The date is August 1914. The British Expeditionary Force is in France and You're in the Royal Field Artillery. You're riding alongside one of the battery's gun limbers on its way to the assigned position on the east side of Mons, Belgium. This begins your journey into the Hell they called World War One. To purchase this historical memoir go to https://createspace.com/3649268

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Writing a new book

The Retreat South

August 25th

Rear guard action at FUGNIES[1]; Battery stampeded enemies’ Supply Column – day of alarms—bivouacked.

By first light the column was ready for another day of marching. The morning started out cool and Fred sat tall in his saddle while the infantry marched at a good pace. But by midmorning the heat returned along with the humidity. The infantry looked like wilting flowers, their arms dangled from their shoulders and tired legs dragged boots along the dusty road.
Men began to shed any unnecessary equipment in an effort to keep up. In order to lift spirits, one of the sergeants began signing a lively tune and for awhile others joined in. But the choking dust soon took its toll since most were without water.

August 26th

Marching from early morn to late at night through [the towns of MARBAIX, GOHELLE, to OISY.

Riding beside George we seldom spoke for our mouths were as dry as chalk. When we caught up with the limber Pudgie was driving all we could do was exchange head nods.
Late in the afternoon it became cloudy, which offered some relief from the baking rays of the sun. By evening we heard thunder and lightning flashes mimicked bursting shrapnel shells.
The wind picked up and soon we were marching through mud and faces looked skyward with mouths open to capture as much rainfall as possible. Some took off their hats to catch the rain.  

[It rained] all night, [but] no water for horses, [and marching in the heat] am sorry for infantry, we give them a lift now and then on horses and vehicles, am glad to stretch legs after long days in saddle.

The rain seemed to refresh the men, even though we were soaked and it continued to rain most of the night.
By early morning the clouds were replaced by the blazing sun, which quickly dried up any remaining remnants of last night’s shower and turned it into unbearable humidity.
Just three days ago our uniforms were clean, boots polished and a spark of determination in their eyes. From his saddle he looked over the ragged men who looked like they were molded from mud. There were many stragglers and we did the best we could to give them a lift on our wagons and limbers.
The Germans were nipping on our heels so we had to keep a steady pace.

August 27th

[We] marched via ETREUX, GUISE, to BERNOT [and] came into action several times to cover our retirement.

Our battery dropped into action on several occasions to keep the enemy at bay. He and George would drop back and setup a temporary observation post to direct fire, then leave the wire and return to the column before they were caught.
Every town they passed through was packed with refugees trying to escape before the Germans arrived. The worst town was Guise. He was deeply saddened by the look of horror and helplessness he saw on the faces of the people. In their panic to escape the fast approaching enemy they used whatever means of transportation they could find in order to take their treasures and keepsakes with them.
Later in the day he told George “The look of panic and horror on the faces of the refuges will haunt him the rest of his life.”

George responded, “I know what you mean, what scared me was the look on the faces of the children.”

“George, I felt so helpless. I wanted to help but there was nothing I could do.”
Was pitiful to see refugees at Guise, they were all horror stricken. [They were] removing what they could carry on any kind of cart. All rushing from the town, for the Germans came in the town as we went out.

Food and supply ordinance department was trying their best to keep the moving column supplied with food. What made their task more difficult was I and II Corps were on different paths.
They tried to predict the rate and direction of travel so they could dump a load of supplies at a cross road hoping they would be found. However, I Corps had missed the last supply stash and rations were getting low.

The column stopped to water their horses when a breeze carried the smell of freshly baked bread to his sensitive nose. He mounted his charger and followed the sent to a small bakery. Using what French he knew, he bartered with the baker and eventually walked out with a loaf of bread. He did not dear return to the column with a whole loaf, so he eat half of it and hid the remaining bread in his horse’s nose bag. 

Long night march, was lucky to stop to water horse near a bakery and managed to secure a loaf of bread. I was very hungry [for] food had been very scarce for a few days [i]– I needed no butter on the bread, and put the remainder in horse’s nosebag for next day. – [We] bivouacked in field about midnight. [ii]

I Corps had passed through the town of Bernot and they were marching towards Brissy. Around 4:30 in the morning the battery was ordered to a position near the town of Brissy to perform rear guard action to cover the Corps retirement.
Later they were ordered to cover Scots Gray and infantry who were fighting their way across the Oise River.

The lack of food, sleep and long marches began to take their toll. Some of the men had worn out their boots so they wrapped their feet in rags to continue marching.
The combination of the August heat and exertion slowed the marching pace. Men were so exhausted whenever the column stopped to rest they fall asleep in any position.
Some soldiers would fall asleep and collapse to the ground, while others dropped from exhaustion. Wagons tried to pick up the stragglers and sometimes a comrade would wake them up and get them back on their feet and started to sing in order to stay awake.
While riding his horse he often fell asleep in the saddle while the horse followed the other horses. Even the horses were exhausted and every so often he had to dismount and walk beside his horse to give him a rest.

August 28th

[We] marched at 4:30 a.m. and came in action near BRISSY[2] to cover retirement, and later to support Scots Greys and infantry fighting [their] way across [a] river.

[We] continued retirement, [and] everybody, men and horses, [were] dead beat – weather very hot.

August 29th

Slowed up, had rather easy day, and much needed short rest. [I had] a wash [and] overhauled telephones etc: - [At] ST GOBAIN [we] heard [the] news of 600 Manchester Fusiliers and section of the 118th Btty getting wiped out.

Soldiers of the 118th Battery, 26th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery were killed or wounded in action at Etreux on the 29th August 1914. Etreux is a village and commune in the Department of the Aisne 32 kilometers NE of St. Quentin and 20 Kilometers W of La Capelle. In the same action 600 Manchester Fusiliers were either killed or wounded.

August 30th

Marched to PINON, [a] long, [and] very hot march. [We] bivouacked in the grounds of lovely chateau, [where I] had a dip in [a] lake[3].

The address of the chateau is 6 Rue des Etangs and it lies southeast of the city of Pinon. The manner house has water on three sides and a large square body of water some distance behind the house. Rolling meadows surround the house and they eventually fade into forest.

August 31st

Marched at 3:30 a.m. [It was a] long, hard, hot march. [The] infantry [were] falling exhausted, at every halt. Men [would] go to sleep, sitting, standing, lying, all seem near knocked up – [We] marched till late at night, I slept for hours on and off in the saddle.

We were awakened around 1 a.m. and without a light we hitched up the horses and began our days march at 3:30 a.m. Not sure why they woke us up so early, perhaps to get a jump ahead of the Germans. With the nights being uncomfortably warm and humid the only benefit from getting an early start is that you don’t have to deal with sun.
By noon everything left exposed to the sun was too hot to touch. Bobby commented, “I bet if we sat a fry pan out in the sun for fifteen minutes we could fry an egg.” Pudgie was quick to respond, “That might be true if we had eggs.”

No longer do we march in column formation, the men stagger about the road like drunken sailors. They march until they drop and somehow force themselves to get-up and continue marching.
Uniforms tattered, a few are wounded and some march with their feet wrapped in their puttees, while others wear blood stained socks.

There seems no end to this constant marching or the heat. Water is in short supply and we are rationed only one pint for the day. We are not allowed to drink the local water for it may have been poisoned.
Everyone is so put-out from the lack of food, sleep and water, some of the men fall asleep while marching and fall over. Details are sent out nightly to find stragglers before the Germans do.

It was around 2 or 3 a.m. when we were called to formation. We started the days march at 5:30 a.m. in order to reach the Marolle Bridge before dark. Usually we stopped to rest after an hour or two, but today we continued marching for five hours. We were told we had to cross the bridge over the Aisne River before it was blown up.
Men were dropping like leaves in the fall and those that followed were unable to lift their legs to step over the fall so they walked around the bodies.

September 1st

[We] marched at 5:30 a.m. and [it was a] long march to MAROLLE Bridge. [iii]
[We passed] COMPIEGNE [and found out later that] about a mile in our rear was attacked at dawn, L Battery H [indecipherable] getting knocked out. We moved just in time, but did not know how near we were to be out up, until later.
[Arrived] at 6:30 p.m. and I went to sleep by my saddle, [later] we were aroused by alarm at 11:30 p.m.

[We were asked] to move, for [the] Engineers were waiting to blow up the bridge. We got across, just in time and up went the bridge.

[The] German Cavalry were very close, [so] we marched through the night and halted on the roadside about 3:00 a.m. In less than a minute I was sound asleep on a friendly heap of stones.

Up again, marching again, how I longed for a sleep —anywhere. Continued retirement reached MEAUX at 5:30 a.m.

September 2nd

Marched via VARREDDES, GERMINGNY[4], and bivouacked near JOUARRE, [it was a] long and weary march - very hot.

September 3rd

Halted nearly all day east of SAMMERON [where] the rear guard was slightly engaged – weather hot.

September 4th

Marched to COULOMMIERS, [and] bivouacked early.  [I was able to] washed my underclothing. [iv]

[I] thought we were going to have a day’s rest, but had to move quickly in the morning, and take up position SW of COULOMMIERS. We dug in and remained in action all night, leaving position at dawn; marched with Division to ROZNY[5].

September 5th

In position at ROZNY, [but] no contact with enemy. 

We hear that the retreat is over, with the French we are to advance, how glad we were - anything but that continual marching[v]

The soldiers of I Corps covered 250 miles and ten days and with little rest they fight their first offensive battle of the war.

[1] Current spelling is Feignies
[2] Brissy may have been changed to Brissy-Hagegicourt
[3] A large body of water surrounded by land.
[4] Perhaps is now known as Germingny-sous-Coulombs
[5] Perhaps renamed Rosnay-sous-Bois

[i] Because they were constantly moving it was difficult to supply them with food. Often supplies were left alongside a road where it was anticipated they might be traveling.

[ii] Coxen, Fred G.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Round Three

I joined several writing groups on the LinkedIt website, one of which was Authonomy.com - which is an excellent source for writers.

Downloading my book I was opening myself up to writers, authors, publishers and other frightful characters. I also joined a Historical Book group and one titled Writers & Books.

I introduced myself to each group and jumped right in posting. It didn't take long before my manuscript was dissected, analyzed and served to me in a salad bowl.

One elderly history teacher with a high author rating suggested I rethink my approach and focus more on my grandfather and expand on his journal entries. Which I could not ague with but panicked at the thought of rewriting a third time - even though they say the third time is the charm.

When I received a review of 600 words taken from the book - I did not select wisely. The reviewer wrote that it lacked emotion and did not hook him into wanting to read more - but he did say it had promise. Being who I am - which is hard enough without trying to be someone else, I posted the journal except describing George Bramwell's death. Well that tickled his fancy and suggested I start the book using it.

This made me wonder if the current opening was good enough. I copied and pasted the 1900 plus words - which immediately drew criticism since I far exceeded the 600. Posting an apology I explained my intention and the circumstances behind the posting.

The controller of the site piped in and said I had great material but the reviewers dealt mostly with fiction so he was not sure they could help me. But added, perhaps if I decided to write it as historical fiction they would be all over it with help. Besides, he added, it would open it to a wider audience.

It brought flashbacks to my original book "The Great Promise". So I am considering another rewrite and perhaps with their help I could be this story published.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Who lit the fuse?

In David Fromkin’s book “Europe’s Last Summer – who started The Great War in 1914” he presents a blow by blow account of the efforts the European powers went through in order to prevent war. However, they could not overcome the human elements; deceit,  pride, and miscommunication.

After reading his book I came to the conclusion that the war was the result of three things; Austria’s awkward handling of Serbia, the sabotage of communications between the Kaiser and Russia, as well as the Kaiser and Austria, add the pressure the German ambassador was placing on Austria to declare war on Serbia.

If more modern forms of communication would have been available, as well as less formal protocol, I believe war would have been averted.  The Kaiser could have phone his cousin Nicky in Russia and asked, “Hey Nick, what is up? How come you ordered your country to mobilize and your troops are lined up along the Austrian border?”

Nick could have explained, “Why worry cousin, it is not a full mobilization just a little one. The troops are just a sign of solidarity with Serbia and to impress Austria to not do anything rash; that is all. We do not want to go to war but we also want to protect our interest.
     Perhaps you could talk to the Austrians and tell them how foolish it would be to start a war that would destroy Europe.”

“Yes, I will call old Franz Joseph and tell him to stand down until tensions ease a bit and clear minds can find a solution.”

The Kaiser could have contacted the cabinet of the Premiers from both Austria and Hungary to drop the hint that should Austria go to war with Serbia, they would be going alone without Germany’s support. The Premiers would have said, “Kaiser, make up your mind! We get one communicate telling us to act more swiftly in attacking Serbia and another one telling us to hold off! Make up your mind, besides, we have to do something in order to save face. Then there is the issue of Russian troops at our borders and threatening to attack us – what are you going to do about that? If they attack will you honor your commitment?”

“Hey, guys, I had a chat with Nicky and he assured me that the troops are there to make you think long and hard if you really want to go through with the decision to start a war with Serbia. My advice is do not do it!”

The leader of France would have called the Kaiser, “Are you contemplating mobilizing your troops? If you are, then we will have to mobilize and Russia has already mobilized its troops so if Austria lights the match of war all of Europe will explode.”

“No, No, Germany is not going to mobilize. I just chatted with my cousin and he assured me that he only partially mobilized to demonstrate to Austria they better not mess with Serbia. I also had a conversation with the primers of both Austria and Hungary and told them to rethink what they were about to do. Now everything is cool.”

“But we heard rumors that Moltke, your army’s chief of staff, has already moved troops into position to carry out an attack on France.”

“What! Repeat what you just said. If it is true, Moltke and I are going to come to an understanding on who is calling the shots in my country! Do not mobilize for twenty-four hours to give me a chance to sort this mess out.”

“Ok, you have twenty-four hours! By the way, it is also rumored that he plans on attacking us through Belgium and if he does England will get involved and I know you do not want that to happen!”

“Damn Moltke! I thought he had more brains than that. It looks to me that my country is between a rock and a hard place.”

“Yea, you backed the wrong horse, one who is so focused on destroying an old foe that they do not see the big picture. Good luck and keep us informed.”

Instead, Germany thought that Russia had fully mobilized its troops and threatened Austria, thus forcing Germany to mobilize. But the definition of mobilizing one’s army is different with each country. In Germany the call for mobilization means war and Moltke had his own secret plans on how Germany would declare war against both France and Russia once Austria / Hungary lit the fuse by declaring war on Serbia.