The Retreat from Mons with 2nd Battalion RDF

Le Cateau: On the 24th of August, the Dublin Fusiliers were taken by train to the village of Le Cateau. From there, they marched north west towards Cambrai, in fact too far north, when, on the 26th of August, they were met with a German army which surrounded and outnumbered them by approximately three to one. Many were cut off from their battalions and taken prisoner to spend the next four years in the German Prisoner of War camp at Limburg. Many Irish soldiers died in Limburg. Private John Byrne, No. 9480, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died in Limburg on the 27th of September 1918. His sister's husband, Private Michael Bowden of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died in Limburg on the 23rd of May 1918. Both of these men came from Athy, County Kildare.

Among those killed near Le Cateau at the village of Clary, was Lance Corporal John Boland of the 2nd Battalion Dublin Fusiliers. John was from Dorset Street and at nineteen years of age, like thousands of others, he joined the Dubs during the general lockout in 1913 in order to earn a living. He was twenty years of age when he died. The Germans buried John in a German Military cemetery. In 1924, John's body was re-interred in the British War Cemetery at Honnechy. John's nephew, Mr. Jack Smith from Abbeyfield in Killester (Dublin), at the age of seventy seven, visited John's grave in September 1992. Jack had a tear in his eye when he laid a Poppy wreath at the grave of young John and his comrades who fell at Le Cateau.

On the same day as John was killed, other Dublin soldiers died as well. Willie Clark from Talbot Street, James King from Clarence Street, James Martin from Finglas, Mathew Sharkey from Corporation Buildings, Foley Street, George Frazer from Pembroke Street and Ned Howey from Skerries were typical of the Dublin Fusiliers killed that day. Out of a Battalion strength of twenty two officers and one thousand and twenty three other ranks that landed in France on the  23rd of August, all that was left on the 13th of September after twenty days of fighting, was ten officers and four hundred and seventy eight other ranks, the rest were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

This terrible loss of men was typical of the losses incurred by the British Expeditionary Force which was almost wiped out. The French army was also almost annihilated; within four days of fighting they lost 40,000 men, 27,000 in one day on the 22nd of August 1914, the bloodiest day in French military history.


Surrender at St Quentin

Lt Col AE Mainwaring, along with the CO of 1st R Warwicks, Lt Col Elkington, signed a document of surrender at St Quentin on 27th August 1914 during the retreat from Mons, in order to spare the town. The situation was saved by Major Tom Bridges, 4th Dragoon Guards, who managed to assemble the men and march them out. The two COs were coutmartialled and cashiered. Elkington joined the Foreign Legion and was later reinstated, Mainwaring disappeared from history and died in 1930.

They were court-martialled. Despite being found guilty of surrender in the face of the army - Mainwaring was cleared of cowardice. Instead, he was convicted of the lesser charge of scandalous conduct. Cashiered out of the army in disgrace, he was however allowed to quietly rebuild his life.

The 1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Elkington and the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers under Lieutenant- Colonel Mainwaring - had reached the main square in St. Quentin on the 27th August, among the last British troops to arrive in the city. With officers and men totally exhausted, the two colonels, one of whom was certainly sick, had been persuaded by the Mayor to give a written undertaking not to endanger the city’s inhabitants by putting up a resistance against the entry of the Germans which was expected within the next few hours.

The British infantry took up defensive positions along the Mons canal. But they were hopelessly outnumbered and ill-equipped: 70,000 troops as opposed to 160,000 and 300 heavy guns against 600 German. Within days the British had suffered almost 10,000 casualties and were in 'strategic retreat' - throwing away their weapons as they ran. On August 27, the remnants of the Dublin Fusiliers arrived in the dusty little French railway town of St Quentin, where there were no trains to take his men away from the advancing enemy. The surviving soldiers flatly refused to march another step.

Nothing in the long and distinguished military career of their 50-year-old commanding officer had prepared him for the horror of the retreat from Mons - or the fate that awaited him and his troops in St Quentin. Had he been made of sterner stuff he would have threatened them with the firing squad. Maybe even executed a few then and there for refusing to obey his orders. Instead Lt Col Mainwaring and the commanding officer of the First Royal Warwicks, Lt Col John Elkington, gave in to the entreaties of the local mayor and signed a piece of paper agreeing to surrender rather than see the citizens massacred in a German artillery bombardment.

He had been negotiating with the mayor for food and transport for his men, when panic broke out as a messenger claimed the town was surrounded by Germans. He and Elkington agreed that they could not endanger the safety of the townspeople and tried to get their men up on their feet to march on. 'The fact is that the men could do no more for the time being, Their limit of endurance was reached. I considered it my duty to protect these men, who so nobly had done theirs. I still consider that it was so, and my conscience is quite clear,' Mainwaring wrote. The thick-set and normally implacable Mainwaring himself, an eyewitness later wrote, 'looked very pale, entirely exhausted and leaned heavily on his stick.'And so he signed the document that was to bring about his disgrace.

At this point a troop of the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards came on the scene. One of them, Major Tom Bridges. Bridges recalled later: 'The men in the square were so jaded it was pathetic to see them. If one only had a band, I thought! Why not? 'There was a toy shop handy, which provided my trumpeter and myself with a tin whistle and a drum, and we marched round the fountain, where the men were lying like the dead, playing the British Grenadiers and Tipperary, and beating the drum like mad. They sat up and began to laugh and cheer. I stopped playing and made them a short exhortation and told them I was going to take them back to their regiments. 'Late that evening 400 men marched out of the town. By now Elkington was nowhere to be seen, but armed with a walking stick, Mainwaring marched wearily alongside Major Bridges at the head of the column. By 2 a.m. on the 28th August, as a patrol of Uhlans was about to enter St. Quentin the line of marching men was well clear of the city.

The cavalry officers had insisted that the mayor hand over his surrender letter to them and that could only mean a court martial. No official record of the hearing survives but one officer in the dragoons claimed that a firing squad was already drawn up when the court decided the two officers had suffered a mental breakdown, under stress, and dismissed the charge of cowardice. At the court martial, Elkington, who was the more senior of the two, would deny authorising the surrender. Both Elkington and Mainwaring were dismissed from the army in disgrace.

After the court martial Mainwaring wrote a lengthy justification of his actions. It described how he and Elkington, who had the future Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery among his junior officers, had marched in to face their first action on August 24, with the army already in retreat. As they dug in, next day, to cover their colleagues' backs, they come under heavy shellfire. They were last to retreat, under cover of darkness, and without rations went through the same ordeal the next day. In the midst of the battle Mainwaring received the last order he would get from High Command: 'The general says he wishes you to hold on here to the end. This is a personal message from him to the regiment.'By early evening everyone else had pulled out and Mainwaring wrote: 'The behaviour of our men had been splendid throughout. They were so dog tired that many of them slept through the infernal fire, as one could here them snoring. 'It was then he discovered that HQ had been abandoned and he determined on another night march in retreat, hoping to catch up with them. He allowed his men to grab a couple of hours sleep in a barn but dared not nod off himself because there was no one to wake him.



A slight thrill of excitement passed over Naas this (Friday) morning when a rumour spread that a private in the Dublin Fusiliers who had been to the front had returned to the Depot. The inevitable stories of terrible massacres and the Germans toll were soon afloat, exaggerated out of all proportion to the real tale it is scarcely necessary to say, though the soldier's story as told me was thrilling enough to satisfy the most morbid.

Here was no weather. Beaten soldiers decorated with scars and reduced to emaciation, or bearing on his countenance a reflection of the horrors of the campaign. Instead, I found a beardless boy, in truth, of fresh complexion bronzed by the French and Belgian sun, an intelligent young man, active though he limped slightly from the effects of the injury he sustained, telling a plain unembroidered story of war horrors, a coherent narrative though confused - as one might naturally expect - with regard to place names, and bearing the impress of truth.

In reply to my question he told me that his name was Bergin - Private Bergin, of the 2nd Battn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers - he was a native of Dublin, his age was 19 and half years, and he had been three years a soldier. "On Wednesday week", he said, "We were in action outside Mons from early morning till 9 o'clock at night. I saw no Germans, but we knew they were in front of us. Their shells fell all round, about and amongst us, and I saw many of my comrades stretched wounded in the trenches. We got no chance of firing, as we saw nothing to fire at. Anything would have been better than lying there waiting for - we knew what the shell fire was kept us up all day. We got accustomed to it after a while, and our fellows were in good spirits considering what we had to put up with without doing anything ourselves. About three o'clock to see MY BROTHER'S HEAD BLOWN OFF by a shell. He was close beside me at the time and I can't tell you how I felt. It was terrible! You get accustomed to seeing things in trenches, but when I saw my own brother killed I needn't tell you it upset me.

The firing went on all day, and at 9 o'clock at night - it was very dark at the time - we got the order to retire. We were glad to be allowed to do something, even though it meant retiring. We were out of the trenches in a moment. I left my rifle and my cap in the trench. We thought we were in a pretty level field and retired quickly when twenty or so of us found ourselves FALLING INTO A PIT, which had not been seen in the darkness. We were all more or less injured by the fall, and I got my back hurt. I have almost recovered from the effects now except that I am a bit stiff and then there was more waiting. We did not know where we were, and our comrades had gone on without us. In the darkness we could do nothing but lie there, many of us in pain. WE LAY ALL NIGHT IN THE PIT. A sort of sand pit, and early next morning we were picked up by the medical corps.

"We heard or saw no Germans, and I can tell you we were glad to see British soldiers again. We were taken across country to Boulogue and shipped to England. I have been in Gosport Hospital and was discharged yesterday morning. From there I was sent over here.

"Have you had enough of fighting?" I asked. "No" was his reply, "I want to go out there again. I have offered to go again as soon as they can send me. I have got a pass for the day now to go and see my mother and sister. They are alone at home and there were only the two boys - my brother, who was killed, and myself.

Noticing the stained and bedraggled condition of his Khaki Uniform. I questioned him about it. "Yes", he said, "These are the clothes that I went to the front in. A bit dirty, aren't they? You can't keep very clean in the trenches, or out of them for that matter, in time of war. You will notice my numerals - the Regimental shoulder badges - are missing. They were taken by the French girls, who came to us for souvenirs. That word was about as much as we could understand of what they said. They came to us as we marched through the towns and villages and cut off our numerals as keepsakes. THE FRENCH PEOPLE WERE VERY KIND TO US, and cheered us everywhere we went. They gave us food and seemed glad to see us.

"Where did you get that? I asked pointing to a small square of tri-colour ribbon - red, white, and blue - which he wore in the front of this cap.

"That ", he replied, "was given to me by a French girl before I left Boulogue. My cap badge had been taken as a souvenir a short time after I arrived".

"No", he said in answer to another question, "I was not in the Depot here before I went away. We were stationed at Gravesend before we went to the front. I came over without a cap, and I got this one I am wearing when I came here".

Then with a Military salute, he left me to prepare for the train to see his mother and sister in Dublin, and to bear the sad news of his brother's terrible death - if they had not already heard it.


Thirteen Dublin Fusiliers Arrive at Boulogne, Story of German ambush. 12/9/1914 p3b Kildare Observer

Boulogne, Saturday

Stragglers from the British Army pass through here increasing numbers. On Saturday we had thirteen of the Dublin Fusiliers, who became detached from their regiment a fortnight ago at Courtois. They looked a strapping lot of fellows, smart and soldierly, in spite of the miscellaneous set of garments that they were wearing, which looked more like petticoat lane that anything else. The fortnight the thirteen had spent, six days they were in hiding in a barn of a chateau. From there having buried their uniforms they pushed across county on foot aided by friendly peasants, and fortunately, missing the Germans, expect for a transport train, three miles long, which they passed unchallenged. The non-commissioned who had assumed charge of the party said: We walked right into a German ambush as we were marching along the road one morning. They were in the fields on both sides of us - thousands of them to our hundred - and they shot us down by scores. How we got away is a miracle. The only thing to do was run for it, while the bullets were flying round us for, I supposed a couple of miles. I had my great coat on, and I had to get my accoutrements off, throw away my great-coat, and get my accoutrements on again. It took me, I suppose, a minute and a half, crouched in the middle of a field, with bullets whizzing past in hundreds.

Eventually the Fusiliers succeeded in striking a straight course for Boulogne, where they arrived fit, although exhausted and footsore with the "heavy going" over the mangolds. Unlike some men I have seen, these Fusiliers have nothing but respect for the Germans artillery.

"It was every bit as good as our own," one of them said. " They got the range in five seconds, and there was a burst of shrapnel over our heads. The two men to the left of me in the trenches were killed and I and the man to the right, who had gone to sleep where he lay from sheer exhaustion, were left untouched. The Germans had more machine guns than we had, and they had a way of working round to the end of our trenches and turning their guns right down to the length of them, the effect of which was deadly. I found these particular men distinctly sceptical of stories of German brutality. Villages, they said, were usually set on fire accidentally by shells, and though they told me of a case of firing - unfortunately effective - on the stretcher bearers of their own regiment, they added that this took place in the confusion of a night melee.





12/09/1914 P5B

Last week I reproduced the substance of an interview with a private of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who had returned from the front and was at the time I saw him in Naas Depot. This was the first real personal experience of a British Soldier told in this country straight from the front. This week I am in a position to give a more detailed account of actual happenings in contact with the enemy in the North of France. On Monday morning Corporal James O'Donnell, "D" Company, 2nd Battn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers, arrived at Naas Depot, where he told me the story of his experiences at the Front - a lengthy catalogue of thrills such a few British Soldiers will be able to narrate.

Corporal O'Donnell is a highly intelligent, well educated, young man, a native of Ormagh, and the fact that he is able to discourse unconfused on matter coming under his observation, on place names on the French Frontier, and above all, of his hazardous position is one in no small degree to his fluent knowledge of the French language.

I may tell his story in his own words, suppressing names of persons and places in conformity with the wishes of the authorities.

"We disembarked at Boulogne". The Corporal told me, "About 4 or 5 o'clock on Sunday, 23rd August, and even at that early hour there were lots of people about to give us a cheery and hearty reception the camp was situated outside the town, which was decorated with flags, and all day French people came up there to see and to cheer. On Sunday night we were again moving, this time by train, passing through Amiens. We detrained at Le Cateau, which was at that time General French's Headquarters, and on arrival we were informed that our cavalry were in action we were part of the 10th Infantry Brigade. After about half an hour's rest at Le Cateau we started on a long march. We were told we formed part of the support at that time, and might be called upon at any moment.

I WAS ON OUTPOST DUTY that night when we got the order to march again right on to the Belgian Frontier and quite close to Maubeauge. We marched all night, and the next morning had a jolly good breakfast - the last good one we had - on the roadside, and entrenched at once in the fields ready for action. We knew then our time was coming soon, because about two miles off the guns were booming for all they were worth, and there was also a lot of rifle firing. It was coming closer and closer, and I concluded that our artillery were retiring. We stayed in the trenches waiting for the enemy to come on, with the Irish Fusiliers in front. Suddenly a German aeroplane appeared over our heads and the companies fired at it, but without hitting it as far as we could discover. Firing was kept up all day and that evening we withdrew a bit - up into the vicinity of a farmyard, almost surrounded by a wood. At this time the Sea Forth Highlander were on our left. "That evening the first really exciting incident, as far as we were concerned, occurred while we were getting down to our tea.

WE HAD JUST STARTED OUR MEAL when suddenly the shells came blurting all around us, some of them shattering the roof and chimney of the farm house, which came clattering down amongst us. The shrapnel was falling all about us, but after the first shock of surprise our fellow's were walking about with the greatest coolness, and viewing the scene one found it difficult to realise that the next moment might be the last for many of us. The

farmyard had previously been deserted, and saw no one about it except and old man who had remained in charge of the cattle. Were one shell to burst here in the barrack yard there would be commotion. There we sat at our tea and no one moved until the meal was finished. All the time the artillery fire went on, and we could see some of the wounded Seaforth Highlanders being carried back from the line of fire along the road which skirted the farmyard. Some of the shells had got them in the trenches while we were more or less under cover of the wood.

"It was now getting dark. Scarcely a mile away on our left a village which had been set on fire by the Germans threw its ray almost up to our lines. WE WERE EXPECTING THE GERMAN CAVALRY to come along, and as soon as we had finished tea two of our companies went round the farm house and into the orchard in front and waited there until about 11 o'clock. I should have told you that while we were at our tea our artillery came up quite close to the farmyard and started thundering away at the enemy. When the two companies went round to the orchard we remained in the farmyard ready to support them. The German Cavalry came along and the two companies allowed them to come within 200 paces before they opened fire. It was not a very strong detachment of Cavalry and, as far as I could make out, merely came along to see if we were there. At any rate, they were wiped out by our fire. You could hear riderless horses galloping along the road for a long distances. Some of them were caught by our men and taken to the farmyard. With regard to the roads are something like our own. But the bye-roads, or at least all of them was hard work. We marched all that night and until daybreak, and it was very fatiguing. Again we found ourselves being shelled by the enemy. This was on the 26th, when the big fight took place near Le Cateau. No one could get by the first few shells, and we got entrenched, with a little village on our left, as quickly as possible. We could see the German Infantry coming over the hills, and the Warwickshire Regiment charged right over the hill and drove them back. Then there was a General Engagement and continuous rifle firing by our men along a frontage of about three miles. We were well forward in the centre and two of our companies were in the firing line - "A" and "D" of the Dublin Protecting our artillery with the left of our line on the little village. The enemy raked our trenches with the shells and I saw two men killed in the trenches beside me, while several were wounded. The machine gun firing by the enemy was simply terrific, though it did not do as much damage as it ought to have done. Behind us our artillery kept battering away at the Germans, who were trying to silence them, but most of the German shells were DROPPING ON US IN THE TRENCHES.

"I was beside our officer, and we had a fine view of the whole affair. I can say our Royal Field Artillery firing was splendid, because as the Germans came over the crest of the hill after the Warwicks had finished with them, the artillery officer's glasses. Yes, the men behind us were blowing German infantry to shreds in the centre at the top of the line of hills.

"The German Infantry made desperate effort to break through in the centre, and it was our artillery and the Warwicks that kept them back. Tow shells struck the ground where the officer and I were standing and simply HALF BURIED US IN MUD. A minute later two or three of our men on our right were killed and several wounded. You will think it rather strange when I tell you that toward evening with shells dropping all around and the thunder of artillery, I went to sleep in the trench I was so absolutely fatigued. I seemed to have slept for a couple of hours, and when I awoke it was still bright and the booming of the guns was worse than ever. It was terribly trying lying there not able to move and not knowing what moment a shell might drop on you. When I awoke I was surprised and rubbed my eyes for a minute before I could realise where I was or what was happening. Then some biscuits were passed along the trenches, but it was hard to get water and we suffered a lot from thirst. It was a broiling hot day. This bombardment continued until daylight failed. That night we were ordered down on to the road with fixed bayonets, expecting a cavalry attack. Our stretcher bearers and doctors went out to collect some wounded on the left, the church in the village I told you of being used as a hospital, and I moved off to get a drink of water from a well that had almost been drunk dry. The houses in the village were all wrecked, and there was a perfect hell there for a few minutes when the German Cavalry and Infantry attacked it under the cover of darkness. Afterwards some of our fellows, who had retired, told me OUR STRETCHER BEARERS HAD BEEN SET UPON by the enemy and killed. Our doctor was captured, but somehow managed to escape.

"There was a tornado of fire in this village and bullets whizzed and sang all round the place for about half an hour. It was a dreadful melee. There was a regular hail of bullets and I, who in seeking a drink had got detached from my comrades, lay flat on the road. Eventually the German were repulsed. Some of our men told me a body of Germans were getting it hot raised their hands to show they wanted to surrender, and so soon as our people got within twenty yards of them to take them prisoners they poured a volley into them, THEY SUFFERED FOR THEIR TREACHERY by being wiped out.

"When this had ended we decided on a retirement. The whole countryside was like a half moon on fire - villages and farm houses were burning and illuminating the country for miles around, and some of the house at least, I know could not have been set on fire by the shells. Every night it was the same old game, and our lads used to look forward every evening to what they called the fireworks.

"Just as the day was breaking of the morning of the 27th we got into a village called Ligny-En-Cambresis, where the peasants fed us with bread and water. It was all there was to be had and we were very glad to get it. We were two companies - "A" and "D" - of the Dublin at this time and about 30 or 40 stragglers from other regiments who had got separated from theirs fellow during the night. We were all in high spirits. Just at daylight we marched out of this village, and as we were marching along the road we were attacked on our left and front. It appeared that we had run into an ambush laid for us. The Germans entirely our numbered us and their rifle fire was terrific though we hadn't many killed at the begin. I remember Lieut. Dobbs shouting in the Din "COME ON, BOYS, let us show them what we can do, although they have caught us." We were firing for all we were worth at this time and two men on my left were killed and an officer - Lieut. West - was wounded in the hand. We were surrounded and everybody realised that we had been trapped. It seemed to be the case of our surrendering, but this we did not do. There was then nothing left but to make a dash for it back in the teeth of their shells, and the officers determined to adopt this course than surrender. The only way it could be done was by dashing in small parties. I was with Lieut. Mackey's party, and of our little contingent only our leader another Lance Corporal and myself escaped. We had to cover about 700 yards under a perfect rain of bullets, and those of us who escaped were saved by a beetroot field. About half way towards comparative safety we were forced to lie flat in the beetroot and were covered by the leaves. I have a vivid recollection of lying there and listening to the enemy's bullets clipping the leaves off the beetroot over my head. We hadn't very many killed, however, although a lot of our men were knocked over. The rifle fire of the Germans was bad. Throughout I was very much impressed by the coolness of the officers and the men. A private of the Dublins made me almost laugh with his daring. He was out on the right on the firing line and he got up and walked about it he midst of the fire, loading and firing his rifle as coolly as he was it he barracks yard. He was a big fellow and a good target but they didn't hit him. Somebody said: "I am afraid we will all be finished here" "Not at all, Boys," said this big private - Kennedy his name - "Keep up the firing." A little later we decided to make another dash for it, and three as I've told you escaped. The shelling was terrific at this time and our wounded came in for it very badly. When we got out of the beetroot field I saw a farmyard and thought I would be safe there for a while, so I made or it. I had no sooner reached this than they started shelling it also and it was then I GOT SEPARATED FROM THE OTHERS.

In the orchard of the farmyard I filled my pockets with plums. I got on to the wall of the farmyard to see what was happening and how best to get away from it, and I saw Captain Clarke and some others making toward Ligny-En-Cambresis. I followed and re-joined them and we went down along the dried-up bed of a river. We were joined by stragglers from other regiments and were now a party of nearly sixty, fully equipped. In this river bed we hid for two days and a night. The captain manage to get some bread and tea from a railway man close by. We were completely cut off from everybody by this time. Here we were joined by Captain Trigona and some others, of the Dublins. We were now back in the centre of the Battlefield of the previous day and the country people were collecting the wounded. We had got into a quarry when a GERMAN AEROPLANE STOPPED RIGHT OVER US, and some German infantry discovered us. We were now on the outskirts of Cambresis and up to our knees in slime and mud. The captain determined it was better for us to move off, as we had been discovered, and we were moving when a detachment of German Cavalry came upon us. Some of us made for stalks of corn, or, indeed, anywhere to escape observation. I ran for a wood that was close by, and in doing so got detached from the others, but I believe the party have arrived at Shorncliffe eighty strong.

"It was getting dark by now and I was very fatigued. I went up to a house that had been wrecked by shells, and went inside to be under cover for some time. In one of the rooms I found a bed. Just as I heard a voice shouting in broken English: "Are there any English Officers or soldiers there?" But I thought it was better not to answer, as it might have been a German. I got into the bed I had discovered and lay there thinking over my plight. In order to ease my feet I took off my boots and after that I remember nothing until I awoke next morning about dawn. I got out of the house and crept along a railway line for about a mile in my socks. After crossing a bridge on the railway I saw a lot of dead bodies of Germans and a few British. There was a dense fog at the time, and it had begun to lift when I walked into a village and INTO THE HANDS OF SOME GERMANS.

They were a small party of infantry with a few cavalry, of course, I was captured. They didn't seem to pay much attention to me, and I soon made up my mind that there might be a chance of getting away. The opportunity presented itself and I made a dash for it round a corner. I heard a few shots fired, but I managed to escape and managed to reach a wood where I hid all that day. By good chance I had tea and sugar with me. I had to rest satisfied that day with chewing tea and eating the sugar. That was all the "food" I had that day.

That night the moon rose, increasing my danger, as the German where quite close to me. I could hear them moving about and blowing trumpets. I had heard the officer some time previously say the direction he would take and I followed in the same course after the moon had gone down, going cross country I reached another farm house, also deserted. Finding a barn of straw I got into it. It was now about 1 o'clock in the morning. I could see the German fires and knew where the enemy were.

"At daylight I was awakened by some peasant coming into the yard they treated me very kindly and brought me the village of X, where the mayor of the village gave me seven francs and as much as I could eat and drink and hid me in the attic for some time. The whole place had been wrecked and looted, although it had been spared from burning. I heard tales from the people of how the Germans treated them. They had taken everything valuable they possessed. One man I saw myself who told me the terrible burns he was suffering from where caused by being THROWN INTO A FIRE by the Germans. He told me how the Germans had vented their spleen by breaking up his threshing machine, and of how they had ill treated women. "The mayor supplied me with clothes and I disguised myself as a French peasant. I have the clothes still here" - indicating his wet bag - "And this is the peasant's vest I am now wearing. I intend to keep the clothes as a souvenir. The mayor also provided me with one of his workmen to act as guide, and we started across country with shovels as if we were French workmen. That was on Sunday and as I left the village the church bell was ringing and the people were going to mass. The guide took me right across country and on Sunday night we slept in a stable and were fed and very well treated by the owner while trudging along the road to X we ran into a long line of German transport and cavalry. We walked alongside them for about a quarter of a mile, and then turned up a bye way and into a house as if we belonged to it. The Germans had the railway running. Forty-five trains of German soldiers passed that day from Valenciennes to Cambrai, and their sentries were guarding the bridges. On Sunday night we reached X. I made two attempts to get across the bridges. But as the Germans were keeping a very strict lookout and stopping some of the people, it was perilous. Finally I GOT AN OLD WOMAN to come along right over the bridge with me as her son, and in case we were challenged it was arranged that I was to be a deaf mute. We were not questioned, however. The German simply nodding to her as we went past.

"Leaving my benefactor I got right across to X, where I stopped the night. Next morning I got off and reached Frevent. I was making for Boulogne all the time. From there the following morning I started for d'Hesdin, where I was very kindly treated by the people. The French Reservists there chaired me through the town when they found I was a corporal of the British infantry. From that I went to Etaples. Here I was delighted and astonished to meet, also in civilian clothes, one of my own section - A private Donaghan. From that I came the following morning to Boulogne, and found there was a torpedo boat in the harbour.


"The officer took me aboard the Torpedo boat and there I found the jolliest and the best lot of fellows I have ever met in my life. Nothing was too good for me. We put out of Boulogne, and I thought I was going to have a still further exciting time when the order came to clear the decks for action. There was no fighting to be done, however, and after spending a night and part of two days running about the north sea I was landed at Dover. There, where I was clothed in uniform, I stayed for a day and they sent me on here.

"Are you anxious to get off to the front again?" I asked this man of many thrilling experiences.

"Yes" He said, I want to go out again, and hope to get away with the next draft. The kindness of the French people apart from any question of Imperial interest, is enough to make a man want to go back there again."

I have heard wiseacres say that no man ever wants a second experience of the Battlefield. They would be confused, I imagine, if they listened to Corporal O'Donnell's story and witnessed his manifestly genuine desire to return to the front though scarcely not washed free of the core of the Battlefield.





12/9/1914 P6A

Tanned by the sun of Northern France, bedraggled in appearance, with badgeless caps and almost buttonless tunics in evidence of the souvenir-hunting craze of the French women, telling tales, consistent in detail and therefore credible on the whole, of tight corners and hair-breadth escapes, but withal cheery and light-hearted, and to a man anxious to get back to the scene of conflict once more. These were the characteristics which chiefly impressed me about the men, some forty five in number, whom I saw at the Naas depot on Wednesday. They had that day returned from the front and, like the others I have met from the same scene of activity, they told of deeds performed by the Irish regiments - not boastfully, but yet with a certain pride - on French and Belgian soil which must be allotted no inconspicuous place when the history of the European war come to be written. They told, too, of the valour of English regiments they had seen in action such as the Warwicks, who fought side by side with the "Dublin". There was nothing narrow or petty about the views these men expressed of Brethren in arms, no matter from what quarter of the Kingdom they chanced to come in defence of the empire. They had emerged from their baptism of fire, and from perhaps still greater perils to which their detachment of their regiments and their comrades exposed these strangers in a strange but generous and friendly land. None of them had suffered bodily injury, else they were not here to tell their tales, but they referred not infrequently with an unmistakable sadness of tone to the name of comrades who had fallen dead or wounded by their sides on the Battlefield of Northern France.

These "Dublins" were a truly cosmopolitan crowd - Irish for the most part, but from almost every province of Ireland.

"Angus McClelland", said one amongst the number when I asked him for his name, and apart altogether from his patronymic, there was no need to ask from what country he came to the colour once you heard HIS BROAD SCOTTISH DIALECT. Angus came from Stirling. Another told me he was Lance-Corporal Laurence Synnott. His accent, without the additional information that he came from Liverpool, proclaimed him English but - he took advantage of the opportunity to inform me - he was of "Real Irish" decent.

Then there was privates Denis Parr and John Brophy of Carlow, Patrick Hennessy of Carlow-Graigue, Patrick Dempsey of Mountmel lick, Treacy of Naas, Patrick Ormsby, Christopher Walsh, Joseph Carr, Wm. Byrne of Dublin, Patk. Nolan of Baltinglass, John Lawler of Athy, Corpl. Walsh of Limerick, and many others amongst the number, all of "D" company of the 2nd Battn. Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

"I'm anxious to go back to the front again", Pte. Parr, of Carlow, told me, "If they'd give me two hours first to go and see my people at home." Perhaps he will get the chance he so ardently desires. At any rate, he is fit and sprightly and well "Would you like this as a souvenir?" he asked handing me a little book of cigarette paper hearing the name on the cover "Papier Goudron Lax." "It was given me by a Frenchmen when were in hiding in a wood near Lews, but of course, it was no good to me, as I had no tobacco. But the French people keep pressing things on you over there - whatever they may have, and if you are writing anything about us don't forget to say that anything like the hospitality of the French people to the British soldiers it is impossible to imagine.

Each man had to tell a similar tale of generous treatment at the hands of the French. There was no exception to this rule.



"We were at La Cateau," said Private Parr, "and had to retire to a village - I can't remember the name of it - and in the retirement we were again attacked some of us went to the right of the village and some to the left, while others went straight on. We had run into an ambush it seemed and we were in a tight corner. About 25 of us found ourselves crossing a railway line and after crossing we met Captain Clarke with about 18 men near the village of Ligay. The Captain managed it beautifully, and we broke through the enemy's line of communication and marched to Lens, from that to Fervent, and from that came back by train to Boulogne. From there we were taken across to Folkestone. During the time we spent travelling before we got the train we worked all day in the fields for the farmer and walked all night. We captured two Germans on our way and found that one of them was armed with one of our rifles. Some of the fellows who joined us had been captured and had escaped. Once we caught a German soldier, who was either cut off or scouting. We blindfolded him lest he should tell which way we had gone, and tied him to a tree, telling the natives to release him after we had gone. He had ONE OF OUR RIFLES and a Bayonet and one round of ammunition. "Some fellows of the Royal Scouts told us that ten of them had been captured by the Germans, who stripped them of their clothes, motioned them to run off and fired after them as they ran. They escaped - all ten of them - Scot free. But there's no mistake about it they're terribly bad shots, these Germans. Before we fell in with captain Clarke's company a chap names Morgan and I while crossing a Bridge were fired on by the Germans. We could not see them and I don't know how many of them were firing at us, but there must have been quite a number. But they hit neither of us.

"One of our chaps who was captured and managed to escape told us the Germans had made him march in front of their firing line when attacking us. I don't know where he got to eventually, but HE ESCAPED FROM THE ENEMY THAT TIME.

Lance-Corporal Ormsby told me a corroborative story, their idea in making for Boulogne in the first instance, he said, was to rejoin the troops. When they reached Boulogne, however, they found that the base had been changed and were sent to England. Private Lawler (Athy) told me of a rather humorous, but withal pathetic, little incident that occurred after they became detached from their comrades. "At Le Caudry (Courtois), a village, "He said a party of Germans pounced upon us and opened fire. There were only two of us there, but I suppose they didn't know that. We returned the compliments and fired like devils, as we made up our minds to die game. Joe Salinger, of Carlow, was my comrade, and between us we shot eight Germans. Don't forget to say that. Poor Joe got a Bullet in the knee and was taken to hospital, but WE POLISHED THE BEGGARS OFF. We were both nearly satisfied to die then we had eight of them to our credit between us. But what do you think happened? We were fighting them near the hospital and had finished our work when a full corporal rushed up to me, caught me by the back of the neck and asked me did I want to get the hospital destroyed."

The poor fellow spoke as if he felt an undeserved slight had been thrown upon him after his notable accomplishment.

Corporal Walshe (Limerick) had an exciting story of his adventures. "We were at Le Caudry, he said eight of us altogether, who had become cut off from our regiment. The major thought it desirable, as the Germans were about, that we should hide. We lay in a cave for five days, and while there got information that the German were searching the wood for us. Two of our fellows used to go up a tree to see what was going on and how the land lay the people about used to bring us food and leave it inside a wall close to the cave. One day our scouts found food left there as usual and attached to the cork of one of the bottles was a note telling us to be prepared to leave the village in disguise as the position was becoming dangerous. On that day - Tuesday - civilian clothes were sent in to us and we were warned to be prepared to leave that night. We left - 17 of us in all, made up of our eight and nine others belonging to different crops. From which they had been cut off.

"At daybreak we arrived at another village and were informed by the inhabitants that in a village on our left the Prussians had an hospital. We managed to procure a map and compass and made our way as best we could until passing along the road to Cambrai we got in contact with a GERMAN CONVOY 3 1/2 MILES LONG. We were of course, disguised as French peasants, and our only chance seemed to be to start work, so we went a little further on beside the Convoy and turned into a field where we set to work making up storks of corn. The Germans paid no attention to us and we pushed on to another village that night. Coming near the village the Sergeant-major in charge of us - Sergt.-Major O'Connor - went to look for some food at a house, but the French man in charge of the house did not want us and told us to go. We went and lay under some trees, when suddenly we heard a noise that alarmed us. Almost immediately two motor transports with provisions for the enemy passed close by to where we were. We then decided to cross the main road and make for the shelter of some storks of corn on the opposite side, while two of our party agreed to go back to the village to try to get some food. They went to the village, but could get nothing. Suddenly they came in contact with the German sentries near the village and had to beat a hasty retreat.

Next morning we started away at five o'clock and walk to the village of Mons, where the inhabitants gave us a good reception and food. The chief magistrate sent to Arras to ascertain if any of the enemy were there. A French paper chanced to come in calling up the French Reservists - the second French army. The chief magistrate of Mons decided we could remain till one or two o'clock and be accompanied by SOME FRENCH RESERVISTS. He procured us a car, which carried us to another village, where we were joined by the French Reservists. They had a few cyclists with them who patrolled the roads. Between the different villages to see the coast of clear.

"We stopped at a village called Beaumetz that night and left at 4.30 the following morning for St. Pol. when we arrived at St. Pol. a woman, who spoke very good English, met us and took us to the mansion house, and there we got some food. We left St. Pol. by the 6 o'clock train that evening for Boulogne and reported to the Vice Consul., who directed us to proceed by the 9 o'clock boat the following morning and we landed at Folkestone safe and sound".

"Well told - like a book," said another soldier, who, like the corporal, still wore the French peasant costume supplied them after their cave life. Both he and the Corporal, I discovered, were reservists of the 2nd Battalion and both had been through the Boar war together. Nor are they yet tried of service on the Frontier. They are in high hopes of being sent away with the men of the next detachment leaving for the front.





12/9/1914 P6B

A Dublin Fusilier who was wounded by a bit of German artillery shell and sent home to recuperate have an interesting account of his experience. He was on the reserve and on being called up proceeded with his regiment to Belgium, from whence they were hurried up to the front. He was in Mons for the big battle fought there between the allied troop and the Germans. On the day of the battle they were just going to have breakfast when the enemy commenced to attack their force. A fierce duel ensued between the guns and the infantry also got the range. The artillery was on the road and the Dublin Fusiliers on the right wing in an adjoining field. The position becoming untenable, large numbers of men being killed in the Royal Irish Fusiliers and Royal Dublin Fusiliers as well as other units a retirement was order. While carrying out this manoeuvre many were wounded and killed outright, and the subject of the interview was struck by a piece of a shell in the hip and knocked over. He was picked up by the red cross men and sent back to hospital for treatment. The hospital site had later to be abandoned owing to the vicinity of the Germans and the wounded removed to France and from thence to Netley. Like all the soldiers, who were in action, this man was impressed with the number the German authorities can keep in the field and the daring with which the faced the Allies. As quickly as they were pick off by the riflemen and mown down by the artillery fresh troops appeared in the vacant gaps. Speaking of the French soldiers and people he said they were overwhelmed with hospitality and kindness. He spoke in eulogistic terms of the Republican troops as comrades. His wound is healing slowly and, like all Irishmen, he is anxious to go out again to take a hand in the fighting.




19/9/1914 P5C

Private Michael White, "A" Company, Royal Dublin Fusilier, was in the firing line at Cambrai in the retreat from Mons on August 26th and was in the fighting line three days before he was rendered Hors-De-Combat by two Germans bullets. His wounds have now healed and he has been granted 14 days' Furlough. He is at pre sent in his home at Rathasker Road, Naas, none the worse for his wounds. "I was one of four platoons of the 'Dublins'," He told me, "sent to hold the hills at Cambrai at all costs, but ten times our number could not have performed the task, as we soon found out when we saw the numbers against us. I was in the fourth platoon under Lieut. Mackey, who was afterward captured by the Germans and is now a prisoner, I believe. I tasted the lead of the German twice. The first wound I believe was here" - holding up his right hand, the third finger of which bore a recently healed scar. - "I paid no heed to that. It was nothing, and I got back into the ranks and fired away after I had got a bandage tied around it to keep the blood from bothering me. We were retiring all this time, and I asked Captain Clarke where I could get me hand bound up when THE BLOOD WAS TROUBLING ME. He told me to go back to the village - Cambrai - and I would find No.2 Red Cross Hospital there.

"I had got my finger bandaged when a German aeroplane buzzed right over the Church, which had been turned into a temporary hospital. The people in the aeroplane dropped a black disc suspended by a cord over the church for the purpose, I suppose, of giving the range to the artillery. A few minutes' later the steeple of the church came tumbling down and some French doctors and nuns were killed amongst other. This is not hearsay, as I saw it with my own eyes. We - some wounded - were told to clear out, as the place was about to be shelled and we lost no time in going, those of us who could look after ourselves. "As I have told you, I rejoined my comrades, who were at this time retreating and some four or five hours' later, while we were fighting on our retreat some miles from Cambrai I GOT ANOTHER BULLET - this time in the groin that knocked me over, and I was sent to the field hospital at Rouen. That night we had to clear off from there and got on board a ship which came through the Seine. We disembarked at Southampton, and a lot of us were sent to Plymouth Hospital, which was in charge of civilians and territorials. They fed you well and looked after you but did not bother to enquire further about you. That was the reason why, although I was wounded on August 26th, my name did not appear in the casualty list until a couple of days ago. It's the same with hundreds of others. They do not bother about reporting you as being wounded or in the hospital until you are fit to leave, and then they inform the authorities and you are sent to Naas or wherever you regiment may happen to have come from. I was discharged the day before yesterday - on Tuesday - and was the only on of the wounded sent to Naas.

"Yes" he said replying to a question I asked him as to whether he had seen any of the German brutality we hear so much about. "I saw two of our bands men - Private Flannery and Ives Flannery was from Tipperary and we called him "Tipp", and Ives is an Englishmen) go out with the stretcher from them and turned them back. I met them on the road and Flannerys hand was bleeding. He told me THE UHLANS HAD BROKEN HIS FINGERS with a slash of a sword. The Germans are all right now to our fellows when they are being forced to retreat themselves, but when they were marching on us they murdered all before them. I believe they are told if they meet a British soldier to shoot him or he will shoot them.

"Yes, I'm feeling quite fit again now", said the private. "When my fortnight is up I'll go back to my regiment, and hope to be sent to the front again. I want to get some of my own back off those fellows".




Le Cateau: On the 24th of August, the Dublin Fusiliers were taken by train to the village of Le Cateau. From there, they marched north west towards Cambrai, in fact too far north, when, on the 26th of August, they were met with a German army which surrounded and outnumbered them by approximately three to one. Many were cut off from their battalions and taken prisoner to spend the next four years in the German Prisoner of War camp at Limburg. Many Irish soldiers died in Limburg. Private John Byrne, No. 9480, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died in Limburg on the 27th of September 1918. His sister's husband, Private Michael Bowden of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died in Limburg on the 23rd of May 1918. Both of these men came from Athy, County Kildare.

Among those killed near Le Cateau at the village of Clary, was Lance Corporal John Boland of the 2nd Battalion Dublin Fusiliers. John was from Dorset Street and at nineteen years of age, like thousands of others, he joined the Dubs during the general lockout in 1913 in order to earn a living. He was twenty years of age when he died. The Germans buried John in a German Military cemetery. In 1924, John's body was re-interred in the British War Cemetery at Honnechy. John's nephew, Mr. Jack Smith from Abbeyfield in Killester (Dublin), at the age of seventy seven, visited John's grave in September 1992. Jack had a tear in his eye when he laid a Poppy wreath at the grave of young John and his comrades who fell at Le Cateau.

On the same day as John was killed, other Dublin soldiers died as well. Willie Clark from Talbot Street, James King from Clarence Street, James Martin from Finglas, Mathew Sharkey from Corporation Buildings, Foley Street, George Frazer from Pembroke Street and Ned Howey from Skerries were typical of the Dublin Fusiliers killed that day. Out of a Battalion strength of twenty two officers and one thousand and twenty three other ranks that landed in France on the  23rd of August, all that was left on the 13th of September after twenty days of fighting, was ten officers and four hundred and seventy eight other ranks, the rest were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.


Cut and paste

Fighting on this day is described by some who were present at the battle. The following related to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers : Captain Trigona said that on August 26 the main body of the Allies was in the dis trict of Mons, and in the direction of Cambrai his battalion formed a portion of the rearguard, and were continually being harassed by the enemy. An order, which they should have received to retire, miscarried. This, in his opinion, was due to despatch riders falling into the hands of the enemy. The regiment was left unsupported, and an^overwhelming body of the enemy attack- ing them, they were obliged to retreat. The Germans moved forward in dark, thick masses, and the British rifle did terrible havoc among their closely-packed ranks. The enemy's ranks in places were blotted out by the withering leaden blast which the Fusiliers kept up with that dogged determination which has won for the regiment in past wars many golden laurels. The German loss was much greater than ours. This is accounted for by the close formation adopted by the latter. At one time the regiment had fallen back on a large farmhouse, but a number of shells from the German artillery quickly reduced the building to a heap of debris, and they were forced to evacuate the farm. During the succeeding night Captain Trigona and a small body of men got separated from the other portion of the troops. When daylight broke they found themselves wandering in a country swarming with the enemy's cavalry. They were completely cut off from the Allies' forces, but succeeded in reaching a French village without being molested by the Germans. They were received with every kindness by the villagers. Food was supplied to the well-nigh famished men, and welcome rest was obtained in barns and farmhouses. After eight days' travelling by night and hiding by day they reached Boulogne.








2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers