Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Cavalryman's 1914 diary - the early days of war

Sgt George Fairclough in India, where
he was stationed before the war
In October 1914 the first phase of war in Europe was drawing to a close and what had begun as a mobile campaign would soon become mired in the trench warfare most of us associate with the Western Front. As both sides worked their way westwards towards the coast in an attempt to outflank each other, cavalryman Sergeant George Fairclough kept a diary which noted the relentless labour of each day, and how motor transport was rendering horses less and less useful.

Sunday, October 4th 
We crossed the River Aisne at last after a fortnight’s halt. We crossed at a pontoon bridge thrown across by the French as the iron bridge was completely wrecked by the Germans.
All the cavalry are to concentrate on the Allies’ left wing, and having left our other troops behind we are now among the French. The troops marched 45 miles and camped at Trier. There was terrible gun fire going on all night.

Monday 5th
Marched 35 miles and camped at Dormat-sur-la-Luce.

Tuesday 6th
We marched out but we had only gone about four miles when we were stopped by a motor car and sent back. We stood to all day, there was heavy firing going on all day.

Wednesday 7th
We were sent to assist the French force that had been driven out of their positions, but our men weren’t required after all as some French infantry reinforcements had arrived in motor lorries after travelling all night. There is not much use for cavalry at the present.
We have been travelling north-west each day to try to get around the enemy’s right flank – no fighting.

Monday 12th
Came into contact with the enemy early in the morning in dense fog, the 4th Lancers had five wounded, the  16th had one officer, one sergeant, and one private killed and several wounded.
In the afternoon two troops of ‘C’ squadron took a hill with a monastery, the Mont-des-Cats, on top.  My troop acted as the rear guard. The Germans, firing from fox holes killed Captain Gatacre.
My troop retired, and being fired upon dismounted for action, I had led the horses and came under shell fire. We were lucky to have no casualties. Billeted at Fletre.

Tuesday 13th
It was pouring with rain all day, we got drenched. We passed through lines of French infantry to get in touch with the enemy. We had a sharp fight which developed into a general engagement as our infantry came up. Mr Lonsdale and four men were wounded.

Wednesday 14th
We had a sharp fight but no casualties.

Thursday 15th
Still in contact, one corporal has been hit.

Friday 16th
Dense fog impeded movements, as it cleared we got in touch. Corporals Wakefield and Smythe were killed and Sergeant Dillon, Corporal Davis and another man of ‘C’ Squadron wounded. General Gough got the 4th and the 16th Lancers to trail a gun, by hand, up to within 200 yards of a barricade of a village where Germans were billeting ad then blew the barricade to bits. We took the village, but then had to retire. The Germans, afterwards, spent the whole night knocking the village to bits. They probably thought we were still there! There was beautiful furniture used to barricade the streets.

Saturday 17th
We had no casualties but the 5th had several including one sergeant killed.
I have learnt since that in the action my troops had taken part on the 12th, the monks from the monastery had picked up and buried 17 German dead and several wounded. The Prince Max of Hesse was among them. 

You can read more of George Fairclough's diaries and his dramatic story in my new book Letters from the Trenches which is published in November.

(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)

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