MONS to Le CATEAU

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peronnes

mons

mons

foret de mormal

foret de mormal

foret de mormal

foret de mormal

foret de mormal

foret de mormal

le cateau

le cateau

le cateau

le cateau

le cateau

le cateau

le cateau

le cateau

le cateau

On 22nd August 1914, near Peronnes, E Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery fired the first British artillery round of the war on the day preceding the Battle of Mons. The actual artillery piece which fired this round can now be seen in the Imperial War Museum. At the time of writing at Imperial War Museum North. Peronnes is shown here in the first picture in August, the same month as the battle in 1914, after the harvest. The slag heaps from the coal mines are now covered in trees. The coal mining industry which dominated the area in 1914 is now gone.

The first major action between the British and Germans was fought at Mons, in Belgium, on August 23rd 1914. The railway bridge at Mons crosses the Mons-Conde canal. Under the bridge is a plaque commemorating the defence of the bridge by soldiers of the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers during the Battle of Mons. This action led to the first awards of the Victoria Cross in the war. The modern streets and houses completely hide these past events. The landscape in this area is also littered with the traces of coal mining, now mostly landscaped.

While the British were overwhelmed by superior numbers, they did manage to withdraw in good order through the Foret de Mormal to the south where the next major action was fought at Le Cateau, just into France, on August 26th. Although, as at Mons, the British inflicted heavy losses on the Germans the result was another retreat which stopped at the Marne, a little to the north of Paris. The author's Great Uncle fought in his first battle as a young soldier of the First Battalion Hampshire Regiment at Le Cateau, aged just 17. His position for much of the battle being shown in the last two photographs on this page, at the western end of the battlefield.

These images of the battlefield of Le Cateau show the very different landscapes to the north and south of the Le Cateau to Cambrai road. The northern section, in German hands on August 26th 1914, is a high ridge cut by deep valleys and dominates the virtually flat open plain to the south. The British could rely only on the shelter of a sunken lane crossing the right, eastern, part of their line and as a result suffered very badly from both artillery and long range machine-gun fire. To the left of their line the ground does start to undulate more and offers cover and stronger positions for defence. Although another defeat, in that the British were forced to retreat, the retreat was in good order and slowed the German advance by inflicting heavy losses on a confident enemy.

To the east of the battlefield, behind the trees, is a German cemetery. While the majority of graves here are of German soldiers the cemetery also contains many graves of British and Russian soldiers. The graves record the actions of both August 1914 and those at the end of 1918 as the War passed through here again. Another cemetery across the fields dates from the Second World War when this area was once more a scene of conflict.

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