The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

Wed 26 Aug. 1914

Slept on road by horse on cobbles, moved a dawn and joined Division at Clary, covering left of 4th Division which was entrenched on high ground South of Le Cateau- Cambrai. We get food from infantry as we are starving. Battle rages all day, very heavy machine gun fire. Machine guns repel 1st German attack, but our force driven back by about 5 to 1 later. Cav[alry] Div[ision] inactive, forming flank guard to 4th Division. Get away unpursued.

The Regiment get broken up late at night in village. I saw dead beat infantry and wagons everywhere, a hopeless tangle seemingly, and realised what a strategic retirement really was.

Get into a small cottage where a kindly woman tucked me up and gave me brandy.

Thurs 27 Aug. 1914

Marched out early and joined up with Ansell in a hollow by a village. The infantry retirement a sight to have seen. The men were dead beat by exhaustion, but were ready to fight at any moment.

We joined Division at Roussoy at get in touch with a Brigade of French Dragoons.

The regiment was put on a forward crest in extended order. I joined up with 3 Hussars.

Several shells very close, a splinter strikes my nose.

We were to be the last squadron to retire, and it looked as if we were badly for it. Carabineers killed in wood behind us, go to another position. After a long trek get to Peronne late. Aeroplane brings in message re Germans. We cleared out, and did the memorable night march, men dropping from exhaustion, etc. etc. We got separated and the regiment dropped in a road at Bethuncourt as it turned out. Saw motor, which we thought was a German search light bottling us.

Johnson, Archie and I rode together.

For five nights the regiment had not had 2 hours sleep a night.

28 Aug. 1914

At dawn I looked at map and found the Germans would soon arrive; everyone was asleep, including Ansell, Balfour and staff.

As I reported, I was told to form Rear guard at bridge with 1st Troop. Went to sleep, woken up to say strong column enemy approaching. It looked pretty bad, then another column (cavalry) on right, which proved to be Sordits divisions brought to help us out.

They pushed the Germans back.

We retired to Néry, where we found food by road side, then to Cressy.

We got orders to return North, watered in a peaceful field, bivouacked near town.

Bought things and had dinner in an hotel. Everyone much bucked up, thinking retirement over

We lived by requisition and will.

Fugitives (civilians) block the roads all the way, carts, cycles etc.

 

Sat 29 Aug. 1914

Expected a quiet day, but at 8am hear a company of German Infantry at Bethancourt, and the river held there.

Saddle up and away A. Squadron to Ossoy bridge.

At 12 ordered to concentrate at Honfleur.

I was ordered to come back at once, but Archie and Patterson and Oswalds patrol were left out.

A. Squadron took up a position by Lesle to help them get in.

Germans came within a few hundred yards, shelling Lesle, then stopped for lunch. Get my patrols in, a near thing.

Retired through Cressy, Lagny to Plessis, billet in a billiard room in a small sort of Inn and get a wash at the pump there.

Sun 30 Aug. 1914

A long hot mornings trek. Watered by a canal where we secured a bottle of white wine.

Arrive at Choisy au Bac on the Oise, much the best billet we have had yet in an artists house.

Expect to get a rest here.

Enjoy a swim in the river.

 

Mon 31 Aug. 1914

A long hot march, wine being given to us by the way. Water on the river at Verb and see the French tirailleurs from Nice.

Up a steep hill and come to Néry. I am the right out-post squadron. Get bread in a peasants house and dinner late in a billiard room.

I thought of sleeping in cemetery but in the end did not do so, but slept end of lines on straw, not thinking how many would sleep in this cemetery next day.

 

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