Captain Rose War Diary 2 – 5 Sep 14: The End of the Retreat From Mons

2 Sept

Very cold. Retire a bit to hold position further back. The unfortunate badly * staffed infantry bde [brigade] seems to do nothing else. L. v. z. with good cause relieved.

* BM [Brigade Major] killed at Le Cateau ( ? ? ? ) ? ? ? ?

We are a strange-looking crowd now, men and officers unshaved. The men, who love to be as unorthodox as possible have taken every opportunity. Many caps are lost, and ………….. (At this point I was interrupted, owing to French cavalry being pursued a distance by Germans. We opened fire with Maxim, and Germans cleared as fast as they could). However, to continue …. comforters and caps of other units have taken their place. Equipment is extremely dirty, and all kinds of odds and ends in the shape of blackened canteens etc., are tied on. Some have cut their trousers to shorts, and some have French colours in their caps. Knives and spoons are inserted in the putties. It is a beautiful cool morning, so I wish we could get under way. No water, so our breakfast has been dry biscuit, and about a tablespoon of tea each.

We spend the whole day on the march, halting, and then shuffling forward. We are harassed by German cavalry, and have to take up positions on the way, one time entrenching, at Eve, to help the cavalry, but nothing happened. The torture of the day, which is broiling hot, is dust and thirst. We cannot get water. All the villages are deserted. At intervals one passes dead horses. Men try to eat unripe pears and apples. Anything to slack their maddening thirst. The dust makes my throat very bad. We pass through Bures, which has a quaint old church. The villages seem very squalid. About 7 p.m. we arrive at Dammartin [Dammartin-en-Goele] and camp in an orchard at a fine farm. Feed, sleep till 11-30 p.m. (Place shelled soon after we leave).

[Line of march 2 Sep Fresnoy-Le-Laut to Dammartin en Goele c 17 miles]

3 Sept

Start about 12-30 a.m. to march to Lagny, the torture of the day is trying to keep awake. Feet very sore, very tired, very dirty. People beginning to fly from here. Arrive at Lagny about 8-30 a.m. a fair sized town on the Marne. As usual, no staff arrangements as to where to go to. Messed about till 2 p.m. into a fair bivouac (Chanteloup) [Chanteloup-en-Brie]. I must now make brief notes only, or my book will be exhausted. Exhaustion, depression as to the situation general.

[Line of march 3 Sep Dammartin en Goele to Chanteloup en Brie 21 miles]

4 Sept

Rest, very hot. No water to wash or drink, great curse. Men looting, distress at farms. Mug lost, great loss. Visit houses, throat sore, itching lumps. Mens’ feet awful, loss of kit. Visit town, and do good shopping with CO, contradictory orders about when we go. Glad to hear we leave Snow’s Div. [Division] to join 5th ?. Also new brigadier, Gen. Gordon, also B. Major [Brigade Major – principal brigade staff officer]

5 Sept

March at 11-30 p.m. Arrive Grisy [Grisy sur Seine] at 9-30, not a bad march. Men in bivouac, we also in part of rather nice house. Nasty cough, and sore tongue. Good pears, sleep in garden under peach tree. Drew sick.

In a letter to his wife Hetty dated 29 Sep 1914 Capt Rose described the retreat:

“…Our retreat is now old history so I suppose we may now talk about it. It was a trying and strenuous time and soon sorted out the weak from the strong. It was felt that the country behind was infested with Ulans and they had a name for slaughtering any defenceless stragglers, so this was a good inducement to go on. As a matter of fact our performance was I think a most exceptional one and will go down in history as one of the quickest on record for so large a force. The force I was with was several times in great danger but the Germans never realised their opportunity and utterly failed. The whole operation was I think rather fine as at Le Cateau the British force faced enormous and increasing odds and so hit the enemy that they could not bring an overpowering pursuit and in excellent order we withdrew our army from a position, which, had the Germans been really thoroughly efficient, (as well trained as us), would have been almost impossible. I was very strong and well throughout and my feet gave me no trouble, as was the case with some of us. Providence always seemed to watch over us, once or twice I had made up my mind that I was unlikely to see home again but each time the Germans, through over caution or inability to keep up let us back into safety.”

[Line of march during retreat from Conde- Mons Canal to Chanteloup en Brie 24 Aug – 5 Sep 1914 c 180 miles – ‘as the crow flies’ 118 miles]

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