OVERLOOKING the River Aisne in northern France is a ridge which runs east to west dominating the valley below.

A road running along the ridge – the Chemin des Dames, or Ladies Path – was once used as a route by the daughters of Louis XV.

It was on the same bare slopes and wooded spurs of the Chemin des Dames that the men of the 2nd Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry first experienced trench warfare, in September 1914.

Their first clashes with the Germans in the First Battle of the Aisne is now largely forgotten in Britain – it is perhaps overshadowed by tales of heroism at Mons in August and desperate last stands at Ypres in November.

Details of the battle are held in the battalion war diary and chronicle, which have been transcribed by Steve Berridge, a volunteer researcher at Woodstock’s Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum.

Since they received orders to retire on August 24 after the Battle of Mons, the 2nd Ox and Bucks and British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had retreated almost 200 miles in 12 days.

But on September 6, with the German advance at its zenith and Paris being shelled, an Allied counter-offensive began from the banks of the River Marne, east of the French capital.

The 2nd Ox and Bucks Light Infantry advanced from the village of Pezarches, pursuing the retreating Germans until they reached Vieil Arcy on the south bank of the River Aisne six days later.

The next night the BEF would cross the River Aisne under a thick blanket of fog and make their way up to the plateau of the ridge, but they would advance no further.

On top of the Chemin des Dames, armed with artillery, machine guns, and commanding views of the valley below, the Germans had dug in.

From here on, any British advance would be met with ferocious fire as the Germans clung on to their hilltop positions with grim determination.

September 14 would bring the first major bloodletting for the the 2nd Ox and Bucks Light Infantry as they held forward positions at Soupir under sustained artillery bombardment.

The day cost the unit 45 casualties, including five killed, all victims of shellfire.

Realising his men could go no further, on September 14, commander of the BEF, Field Marshal Sir John French, ordered his men to dig in. From here on, the pick and spade were as valuable as the rifle and bayonet.

Though these positions were little more than shallow solitary pits in the soil, they formed the genesis of the more complex trench systems that have become synonymous with the First World War.

Though they offered troops shelter from artillery, the 2nd Ox and Bucks Light Infantry would continue to take casualties throughout September.

On September 16 a single German eight-inch shell exploded near the farm of La Cour de Soupir. The blast killed 11 and wounded 11 more.

The next day A Company repulsed a German attack a mile to the west, at Chavonne, causing between 20 and 30 casualties.

From mid-afternoon on September 19 the men came under heavy shellfire and infantry attack.

Though these were fought off it was not without cost; the unit suffered another nine killed and 26 wounded.

With both sides failing to force a decision, the Battle of the Aisne would peter out from September 21. It cost the BEF about 13,500 killed, wounded and missing.

The 2nd Ox and Bucks were withdrawn from the front on September 22, though they would remain in billets in Dhuizel, within earshot of artillery exchanges on the ridge.

So far the Allies and Germans had achieved nothing but mounting casualty lists as war plans of both sides melted away in the face of quick-firing artillery and shrapnel fire.

But there remained hope, on both sides, that the autumn would yield a decisive result. To the north of the Chemin des Dame lay open country, unscarred by trenches, offering one last chance of open warfare.

The Allies and Germans began to move troops northward as each tried to outflank the other – the so-called Race to the Sea had begun.

The 2nd Ox and Bucks would remain at La Cour de Soupir until October 14, before they boarded a train headed north for Hazebrouck, in French Flanders.

Little did they know at the time, but they were destined for the Belgian town of Ypres and the immortal Ypres salient.

Here they would play a pivotal role in thwarting Germany’s last-ditch offensive to end the war in 1914.

In the next instalment, read how the 2nd Ox and Bucks fought hand-to-hand with the Prussian Guard at Nonnen Boschen, during the First Battle of Ypres.

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IT WAS during the Battle of the Aisne that the men of the 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry came under heavy fire for the first time in the First World War.

Lying side-by-side at the nearby Soupir Communal Cemetery are three soldiers who died 100 years ago today after a shell landed at La Cour de Soupir.

The three, mentioned in the regimental chronicle, are Lieutenant Hugh Mockler-Ferryman, Lieutenant R G Worthington, and Second Lieutenant P C Girardot.

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Alongside them is Captain R C Evelegh, who was injured in five places in the same shelling but returned to the front two days’ later.

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He was the first Headington man to die in the First World War, killed just a day after returning after being struck while seeing his men into shelter in a cave.

Army veteran and volunteer researcher at Woodstock’s Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Steve Berridge, said it would have been a sobering experience for the men.

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He said: “It would have been a pretty frightening experience because this was a new type of warfare for them.

“Nowadays you have rounds fired over your head but that didn’t happen in training pre-1914.

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“Plus they were in a static position so they just had to sit and wait for these rounds to land amongst them.

“But these men were regular soldiers so they would have had camaraderie and looked to their mates for support.”


FOR amateur historian Steve Berridge transcribing the 2nd Ox and Bucks Light Infantry war diary and regimental chronicle has been a “labour of love’’.

His interest in the First World War stemmed from his great-grandfather, Corporal George Berridge, serving in the 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion during the Battle of the Somme

Since March, the volunteer researcher at Woodstock’s Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum has been painstakingly typing up the official unit log.

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  • Steve Berridge. Picture: OX69630 Simon Williams

Each battalion kept its own war diary, which was an official log of the unit’s location, activity and number of casualties.

Mr Berridge, a 51-year-old former Corporal in the Royal Green Jackets, said a digitised version of the diary would help others who wanted to learn about the unit.

He said: “It’s a labour of love that I’m going through. It certainly helps the museum because as far as I’m aware they have not got a digital copy, so it would help people to get to know about their county regiment.”

The married grandfather-of-three said he intended to transcribe the entire First World War diaries.


  • September 6: Allied counter offensive begins from the the River Marne, east of the French capital.
  • September 14: The Germans have a good position on the Chemin des Dames and the 2nd Ox and Bucks sustains casualties at Soupir.
  • September 16: A single German eight-inch shell exploded near the farm of La Cour de Soupir. The blast killed 11 and wounded 11 more.
  • September 19: Men from A Company come under heavy shellfire and infantry attack.
  • September 21: Battle of the Aisne draws to a close, with 13,500 killed, wounded or missing from the British Expeditionary Force.
  • September 22: The Second Ox and Bucks are withdrawn from the front.
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