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The retreat from Mons

A letter from an officer of the Royal Fusiliers on the staff of 9th Brigade of the British Expeditionary Force (the BEF). The names of officers and men killed or wounded during the retreat were blanked out by the censor. The letter is interesting for the courtesy the writer ascribes to the enemy. Mrs. Mavor conveys the same sense in the diary of her flight from Germany.

4 September 1914

We have had ten days of hell starting on 23 August at Mons where the 4th Division were strung out over 12 miles with only half of our gunners present. We were attacked by an overwhelming force and forced to retiree, took up another position at Le Chateau and since then have been fighting rear guard actions. We have now come to Meaux and all this in nine days. The men are tired out and feel used up with the continued retirement. It is beastly work having guns behind you, pouring in shrapnel all the time.

Poor --- was killed at Mons and real well he died – we hope to get special mention in despatches for him. He and all his machine gunners were killed. --- --- --- were all wounded badly and left at Mons which as afterwards shelled very easily and poor --- had his head blown off at the Le Chateau position. --- was hit in the stomach and I caught it in the side and a second time in the hand but luckily both not serious. Poor --- has got a bullet through the stomach and my Company Quarter Master Sergeant was hit badly in the leg.

It is perfectly beastly having to leave all the wounded, but one has to when retiring. All the miserable inhabitants cry and cling to us but we can’t stop these Germans on our own.

That d-d French army never appears when wanted most. It will be a long business I am afraid and judging by these preliminary battles, the chances of getting away sound are very small indeed. Captain --- was hit by a rifle bullet at the battle of Gushy (?) [sic]. He was galloping over the brow of the hill to give the order of retirement to the Northumberland Fusiliers and he drew a heavy fire on himself and was hit in the abdomen. We laid him in a house at Troisville (?) (les trois mouilliers) he was in too much pain to come on. Captain --- of the RAMC gave him some morphia and left an orderly with him. His horse was also shot. If the Germans find him they will look after him all right.

We work night and day and the army is done to a turn. There has been bad strategy somewhere. We should not have been allowed to be strung out over such an extended position of over ten miles without adequate artillery or supports. The fighting here and at X was perfectly appalling. I cannot stand street fighting for the houses keep falling down under shell fire. Even the Hospital was shelled and burnt down. It really is a dreadful show this – the miserable inhabitants come off so badly. You see lyddite (an explosive) blowing their houses to bits and burying all who are unable to run away. We are all very tired and may be rounded up at any moment but the men keep well.

The Gordons, Middlesex and Cherry Hussars (10th Hussars) have lost nearly all their officers and men. Most of the Gordons were captured – they would not retire without an order and stayed out all night. Our Brigade have now done rear guard for six days and night on end.
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