewhere about 1908 that the certainty of a war was forced upon my mind. Lord Haldane was then Secretary of State for War and I was Inspector-General of the Forces. Lord Haldane was himself alive to the possibility of war; but, while he hoped to ward it off by diplomacy and negotiation, he fully acquiesced in the desirability of making every preparation which could be carried out in complete secrecy. He told me that were he in power, if and when the event occurred, he would designate me to command the Expeditionary Force, and requested me to study the problem carefully and do all I could to be ready. It thus fell out that in August, 1914, the many possibilities and alternatives of action were quite familiar to my mind.
It is now within the knowledge of all that the General Staffs of Great Britain and France had, for a long time, held conferences, and that a complete mutual understanding as to combined action in certain eventualities existed.
Belgium, however, remained a "dark horse" up to the last, and it is most unfortunate that she could never be persuaded to decide upon her attitude in the event of a general war. All we ever had in our mind was defence against attack by Germany. We had guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium, and all reports pointed to an intention by Germany to violate that neutrality. What we desired above all things was that Belgium should realise the danger which subsequently laid her waste. We were anxious that she should assist and co-operate in her own defence. The idea of attacking Germany through Belgium or in any other direction never entered our heads.
Pre-war arrangements like these were bound in such circumstances to be very imperfect, though infinitely better than none at all.
It will be of interest at this point to narrate a conversation I had with the Emperor William in August, 1911. When His Majesty visited this country in the spring of that year to unveil the statue of Queen Victoria, he invited me to be his guest at the grand cavalry manoeuvres to be held that summer in the neighbourhood of Berlin.
It was an experience I shall never forget, and it impressed me enormously with the efficiency and power of the German cavalry. It was on about the third day of the manoeuvres that the Emperor arrived by train at five in the morning to find the troops drawn up on the plain close by to receive him. I have never seen a more magnificent military spectacle than they presented on that brilliant August morning, numbering some 15,000 horsemen with a large force of horse artillery, jaeger and machine guns.
When His Majesty had finished the inspection of the line, and the troops had moved to take up their points for manoeuvre, the Emperor sent for me. He was very pleasant and courteous, asked me if I was made comfortable, and if I had got a good horse. He then went on to say that he knew all our sympathies in Great Britain were with France and against Germany. He said he wished me to see everything that could be seen, but told me he trusted to my honour to reveal nothing if I visited France.
After the manoeuvres of the day were completed, at about 11 or 12 o'clock, I was placed next to His Majesty at luncheon and we had another conversation. He asked me what I thought of what I had seen in the morning and told me that the German cavalry was the most perfect in the world; but he added: "It is not only the Cavalry; the Artillery, the Infantry, all the arms of the Service are equally efficient. The sword of Germany is sharp; and if you oppose Germany you will find how sharp it is."
Before I left, His Majesty was kind enough to present me with his photograph beautifully framed. Pointing to it, he remarked, semi-jocularly: "There is your archenemy! There is your disturber of the peace of Europe!"
Reverting to my story. Personally, I had always thought that Germany would violate Belgian neutrality, and in no such half measure as by a march through the Ardennes, which was what our joint plans mainly contemplated. I felt convinced that if ever she took this drastic step, she would make the utmost use of it to pour over the whole country and outflank the Allies.
The principal source of the terrible anxiety I felt took its root in the thought that we were too much mentally committed to meet an attack from the east, instead of one which was to come as it actually did. It reassured me, however, to know that our actual dispositions did not preclude the possibility of stemming the first outburst of the storm so effectively as to ward off any imminent danger which might threaten Northern France and the Channel Ports.
To turn from the province of strategy to the sphere of tactics, a life-long experience of military study and thought had taught me that the principle of the tactical employment of troops must be instinctive. I knew that in putting the science of war into practice, it was necessary that its main tenets should form, so to speak, part of one's flesh and blood. In war there is little time to think, and the right thing to do must come like a flash—it must present itself to the mind as perfectly obvious.
No previous experience, no conclusion I had been able to draw from campaigns in which I had taken part, or from a close study of the new conditions in which the war of to-day is waged, had led me to anticipate a war of positions. All my thoughts, all my prospective plans, all my possible alternatives of action, were concentrated upon a war of movement and manoeuvre. I knew perfectly well that modern up-to-date inventions would materially influence and modify our previous conceptions as to the employment of the three arms respectively; but I had not realised that this process would work in so drastic a manner as to render all our preconceived ideas of the method of tactical field operations comparatively ineffective and useless. Judged by the course of events in the first three weeks of the War, neither French nor German generals were prepared for the complete transformation of all military ideas which the development of the operations inevitably demonstrated to be imperative for waging war in present conditions.
It is easy to be "wise after the event"; but I cannot help wondering why none of us realised what the most modern rifle, the machine gun, motor traction, the aeroplane and wireless telegraphy would bring about. It seems so simple when judged by actual results. The modern rifle and machine gun add tenfold to the relative power of the defence as against the attack. This precludes the use of the old methods of attack, and has driven the attack to seek covered entrenchments after every forward rush of at most a few hundred yards.
It has thus become a practical operation to place the heaviest artillery in position close behind the infantry fighting line, not only owing to the mobility afforded by motor traction but also because the old dread of losing the guns before they could be got away no longer exists. The crucial necessity for the effective employment of heavy artillery is observation, and this is provided by the balloon and the aeroplane, which, by means of wireless telegraphy, can keep the batteries instantly informed of the accuracy of their fire.
I feel sure in my own mind that had we realised the true effect of modern appliances of war in August, 1914, there would have been no retreat from Mons, and that if, in September, the Germans had learnt their lesson, the Allies would never have driven them back to the Aisne. It was in the fighting on that river that the eyes of all of us began to be opened.
New characteristics of offensive and defensive war began vaguely to be appreciated; but it required the successive attempts of Maunoury, de Castelnau, Foch and myself to turn the German flanks in the north in the old approved style, and the practical failure of these attempts, to bring home to our minds the true nature of war as it is to-day.
About the middle of November, 1914—after three and a half months of war—we were fairly settled down to the war of positions.
It was, therefore, in a somewhat troubled frame of mind that I began to play my humble part in this tremendous episode in the history of the world. The new lessons had to be learned in a hard school and through a bitter experience. However, for good or for evil, I have always been possessed of a sanguine temperament. No one, I felt, had really been able to gauge the respective fighting values of the French and German Armies. I hoped for the best and rather believed in it; and in this confident spirit, although anxious and watchful, I landed at Boulogne at 5 p.m. on August 14th, 1914.
It will be a fitting close to this chapter if I add the instructions which I received from His Majesty's Government before leaving.
"Owing to the infringement of the neutrality of Belgium by Germany, and in furtherance of the Entente which exists between this country and France, His Majesty's Government has decided, at the request of the French Government, to send an Expeditionary Force to France and to entrust the command of the troops to yourself.
"The special motive of the Force under your control is to support and co-operate with the French Army against our common enemies. The peculiar task laid upon you is to assist the French Government in preventing or repelling the invasion by Germany of French and Belgian territory and eventually to restore the neutrality of Belgium, on behalf of which, as guaranteed by treaty, Belgium has appealed to the French and to ourselves.
"These are the reasons which have induced His Majesty's Government to declare war, and these reasons constitute the primary objective you have before you.
"The place of your assembly, according to present arrangements, is Amiens, and during the assembly of your troops you will have every opportunity for discussing with the Commander-in-Chief of the French Army, the military position in general and the special part which your Force is able and adapted to play. It must be recognised from the outset that the numerical strength of the British Force and its contingent reinforcement is strictly limited, and with this consideration kept steadily in view it will be obvious that the greatest care must be exercised towards a minimum of losses and wastage.
"Therefore, while every effort must be made to coincide most sympathetically with the plans and wishes of our Ally, the gravest consideration will devolve upon you as to participation in forward movements where large bodies of French troops are not engaged and where your Force may be unduly exposed to attack. Should a contingency of this sort be contemplated, I look to you to inform me fully and give me time to communicate to you any decision to which His Majesty's Government may come in the matter. In this connection I wish you distinctly to understand that your command is an entirely independent one, and that you will in no case come in any sense under the orders of any Allied General.
"In minor operations you should be careful that your subordinates understand that risk of serious losses should only be taken where such risk is authoritatively considered to be commensurate with the object in view.
"The high courage and discipline of your troops should, and certainly will, have fair and full opportunity of display during the campaign, but officers may well be reminded that in this, their first experience of European warfare, a greater measure of caution must be employed than under former conditions of hostilities against an untrained adversary.
"You will kindly keep up constant communication with the War Office, and you will be good enough to inform me as to all movements of the enemy reported to you as well as to those of the French Army.
"I am sure you fully realise that you can rely with the utmost confidence on the wholehearted and unswerving support of the Government, of myself, and of your compatriots, in carrying out the high duty which the King has entrusted to you and in maintaining the great tradition of His Majesty's Army.
"(Signed) KITCHENER, "Secretary of State"
THE BRITISH EXPEDITIONARY FORCE.
I have thought fit to interrupt my narrative here to devote some pages to the composition of the original Expeditionary Force. The First Expeditionary Force consisted of the First Army Corps (1st and 2nd Divisions) under Lieut.-Gen. Sir Douglas Haig; the Second Army Corps (3rd and 5th Divisions) under Lieut.-Gen. Sir James Grierson (who died shortly after landing in France and was succeeded by Gen. Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien), and the Cavalry Division under Major-Gen. E. H. H. Allenby. To these must be added the 19th Infantry Brigade, which, at the opening of our operations in France, was employed on our Lines of Communication. The original Expeditionary Force was subsequently augmented by the 4th Division, which detrained at Le Cateau on August 25th. The 4th Division and the 19th Infantry Brigade were, on the arrival of Gen. Pulteney in France, on August 30th, formed into the Third Army Corps, to which the 6th Division was subsequently added.
For the purpose of convenient reference, I have included in this chapter the composition of the 6th Division, which joined us on the Aisne, and of the 7th Division and the 3rd Cavalry Division, which came into line with the original Expeditionary Force in Belgium in the opening stages of the First Battle of Ypres; as also of the Lahore Division of the Indian Corps, which likewise took part in the Battle of Ypres.
THE FIRST EXPEDITIONARY FORCE.
General Officer Commanding-in-Chief: Field-Marshal Sir J. D. P. FRENCH.
Chief of the General Staff: Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. J. MURRAY.
Adjutant-General: Major-Gen. Sir C. F. N. MACREADY.
Quartermaster-General: Major-Gen. Sir W. R. ROBERTSON.
* * * * *
First Army Corps: Lieut.-Gen. Sir DOUGLAS HAIG.
* * * * *
1st Division: Major-Gen. S. H. LOMAX, wounded October 31st, replaced by Brig.-Gen. LANDON (temp.), then by Brig.-Gen. Sir D. HENDERSON.
1st Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. F. I. MAXSE, succeeded by Brig.-Gen. FITZCLARENCE, V.C. (killed, November 11th). Col. McEwen then took command. Later on, Col. Lowther was appointed to command the Brigade. 1st Batt. Coldstream Guards. 1st Batt. Scots Guards. London Scottish (joined Brigade in November). 1st Batt. Royal Highlanders (the Black Watch). 2nd Batt. Royal Munster Fusiliers (cut to pieces at Etreux, August 29th, replaced by 1st Batt. Cameron Highlanders).
2nd Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. E. S. BULFIN, wounded November 1st, succeeded by Col. Cunliffe-Owen (temp.). Brig.-Gen. WESTMACOTT took command November 23rd. 2nd Batt. Royal Sussex Regt. 1st Batt. Northampton Regt. 1st Batt. N. Lancs Regt. 2nd Batt. K.R.R.
3rd Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. H. J. S. LANDON, appointed to command the Division after October 31st, Col. Lovett taking command of Brigade. Brig.-Gen. R. H. K. BUTLER was appointed to command the Brigade November 13th. 1st Batt. The Queen's Royal West Surrey Regt. (cut up October 31st, replaced by 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers). 1st Batt. S. Wales Borderers. 1st Batt. Gloucester Regt. 2nd Batt. Welsh Regt.
Divisional Cavalry: "C" Squadron 15th Hussars. 1st Cyclist Co.
Royal Engineers: 23rd & 26th Field Cos. 1st Signal Co.
Royal Artillery: R.F.A. Batteries— XXV. Brigade—113, 114, 115. XXVI. Brigade—116, 117, 118. XXIX. Brigade—46, 51, 54. XLIII. Brigade (Howitzer)—30, 40, 57.
Heavy Battery R.G.A.—26. 1st Divisional Train.
R.A.M.C.: 1st, 2nd, & 3rd Field Ambulances.
* * * * *
2nd Division: Major-Gen. C. C. MONRO.
4th (Guards) Brigade: Brig.-Gen. R. SCOTT-KERR, wounded September 1st and succeeded by Brig.-Gen. the EARL OF CAVAN (arrived September 18th).
2nd Batt. Grenadier Guards. 3rd Batt. Coldstream Guards. 2nd Batt. Coldstream Guards. 1st Batt. Irish Guards. 1st Herts (T.F.) (joined Brigade about November 10th).
5th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. R. C. B. HAKING, wounded on September 16th; succeeded by Lieut.-Col. Westmacott until Haking returned on November 20th.
2nd Batt. Worcester Regt. 2nd Batt. Highland L.I. 2nd Batt. Oxf. & Bucks L.I. 2nd Batt. Connaught Rangers. (2nd Connaughts were amalgamated with their 1st Batt. at the end of November and replaced in the Brigade by 9th H.L.I. (Glasgow Highlanders).)
6th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. R. H. DAVIES, invalided in September; succeeded by Brig.-Gen. FANSHAWE, September 13th.
1st Batt. The King's (Liverpool) Regt. 1st Batt. Royal Berks Regt. 2nd Batt. S. Staffs Regt. 1st Batt. K.R.R.
Divisional Cavalry: "B" Squadron 15th Hussars. 2nd Cyclist Co.
Royal Engineers: 5th & 11th Field Cos. 2nd Signal Co.
Royal Artillery: R.F.A. Batteries—
XXIV. Brigade—25, 50, 70. XXXVI. Brigade—15, 48, 71. XLI. Brigade—9, 16, 17. XLIV. Brigade (Howitzer)—47, 56, 60.
Heavy Battery R.G.A.—35. 2nd Divisional Train.
R.A.M.C.: 4th & 6th Field Ambulances.
* * * * *
Second Army Corps: Lieut.-Gen. Sir JAMES GRIERSON, died August 17th; succeeded by Gen. Sir HORACE SMITH-DORRIEN.
* * * * *
3rd Division: Major-Gen. HUBERT I. W. HAMILTON, killed October 14th; Major-Gen. MACKENZIE in command till end of October; then Major-Gen. WING till November 6th; then Major-Gen. HALDANE.
7th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. F. W. N. McCRACKEN, 3rd Batt. Worcester Regt. 1st Batt. Wilts Regt. 2nd Batt. S. Lancs Regt. 2nd Batt. Royal Irish Rifles.
8th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. B. J. C. DORAN, invalided October 23rd; Brig.-Gen. BOWES took over command.
2nd Batt. Royal Scots. 2nd Batt. Royal Irish Regt. (Battalion cut up at Le Pilly, October 20th; became G.H.Q. troops, replaced by 2nd Suffolks.) 4th Batt. Middlesex Regt. 1st Batt. Gordon Highlanders. (Employed as G.H.Q. troops during September, being replaced by 1st Devons, but rejoined Brigade at beginning of October.)
9th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. F. C. SHAW, wounded November 12th; succeeded by Lieut.-Col. Douglas Smith, Royal Scots Fusiliers.
1st Batt. Northumberland Fusiliers. 4th Batt. Royal Fusiliers. 1st Batt. Lincolnshire Regt. 1st Batt. Royal Scots Fusiliers.
Divisional Cavalry: "A" Squadron 15th Hussars. 3rd Cyclist Co.
Royal Engineers: 56th & 57th Field Cos. 3rd Signal Co.
Royal Artillery: R.F.A. Batteries— XXIII. Brigade—107, 108, 109. XL. Brigade—6, 23, 49. XLII. Brigade—29, 41, 45. XXX. Brigade (Howitzer)—128, 129, 130. Heavy Battery R.G.A.—48. 3rd Divisional Train.
R.A.M.C.: 7th, 8th, & 9th Field Ambulances.
* * * * *
5th Division: Major-Gen. Sir CHARLES FERGUSSON, invalided October 22nd; succeeded by Major-Gen. MORLAND.
13th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. G. J. CUTHBERT, invalided about the end of September; succeeded by Brig.-Gen. HICKIE, who went sick October 13th, Col. Martyn getting command (temp.).
2nd Batt. K.O. Scottish Borderers. 2nd Batt. (Duke of Wellington's) West Riding Regt. 1st Batt. Royal West Kent Regt. 2nd Batt. K.O. Yorkshire L.I.
14th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. S. P. ROLT, invalided October 29th; succeeded by Brig.-Gen. F. S. MAUDE.
2nd Batt. Suffolk Regt. (replaced by 1st Devons at the beginning of October, and became G.H.Q. troops). 1st Batt. East Surrey Regt. 1st Batt. Duke of Cornwall's L.I. 2nd Batt. Manchester Regt.
15th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. Count A. E. W. GLEICHEN. 1st Batt. Norfolk Regt. 1st Batt. Cheshire Regt. 1st Batt. Bedford Regt. 1st Batt. Dorset Regt.
Divisional Cavalry: "A" Squadron 19th Hussars.
Royal Engineers: 17th & 59th Field Cos. 5th Cyclist Co.
Royal Artillery: R.F.A. Batteries— XV. Brigade—11, 52, 80. XXVII. Brigade—119, 120, 121. XXVIII. Brigade—122, 123, 124. VIII. Brigade (Howitzer)—37, 61, 65.
Heavy Battery R.G.A.—108. 5th Divisional Train.
R.A.M.C.: 13th, 14th, & 15th Field Ambulances.
19th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. L. G. DRUMMOND, succeeded early in September by Brig.-Gen. F. GORDON.
[Note.—This Brigade was formed from units on Lines of Communication, and was attached successively to the Cavalry Division, Second Corps and Fourth Division during the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne. In the Flanders fighting of October-November, 1914, it worked with the Sixth Division.] 2nd Batt. Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 1st Batt. Scottish Rifles. 1st Batt. Middlesex Regt. 2nd Batt. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 19th Field Ambulance.
Cavalry Division: Major-Gen. E. H. H. ALLENBY, took command of the Cavalry Corps on its formation in October, Brig.-Gen. DE LISLE taking command of the 1st Cavalry Division.
* * * * *
1st Cavalry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. C. J. BRIGGS. 2nd Dragoon Guards. 5th Dragoon Guards. 11th Hussars.
2nd Cavalry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. H. De B. DE LISLE, transferred to command 1st Cavalry Division in October and succeeded by Brig.-Gen. MULLINS.
4th Dragoon Guards. 9th Lancers. 18th Hussars (Queen Mary's Own).
3rd Cavalry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. HUBERT DE LA POER GOUGH. 4th Hussars. 5th Lancers. 16th Lancers.
4th Cavalry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. Hon. C. E. BINGHAM. Household Cavalry (Composite Regt.). 6th Dragoon Guards. 3rd Hussars.
5th Cavalry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. Sir PHILIP P. W. CHETWODE. 12th Lancers. 20th Hussars. 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys).
Royal Horse Artillery: Batteries—"D," "E," "I," "J," "L" ("L" Battery went home to refit after Nery (September 1st), and was replaced by "H," R.H.A., which arrived about the middle of September).
Royal Engineers: 1st Field Squadron. 1st Signal Squadron.
[Note.—In September the 2nd Cavalry Division was formed, consisting at first of the 3rd and 5th Cavalry Brigades under Major-Gen. Gough, Brig.-Gen. Vaughan taking command of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade. With these brigades were "D" and "E" Batteries, R.H.A. In October the 4th Cavalry Brigade was transferred to the 2nd Cavalry Division, as was also "J" Battery, R.H.A. The 2nd Cavalry Division had the 2nd Field Squadron R.E. and 2nd Signal Squadron.]
R.A.M.C.: corresponding Cavalry Field Ambulances.
* * * * *
Royal Flying Corps: Brig.-Gen. Sir DAVID HENDERSON. Aeroplane Squadrons Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5.
* * * * *
4th Division: Major-Gen. T. D. O. SNOW, invalided September; succeeded by Major-Gen. Sir H. RAWLINSON, who was transferred to 4th Army Corps early in October and replaced by Major-Gen. H. F. M. WILSON.
10th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. J. A. L. HALDANE, appointed to command 3rd Division, November 6th; succeeded by Brig.-Gen. HULL.
1st Batt. Royal Warwickshire Regt. 2nd Batt. Seaforth Highlanders. 1st Batt. Royal Irish Fusiliers. 2nd Batt. Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
11th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. A. G. HUNTER-WESTON.
1st Batt. Somersetshire L.I. 1st Batt. Hampshire Regt. 1st Batt. E. Lancs Regt. 1st Batt. Rifle Brigade.
12th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. H. F. M. WILSON, in command of the 4th Division in October, and on promotion succeeded by Col. F. G. Anley.
1st Batt. K.O. (R. Lancaster) Regt. 2nd Batt. Lancashire Fusiliers. 2nd Batt. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. 2nd Batt. Essex Regt.
Divisional Cavalry: "B" Squadron 19th Hussars. 4th Cyclist Co.
Royal Engineers: 7th & 9th Field Cos. 4th Signal Co.
Royal Artillery: R.F.A. Batteries— XIV. Brigade—39, 68, 88. XXIX. Brigade—125, 126, 127. XXXII. Brigade—27, 134, 135. XXXVII. Brigade—31, 35, 55.
Heavy Battery, R.G.A.—31.
R.A.M.C.: 10th, 11th, & 12th Field Ambulances.
* * * * *
Lines of Communication and Army Troops:
1st Batt. Devonshire Regt. (transferred to 8th Brigade about middle of September, later to 14th Brigade).
1st Batt. Cameron Highlanders (replaced 2nd Munsters in 1st Brigade about September 6th).
[Note.—The 28th London (Artists' Rifles), 14th London (London Scottish), 6th Welsh and 5th Border Regt. were all in France before the end of the First Battle of Ypres, as was also the Honourable Artillery Company. These battalions were all at first on Lines of Communication.]
* * * * *
6th Division: Major-Gen. J. L. KEIR.
16th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. C. INGOUVILLE-WILLIAMS.
1st Batt. East Kent Regt. (The Buffs). 1st Batt. Leicestershire Regt. 1st Batt. Shropshire L.I. 2nd Batt. York and Lancaster Regt.
17th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. W. R. B. DORAN.
1st Batt. Royal Fusiliers. 2nd Batt. Leinster Regt. 1st Batt. N. Staffs Regt. 3rd Batt. Rifle Brigade.
18th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. W. N. CONGREVE, V.C.
1st Batt. West Yorks Regt. 2nd Batt. Notts and Derby Regt. 1st Batt. East Yorks Regt. (the Sherwood Foresters). 2nd Batt. Durham. L.I.
Divisional Cavalry: "C" Squadron 19th Hussars. 6th Cyclist Co.
Royal Engineers: 12th & 38th Field Cos. 6th Signal Co.
Royal Artillery: R.F.A. Batteries— II. Brigade—21, 42, 53. XXIV. Brigade—110, 111, 112. XXXVIII. Brigade—24, 34, 72. XII. Brigade (Howitzer)—43, 86, 87.
Heavy Battery R.G.A.—24. 6th Divisional Train.
R.A.M.C.: 16th, 17th & 18th Field Ambulances.
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7th Infantry Division: Major-Gen. T. CAPPER.
20th Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. H. G. RUGGLES-BRISE.
1st Batt. Grenadier Guards. 2nd Batt. Border Regt. 2nd Batt. Scots Guards. 2nd Batt. Gordon Highlanders.
21st Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. H. E. WATTS.
2nd Batt. Bedfordshire Regt. 2nd Batt. Royal Scots Fusiliers. 2nd Batt. Yorkshire Regt. 2nd Batt. Wiltshire Regt.
22nd Infantry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. S. T. B. LAWFORD.
2nd Batt. The Queen's Royal West Surrey Regt. 2nd Batt. Royal Warwickshire Regt. 1st Batt. Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 1st Batt. S. Staffs Regt.
Divisional Cavalry: Northumberland Yeomanry (Hussars). 7th Cyclist Co.
Royal Engineers: 54th & 55th Field Cos. 7th Signal Co.
Royal Artillery: R.H.A. Batteries—"F" and "T." R.F.A. Batteries— XXII. Brigade—104, 105, 106. XXV. Brigade—12, 35, 58. Heavy Batteries R.G.A.—111, 112.
R.A.M.C.: 21st, 22nd and 23rd Field Ambulances.
* * * * *
3rd Cavalry Division: Major-Gen. The Hon. JULIAN BYNG.
6th Cavalry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. E. MAKINS.
3rd Dragoon Guards (joined the Division early in November). North Somerset Yeomanry (attached to the Brigade before the end of First Battle of Ypres). 1st Dragoons (The Royals). 10th Hussars.
7th Cavalry Brigade: Brig.-Gen. C. T. McM. KAVANAGH.
1st Life Guards. 2nd Life Guards. Royal Horse Guards (the Blues).
Royal Horse Artillery: Batteries "C" and "K."
Royal Engineers: 3rd Field Squadron.
R.A.M.C.: 6th, 7th and 8th Cavalry Field Ambulances.
THE SAILING OF THE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE.
I left Charing Cross by special train at 2 p.m. on Friday, August 14th, and embarked at Dover in His Majesty's cruiser "Sentinel." Sir Maurice FitzGerald and a few other friends were at the station to see me off, and I was accompanied by Murray, Wilson, Robertson, Lambton, Wake, Huguet and Brinsley FitzGerald (my private secretary). The day was dark, dull and gloomy, and rather chilly for August. Dover had ceased to be the cheery seaside resort of peace days, and had assumed the appearance of a fortress expecting momentary attack. Very few people were about, and the place was prepared for immediate action. The fine harbour was crowded with destroyers, submarines, and a few cruisers; booms barred all the entrances and mines were laid down.
It was the first time since war had been declared that I witnessed the outward and visible signs of the great struggle for which we were girding our loins. Not the least evidence of this was the appearance of the officers and men of the "Sentinel." All showed in their faces that strained, eager, watchful look which told of the severe and continual daily and nightly vigil. This was very marked, and much impressed me.
We sailed a little before 4 and landed at Boulogne about 5.30 in the evening. I was met by the Governor, the Commandant, and the port officials, and we had a very hearty reception. There were several rest camps at Boulogne, and I was able to visit them. Officers and men looked fit and well, and were full of enthusiasm and cheer.
Boulogne was only a secondary port of embarkation, but I can vividly recall the scene. Everyone knows the curious and interesting old town, with its picturesque citadel, situated on a lofty hill. On all sides were evidences of great activity and excitement. Soldiers and sailors, both British and French, were everywhere. All were being warmly welcomed and cheered by the townspeople.
The declining August sun lit up sinuous columns of infantry ascending the high ground to their rest camps on the plateau to the sound of military bands. From the heights above the town, the quays and wharves, where the landing of troops and stores was unceasingly going forward, looked like human beehives. Looking out to sea, one could distinguish approaching transports here and there between the ever wary and watchful scout, destroyer and submarine, which were jealously guarding the route.
Over all towered the monument to the greatest world-soldier—the warrior Emperor who, more than a hundred years before, had from that spot contemplated the invasion of England. Could he have now revisited "the glimpses of the moon," would he not have rejoiced at this friendly invasion of France by England's "good yeomen," who were now offering their lives to save France from possible destruction as a Power of the first class? It was a wonderful and never to be forgotten scene in the setting sun; and, as I walked round camps and bivouacs, I could not but think of the many fine fellows around me who had said good-bye to Old England for ever.
We left Boulogne at 7.20 the same evening, and reached Amiens at 9. There I was met by General Robert (Military Governor) and his staff, the Prefect and officials. Amiens was the Headquarters of General Robb, the Commander of our Line of Communications, and it was also the first point of concentration for our aircraft, which David Henderson commanded, with Sykes as his chief assistant. Whilst at Amiens I was able to hold important discussions with Robb and Henderson as to their respective commands.
I left Amiens for Paris on the morning of the 15th and we reached the Nord Terminus at 12.45 p.m., where I was met by the British Ambassador (now Lord Bertie) and the Military Governor of Paris. Large crowds had assembled in the streets on the way to the Embassy, and we were received with tremendous greetings by the people. Their welcome was cordial in the extreme. The day is particularly memorable to me, because my previous acquaintance with Lord Bertie ripened from that time into an intimate friendship to which I attach the greatest value. I trust that, when the real history of this war is written, the splendid part played by this great Ambassador may be thoroughly understood and appreciated by his countrymen. Throughout the year and a half that I commanded in France, his help and counsel were invaluable to me.
We drove to the Embassy and lunched there. In the afternoon, accompanied by the Ambassador, I visited M. Poincare. The President was attended by M. Viviani, Prime Minister, and M. Messimy, Minister for War. The situation was fully discussed, and I was much impressed by the optimistic spirit of the President. I am sure he had formed great hopes of a victorious advance by the Allies from the line they had taken up, and he discoursed playfully with me on the possibility of another battle being fought by the British on the old field of Waterloo. He said the attitude of the French nation was admirable, that they were very calm and determined.
After leaving the President I went to the War Office. Maps were produced; the whole situation was again discussed, and arrangements were made for me to meet General Joffre at his Headquarters the next day.
In the evening I dined quietly with Brinsley FitzGerald at the Ritz, and here it was curious to observe how Paris, like Dover, had put on a sombre garb of war. The buoyant, optimistic nature of the French people was apparent in the few we met; but there was no bombastic, over-confident tone in the conversation around us; only a quiet, but grim, determination which fully appreciated the tremendous difficulties and gigantic issues at stake. The false optimism of "A Berlin" associated with 1870 was conspicuously absent. In its place, a silent determination to fight to the last franc and to the last man.
We left Paris by motor early on the 16th, and arrived at Joffre's Headquarters at Vitry-le-Francois at noon. A few minutes before our arrival a captured German flag (the first visible trophy of war I had seen) had been brought in, and the impression of General Joffre which was left on my mind was that he possessed a fund of human understanding and sympathy.
I had heard of the French Commander-in-Chief for years, but had never before seen him. He struck me at once as a man of strong will and determination, very courteous and considerate, but firm and steadfast of mind and purpose, and not easily turned or persuaded. He appeared to me to be capable of exercising a powerful influence over the troops he commanded and as likely to enjoy their confidence.
These were all "first impressions"; but I may say here that everything I then thought of General Joffre was far more than confirmed throughout the year and a half of fierce struggle during which I was associated with him. His steadfastness and determination, his courage and patience, were tried to the utmost and never found wanting. History will rank him as one of the supremely great leaders. The immediate task before him was stupendous, and nobly did he arise to it.
I was quite favourably impressed by General Berthelot (Joffre's Chief of Staff) and all the Staff Officers I met, and was much struck by their attitude and bearing. There was a complete absence of fuss, and a calm, deliberate confidence was manifest everywhere. I had a long conversation with the Commander-in-Chief, at which General Berthelot was present. He certainly never gave me the slightest reason to suppose that any idea of "retirement" was in his mind. He discussed possible alternatives of action depending upon the information received of the enemy's plans and dispositions; but his main intention was always to attack.
There were two special points in this conversation which recur to my mind.
As the British Army was posted on the left, or exposed flank, I asked Joffre to place the French Cavalry Division, and two Reserve Divisions which were echeloned in reserve behind, directly under my orders. This the Commander-in-Chief found himself unable to concede.
The second point I recall is the high esteem in which the General Commanding the 5th French Army, General Lanrezac, which was posted on my immediate right, was held by Joffre and his Staff. He was represented to me as the best Commander in the French Army, on whose complete support and skilful co-operation I could thoroughly rely.
Before leaving, the Commander-in-Chief handed me a written memorandum setting forth his views as he had stated them to me, accompanied by a short appreciation of the situation made by the Chief of the General Staff.
We motored to Rheims, where we slept that night. Throughout this long motor journey we passed through great areas of cultivated country. All work, it seemed, had ceased; the crops were half cut, and stooks of corn were lying about everywhere. It was difficult to imagine how the harvest would be saved; but one of my most extraordinary experiences in France was to watch the farming and agriculture going on as if by magic. When, how, or by whom it was done, has always been an enigma to me. There can be no doubt that the women and children proved an enormous help to their country in these directions. Their share of the victory should never be forgotten. It has been distilled from their sweat and tears.
On the morning of the 17th I went to Rethel, which was the Headquarters of the General Commanding the 5th French Army. Having heard such eulogies of him at French G.H.Q., my first impressions of General Lanrezac were probably coloured and modified in his favour; but, looking back, I remember that his personality did not convey to me the idea of a great leader. He was a big man with a loud voice, and his manner did not strike me as being very courteous.
When he was discussing the situation, his attitude might have made a casual observer credit him with practical powers of command and determination of character; but, for my own part, I seemed to detect, from the first time my eyes fell upon him, a certain over-confidence which appeared to ignore the necessity for any consideration of alternatives. Although we arrived at a mutual understanding which included no idea or thought of "retreat," I left General Lanrezac's Headquarters believing that the Commander-in-Chief had over-rated his ability; and I was therefore not surprised when he afterwards turned out to be the most complete example, amongst the many this War has afforded, of the Staff College "pedant," whose "superior education" had given him little idea of how to conduct war.
On leaving Rethel, I motored to Vervins, where I interviewed the Commanders of the French Reserve Divisions in my immediate neighbourhood, and reached my Headquarters at Le Cateau late in the afternoon.
The first news I got was of the sudden death of my dear old friend and comrade, Jimmie Grierson (General Sir James Grierson, Commanding the 2nd Army Corps). He was taken ill quite suddenly in the train on his way to his own Corps Headquarters, and died in a few minutes. I had known him for many years, but since 1906 had been quite closely associated with him; for he had taken a leading part in the preparation of the Army for war throughout that time. He possessed a wonderful personality, and was justly beloved by officers and men alike. He was able to get the best work out of them, and they would follow him anywhere. He had been British Military Attache in Berlin for some years, and had thus acquired an intimate knowledge of the German Army. An excellent linguist, he spoke French with ease and fluency, and he used to astonish French soldiers by his intimate knowledge of the history of their regiments, which was often far in excess of what they knew themselves. His military acquirements were brilliant, and in every respect thoroughly up-to-date. Apart from the real affection I always felt for him, I regarded his loss as a great calamity in the conduct of the campaign.
His place was taken by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, although I asked that Sir Herbert Plumer might be sent out to me to succeed Grierson in command of the 2nd Corps. As a matter of fact, the question of Sir James Grierson's successor was not referred to me at all. The appointment was made at home. Although I knew Sir Horace to be a soldier who had done good service and possessed a fine record, I had asked for Sir Herbert Plumer because I felt he was the right man for this command.
Lord Kitchener had asked me to send him a statement of the French dispositions west of the Meuse. I sent him this in the following letter:—
"Headquarters, "Le Cateau, "August 17th, 1914.
"My Dear Lord K.
"With reference to your wire asking for information as to the position of French troops west of the line Givet—Dinant—Namur—Brussels, I have already replied by wire in general terms. I now send full details.
"A Corps of Cavalry (three divisions less one brigade), supported by some Infantry, is north of the River Sambre between Charleroi and Namur. This is the nearest French force to the Belgian Army, and I do not know if and where they have established communication with them, nor do the French.
"One French Corps, with an added Infantry Brigade and a Cavalry Brigade, is guarding the River Meuse from Givet to Namur. The bridges are mined and ready to be blown up.
"In rear of this corps, two more corps are moving—one on Philippeville, the other on Beaumont. Each of these two corps is composed of three divisions. In rear of them a fourth corps assembles to-morrow west of Beaumont. Three Reserve divisions are already in waiting between Vervins and Hirson. Another Reserve division is guarding the almost impassable country between Givet and Mezieres.
"Finally, other Reserve formations are guarding the frontier between Maubeuge and Lille.
"I left Paris on Sunday morning (16th) by motor, and reached the Headquarters of General Joffre (French Commander-in-Chief) at 12. They are at Vitry-le-Francois. He quite realises the importance and value of adopting a waiting attitude. In the event of a forward movement by the German Corps in the Ardennes and Luxemburg, he is anxious that I should act in echelon on the left of the 5th French Army, whose present disposition I have stated above. The French Cavalry Corps now north of the Sambre will operate on my left front and keep touch with the Belgians.
"I spent the night at Rheims and motored this morning to Rethel, the Headquarters of General Lanrezac, Commander 5th French Army. I had a long talk with him and arranged for co-operation in all alternative circumstances.
"I then came on to my Headquarters at this place where I found everything proceeding satisfactorily and up to time. I was much shocked to hear of Grierson's sudden death near Amiens when I arrived here. I had already wired asking you to appoint Plumer in his place, when your wire reached me and also that of Ian Hamilton, forwarded—as I understand—by you. I very much hope you will send me Plumer; Hamilton is too senior to command an Army Corps and is already engaged in an important command at home.
"Please do as I ask you in this matter? I needn't assure you there was no 'promise' of any kind.
"Yours sincerely, "(Signed) J. D. P. FRENCH.
"P.S.—I am much impressed by all I have seen of the French General Staff. They are very deliberate, calm, and confident. There was a total absence of fuss and confusion, and a determination to give only a just and proper value to any reported successes. So far there has been no conflict of first-rate importance, but there has been enough fighting to justify a hope that the French artillery is superior to the German."
It was on Tuesday, August 18th, that I was first able to assemble the Corps Commanders and their Staffs. Their reports as to the transport of their troops from their mobilising stations to France were highly satisfactory.
The nation owes a deep debt of gratitude to the Naval Transport Service and to all concerned in the embarking and disembarking of the Expeditionary Force. Every move was carried out exactly to time, and the concentration of the British Army on the left of the French was effected in such a manner as to enable every unit to obtain the requisite time to familiarise troops with active service conditions, before it became necessary to make severe demands upon their strength and endurance.
My discussion with the Corps Commanders was based upon the following brief appreciation of the situation on that day. This was as follows:—
"Between Tirlemont (to the east of Louvain) and Metz, the enemy has some 13 to 15 Army Corps and seven Cavalry Divisions. A certain number of reserve troops are said to be engaged in the offensive of Liege, the forts of which place are believed to be still intact, although some of the enemy's troops hold the town.
"These German Corps are in two main groups, seven to eight Corps and four Cavalry Divisions being between Tirlemont and Givet. Six to seven Corps and three Cavalry Divisions are in Belgian Luxemburg.
"Of the northern group, it is believed that the greater part—perhaps five Corps—are either north and west of the Meuse, or being pushed across by bridges at Huy and elsewhere.
"The general direction of the German advance is by Waremme on Tirlemont. Two German Cavalry Divisions which crossed the Meuse some days ago have reached Gembloux, but have been driven back to Mont Arden by French cavalry supported by a mixed Belgian brigade.
"The German plans are still rather uncertain, but it is confidently believed that at least five Army Corps and two or three Cavalry Divisions will move against the French frontiers south-west, on a great line between Brussels and Givet.
"The 1st French Corps is now at Dinant, one Infantry and one Cavalry Brigade opposing the group of German Corps south of the Meuse.
"The 10th and 3rd Corps are on the line Rethel—Thuin, south of the Sambre. The 18th Corps are moving up on the left of the 10th and 3rd.
"Six or seven Reserve French Divisions are entrenched on a line reaching from Dunkirk, on the coast, through Cambrai and La Capelle, to Hirson.
"The Belgian Army is entrenched on a line running north-east and south-west through Louvain."
My general instructions were then communicated to Corps Commanders as follows:—
"When our concentration is complete, it is intended that we should operate on the left of the French 5th Army, the 18th Corps being on our right. The French Cavalry Corps of three divisions will be on our left and in touch with the Belgians.
"As a preliminary to this, we shall take up an area north of the Sambre, and on Monday the heads of the Allied columns should be on the line Mons—Givet, with the cavalry on the outer flank.
"Should the German attack develop in the manner expected, we shall advance on the general line Mons—Dinant to meet it."
During these first days, whilst our concentration was in course of completion, I rode about a great deal amongst the troops, which were generally on the move to take up their billets or doing practice route marches. I had an excellent opportunity of observing the physique and general appearance of the men. Many of the reservists at first bore traces of the civilian life which they had just left, and presented an anxious, tired appearance; but it was wonderful to observe the almost hourly improvement which took place amongst them. I knew that, under the supervision and influence of the magnificent body of officers and non-commissioned officers which belonged to the 1st Expeditionary Force, all the reservists, even those who had been for years away from the colours, would, before going under fire, regain to the full the splendid military vigour, determination, and spirit which has at all times been so marked a characteristic of British soldiers in the field.
I received a pressing request from the King of the Belgians to visit His Majesty at his Headquarters at Louvain; but the immediate course of the operations prevented me from doing so.
The opening phases of the Battle of Mons did not commence until the morning of Saturday, August 22nd. Up to that time, so far as the British forces were concerned, the forwarding of offensive operations had complete possession of our minds. During the days which intervened, I had frequent meetings and discussions with the Corps and Cavalry Commanders. The Intelligence Reports which constantly arrived, and the results of cavalry and aircraft reconnaissances, only confirmed the previous appreciation of the situation, and left no doubt as to the direction of the German advance; but nothing came to hand which led us to foresee the crushing superiority of strength which actually confronted us on Sunday, August 23rd.
This was our first practical experience in the use of aircraft for reconnaissance purposes. It cannot be said that in these early days of the fighting the cavalry entirely abandoned that role. On the contrary, they furnished me with much useful information.
The number of our aeroplanes was then limited, and their powers of observation were not so developed or so accurate as they afterwards became. Nevertheless, they kept close touch with the enemy, and their reports proved of the greatest value.
Whilst at this time, as I have said, aircraft did not altogether replace cavalry as regards the gaining and collection of information, yet, by working together as they did, the two arms gained much more accurate and voluminous knowledge of the situation. It was, indeed, the timely warning they gave which chiefly enabled me to make speedy dispositions to avert danger and disaster.
There can be no doubt indeed that, even then, the presence and co-operation of aircraft saved the very frequent use of small cavalry patrols and detached supports. This enabled the latter arm to save horseflesh and concentrate their power more on actual combat and fighting, and to this is greatly due the marked success which attended the operations of the cavalry during the Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat.
At the time I am writing, however, it would appear that the duty of collecting information and maintaining touch with an enemy in the field will in future fall entirely upon the air service, which will set the cavalry free for different but equally important work.
I had daily consultations with Sir William Robertson, the Quartermaster-General. He expressed himself as well satisfied with the condition of the transport, both horse and mechanical, although he said the civilian drivers were giving a little trouble at first. Munitions and supplies were well provided for, and there were at least 1,000 rounds per gun and 800 rounds per rifle. We also discussed the arrangements for the evacuation of wounded.
The immediate despatch from home of the 4th Division was now decided upon and had commenced, and I received sanction to form a 19th Brigade of Infantry from the Line of Communication battalions.
At this time I received some interesting reports as to the work of the French cavalry in Belgium. Their morale was high and they were very efficient. They were opposed by two divisions of German cavalry whose patrols, they said, showed great want of dash and initiative, and were not well supported. They formed the opinion that the German horse did not care about trying conclusions mounted, but endeavoured to draw the French under the fire of artillery and jaeger battalions, the last-named always accompanying a German Cavalry Division.
At 5.30 a.m. on the 21st I received a visit from General de Morionville, Chief of the Staff to His Majesty the King of the Belgians, who, with a small staff, was proceeding to Joffre's Headquarters. The General showed signs of the terrible ordeal through which he and his gallant army had passed since the enemy had so grossly violated Belgian territory. He confirmed all the reports we had received concerning the situation generally, and added that the unsupported condition of the Belgian Army rendered their position very precarious, and that the King had, therefore, determined to effect a retirement on Antwerp, where they would be prepared to attack the flank of the enemy's columns as they advanced. He told me he hoped to arrive at a complete understanding with the French Commander-in-Chief.
On this day, August 21st, the Belgians evacuated Brussels and were retiring on Antwerp, and I received the following message from the Government:—
"The Belgian Government desire to assure the British and French Governments of the unreserved support of the Belgian Army on the left flank of the Allied Armies with the whole of its troops and all available resources, wherever their line of communications with the base at Antwerp, where all their ammunition and food supplies are kept, is not in danger of being severed by large hostile forces.
"Within the above-mentioned limits the Allied Armies may continue to rely on the co-operation of the Belgian troops.
"Since the commencement of hostilities the Field Army has been holding the line Tirlemont—Jodoigne—Hammemille—Louvain, where, up to the 18th August, it has been standing by, hoping for the active co-operation of the Allied Army.
"On August 18th it was decided that the Belgian Army, consisting of 50,000 Infantry rifles, 276 guns, and 4,100 Cavalry should retreat on the Dyle. This step was taken owing to the fact that the support of the Allies had not yet been effective, and, moreover, that the Belgian forces were menaced by three Army Corps and three Cavalry Divisions (the greater part of the First Army of the Meuse), who threatened to cut their communications with their base.
"The rearguard of the 1st Division of the Army having been forced to retire after a fierce engagement lasting five or six hours on August 18th, and the Commander of the Division having stated that his troops were not in a fit state to withstand a long engagement owing to the loss of officers and the weariness of the men; and, moreover, as the Commander of the 3rd Division of the Army, which was so sorely tried at Liege, had similarly come to the conclusion, on August 19th, that the defence of the Dyle was becoming very dangerous, more especially in view of the turning movement of the 2nd Army Corps and 2nd Cavalry Division, it was definitely decided to retreat under the protection of the forts at Antwerp.
"The general idea is now that the Field Army, in part or as a whole, should issue from Antwerp as soon as circumstances seem to favour such a movement.
"In this event, the Army will try to co-operate in its movements with the Allies as circumstances may dictate."
Exhaustive reconnaissances and intelligence reports admitted of no doubt that the enemy was taking the fullest advantage of his violation of Belgian territory, and that he was protected to the right of his advance, at least as far west as Soignies and Nivelles, whence he was moving direct upon the British and 5th French Armies.
In further proof that, at this time, no idea of retreat was in the minds of the leaders of the Allied Armies, I received late on Friday, the 21st, General Lanrezac's orders to his troops. All his corps were in position south of the Sambre, and he was only waiting the development of a move by the 3rd and 4th French Armies from the line Mezieres—Longwy to begin his own advance.
As regards our own troops, on the evening of the 21st, the cavalry, under Allenby, were holding the line of the Conde Canal with four brigades. Two brigades of horse artillery were in reserve at Harmignies. The 5th Cavalry Brigade, under Chetwode, composed of the Scots Greys, 12th Lancers, and 20th Hussars, were at Binche, in touch with the French.
Reconnoitring squadrons and patrols were pushed out towards Soignies and Nivelles.
I visited Allenby's Headquarters in the afternoon of the 21st, and discussed the situation with him. I told him on no account to commit the cavalry to any engagement of importance, but to draw off towards our left flank when pressed by the enemy's columns, and there remain in readiness for action and reconnoitring well to the left.
The 1st Army Corps, under Sir Douglas Haig, was in cantonments to the north of Maubeuge, between that place and Givry. The 2nd Corps, under Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, was to the north-west of Maubeuge, between that place and Sars-la-Bruyere. The 19th Infantry Brigade was concentrating at Valenciennes.
Turning to our Ally, the 6th and 7th French Reserve Divisions were entrenching themselves on a line running from Dunkirk, through Cambrai and La Capelle, to Hirson. The 5th French Army was on our right, the 18th French Corps being in immediate touch with the British Army. Three Divisions of French cavalry under General Sordet, which had been operating in support of the Belgians, were falling back behind the 18th Corps for rest and refit. The 3rd and 4th French Armies, comprising 8-1/2 Corps, three Cavalry Divisions and some reserve Divisions, were between Mezieres and Longwy. The French troops further south had taken the offensive and marched into Alsace. Liege still held out. Namur was intact. The Belgians seemed secure behind the fortifications of Antwerp.
Before going further it would be as well to give some account of the country in which the two opposing forces faced one another on the night of Friday, August 21st, the area Conde—Cambrai—Le Nouvion—Binche:—
Distances.—Cambrai to Conde 24 miles. Conde to Binche 26 miles. Cambrai to Le Nouvion 26 miles. Le Nouvion to Binche 31 miles.
This region forms part of the Belgian province of Hainault and the French Departments of the Nord and the Aisne, lying approximately between the upper valleys of the Rivers Scheldt and Sambre. Its northern boundary is formed by the basin of the River Haine. This river, formed from three streams which rise in the neighbourhood of Binche, passes Mons and flows into the Scheldt at Conde after a course of 30 miles. Close to its left bank, from Mons to Conde, a canal connects the former place with the Scheldt. Prior to the construction of this canal, the Haine was navigable by means of locks. Several small parallel streams run into it from the south, along sunken valleys in an undulating plateau, over which lie scattered the various mines of the Berinage coalfield.
West of Mons the valley of the Haine forms a long, low plain, covered with meadows, through which the river meanders in broad bends as far as the Scheldt. Numerous water ditches, cut in the peaty soil and marked out by poplars and willows, drain the land and render the movement off the roads of any troops but infantry quite impracticable.
On the northern boundary of the valley of the Haine, a belt of sand gives rise to a tract of rough uncultivated land which is in many places covered with woods. On its southern boundary the ground rises steeply on the east, and more gently on the west, to the Franco-Belgian frontier, over a rocky subsoil in which the affluents of the river have cut deep valleys.
The Mons-Conde Canal has a length of 16-1/4 miles, 12-1/4 of which are in Belgian territory. It has a surface width of 64 feet and its maximum depth is 7 feet. The canal is crossed by 18 bridges, all of which, with the exception of the railway bridge east of St. Ghislain and the railway bridge at Les Herbieres, are swing bridges. A metalled towing-path runs along each bank.
The principal passages across the valley of the Haine are at Mons from Brussels, at St. Ghislain from Ath, and near Pommeroeul from Tournai.
The Scheldt, rising near Le Catelet at an altitude of 360 feet above the sea, soon approaches the St. Quentin Canal and runs alongside it as far as Cambrai, where the river and canal flow in one channel and form a navigable connection between the Scheldt and the Somme. Below Cambrai, the now canalised river flows on to Valenciennes, receiving on the way on its left bank the Sensee river and canal, and on its right bank the Ereclin, Selle, Ecaillon, and Rhonelle streams, which flow down in parallel courses from the watershed close to the left bank of the Sambre. From Valenciennes the Scheldt runs to Conde, where, as stated above, it is joined by the Mons-Conde Canal and the River Haine. Immediately afterwards it enters Belgian territory, where it becomes the great river of the Flemish part of the country, just as the Meuse may be said to be the great river of the Walloon portion.
There are 14 locks between Cambrai and Conde, each providing a means of passage over the river. The general breadth of the canalised river is 55 feet and its maximum depth 7 feet. The towing-path follows sometimes one bank and sometimes another. The principal points of crossing of the Scheldt between Cambrai and Conde are at Cambrai, Bouchain, Lourches, Denain, Bouvignies, Thiant, Trith, St. Legers, Valenciennes, and Conde.
While the Scheldt as it grows older flows through country which is for the most part little above sea level, in its upper reaches it cuts through an upland plateau on its way to join the Belgian central plains.
Rising near Fontenelle, 9 miles south-west of Avesnes, the Sambre flows through Landrecies, where it becomes navigable, and where it is connected with the Oise by the Sambre Canal. Flowing past Maubeuge it enters Belgium below Jeumont and traverses thence, in a north-easterly direction, one of the most important industrial districts of Belgium. The country through which the river flows from its source to Charleroi forms a plateau cut up by numerous dales and deep valleys.
Below Landrecies the depth of the river is from 6 to 7 feet, while its breadth is 50 feet; it is nowhere fordable. A towing-path runs in places on the left bank, in places on the right bank. Nine locks regulate the depth of the canal between Landrecies and Jeumont, and afford a means of passage for pedestrians. Communication is amply supplied for wheeled traffic by 22 road and railway bridges, of which the most important are those at Landrecies, Berlaimont, Hautmont, Louvroil, Maubeuge, Jeumont, Erquelinnes, Merbes-le-Chateau and Lobbes.
South of Landrecies important road bridges cross the Sambre Canal at Catillon and near Oisy.
The principal tributaries of the Sambre, in the area under view, flow into the river from the eastern foothills of the Ardennes; the streams which join it on its left bank are few and insignificant. On the right bank the Rivierette, the Helpe Mineure, the Helpe Majeure, the Tarsy and the Solre, flowing in parallel courses in a north-westerly direction, lie in deeply cut valleys which broaden out as they reach the main stream. The high ground between these streams offers a succession of defensive positions against an enemy advancing from the north in a south-westerly direction.
The area under review may be divided into two portions. A northern or industrial, with all the inconvenience to military operations characteristic of such a district, and a southern or agricultural with unlimited freedom of movement and view, resembling in many respects the features of Salisbury Plain. The dividing line of these two portions may be taken as a line running through Valenciennes and Maubeuge.
With the exception of the thickly populated Berinage coalfield, west and south of Mons, the country is open, arable, and undulating. Extensive views are obtainable, the villages, though numerous, are compact, and movement across country is easy.
A notable feature in the southern portions of the area is the Foret de Mormal and in its neighbourhood the Bois l'Eveque.
The Foret de Mormal, which is 22,460 acres in extent, is situated on the summit and slopes of the high ground bordering the left bank of the Sambre between Landrecies and Boussieres. It is crossed by one first-class road from Le Quesnoy to Avesnes, and several second-class roads.
The forest is also traversed by two railways; that from Paris to Maubeuge, which follows its southern boundary from Landrecies to Sassegnies, and that from Valenciennes to Hirson, which runs from north-west to south-east and joins the former line at Aulnoye. On account of its thick undergrowth, its streams and marshy bottoms, the forest is not passable for troops except by the above-mentioned roads.
Le Bois Levesque (1,805 acres), situated between Landrecies and Le Cateau, may be considered as an extension of the Foret de Mormal, from which it is only about 2-1/2 miles distant. It is traversed by the railway line from Paris to Maubeuge, by the road from Landrecies to Le Cateau, and the country road from Fontaine to Ors.
In conclusion, let us glance at the principal places of strategic importance in this region which witnessed the opening stages of the retreat from Mons.
In the beginning of the war, Maubeuge, with 20,000 inhabitants, belonged to the second class of French fortresses, which possessed a limited armament and which were destined to act as points d'appui for mobile forces acting in their vicinity. The strategic value of Maubeuge is due to the fact that the main lines from Paris to Brussels via Mons, and to northern Germany via Charleroi and Liege, pass through the town, while from it runs a line towards the eastern frontier via Hirson and Mezieres, with branch lines leading to Laon and Chalons. It is also a junction of main roads from Valenciennes, Mons, Charleroi, and Laon.
The fortress has a circumference of about 20 miles. The forts, which lie in open country, are mostly small. Shortly before the outbreak of the War the defences of Maubeuge had been strengthened to meet the increased effect of high explosives, and various redoubts and batteries had been constructed in addition to the above-mentioned works.
Mons, the capital of Hainault, had a pre-war population of 28,000 inhabitants, and is situated on a sandhill overlooking the Trovillon. It is the centre of the Berinage, the chief coal-mining district of Belgium. Main roads from Brussels, Binche, Charleroi, Valenciennes and Maubeuge have their meeting place here, while the railway from Paris to Brussels passes through it. It is also the junction point of the canal from Conde and the Canal Du Centre, which connects the former with the Charleroi Canal and the Sambre.
The town of Binche (12,000 inhabitants), lying 15 miles east-south-east of Mons, is a centre of roads from Charleroi, Brussels, Mons, Bavai, and Beaumont. Through it passes a double line of railway coming from Maubeuge on its way to Brussels.
Conde, a small and old fortified town, owes its military value to its position at the confluence of the Scheldt and the Haine, and to its canal communications with Mons. A single railway line connects it on the north with Tournai and on the south with Valenciennes. The main road from Audenarde to Valenciennes and Cambrai passes here.
The strategetical importance of Valenciennes, a town of 32,000 inhabitants, is due to its being the meeting places of main roads from Cambrai, Lille, Tournai, Conde and Mons. It is also the junction point of the main lines from Paris via Cambrai, Hirson, and the north. Its position on the canalised Scheldt has been already referred to.
Cambrai (28,000 inhabitants), lying on the right bank of the Scheldt, which first becomes navigable here, is the centre of main roads from Peronne, Bapaume, Arras, Douai, Valenciennes, Bavai and Le Cateau. It is also important as being the junction point of railways from Paris to Valenciennes and from Douai to St. Quentin.
Le Cateau, where, as I have already said, I established my first General Headquarters in France, is situated on the Selle. Before the War its population numbered 10,700 and it possessed important woollen mills. It is the junction point of main roads connecting Valenciennes with St. Quentin and Cambrai with Le Nouvion. It also stands on the main line from Paris to Maubeuge, while single-line railways connect it with Cambrai, Valenciennes, and Le Quesnoy.
Lastly, with regard to communications throughout the area, they were good and ample. The principal roads from north to south are those from Conde, through Valenciennes, to Cambrai, Le Cateau, and Landrecies, and from Mons to Binche, to Le Cateau via Bavai and to Landrecies through Maubeuge. Numerous second-class roads afford good lateral communications between the above-mentioned roads.
Such, then, was the region in which, on the night of Friday, August 21st, the British Expeditionary Force found itself awaiting its first great trial of strength with the enemy. That night we went to sleep in high hopes. The mobilisation, transport, and concentration of the British Army had been effected without a hitch. The troops had not only been able to rest after their journey, but a few days had been available for practice marches and for overhauling equipment. The condition of the reservists, even those who had been longest away from the colours, was excellent and constantly improving.
The highest spirit pervaded all ranks, and the army with one accord longed to be at grips with the enemy. The cavalry had been pushed well to the front, and such engagements as had taken place between detachments of larger or smaller patrols had foreshadowed that moral superiority of British over German which was afterwards so completely established, and proved of such enormous value in the retreat, the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne, and in the opening phases of the first Battle of Ypres. The French troops had already secured minor successes, and had penetrated into the enemy's territory. The Allied Commanders were full of hope and confidence.
THE RETREAT FROM MONS.
At 5 a.m. on the 22nd I awoke, as I had lain down to sleep, in high hopes. No evil foreboding of coming events had visited me in dreams; but it was not many hours later that the disillusionment began. I started by motor in the very early hours of a beautiful August morning to visit General Lanrezac at his Headquarters in the neighbourhood of Philippeville.
Soon after entering the area of the 5th French Army, I found my motor stopped at successive cross roads by columns of infantry and artillery moving south. After several such delays on my journey, and before I had gone half the distance, I suddenly came up with Captain Spiers of the 11th Hussars, who was the liaison officer at General Lanrezac's Headquarters.
There is an atmosphere engendered by troops retiring, when they expect to be advancing, which is unmistakable to anyone who has had much experience of war. It matters not whether such a movement is the result of a lost battle, an unsuccessful engagement, or is in the nature of a "strategic manoeuvre to the rear." The fact that, whatever the reason may be, it means giving up ground to the enemy, affects the spirits of the troops and manifests itself in the discontented, apprehensive expression which is seen on the faces of the men, and the tired, slovenly, unwilling gait which invariably characterises troops subjected to this ordeal.
This atmosphere surrounded me for some time before I met Spiers and before he had spoken a word. My optimistic visions of the night before had vanished, and what he told me did not tend to bring them back. He reported that the Guard and 7th German Corps had since daybreak advanced on the Sambre in the neighbourhood of Franiere, and had attacked the 10th French Corps which was holding the river. The advanced troops had driven the Germans back; but he added that "offensive action was contrary to General Lanrezac's plans," and that this had "annoyed him."
The 10th Corps had had to fall back with some loss, and were taking up ground known as the "Fosse Position," on the south side of the Sambre. Spiers thought that the 10th Corps had been knocked about a good deal. He gave me various items of information gleaned from the Chief of Intelligence of the French 5th Army. These reports went to show that the German turning movement in Belgium was extending far towards the west, the right being kept well forward as though a powerful envelopment was designed. It was evident that the enemy was making some progress in his attempts to bridge and cross the Sambre all along the front of the 5th Army. There appeared to be some difficulty in finding General Lanrezac, and therefore I decided to return at once to my Headquarters at Le Cateau.
I found there that our own Intelligence had received information which confirmed a good deal of what I had heard in the morning. They thought that at least three German Corps were advancing upon us, the most westerly having reached as far as Ath.
The hopes and anticipations with which I concluded the last chapter underwent considerable modification from these experiences and events; but the climax of the day's disappointment and disillusionment was not reached till 11 p.m., when the Head of the French Military Mission at my Headquarters, Colonel Huguet, brought a French Staff Officer to me who had come direct from General Lanrezac. This officer reported the fighting of which Spiers had already informed me, and said that the French 10th Corps had suffered very heavily. When thinking of our estimates of losses in those days, it must be remembered that a dearly bought experience had not yet opened our minds to the terrible toll which modern war exacts.
The position of the 5th French Army extended from Dinant on the Meuse (just north of Fosse—Charleroi—Thuin back to Trelon) about five Corps in all. Sordet's Cavalry Corps had reported that probably three German Corps were advancing on Brussels.
The German line facing the Anglo-French Army was thought to be "roughly" Soignies—Nivelles—Gembloux, and thence circling to the north of the Sambre, round Namur. A strong column of German infantry was advancing on Charleroi from Fleurus about 3 p.m. on the 21st. There had been heavy fighting at Tamines, on the Sambre, in which French troops had been worsted. General Lanrezac was anxious to know if I would attack the flank of the German columns which were pressing him back from the river.
In view of the most probable situation of the German Army, as it was known to both of us, and the palpable intention of its Commander to effect a great turning movement round my left flank, and having regard to the actual numbers of which I was able to dispose, it is very difficult to realise what was in Lanrezac's mind when he made such a request to me.