St-Quentin, you’ve been living hell to me


27th August 1914

It’s hard to imagine the mess the BEF found itself in on the morning of the 27th August 1914. Division, battalions, brigades, companies; they were all mixed up in together in one long straggling procession. Roads became blocked with troops, walking wounded, horses, carts, wagons and artillery all streaming away from Le Cateau. Everyone was unsure of where they were going.

The Dorsets set out at 3am and headed towards St-Quentin, through Estrées and Bellenglise. They must have been behind the rest of the Division because, although food had been left along the roadside by the Army Service Corp (A.S.C.), by the time they passed the dumps there was nothing left but empty tins, hunks of raw meat and smouldering fires.

They reached the large town of St-Quentin at 1pm. Gleichen comments that there were” staff officers at different points, calling out “5th Division this way, 3rd that,” and so on.” After a short stay of just an hour the Dorsets set out to Eaucourt “in good march discipline” whereupon arriving about 5pm, they bivouacked in a farm with the rest of the 15th Brigade. The diary notes that the 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions were concentrated around Ollezy. They were expecting trouble across one of the bridges over the Aisne, but none came and, apart from a distant rumble of shellfire and the occasional gunshot, they spent a peaceful night in amongst the livestock.

The Brigade had marched 23 miles, which I think is much more accurate that Gleichen’s claim that they had covered over 35 miles. He had bought some new maps in St-Quentin and probably didn’t convert his calculations from metric.

Some other things didn’t quite add up either. But the troops were too weary to think about things like that, as am I.

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