London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

The First Seven Divisions - Mons to Ypres in 1914

Being a Detailed Account of the Fighting from Mons to Ypres

Author: Ernest W. Hamilton

The 1st Expeditionary Force to leave England consisted of the 1st Army Corp (1st and 2nd Divisions) and the 2nd Army Corp (3rd and 5th Divisions).
The 4th Division arrived in time to prolong the battle-front at Le Cateau, but it missed the terrible stress of the first few days, and can therefore hardly claim to rank as part of the 1st Expeditionary Force in the strict sense. The 6th Division did not join till the battle of the Aisne. These two divisions then formed the 3rd Army Corp
In the following pages the doings of the 3rd Army Corp are only very lightly touched upon, not because they are less worthy of record than those of the 1st and 2nd Army Corp, but simply because they do not happen to have come within the field of vision of the narrator.
The 7th Division's doings are dealt with because these were inextricably mixed up with the operations of the 1st Army Corp east of Ypres. The 3rd Army Corp, on the other hand, acted throughout as an independent unit, and had no part in the Ypres and La Bassée fighting with which these pages are attempting to deal.


CONTENTS

PREFACE v
BEFORE MONS    -    THE BATTLE OF MONS     -    THE RETREAT FROM MONS (LANDRECIES AND MAROILLES)
THE LE CATEAU PROBLEM   -    LE CATEAU    -   THE RETREAT FROM LE CATEAU (VILLERS-COTTERÊTS AND NÉRY)
THE ADVANCE TO THE AISNE   -  THE PASSAGE OF THE AISNE  -  TROYON (VERNEUIL AND SOUPIR)  -  THE AISNE
MANŒUVRING WESTWARD  -  FROM ATTACK TO DEFENCE
THE BIRTH OF THE YPRES SALIENT   -  THE STAND OF THE FIFTH DIVISION
NEUVE CHAPELLE  -  PILKEM
THE SECOND ADVANCE
THE FIGHTING AT KRUISEIK  - THE LAST OF KRUISEIK
ZANDVOORDE
GHELUVELT
MESSINES AND WYTSCHATE
KLEIN ZILLEBEKE
THE RELIEF OF THE SEVENTH DIVISION
ZWARTELEN
THE PRUSSIAN GUARD ATTACK
EPITAPH

The Commander in Chief = Field Marshal Sir John French


EPITAPH

With the German failure of November 17th the first chapter in the Great War may be considered closed. The desperate and all but uninterrupted fighting which, for three months, followed the defence of the Mons canal, was succeeded by a long lull, during which both sides were busily engaged fighting a common foe. The winter of 1914 proved the wettest in the memory of man, and ague, rheumatism, frost-bite, gangrene and tetanus filled the hospitals with little less regularity than had the shot and shell of the autumn. Then came the great battle of Neuve Chapelle, and in another part of the world the grim struggles of the Dardanelles. These are another story, and some day this will be told; but great as may have been—and undoubtedly has been—the glory won in other fields, nothing can ever surpass, as a story of simple, sublime pluck, the history of the first three months of England's participation in the Great War. The word "pluck" is used with intention, for it conveys, perhaps, better than any other word a sense of that indomitable spirit which is superior to every rub of adverse fortune. There were no War Correspondents present with the First Expeditionary Force. There was no wrapping of specially favoured deeds in tinsel for the eyes of a cheap gallery. Even if the wrappers had been present, the general standard was too high for invidious selection. A mole-hill stands out on a plain, but makes no show in the uplands. V.C.'s, it is true, were won; but for every one given a hundred were earned. Military honours are the fruit of recommendation; but when Generals, Colonels, Company Officers and Sergeants are no more, the deed must be its own record; there is none left to recommend.

The grandeur of the doings of those First Seven Divisions lies, it may well be, in their immunity from the play of a cheap flashlight—a flashlight which too often distorts the perspective, and so illuminates the wrong spot. There is a gospel in the very reticence of the records of the regiments concerned—in the dignity with which, without any blare of trumpets, they tell of the daily answer to the call of a duty which balanced them ceaselessly on the edge of eternity. But it is always told as of a simple response to the call of duty, and not as a thing to be waved in the faces of an audience.

But, though unflattered and unsung, those early deeds in France and Flanders can boast an epitaph which tells no lies, and which, in its simple tragedy, is more eloquent than a volume of strained panegyrics.

The register of "missing" is an enigma; it may mean many things. But the register of killed and wounded is no enigma. It tells, in the simplest terms, a tale of death and mutilation faced and found at the call of duty. Let us leave it at that.

The First Expeditionary Force is no more. The distinctive names and numbers of the units that composed it still face one from the pages of the "Army List;" but of the bronzed, cheery men who sailed in August, 1914, one third lie under the soil of France and Flanders. Of those that remain, some have been relegated for ever—and of a cruel necessity—to more peaceful pursuits; others—more hopefully convalescent—are looking forward with eagerness to the day when they will once more be fit to answer the call of duty and of country.


Footnotes

[7] Major Carter, D.S.O., was killed on November 10th, 1914. He was the third O.C. the Loyal N. Lancs, to be killed in action, Col. Lloyd having fallen on September 14th and Col. Knight at the battle of the Marne.


[9] Up to the end of January, 1915, the total casualties in the two battalions Scots Guards amounted to 2,888 of all ranks.


[10] Among those missing on that morning was the Hon. Francis Lambton. He was subsequently reported to have been killed.


[11] Killed November, 1914.


[12]

The 7th Division (Gen. Capper).
20th Brigade (Gen. Ruggles-Brise), 1st Grenadiers.
2nd Scots Guards, 2nd Battalion the Border Regiment.
2nd Gordon Highlanders (old 92nd).
21st Brigade (Gen. Watt), 2nd Yorkshire Regiment.
2nd Bedfordshire Regiment, 2nd R. Scots Fusiliers.
2nd Wiltshire Regiment.
22nd Brigade (Gen. Lawford), 2nd R. Warwickshire Regiment.
2nd Queen's (R. West Surrey Regiment), 1st R. Welsh Fusiliers.
1st S. Staffordshire Regiment.

[13] Pte. Wilson had gained the honour on September 14th.