1st September 1914

1st September 1914   Wednesday

Marched over a level plain for miles then rested while remainder of division passed through – we are rearguard today Very short rations (one biscuit between two men) Got into action with the Huns at Coucy woods near Villiers Cotterets (Company 1). We little thought of what was before us, because as we advanced in skirmishing order to meet the Hun we picked blackberries, joking and laughing with each other. Soon all was grim and we were greeted with a whistle of bullets round our ears. The fight was of a very fierce nature and we were obliged to retire, being outnumbered by at least 10 to 1. Got back slowly towards our first position – the Road. This we accomplished successfully, though not without a few casualties. Soon after we got onto the road I was called upon to take a message to the 2nd Coldstream Guards, they were in another sector of the wood but some distance from us. Accomplished my mission (it was a hair raising ride), got a reply and started off back but before I’d come far I had to pull only a little further up the road, a murderous rifle fire was ringing out, so crept into the ditch by the road side for protection. Must admit I felt somewhat scared at first but soon pulled myself together when I found none of the bullets were coming my way. Whilst in this position I spotted the remains of a government bike not far away but it had a good saddle and the springs of mine were broken , so seeing that I was still held up, started to make the change. Whilst engaged in this process twelve mounted Uhlans accompanied by an officer pounced on me and shouted “Hands up”. Where they came from I never could tell, but there they were and I was their prisoner. What my thoughts were I cannot say, was too dumbfounded to speak, simply held my arms up like a machine. The officer came up and spoke to me (in fluent English) and told me not to be afraid “No harm will come to you – but don’t try to escape”. I was soon relieved of all my belongings but by a mercy of providence managed to prevent my despatch from fallining into their hands. It was in my trousers pocket and the pocket had a small hole in it. So while I was removing other things I made the hole bigger and pushed the message through. This ordeal over and all my papers carefully scrutinized I was asked a thousand and one questions by the officer . I managed to answer all without giving any valuable clue as to our strength, position etc. At all events I satisfied the officer, now the point was, how were they going to get me away (they were all mounted and I on foot) and whilst they were jabbering to each other in German I could see our boys coming so I felt my prayer had been answered and not many seconds elapsed before our rifles and machine guns rang out. Our boys had seen the Huns and they all made a scramble for their horses. The last words I got from the Uhlan officer was “hang on to this ” (pointing to his stirrup leather) His horse was now on the move, as I made a feint to do so but instead fell flat on the ground and crawled to where I could get cover. Two shots were fired at me by the officer as he galloped away but neither hit me. My next thought was how was I to get in. All I could do was to wait and allow the rifle fire to ease down and as soon as it did I started crawling along the ditch towards our boys. – it seemed hours before I got to them but in reality it could only have been a few minutes. Soon as I got close enough to them to make myself heard I shouted to them not to fire.- they heard me and I got in . Found they were a company of the Coldstreamers, told my story and asked for the Irish Guards, they told me where they had last seen them so I made my way in that direction. Eventually I did find them – in a terrible predicament. They were lining a roadside waiting for a Hun attack, Three times had our boys been beaten back from the position but regained it, there were lots of casualties amongst them, one poor chap hit in his ammunition pouches and the whole lot went off. No one could get near him to save him. He died a miserable death,. Delivered my message recovered from between my trousers and and puttee top to the first officer I could find and told my story. Was warmly complimented for my action, but heard nothing further after – may have done had the officer lived – Our casualties were : Killed – Lt Colonel The Hon George Morris (Officer commanding), Major Hubert Crichton (2nd in command), Lieut Herbert (Interpreter) and six other officers were either killed or died from their wounds. Our casualties 136 men 9 officers and two officers missing (These officers rejoined us at Soupir). The Germans had not got off scot free either, their dead and wounded could be seen lying about but we could never get near enough to them to count them. The Huns attacked in mass formation on each occasion and were mown down by our rifle and machine gun fire – Soon as things got a bit quiet we got away from the terrible scene and about 2 miles away rallied in a wood for Roll Call. This over we continued our retreat – Had little rest during the night, marching best part of it.

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