The Diary of Major H G Paris
Royal Garrison Artillery
17 - 19 August
20 - 22 August
23 - 24 August
25 - 27 August
28 August -
3 - 5 September
35th Heavy Battery R.G.A. (aged 27 at time of writing)
TUESDAY AUGUST 25th
We did not get much rest there, for at 3 p.m. we were off again to a place call La Grand Fayt. We had to move by a narrow road while behind us were a whole lot of ammunition and supply waggons. We had got about 3 miles along (I must say here that all day long we had heard our rear-guard hotly engaged and knew the Germans to be pretty close behind), then suddenly a couple of rifle shots rang out in rear and a shout came up that the column was being attacked in the rear.
We gave orders for all spare men to drop to the rear with rifles and as I happened to be dismounted at the time I picked up and took off some of my men to line a hedge. A captain (no names, but I know who it was now) came galloping up to the column shouting out to the drivers to hurry up and trot out in front with the result that the column soon became a scene of disorder. Half my men jumped on the wagons as they passed and off everybody went round the corner, my section with them.
By this time the alarm had reached some infantry in bivouac ahead of us and they came out over the fields to see what was up. Only one officer appeared to be with them and so I went up and offered my services and that of six gunners which was all I had left. I was promptly awarded the honour of the command of a "platoon" and told to advance to a wood up a beastly steep hill to see if there was anyone in it. I began to think that perhaps it was my duty to find my guns, but then the humour of the situation struck me! Oh, I forgot to mention that we had already fired a number of rounds at a field where men were reported to have been seen lying down but what I afterwards found to be corn shooks - no more rounds had been heard from the enemy.
Well, anyhow, I lit my pipe and wondered what one did with a "platoon" and eventually got started with the men extended across from hedge to hedge, falling over the first hedge myself with thoughts of ambushes and such like inanities. Luckily however, before we got to the wood I heard a frantic whistling in the rear and saw an officer waving his arms which I was informed by the men meant we had to retire. I thought for a moment that perhaps it was the men's interpretation and I really ought to charge, however not wishing to show my ignorance I retired gracefully (more gracefully than my advance had been), and found it was all O.K. and that they had come to the conclusion it was all a scare and that there were no Germans about, with which I quite agreed. It was most probably started by one of the numerous spies that are always cropping up in our midst. Anyhow I relinquished my command and set off to find my guns.
By this time a thunderstorm had broken out and we were all soaked to the skin, also it was dark. I first came across one of the right section wagons in a ditch with no horses and a broken pole. One gunner sitting sorrowfully by it told me how the horses had fallen and had to be cut out of the traces, so leaving a man to keep him company, I went on and got into La Grand Fayt, which I found full up with transport of every kind since besides our own Division (II), the 1st Division and a French column were moving on roads through the same place.
I eventually knocked up against some of 26th Battery (also from Fareham) who curiously enough were halted outside the village pub, so we had a glass of beer together and they told me that two of our guns were furiously in action against nothing at all in a wood and that my two guns were posted further up the road. So after just one more glass of beer, I pushed on and eventually found them and also the Major who confirmed the story about the right section though the officer in command stoutly maintains to this day that they saw German cavalry in the woods. Perhaps he did - he ought to know. Anyhow the section came into action in quick time.
I got my guns and wagons into a field for the night and after some trouble we got the whole battery together though one gun fell into a ditch and blocked the road for two hours. However, by night we were able to lie down on soaking wet ground in soaking wet clothes and rest our legs. I can't say sleep because it was impossible under the circumstances with very heavy firing going on all round which, of course, was the battle of Lamdrecies.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 26th
Everything very vague; don't know where we are going or what we are doing or what anyone else is doing. As soon as we finished digging we got orders to move again and join column on the march. Road frightfully congested both 1st and 2nd Divisions apparently on the same road - a wonder that we got along at all. Went right through Etreux and bivouacked at 10.30 p.m. in the rain in an open stubble field. Pretty long day. Managed to get fairly snug in some straw stacks. We had heard and seen tremendous firing on our left which must have been the battle of Le Cateau.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 27th
Just managed to wash and eat some food when orders came to get into position in case of attack. Everybody very jumpy and no one knew where attack was expected. We eventually came into action alongside a field battery in a soaking wet turnip field about 7 p.m. Pitch dark and very foggy and raining - the most miserable and trying night we ever hope to spend.
Everybody imagining the most dreadful things - at one time we thought the Germans had switched on searchlights and would be on us every minute, but on investigation I found it to be a 'lost' motor car ditched in the road side. Poor old Shedden swore that the field we were in was full of German cavalry and got quite angry when I told him to go and throw turnips at them. We were all suffering from overtiredness and strain, but eventually daylight came and no sign of any enemy.
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