EXTRACTS FROM DIARIES
We were about three miles from Mons, advancing against the German army, when quite suddenly the order came to mount and prepare for action. Riding onto higher ground we could see down to Mons, and soon got into a duel with the German artillery round Binche. It was obvious the Germans weren't going to give us any rest, and we weren't going to give them any, either. Our infantry who had occupied Binche were driven out in the afternoon by overwhelming numbers, and the action developed into a series of attacks and counter attacks, which were very exciting to watch. We dealt severely with a squadron of German cavalry who came up on our right. We didn't realise who they were at first, until someone said 'Crikey! Bloody Germans!' and we opened fire over open sights. They got about two hundred yards away before they wheeled and galloped away - straight into a squadron of British cavalry who finished what we'd started.
Orders came early on the 24th for us to retake Binche. The fight went on for several hours, and I thought we'd take the place - though I doubt we could have held it. However we were disappointed when told to break off the action and retreat. We were by now tired out, hungry and incapable of much further movement. What kept us going was the knowledge we were fighting for our lives.
We had the advantage of the 1st Division guns covering us as we pulled back, and then, looking after ourselves, must have fought a dozen rearguard actions before we reached Landrecies. We put our heads down for ten minutes, filled up the limbers and fought a rearguard action all the way to Le Cateau. There, our guns supported the 2nd Army Corps
(Start of the Mons retreat) A Private of the Royal Fusiliers.
The Germans were coming on in waves, not in formation, and far more of them than us. I wasn't nervous when the action began - it happened so suddenly - but it was new to all of us. The shelling worried me, I must confess. Having gone back with a message, it was difficult to find my way back. I found my battalion, and began to fire, but then was sent back again as a 'runner'. This time when I started to make my way back I met some troops coming down. 'Where do you think you're going?' one of them said. They weren't from my lot. 'You'll be lucky!' he told me when I explained. 'They're pulling back.' 'Pulling back?' 'Yes, I bet that's the message you're taking up'. I went on, and when I got back to my position, everyone had gone, and Germans were on the other side of the river. I ran back, picked up some other stragglers and began to move back, but of course we were between the Germans and our line.
As we came towards Mons, a chap with a pack animal showed me how near we were to the Germans, and as he poked his head round the corner, he was shot straight through it, above the ear. Then I saw German guns on the road where I'd been a few minutes back. Of course I pulled out, but all our units were mixed up.
We were told later we were only pulling back to draw the enemy into a trap. Some hopes!
The German fire wasn't as rapid as ours. Our rifle fire from the river bank sounded almost like machine guns - fifteen rounds a minute madness. The Germans were losing a lot of men, but reinforcements kept coming forward and they were determined to cross the river. We stragglers still continued to move back. When we got outside Mons an officer took charge and made us into some sort of a unit.
There seemed to be refugees by the thousand, coming out of Mons. Of course, we couldn't understand what they were saying, but they were obviously taking the quickest way across the fields, while we had to stick to the roads.
We found ourselves mixed up with refugees, and knew we were retreating. Then the roads also were packed with retreating infantry, all of them increasingly weary. They must have been burdened with packs weighing almost a hundredweight, and many of them were reservists, wearing new boots, so their feet were soon in a dreadful state. The Germans weren't far behind us, and we were told to live off what we could find in the houses, otherwise the Germans would have it. On batch was even trying to drive some cows in front of them... not that they had much success! Some days we were entirely without rations, and others we were hard put to it to find water for the horses. Finding fodder wasn't so bad, as we could gather oats or corn from the fields, but so many times we'd try to bring water from a stream only to find we were moving again, and the horse went thirsty. Gunner H Bright. Royal Artillery.
In the small hours of the 25th we arrived in Le Cateau, using abandoned houses as billets. We weren't there long, as German Uhlans were entering the village and we were made to form a defence line - in effect, it meant we were the rearguard for the whole of the Expeditionary Force. We used our entrenching tools to dig ourselves in - and then I began to understand just what lay in store for us. We were all mixed together.. Middlesex, Argyll and Sutherlands and bits and pieces from other units. We shot and shot, and still the Germans kept coming at us. Eventually we had to abandon our position, and people were being wounded and killed. The lad next to me was supposed to be a bugler: God knows what he would have been told to blow. 'Cease Fire' wouldn't have meant much under the circumstances. The reports later said we made an orderly retreat. There was nothing orderly about it. I took one chap, a few yards away from me, back to the First Aid post that was situated in a church in Le Cateau. The place was absolutely full of stretcher cases and walking wounded. It was a tremendous shock to a young lad like me to see them all. I came out and just followed the flow. Fortunately for me I managed to beg a lift on an empty ammunition wagon and spent the next few hours half asleep until we reached St Quentin the next day. I was so stiff, I could hardly stagger about. (A boy soldier in the Highland Regiment.)