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Royal Garrison Artillery

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3 - 5 September




35th Heavy Battery R.G.A. (aged 27 at time of writing)


SUNDAY AUGUST 23rd

3 a.m. saw us started on the road again, this time in column with other troops who had arrived at Leval during the night, chiefly field batteries and ammunition columns. From Leval to Aulnoye and then across the river Sambre at Pont-sur-Sambre where we came across a few French troops - chiefly reservists who did not inspire us with confidence from their looks.

As we went on more troops kept coming in and the column got longer, and we occasionally heard firing in the distance. We next passed through La Longueville and about 10 o'clock crossed the frontier into Belgium past the monument on the battlefield of Malplaquet. Just north of Blaregnies the column halted for some time and some guns and infantry pushed up past us - among the infantry being Jimmy Henderson, to whom I shouted but saw he did not recognise me and so hastily scribbled my name on a piece of paper and gave it to a straggler in his Company - so that when I happened to run up against him later that night doing a road patrol, he recognised me and we had a yarn together - I have not seen or heard of him since.

About 11 o'clock we got orders to go into bivouac near Elareghies village which we did. We had just managed to get washed and started to eat when we got orders to get on the move at once as we might be wanted. The firing had got heavier and louder all the morning and we had been rather surprised at going into bivouac. We had rather a struggle to get out on the road, the streets being narrow and everybody else trying to get out at the same time. When we did get out we did about two miles fast trotting over cobble stones which shook the poor old gun wheels severely and also stores like drag ropes, buckets etc. began to leave our track behind us - we were dashing into action with a vengeance and the poor old horses were sweating like pigs.

All of a sudden we had an alarm that we were being attacked on our left flank by cavalry and we hastily lined the bank of the road with all the rifles we could muster, thinking that it would be pretty rotten if we were scuppered by cavalry before we had even got to the scene of action at all. However nothing happened and the affair passed off rather as a joke. The alarm had been caused, I think, really by some shell bursting apparently high over some woods to our left, which we thought must indicate some force in the wood, but in reality I think the shells were from a German anti-aeroplane gun of which at the time we knew nothing.

Anyhow we moved on slowly again through Quavy Le Petit, soon after passing which, as we came up some high ground we got our first view of the battle of Mons. We were still a few miles off the firing line but we could see that the shells were bursting all over the ridge from a fierce artillery fire. What struck us most was the extraordinary accuracy with which they were bursting especially along a long belt of trees - of course one hoped these were our own shells - in fact, one somehow instinctively thought that they must be ours because they were the best, but I fancy from what I saw after that my surmise was not altogether correct. Smoke was pouring up from various places which had been set on fire especially round Mons itself. I knew nothing of the position of things and soon realised how terribly hard it is to know which are our own troops and which the enemies, at all long ranges.

We marched gaily on past East of Begnies across the main road from Givry and eventually halted in rather an exposed position just south west of Harveny, awaiting orders, and trying to make out what was happening. Just before dark we got orders to go into position along the Givry road, south west of Harveng to be ready to open fire in the morning. It was dark by the time we got to our position but even in the dark we could tell it was a pretty poor place for us.

We spent most of the night digging ourselves in and getting what protection we could. We had been told that a Guards brigade had been on the ridge in front of us, but were going to withdraw during the night as they had been so heavily shelled. Except for Henderson's patrol which I ran up against in the dark and who told me they had just caught a spy in their trenches, we saw no one or knew where anyone was. We had marched 24 miles and it was about 1 a.m. before most of us rolled up in our great coats for a couple of hours.

Summary for day: Leval to Blareghies; 2 hours bivouac; march Elaregnies - position west of Harveng, 24 miles. Weather warm and fine, roads dusty.


MONDAY, AUGUST 24th

We withdrew at daybreak to Quevy Le Petit (luckily enough for us as 2 hours afterwards our previous position was heavily shelled, no doubt given away by spies). At about 11 o'clock we came into action at the side of a small village and opened fire at what we could see which was not over much. We fired about 56 rounds and were reported to have stopped one attack by dropping a shell into the Germans while still massed behind the ridge before advancing. We here had our first experience of being shelled ourselves and also of being given away by an aeroplane. The shells however, all fell short of our observation party.

About 3 p.m. we got the order to retire and that the Division would bivouac for the night on the line La Longueville - Baunay. It was very trying to have to march back again through the villages where we had been greeted so cheerfully on the way up and showered with apples etc. We little knew what this march was the start of. We got into bivouac about 10 p.m.

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