Sergeant French

On 14th November 1914, the Tamworth Herald reported on a long letter from Sergeant French:

“Soldiers’ Letters. GLASCOTE SERGEANT’S EXPERIENCE. Sergeant French, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, of Thomas street, Glascote, has written an interesting account of his experiences in connection with the war from July 31 to October 13. Incidentally it may be mentioned that Sergeant French was sent home with a bad foot, and at the time of writing was expecting to return to his regiment. He was at home on furlough pending his discharge when the mobilisation order came, and subsequently joined his regiment in Ireland. He arrived at Havre on August 16, the troops receiving a great reception from the French people. He recalls their journey to Mons, and relates many incidents in connection with that battle in which his company lost 43 killed, wounded and missing. They lost nearly all the stretcher bearers there.

“They retreated to La Cateau, arriving on Tuesday, August 25, where they had their first issue of rations since the previous Sunday. Almost before they had time to get a feed, they were ordered to go trenching, and then they knew they were going to make another stand. Everything went on well until about 3 am on August 26, when they were called upon to man the trenches. After some hours three Uhlans were seen to be taking observations of their positions, and soon the bullets began to ping all round them. From the vicinity of a large wood, thousands of Germans subsequently emerged, and the artillery dropped shrapnel and lyddite among them as fast as they could, nearly every shot making a large gap. Hundreds upon hundreds must have been killed and wounded, and their advance was stopped. The Germans brought up several machine guns, but the trenches gave the British cover. On their right things got worse, and the British artillery, who had done such damage on their left, ran short of ammunition, and being unable to get more, had to retire.

“The troops were eventually compelled to leave the trenches, and how they got away to the supports was extraordinary, for they had 500 yards of open ground to cross, and the enemy poured a deadly fire at them, bullets falling about them as thick as hailstones. They only lost three of their machine gunners and one man wounded. Their retirement continued.

“September 6 they received notice to take up the offensive again, which put fresh spirit into them. Nothing of note happened for a day or two, when they got a message that the Germans were returning. They encountered the enemy after passing Cressy, Sergeant French’s regiment leading the 14th brigade. They drove the Germans back, the artillery doing good work. The Germans left a lot of wounded on the field.

“Proceeding to the battle of the Marne, Sergeant French recalls that in a village where they were billeted for a night, they came across an example of German cruelty. Some of the British went into a baker’s shop to buy bread, and found a woman and a little girl dead on the floor. The oven door was open, and the embers were aglow, and on looking into the oven they found the charred bodies of two men. Sergeant French recounts several successful encounters with the enemy prior to crossing the Marne. Afterwards some hard fighting was experienced.

“Sergeant French had a narrow escape. He received orders to cross a road and take charge of the troops, and just as he was doing so a shell burst behind him. He only received a few small cuts on his left hand. Two horses bolted from an ambulance loaded with wounded, and corporal and seven men in Sergeant French’s company drew the ambulance miles, under fire from the enemy, to a place of safety, for which they were recommended to be mentioned in despatches.

“The troops had to retire from a village they had taken, and were eventually ordered to cross the river again, which was accomplished under cover of darkness. On October 11 Sergeant French says they came close up to the Belgians, who had been having a rough time, and they were soon at it again. His foot had been very troublesome in the long marches, not having healed from a large blister at the time they marched to Mons. He marched miles without his boot on so as to be with his platoon. It was dressed when possible, but did not get any better.

“After passing Bethune they took up a position in an open field. They began to make trenches, and were shelled nearly all the time. They remained in the trenches in a downpour of rain all night, and the following day. The ground all around them was like a large fire, and shells were bursting everywhere. The smoke, which had been very thick, cleared away, after the enemy had shelled them for six hours. They then gave the Germans a hot time. Sergeant French had to give up owing to the trouble with his foot increasing, and was sent to the base hospital, thence to Calais and Dover, and eventually home.”

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