August 25th – early September, inc. The Battle of Le Cateau


British Infantry marching through a French village[1]

From the private diary of Lt. Col. F.R. Hicks, 1st Battalion The Hampshire Regiment, August 1914 (included with the Battalion War Diary for 1914).

25th August – Reached Busigny – the advanced Base.  About 3 a.m. There we were met by a Staff Officer, who told us that there was heavy fighting in front, and our troops were retiring. He took us on in the train to Le Cateau, where we detrained at 4 a.m., had breakfast, drew two days’ rations and marched at 7 a.m. on the road to Solesmes. … We met a continuous stream of refugees and heard the thunder of the guns ahead.

From the 1st Battalion The Hampshire Regiment War Diary.

25th August – 3.30 p.m. Withdrew to Braistre, which village was held until midnight when retirement was continued in conjunction with remainder of 11th Brigade.

From the private diary of Private Pattenden, 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, August  & September 1914 (included with the Battalion War Diary for 1914).

25th August – After a hurried breakfast during which we stood by for orders we moved off through Le Cateau.  … All the poor refugees are going by us, crying bitterly, also a few of our wounded. What a terrible thing it is at present, what will it be like later on.  We all have good brave hearts with us and all are prepared to help our good friends the French.  What a fine country this is, they would give you’re their shirts. 

The 25th August 1914 saw the 1st Hampshire Regiment including Frederick DAY, Sidney GUNNEL & James PIKE and the rest of the 11th Brigade covering the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied Forces, this Great Retreat (also known as the Retreat from Mons) started on the 24th August after the Allied Forces had failed to stop the German Army advancing.

It is impossible to imagine how the men from St Mary Bourne were feeling, these three despite having served in the Army for a number of years were not veterans of a war such as the other two yet to arrive at the front.  These three served during peace time, one PIKE was a Bandsman; what was his role now? Doubtful he would have been called up to play an instrument.

By the 26th August it had been decided that a stand would be made against the advancing German Army again and the Battle of Le Cateau commenced.  The 1st Hants and the rest of 11th Brigade were based just outside of Le Cateau covering Ligny for this battle, however they had to get to this position first from where they were bivouaced at Le Coqualet.  James PIKE as part of ‘B’ Company did not go immediately with the rest of the Brigade they remained behind to cover the remainder of the Battalion whilst they took up position, the war diary says “this party came under heavy artillery fire shortly after dawn and sustained 10 casualties before rejoining the Bn some two hours later”.  According to the War Diary for the 1st Hants, on that day the first day of battle for them there were 3 Officers and 6 Other Ranks Killed, 5 Officers and 126 Other Ranks Wounded, and 2 Officers, 40 Other Ranks Missing.

The following day more fighting occurred, no deaths this time just 1 Officer and 5 Other Ranks Wounded.  After that the retreat continued with no reported action until 1st September when the 1st Hants came under heavy fire from dismounted Uhlans[2], no casualties were reported.  They kept retiring until the 5th September.

Also during this time Edwin PIKE, James’ older brother landed in France on the 31st August, he must have heard by then about the losses in his regiment and been terribly concerned for his younger brother.

From the 1st Battalion The Hampshire Regiment War Diary.

5th September – 3 p.m. Reached GRAITZ. Bivouced for the night the day marked the end of the retirement and during the afternoon the 1st reinforcements arrived consisting of Capt. R.D. Johnston other ranks 52.

Edwin PIKE would have been one of those 52 Other Ranks who joined up with his comrades that day.  He joined ‘D’ Company who had suffered badly during the Battle of Le Cateau.  No doubt once he arrived he would have taken the first opportunity available to him to find his younger brother James, and the other men from St Mary Bourne.

PATTENDEN’s diary is interesting reading and no doubt his thoughts etc. are similar to all of the Battalion.

From the private diary of Private Pattenden, 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, August  & September 1914 (included with the Battalion War Diary for 1914)

26th August – … Our march is illuminated by the flare of burning houses fired by the Germans.  We are having our baptism of fire.  We began fighting at 5 a.m. It is fearful and we have a few wounded, the shrapnel shell is the chief cause. …

28th August – … I am too full of words or speech and feel paralysed as this affair is now turning into a horrible slaughter. …

30th August – … This is supposed to be God’s day of rest and we have been marching since 5 a.m. We had three hours sleep and are now just going to have breakfast, we are still retiring.  My God it is heart breaking this weary slog, slog on the roads.  Peace or even a wound would be better.  We are all done up, heart sick and weary. … We hope to advance tomorrow for retiring is sickening for all.  My feet are jolly bad and I can hardly walk.

31st August – Have just awoke and got out from my bed, 1 waterproof cape, 1 sheet ditto and for a mattress a lump of breeze or dirt. … We left Pierreford at 9 a.m. to march to St Saveur, which we have now reached. All billets had been arranged for and we were hoping for a sleep and now news has come in of a force of Uhlans coming towards us at 5 p.m. the 31st. We, in consequence, are watching all the roads and shall do so all night now, there is no rest for us at all.  Will God in his goodness soon give us peace, we all were feeling so safe and were quite our old selves after our Monday’s battle and now we are in for it again, it is real heart breaking, we have now been retiring for a whole week, day and night snatching sleep whenever possible, thank God again we have plenty of food…

1st September – … My feet are very painful I can just about shuffle along now. We reached our own lines at about 8 a.m. again and from here we had to run again, it is too terrible, one feels absolutely don up in heart and soul and spirit, this is the ninth day of it, oh! I wonder if we ever shall finish at all.  We are still retreating back towards Paris.  The awful box up of movements cannot be described, we have no good officers left, our N.C.Os are as useless as women, our nerves are al shattered and we don’t know what the end will be.  Death is one every side and to meet it I am not afraid, because it will all be ended then.  No one can describe how one feels, it is an empty void in oneself and care is forgotten. … May peace soon be here and we poor fortunate 11th Brigade safe at least for a time behind fortified walls. …

3rd September – … Before we reached this town we passed thousands of poor refugees fleeing towards Paris in all sorts of conveyances and drawn by oxen, mules, dogs, goats, horses and by donkeys, pitiful scenes and they believe all is lost for France again.  England has never seen war in her own land and let us hope we never shall.  I had a great treat to-day, a bathe in the moat of the chateau where we camp.  It is the first time I have been fully undressed from August 9th.

The diaries of Private PATTENDEN and Lt. Col. HICKS are available as podcasts, clicking the link below will take you too the first one.

Voices of the Armistice: Two voices from the Front, part 1 | The National Archives.

So now four of our five St Mary Bourne men in the 1st Hants are at the front, no doubt feeling very much like PATTENDEN, and suffering from very sore feet with the exception of Edwin who had not been there so long.  Edwin as a veteran of the Second Boer War and the Somaliland Campaign would have felt relief knowing his brother was alive but very apprehensive and scared of what was to come as no doubt he had hoped when he left the Army to not see the horrors of war again plus he would have heard stories of what the battalion had gone through since they left as well.  From what PATTENDEN writes in his diary all the men like he were probably fed up with retreating, and wanting to fight back. They all likely had no faith in their Officer and NCOs and hoped that the war would be over by Christmas.

The First World War Centenary website has an interesting postcast about people views that the war would be over by Christmas, clicking the link below will take you too it.

Over by Christmas Podcast

The next post will be “September 1914 inc. The Battles of Marne & Aisne.”

Works Cited

1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment – War Diary (1914) – WO 95/1495/1. “” Aug-Dec 1914. The National Archives. PDF. 10 May 2014.




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