War diaries: from a green and pleasant land to the Western Front

ON PARADE: The 2nd Battalion at Aldershot 1914

ON PARADE: The 2nd Battalion at Aldershot 1914

First published in News

ON the day Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, the war diary for the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry 2nd Battalion had a succinct entry, writes Mark McKay.

The scribbled note simply read: “Great Britain declared war on Germany.

“Order for mobilisation received at 6pm.’’ The entry would be the first of thousands made in the diary during the conflict.

Most battalions kept diaries as records of their location, movements and operations.

Though some diaries could be plagued with a paucity of information, the diary of the 2nd OBLI gives an invaluable insight into the unit’s journey from mainland Britain to meet the German onslaught on the Western Front.

We published the first entries in our commemorative supplement on August 4 and now each week will bring you further extracts.

This week we find the 2nd OBLI – having left its quarters in Aldershot to go to Southampton commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel H R Davies – travelling over to France.

August 14, 1914 – Southampton to Boulogne s Arrived at Boulogne at 2.20pm. marched two miles to a camp already pitched near the Colonel De Le Grande Armee where the whole 5th Infantry Brigade now assembled. Some delay in getting wagons disembarked and the transport was not all in camp till 11pm.

August 15 – Boulogne s In rest camp at Boulogne.

August 16 – Boulogne to Wassigny by train s Left camp at 8am and marched to the station. Four hours was allowed for entrainment, but it only took one and a half hours. Left Boulogne by one train at 1pm going via Amiens & Arras to Wassigny, arriving there at midnight and bivouacking in a field near the station. Wassigny lies about 8 miles north of Guise.

August 17 – Wassigny to Mennevret – 3 ½ miles South West s At 7am marched 3 ½ miles to Mennevret and billeted there chiefly in barns.

August 18 – Mennevret s In billets at Mennevret. Did two route marches and some drill and musketry.

August 19 – Mennevret August 20 – Mennevret August 21 – Mennevret to La Groise – 11miles North East s Billetted near La Groise at Mezieres. Marched via Etreux and Oiey August 22, – Las Groise to Pont-Sur-Sambre 15 miles North East s Marched at 5am. Arrived at 1230pm and went into billets.

Marched via Landrecies, Marcilles, Noyelles and Leval.

August 23 Pont Sur-Sambre to Genly and then Paturagnes – 20 miles North s Marched at 3.30am. Weather very hot. Frequent blocks and halts on the march. Crossed the Belgian frontier and arrived at Genly at 3pm. Billetted there and had dinners.

Marched again at 5pm to the East of Bougnies found the rest of the 2nd Division entrenching here and were ordered to dig a back line of trenches to cover a possible retirement.

Just begun to dig the trenches when the order was cancelled and orders received to close and to follow the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment and 2nd Highland Light Infantry to Frameries.

Started about 9pm and caught up with the other two regiments. The reason of this move was to fill up a gap in the line between the 3rd and 5th Divisions through which it was feared the Germans would penetrate.

This gap was filled by the Worcestershires and Highland Light Infantry. We were kept in Reserve in the square in the town of Paturages which we reached at 3am and were able to get an hours sleep lying in the square.

August 24 – Paturagnes to Bavay – 10 miles South West s At about 5am marched about 1½ miles Southward to near La Bouverie to dig trenches for a rearguard position to cover a retirement of those in front.

About 7.30am orders came that the 1st Division on our right had had their right flank turned and were obliged to retire.

The 5th Infantry Brigade was also ordered to retire to a position near Sars La Bruyere to cover their retirement. The 2nd Connaught Rangers had been left holding a position near Bougnies, so the brigade only had three battalions at Parurages.

The Worcestershires and Highland Light Infantry were ordered to retire first while we held the trenches we had dug.

This retirement they carried out under shell fire with the loss of a few men.

The German Infantry did not follow up and after these two battalions had passed through we were able to retire without molestation except by a few badly aimed shells.

The retirement was made about 9.30am. Got back to Sars La Bryyere about 11am and took up a position with the right near the village and the left on the western edge of the Bois De Montreuil.

The Highland Light Infantry prolonged this line to the right.

The enemy did not appear.

Remained in this position till 5pm when we continued the march Southward as rearguard to the brigade, passing through Bavay and bivouacking in a field near there at 10pm.

Very tired as we had been under arms continually since 3am the day before.

Casualties: Missing = 1 (9792 Pte W Hancox, D Company) August 25 – Bavay to Leval – 9 miles South and Leval back to Aunoye – 12 miles s Marched at 5.15am. Weather very hot. On arriving at Pont-Sur-Sambre the regiment was told off to entrench and defend four bridges.

D Company entrenched the Aymeries Bridge.

A Company entrenched the Aunoye bridge.

B Company entrenched the Berlamont railway bridge.

C Company entrenched the Sassegnies railway bridge.

Headquarters near Aunoye railway station.

The Worcestershire Regiment held the bridges on our right and the Highland Light Infantry those on our left.

At 4pm received orders that the Aymeries and Aunoye bridges would be taken over by the French of whom a Reserve Division was in the neighbourhood, A and D Companies being withdrawn to form outposts from Monceau to Leval while B and C Companies still held the two railway bridges.

The French troops arrived in time for A and D Companies to be withdrawn about 6pm. D Company took up the right of the outpost line near Monceau, A Company the left near Leval. Headquarters at Leval.

At 10pm received orders to be ready to resume march southwards at 1am.

A few minutes later these orders were cancelled and orders were received to reoccupy the four bridges that had been held in the daytime. This meant moving D and A Companies back to Aymeries and Aunoye bridges again.

It took some time to draw in D Company from their outpost line.

On arriving at Aunoye a little before daylight found that the French had no orders to hand over the bridges again.

26th AUGUST – 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.

About this time the French blew up the railway bridge at BERLAMONT, and owing to their not having given sufficient warning to the company defending it, two officers Captain P GODSAL and 2nd Lieutenant G T BUTTON were injured by the explosion and together with one wounded private were subsequently captured by the enemy in a field hospital.

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.

Oxford Mail:

  • Commanding officer Lieut.-Col. H. R. Davies 1911

About midnight Lieutenant Colonel WESTMACOTT commanding 2nd Worcestershire Regiment 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 27th AUGUST – 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.

The brigade was now together again, the Highland Light Infantry having rejoined here.

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