Tuesday, August 26, 2014

26 August 1914 - With the Irish Guards

Postmark: sent via Harwich, 26 August 1914 

"On Active Service in France... cannot say anything about the war as all letters are read."

"The Battalion heard confusedly of the fall of Namur and, it may be presumed, of the retirement of the French armies on the right of the British. There was little other news of any sort, and what there was, not cheering. On front and flank of the British armies the enemy stood in more than overwhelming strength, and it came to a question of retiring, as speedily as might be, before the flood swallowed what remained. So the long retreat of our little army began.

At Etreux, where with the rest of the Brigade the Battalion entrenched itself after the shallow pattern of the time, it had its first sight of a German aeroplane which flew over its trenches and dropped a bomb that “missed a trench by twenty yards.” The Battalion fired at it, and it “flew away like a wounded bird and eventually came down and was captured by another division.” Both sides were equally inexperienced in those days in the details of air war. All that day they heard the sound of what they judged was “a battle in the direction of Le Cateau.” This was the Second Army Corps and a single Division of the Third Corps under Smith-Dorrien interrupting our retirement to make a stand against four or more German Army Corps and six hundred guns. The result of that action caused the discerning General von Kluck to telegraph that he held the Expeditionary Force “surrounded by a ring of steel,” and Berlin behung itself with flags. This also the Battalion did not know. They were more interested in the fact that they had lost touch with the Second Division; and that their Commanding Officer had told the officers that, so far as he could make out, they were surrounded and had better dig in deeper and wait on. As no one knew particularly where they might be in all France, and as the night of the 26th was very wet, the tired men slept undisturbedly over the proposition, to resume their retreat next day."  (The Irish Guards in the Great War, Kipling)

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