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Royal Garrison Artillery

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1914 entries

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3 - 5 September




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


THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 3rd

Started early but had a long halt getting through Maux - somehow a case of champagne concealed itself in my section - given me by a French soldier (no questions asked). All the troops were filling themselves with sweets, the result of a shopkeeper taking to flight and giving away most of his stock (so they said). Change of direction today, moving east crossing the big bridge. Saw preparations for blowing it up and were asked by a sapper to supply 500 lbs of cordite - supposed he thought we carried a factory about with us. He retired, slightly rebuffed.

Maux - St Jean - Signy Signets - Pierre Lavase - Chateau Bilbarteaux
Day's march: 18 miles


FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 4th

Quiet morning for a change - once more able to do some overhaul. Beautifully fine weather. Just congratulating ourselves on a comfortable day, when panic started. Germans reported to be arriving in a village about 2 miles away in motor buses with motor artillery. Rather a bad place to get out of quickly, but got into main road through rearguard position before firing commenced. We then struck across country under personal direction of a general and his staff with the result we found ourselves in a field with no exit and two large ditches. By dint of good hard work, we managed to get the guns through with only a slight accident and regained the main road.

Thought the situation pretty bad at one time, but luckily the Germans were really not attacking in our direction but more to the right. After getting past Ormey I saw a large column of troops marching southwest apparently through Gomoreville, thought they looked like English, but went on to make certain and met some refugees who told me they were English. So I rode back after them and found they were the tail of the 3rd Division and that they had seen no Germans all day. Sent report back and returned to Battery.

Soon after getting back, news came in that the rearguard was heavily attacked - Germans having come up to within 300 yards of them concealed in refugee carts. All artillery was disposed for attack and we went to a position near a farm between Cuvergnom and Antilly, but the rearguard managed to drive the Germans back and we did not have to fire.

I had to go to Headquarters to wait for orders all night and was lucky enough to be asked in to a most excellent dinner of chicken, red wine and other luxuries. Pretty dead tired - did not get back with orders until 2 a.m. and moved off at 3.30 a.m.

Day's march: 19 miles.
Moved through a lot of orchards to a field alongside the river at Meurneux. Very damp bivouac.
Day's march: 8 miles (?)


SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 5th

Marched out again before daylight across river through Faremoutiers and on towards Melum. Rumours that we were really going to turn around and force them at last - rumours rather borne out as the march went on as we passed through Vet hospitals, remount depots and supply parks. Had a long halt near ? during which Hyde Clark and I caught and slaughtered a couple of fowls at a farm for 3 francs each, and obtained a good supply of mild and butter and 2 doz. Eggs. Later on we actually saw some of our troops turn round and march in the right direction again and so that things began to look up and we went into fairly comfortable bivouac on the edge of the grounds of a big Chateau. (As I cannot find the map now, which we marched on after the Meaux map, I am not quite certain of the way we went or the distance, but I know for certain we finished up at Chaume after through, I think, Fontenoy).

Day's march: about 16 miles.

This, I am glad to say, brings me to the end of our "retirement".
Next day we faced about and gave them some 60 pair Lyddite to give them a start on their return journey.


General Remarks on the March

The distances I have given for each day's march are only quite approximate, being roughly measured off the map, and very likely in some cases I have marked the route wrong, as I have only done it from memory since. Totalling all the distances up, we did about 250 miles in 15 days of which one day (Mons) at least 6 hours were spent in section, and another day (Servais) we only moved a couple of miles, so that we averaged very nearly 20 miles a day, which is extraordinary going considering all the circumstances for a whole division. In actual distance it is not great, but it must be remembered that innumerable halts and stoppages occurred for various reasons.

Marching in a long column is a very different thing to walking a similar distance with even a small column two or three miles long. It must be remembered that a division on the march occupies perhaps 10 to 12 miles without any straggling. Sometimes we would move 300 yards at intervals of 5 minutes and then perhaps half a mile and perhaps hour's halt. There must naturally be a great deal of concertina like movement which is awfully tiring - continually mounting and dismounting. Practically every day we were out by daylight and rarely got in much before dark, sometimes after, and even when one did turn in for the night, it was always with the thought of having to turn out at any time at about hour's notice.

The sleep one got was not really restful and I found it hard to keep awake during the day, especially up to about 10 a.m.. Miles and miles I foot slogged along instead of riding, not merely to save one's horse, which, of course, one did to a great extent, but because it was impossible to keep awake riding and I often clutched at my saddle with a start, feeling myself falling off half asleep. Of course, the infantry - poor fellows - were to my mind marvellous - I don't know how they did it. Of course there were thousands captured simply because they were too tired and sore to move, and one could not pick them all up.

The nerve strain was so great, of course. At the beginning we were told it was a strategical retirement and we were luring the Germans on site, etc., but actual true news we scarcely heard a word, and did not know where the other divisions were (except the 1st which occasionally was found marching along the same road with us, which seemed to be asking for trouble), or even if they had landed in France. We were absolutely in the dark as regards ourselves and also the enemy. All kinds of reports and rumours - most of them more and more lying and pessimistic - as we went on marching south.

The whole idea to start with went against the grain - we were apparently bolting as hard as we could leg it before the Germans, and we did not know why. I am not trying to criticize our retreat in any way - French dispatch has shown us all now what actually were the causes and how necessary it was, but knowing literally nothing beyond what we saw, you can imagine how awfully trying it was for everybody, and I don't believe anybody in the world could do the same as our soldiers did. All day long on the march, and especially at night there were fears of attack by German cavalry and motor troops who were very active. Time and time again we got rifles handy off the wagons and always when in bivouac we had to be ready to move at an hour's notice, at the most.

We were lucky in the weather, as of course though the heat was trying, it would have been much more difficult if the roads had been muddy and wet. As it was, one could lie down where one stopped for five minute naps - and one was not particular either. There are times when the gutter is quite comfortable.

Our horses stuck it marvellously well and I am glad to say our Divisional Artillery General congratulated us and said he thought they were the best in the division. Our wheels were rather a source of anxiety as the hot sun had dried them up and the cobble stone roads threatened to shake them to bits, however providence was with us all the time.

It was very depressing to see all the inhabitants streaming along the roads with a few goods and chattels and one felt awfully sorry for them. At the same time, rather naturally some of them expressed rather loudly their opinion of us, which was not over flattering.

As regards food, we of course had just tinned beef and hard biscuits and made tea whenever we got the chance. Bread was bought at every opportunity and also butter and eggs, but the supply was hardly equal to the demand. I personally got very hard and fit was certainly none the worse at the end of the fortnight, but it was really rather a nightmare altogether and though we laugh over various incidents now, we were extraordinarily lucky to get through as we did, and I am sure none of us ever want the experience again.

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