Tuesday 9 September 2014

Action on the Marne

Wednedsay 9th September 1914: Today the 1st Battalion, on the River Marne, has seen the first men killed since the Battle of le Cateau on 26th August. The two men were both from London – Privates Jackson and Stanford. The battalion crossed the River Marne at Saâcy and then moved north to Bézu-le-Guéry. En route between the two places the battalion was shelled by enemy and B Company, under Major Thorpe came under machine gun fire from a wood. The enemy's machine gun was then duly put out of action. The enemy's rear guard made a good stand but had to leave several guns behind. In all the battalion lost about ten men including the two men killed.

Our source with the battalion gives us more detail: “We marched on through a big wood[1] and passed 5th Divisional Headquarters by the side of the road. While we were marching still in column of route, half a dozen shells suddenly came buzzing over and burst on the road amongst the Norfolks[2] in front”.

“For a minute there was wild panic amongst them and half of them came running back on to and into the middle of us. We at once straightened things out and more shells arrived. The Brigade then halted and on a certain patch of road, between some trees, shells dropped with great regularity. That portion of the brigade which had passed this spot forged on ahead and we halted and were left behind. We got down at the side of the road and considered the situation. While we were halted and watching the shells burst about 100 yards away, Sir Charles Fergusson arrived and asked where Count Gleichen was[3]. He had gone on with part of the Brigade in front and was not to be found so he told us that we were to push on and join him as best we could. Colonel Cameron of the Black Watch also arrived (the General Staff Officer) and told us to rush past the shelled spot in lumps”.

“So we advanced by sections at the double and had to keep doubling for about three-quarters of a mile where a Battery was in action. When I went with a Section we caught one of these volleys of shells at the crucial point and one man near me was very badly hit. It was a rotten place to get through but once done we had a breather and could afford to sit and laugh at those coming after us, particularly the Transport. Our old Company Grey Horse “Tagalie” was slightly wounded in the process”.

“We pushed on to a hollow where we found the rest of the battalion and delivered General Fergusson’s message that the Brigade was to push on as hard as it could. We pushed along a barbed wire fence and ended up in the village of Bézu. Just prior to this we passed quite close to the Germans who were in some woods on our left and where some guns were which the Lincolns eventually captured[4]”.

“Bullets and a few shells were then buzzing about with fair regularity and we had a few casualties. B Company went on ahead and got within about one hundred yards of some German guns in a wood. D Company were more or less in reserve and we remained and dug ourselves in along a bank. I was then sent back into the village just behind with the Brigade French Interpreter to collect potatoes for the Brigade which we dealt out later”.

“When I came back the fight was still going strong but it had developed into a stationary fire fight only and I met George (in the Dorsets) being brought back on a gate, very badly wounded. I just spoke to him and he went on to the dressing station. He died a few days later[5]”.

“We then heard that fourteen guns had been captured and that the French were making a tremendous show over on our left. Where we were it was almost impossible to do anything, as we believed the Germans to be in fair strength and the ground was very difficult. We have been thinking of those old dawn attacks on the Fox Hills of Aldershot and now we have the prospect of the real thing before us tomorrow – and the order was the bayonet”.

Sources: X550/2/5; X550/2/7

[1] Presumably that just north of Méry-sur-Marne.

[2] 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, part, with the 1st Bedfords, of 15th Infantry Brigade.

[3] Although with a German name Count Edward Gleichen (1863-1937) was commander of 15th Infantry Brigade and later commanded 37th Division ending the war as Director of the Intelligence Bureau at the Department of Information. Sir Charles Fergusson (1865-1951) was commander of 5th Division, afterwards 9th (Scottish) Division then, successively, II Corps and XVII Corps. He was later Governor General of New Zealand.

[4] 1st Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment of 3rd Division.

[5] Lieutenant Athelstan Key Durrance George of 1st Battalion, Dorset Regiment, died on 14th September 1914 and is buried at Coulommiers Communal Cemetery.

1 comment:

  1. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.