The Wartime Memories Project - The Great War - Day by Day
23rd August 1914
On this day:
German attack at Mons The Battle of Mons began early in the morning with a German artillery bombardment of the British lines, concentrated near a bend in the canal close to the town of Mons. At 9:00 am the German infantry assault began as they attempted to force their way across the four bridges that crossed the Mons-Conde canal. The demolition charges had been placed beneath the bridges by the Royal Engineers, whilst under fire from enemy snipers.
Four German battalions attacked the Nimy bridges, defended by a single company of the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and a machine gun section led by Lieutenant Maurice Dease at the south side of the railway bridge. The 4th Royal Fusiliers were positioned along the canal between the two bridges, the swing bridge having been turned to prevent crossing. The German infantry suffered heavy losses as they advanced in "parade ground" formation, the well-trained British riflemen were making hits at over 1,000 yards So heavy was the British rifle fire throughout the battle that the Germans thought they were facing machine guns.
To the right of the Royal Fusiliers, the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment and the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders were suffering heavy casualties in facing the German assault. With reinforcements from the Royal Irish Regiment (acting as the divisional reserve) and fire support from the divisional artillery, they managed to hold the bridges. The Germans then widened their attack, to the British defences along the straight section of the Mons-Conde canal to the west of Mons. Aided by the cover of a plantation of fir trees they inflicted heavy casualties with machine gun and rifle fire on the 1st Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers, who despite their losses, managed to repulse the Germans throughout the morning.
The order to withdraw was given at 3pm, after a German soldier swam out to the swing bridge and activated the mechanism, allowing his comrades to cross easily. To the east the Germans had crossed the canal and were advancing on the British flank. The 3rd Division was ordered to retire to positions a short distance to the south of Mons which necessitated a similar retreat in early evening by the 5th Division, and by nightfall a new defensive line had been established at the villages of MontrĹ“ul, Boussu, Wasmes, Paturages, and Frameries. The Germans had spent the late afternoon building pontoon bridges over the canal, and were approaching in great numbers. News arrived that the French Fifth Army was also retreating, dangerously exposing the British right flank as night fell.
57th Field Coy Royal Engineers at Mons 57th Field Coy Royal Engineers were tasked with destroying the bridges over the Mons-Conde canal during the Battle of Mons on Monday 23rd of August 1914. A company of the Royal Scots Fusiliers was holding a barricade at the north end of the bridge at Jemappes, but the situation was deteriorating and the order was given to withdraw. Demolition charges had already been put in place by the Royal Engineers, a hazardous task, under enemy sniper fire, Corporal Alfred Jarvis RE was allocated the task of detonating the charges. Captain Theodore Wright, who had been wounded in the head, brought up the detonator and leads, but came under sniper fire every time he attempted to reach the leads beneath the bridge to connect them and after many attempts was unsuccessful. Cpl Jarvis eventually managed to connect the leads, he received the Victoria Cross for his actions in blowing up the bridge and checking the enemy advance. Capt Wright was awarded the Victoria Cross for this action and for undertaking repairs to a pontoon bridge under fire at Vailly on 14th September 1914.
40th Brigade RFA go into action 40th Brigade Royal Field Artillery went into action on the Binch to Mons Road. One of the GS wagons received a direct hit near Le Cateau and the original War Diary was lost, it was later reconstructed from officers notes.
1st Rifle Brigade leave Colchester 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade depart from Colchester bound for Le Harve with the BEF.
Aminal Defence Society to rescue horses Members of the Animal Defence Society are to rescue wounded horses from the battlefield and will shoot those beyond help. The men will wear uniform displaying a purple cross.
2nd West Surrey's prepare to sail for England 7. A.M. “Kenilworth Castle” put out into Table Bay, where it anchored until Aug. 27th.
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