War Diaries - retreating as the Germans advance

BEF troops march through a village in northern France

Troops on bikes during the retreat

First published in World War 1 - Oxfordshire's War Bicester Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Headington and Marston. Call me on (01865) 425411

UNDER the blazing August sun, the men of the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment marched along the lanes of roads of northern France.

Throughout the days of late August and early September 1914 the men of the battalion relied on their discipline and endurance to stay one step ahead of the German invaders.

The unit was part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), which would retreat 200 miles to south of the River Marne, near Paris, before they would go on the offensive again.

Details of their retreat and subsequent advance were recorded in the 2nd Ox and Bucks Light Infantry’s regimental war diary.

The first entries from the war were published in the Oxford Mail two weeks ago.

This week, we read about the unit’s retreat and build up to its clashes with the Germans:

  • AUGUST 26, 1914 – Aunoye to Barzy – 15 miles south south west.

Soon after daylight fresh orders came to collect the regiment and move south as quickly as possible to Noyelles to join the rest of the brigade there, the Germans being reported to have crossed the Sambre at the bridge north of Maroilles.

On arriving at Leval got orders to turn more east through Taisnieres and Marbaix. Came up with rest of brigade soon after leaving Leval. Connaught Rangers formed the rearguard of the brigade.

A great many French troops on the same road which caused much delay. Marched via Le Grand Fayt to Barzy and bivouacked there with the Worcestershire Regiment. About midnight Lieutenant Colonel Westmacott commanding 2nd Worcestershire Regimen,t who was the senior officer at Barzy, received information that all the French troops between us and the enemy were retiring and also that the 2nd Connaught Rangers had been heavily attacked in the evening and had suffered considerable losses.

As Barzy was not easily defensible a march was ordered to Roue.

Casualties: Wounded (and subsequently reported prisoners) Captain P Godsal Second Lieutenant G T Button & 1 Private. Total: 3

  •  AUGUST 27, 1914 – Barzy to La Neuvillette – 22 miles Left Barzy about 2am. Arrived at Roue about 4am. Had breakfast there.

Brigadier General Haking also arrived at Roue and after drawing rations at Etreux the march was continued through Guise to Neuvillette arriving about 6.30pm. Found outposts on hills above the village.

A long delay as there had been little opportunity for sleep on either of the two previous nights.

  • AUGUST 28, 1914 – Neuvillette to Servais – 20 miles At midnight 27th/28th all baggage was ordered to be packed and train transport sent off.

The brigade was ordered to be ready to move at 4am, but when ready to move off orders were received to stand fast for the present. The rest of the brigade eventually moved off, but the regiment was ordered to find outposts on the hills above the village to cover the right flank of the march of the 1st and 2nd Divisions.

A and C Companies arrived about 7pm.

B and D Companies about 9pm.

  • AUGUST 29, 1914 – Halt at Servais Bivouacked in a field. Weather very hot. Arrangements made to hire a French wagon to carry some of the Greatcoats, so as to lighten the load on the man’s backs.
  • AUGUST 30, 1914 – Servais to Terny – 15 miles South.

Marched via Barisis and Coucy-le-Chateau and bivouacked on the west of the road near Terny. Started at 4.30am. Arrived about 4pm. Many blocks and halts on the march.

Weather still very hot.

  • AUGUST 31,1914 – Terny to Laversine – 15 miles South West.

Marched at 5am. Passed through the northern edge of Soissons, crossed the Aisne by the Pommiers bridge, then turned west along the river and finally up a side valley to the south to Laversine.

C Company and part of B Company on outposts.

Train transport ordered to continue the march at 6pm.

  • SEPTEMBER 1, 1914 – Laversine to Cuvergnon – 17 miles South West Marched at 2.30am via Conuvres, Villers Cotteretes and Boursonne.

Soon after arriving at Cuvergnon news arrived that the 4th Guards Brigade who were rear guard to the 2nd Division were heavily engaged with the enemy in the woods near Villers Cotteretes.

The 5th Brigade was ordered to go back to join the fight, but before the brigade could move, fresh orders came to entrench a position at Cuvergnon as the engagement at Villers Cotteretes was over.

Entrenched and remained in trenches all night.

  • SEPTEMBER 2, 1914 – Cuvergnon to Chauconin – 20 miles.

The 5th Brigade was on rear guard, the 4th Cavalry Brigade covering the extreme rear. The enemy did not follow and only patrols were seen by the cavalry.

Marched at 7.45am via Bete, Acy, Aincy, Etrepilly and Chambry.

Very hot weather and several cases of heat stroke.

  • SEPTEMBER 3, 1914 – Chauconin to Petit Courrois – 13½ miles East South East.

Marched at 3am through Meaux, Trilport, Montceaux and Pierre Levee. Arrived at Petit Courrois about noon. The 1st Division to the north of us about La Ferte. D Company on outposts to the east.

  • SEPTEMBER 4, 1914 – Chauconin to le Fay (near Le Charnois) – 9½ miles.

The 1st Division moved south from La Ferte in the morning. When they had passed through, the Regiment was sent out on outpost towards La Ferte with orders that in case of being attacked to make some resistance but to retire before getting seriously engaged. At 5pm orders received to move back on Le Petit Courrois and form a rear guard to the brigade who were marching by night south west.

While withdrawing a few German cavalry followed us. Three of their horses were shot and the riders made prisoners. They belonged to the Deathshead Hussars.

Left Le Petit Courrois at 7.30pm and followed up the rest of the brigade through Le Gros Chene and Pre Aux Rats and arrived at 1am at Le Fay and bivouacked in a field.

1st Reinforcement of 90 men under Lieutenant Turbutt (Special Reserve) joined.

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