On this tour we will consider the qualities of the original British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at the start of the war, the so-called ‘old contemptibles’, and their role in the opening moves of the war.
The tour combines the two opening battles of the First World War from a British perspective. The battle of Mons was fought on the 23rd August 1914, before the British began a retreat from the massive opposing German forces. On 26th August the exhausted British II Corps turned and faced the Germans again, under the directions of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, a brave move that effectively saved the BEF.
These opening battles marked the start of the first phase of the war, which was of mobile warfare. The German plan to knock France out with one major blow, the Schlieffen Plan, failed. Following the retreat of British and French forces in the late Summer of 1914, the battle of the Marne turned the tide and the so called ‘race for the sea’ took place. Static trench warfare was entered by late Autumn 1914.
By a strange quirk of fate Mons is inextricably linked with both the beginning and the end of the First World War. On the 11th November 1918, Allied forces re-entered the town of Mons just as the armistice commenced, effectively ending up where they first began fighting over four years earlier.
On this trip we will visit the scene of the first British action of the war, a cavalry skirmish against German cavalry, on the 22nd August 1914, in Casteau. Similarly, we will visit a plaque nearby commemorating the final shots of the war by Allied forces. We will also stand on the site of the first British artillery shot of the war, fired by ‘E’ Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery on August 22nd 1914, in what was to become an artillery war.
We will also visit the scenes of the bridges over the Mons-Conde canal, where a number of Victoria Crosses were won, the first of 634 awarded during the whole war, and consider what the men of the BEF achieved that day.
During our time in the area of Mons we will pay our respects to the war dead of both sides at the cemetery at St-Symphorien, which was originally opened by the Germans during the war, and contains British and German war dead. This cemetery contains the graves of the very first and last British and Dominion soldiers to be killed during the war, and that of one of the Victoria Cross winners from the Battle of Mons.
We will then travel along the BEF’s route to Elouges, to witness the area of the stand made by two British battalions against the German IV Corps, and the charge made by the 9th Lancers of the British cavalry, and the famous action of ‘L’ Battery.
As we near the town of Le Cateau we will discover the plight of the BEF during the retreat from overwhelming opposition, and why Smith-Dorrien chose to turn and fight. We will then visit the battlefield itself, to appreciate its significance in the wider context of the late Summer of 1914, before the long retreat to the Battle of the Marne.
Our Mons battlefield tours will explain these actions, the qualities of the commanders and the men, and show you the scenes of the opening and closing chapters of the War. Click here to book your tour to Mons today.