With the BEF on the River Marne east of Paris, General von Kluck, commander of the German First Army changed direction south-east instead of continuing his outflanking wheel to the south-west. In this manouevre he exposed his right flank to the French Sixth Army which had been hastily formed to defend Paris. General Joffe, the French Commander-in-Chief seized the opportunity to mount a counter-offensive on 6th September 1914. The French Sixth Army was directed against von Kluck’s right rear with the BEF and French Fifth Army against his left and the German Second Army. In the Battle of the Marne the Germans managed to extricate their forces, retreating to the River Aisne where they held the Allied counteroffensive.
Rise at 4-30, end of retreat. March 5-30, retrace our steps , hot and dusty. About 12-30 arrive at Jossigny, where we halt in sun till 3-15, have biscuits, jam and bully. We are told we have a chance of getting Germans in flank, in combination with French. March 4 miles to Ville-Neuf [Villeneuve-le-Comte], halt, have a small piece of freshly killed sheep, first fresh meat for some 10 days, also some milk in tea, an almost forgotten luxury. There was firing to our right most of the day, I fancy against French. Slept in straw.
[Line of march 6 Sep Jossigny to Villeneuve-le-Comte c 4 miles]
Rise at 5. Breakfast, was kept awake a lot during night by cough. Firing going on steadily to E and SE. V is a bad pessimist. Censoring letters. Weather is perfect.
We are in a pretty country. Many apple trees line the road. A battle seems to be developing. We are standing by. I see the aeros. going out to either flank. I think division is in front. Push on to Roman Villiers [Bailly Romanvilliers], where we halt, and hear that Germans have slipped away. March on hard. Very hot and dusty, dust several inches deep. ‘B’ Coy. Is A.G. [Advance Guard] Halt at Roman Villiers for a good time, had lunch, bought bread and chocolate. March on, and on through Coulands Seensy to Haute Maison, where we arrive about 6-30 p.m. Infantry fire, and shells are fired at us. We have marched into German cavalry, who clear off. We form outposts, pass one of the most unpleasant nights I have ever spent. Intend to lie down a bit, Begin to itch very badly all over, intense irritation. At last lie down in cemetery, which has been loopholed, and get about 30 minutes’ sleep.
[Line of march 7 Sep Villeneuve-le-Comte to Haute Maison c 6 miles]
Stand to arms at 3-30, kick men up. Told we are to attack. Take place in firing line, and wait for daybreak. Nothing happens. See our cavalry and aeros. go out, then form up and march on a few miles to Pierre Level [Pierre Levée], where we halt to breakfast. This consists of ½ a biscuit, some bully, and some chocolate – also water. There is a vigorous battle going on to our left NW, probably German ?? Our halt is in sight of German bivouac of night before. Find German papers, etc. We now enter the disease range, the dead horses we pass smell dreadfully, and no attempt seems to be made to clear them. Dawn was fine, but fear it means rain. The French Chasseurs are very picturesque in their blue uniforms.
After a dusty march, till 11-30 a.m., suddenly the troops begin to move out, and take up preparatory formations near Signy-Signets, on some open ground, to which the country has now opened out. Suddenly, bang, bang, bang, and the enemy’s shrapnel begins to scream over us, the 1st line transport, which has gone too far forward, gets shelled, but is soon stopped. Several shells, or rather their contents, fly over my little party. Apparently very near. Then our guns begin, and the battle gets going, and continues till about 1 o’clock. Then the enemy’s guns slacken, but ours seem to go on. It is very hot indeed, broiling, and no shade. They begin to get back the wounded, not very many. C. Coy. has had most of it. Money got his leg braised by a ricco. [ricochet] I rig up some shade, we are hungry, and eat a tin of bully beef, no biscuits. Don’t know what’s happening, but see we are getting up some rations, fire seems to have ceased, time 2-45 p.m. This place is called Signy Signets. We stay the rest of the day halted, much firing goes on, to both our right and left. The Germans have blown up the bridge over the Marne. We have had some rain, which will make things cold tonight.
[Line of march 8 Sep Haute Maison to Signy Signets c 15 miles]
War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.
Your article is very well done, a good read.