Saturday 22nd August: Aulnoy-Aymeries/ Maubeuge
We arrived at a place called Aulnoy, 121/2 miles from the Belgian Frontier at 9am. We dis-entrained here. British troops were dis-entraining at the last 3 or 4 stations we passed through. We marched off from here at 2pm.
Marched on till dark and passed through the town of Maubeuge* and arrived at a village in Belgium called Grand –Reng at 1am in the morning. It was pitch dark but the inhabitants turned out and welcomed us. The Estaminets** supplied us with free beer and wine then the people found billets for us in barns, houses and other places where we passed the remainder of the night. The Black Watch and two other regiments are also billeted here.
*By the 24th the Germans were besieging the French garrison of the Maubeuge Fortress.
**Estaminet – a small cafe selling wine and beer and coffee
Sunday 23rd August: Grand-Reng/ Péronnes
We passed a good night in a barn. I met a great many of the Black Watch I knew today and at mid-day we heard the noise of the guns in the distance. Most of the Black Watch are Reservists like myself and left the Black Watch when I did.
The Black Watch moved off from here at 6pm and we, the bearers of our Ambulance followed after them. We passed through two or three villages, the guns are getting nearer every step we take. We passed the Scotch Guards and another regiment lying on the roadside.
About midnight we halted at a village Péronnes* where we found a billet in a hayloft. The guns were still going hard at it and a town or village a few miles in front of us was on fire.
2 squads got lost and the remainder of us went to sleep tired out.
*Péronnes is about 15 miles to the east of Mons. It is now part of the Belgian town Binche.
Monday 24th August: Péronnes/ Vieux Mesnil
The two stretcher squads that lost their way last night turned up at 5am this morning after almost being into the enemy’s lines.
After a hasty breakfast we watched shells burst about 200 yards away. We were more interested than frightened. We had a quarrel over whether they were our guns firing or German shells bursting till one of our artillery disappeared in a cloud of smoke and we knew they were German.
All the infantry were going back the road we came on, followed by artillery and some cavalry.
We waited there a few hours longer till ordered on by a Staff Officer. By that time we had our first 3 wounded, one a Cavalry Scout and the other two belonged to the artillery, they were all wounded in the left hand.
A battery of artillery galloped into action as we moved off and we left them firing like the Devil.
After a few miles hard marching we came up with the Black Watch, we had an hours rest and then the whole column moved on again. We kept marching and halting till we crossed the Frontier and we were back again in France. I think we are retiring but some say we are only going along the Frontier. We have covered a few miles today I should say over 30.
We billeted at last in a village called Vieux Mesnil. There were a few French soldiers in it when we landed there. We had nothing since our breakfast except fruit, we had plenty of that. The guns sound very faint in the distance; they still seem to be hard at it.
Tuesday 25th August: Vieux Mesnil/ Marbaix/ Avesnes-sur-Helpe
We marched off from here after a few hours rest and without any breakfast. We have not seen the remainder of our Ambulance since we left them on Sunday night. We, the Bearers have to keep in touch with the Regiments belonging to our brigade. The remainder of the Ambulance is further back. We send our wounded back to them. They also get our rations so we can’t get any food till we get in touch with them again. We are still retiring south and it is terrible warm for marching.
About mid-day we met the remainder of our Ambulance resting in a field. We joined them, received our rations and had a feed and wash. This place is called Marbaix.
We marched off from here at 4pm and marched on till 6pm till we came to a farm outside Avesnes-sur-Helpe. We had not been long here when the alarm was raised. The infantry grabbed their rifles and went out in skirmishing order. Rifle fire was only 200 yards away, artillery went past at the gallop, and officers were everywhere giving orders. We all expected to be captured as the enemy had broken through but it turned out it was a party of Uhlans*.
Our troops were not long in clearing them out but it was 12 midnight before any of us went off to sleep and we had some tea before we turned in “Enemy or no enemy”
*Prussian Light Cavalry.
Wednesday 26th August: Avesnes-sur-Helpe/ le Favril/ Oisy
After only one hour sleep we were awakened at 1am. The Tent Section of our Ambulance moved off marching south but we, the Bearers had to stand by till the regiments of our Brigade came back then we all moved off at 5am.
The Scotch Greys* passed us retiring south while we were standing by also a lot of other cavalry with some French. We found our rations lying on the roadside after we had marched about a mile east. We did not go the road the remainder had gone but another road more east than south. There were a terrible lot of our Motor Lorries lying in ditches and on the road side. It was raining and a great many had broken down and had been left as there was no time to repair them.
Refugees were almost blocking the roads and it was on this road I saw the painful sight of a woman giving birth to a child in a farm cart with the noise of the guns in the distance.
It is a terrible sight to see women and children marching along beside the troops trying to keep up with them. We gave them Biscuits and Bully** Beef as some had no food with them.
We reached a village about mid-day called le Favril but had just got into it when the Germans started shelling it. We had not been long there when we had to go out to the trenches and bring in some of the Gloucester’s wounded; there were about 38 all told.
One of the wounded was an officer Captain Shipway. He died in our horse Ambulance later on in the night.
Shells were dropping all around us when we were bringing in the wounded and after we had dressed them all another Field Ambulance stayed behind to take the remainder of the wounded.
A great many aeroplanes***are flying about and shells are busting all around them.
We marched on until it was dark till we came to a place called Oisy, we billeted here for the night.
*Cavalry who rode only grey horses. Soon after arriving in France, a directive was issued that the grey horses of the regiment would be dyed a dark chestnut. This was to make them less conspicuous targets and more difficult to identify the regiment.
***At the start of the war the Royal Flying Corps had around 113 aircraft in service, the French 160 and the German’s 246. In 1917, South African General Jan Smuts produced a report on the future of air power. Because of its potential for the ‘devastation of enemy lands and the destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale’, he recommended a new air service be formed that would be on a level with the Army and Royal Navy. The Royal Air Force was formed in April 1918. By the end of the war each side was deploying thousands of aircraft.
Thursday 27th August: Oisy/ Bernot
We buried 3 men this morning that had died of wounds then we took the wounded to the station and loaded them into the train before we moved off.
We also saw a German aeroplane brought down with two men in it, they were dead.
We passed a great many refugees today again and they were telling us the Germans took all their money off them and made them march in front of the German infantry.
We marched on till the afternoon and reached a village called Bernot. We billeted here for the night. This has been the easiest day’s marching we have had so far-about 20 miles.
Friday 28th August: Bernot/ la Fère/ Bassoles-Aulers
Awakened at 2am the Tent Section moved off South but we, the bearers had to wait till our Brigade came up then we moved off with them at 5am.
We marched on till mid-day then we had a halt for 2 hours. It is terrible warm, the sun is scorching. We moved off again and were told to move to some tune as there is only a screen of Cavalry between us and the enemy. All the infantry had passed us when we halted at mid-day.
We had only gone a few miles when 5 of us were sent back with a stretcher and an Ambulance Wagon to bring in Captain Wilson of the 12th Lancers. We went back in the wagon for a mile then had to get out and take the stretcher about 2 miles across fields but when we reached the place we were told the captain had died and been taken away by some other Ambulance.
The Scotch Greys and 12th Lancers had made a great charge* here. After stampeding the enemy cavalry horses, they charged through them three times. This place I am told is called la-Fère.
We picked up a wounded Frenchman on the road back and put him in the wagon; we now had to travel like the Devil as the column was about 3 hours in advance of us. We picked up a great many that had fallen out with sore feet but the wagon was very soon full and we had to leave a great many on the road that no doubt fell into the enemy’s hands. We did our best to get them to keep on by carrying their rifles and kits but the men were done with the long marches.
We staggered into our billet at 3am in the morning and dropped down to sleep beneath a tree. The remainder had reached here two hours before. This place is called Bassoles-Aulers
*This was the last time the 12th Lancers made a charge into battle using their lances.