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Retreat from Mons


2concordia
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I'm planning to walk the main route of the retrete from Mons next year and follow the fate of the BEF.

I'm deep in books and maps at the moment.

I found the Great War Forum whilst searching the web for battle and skirmish details along the way.

I think I have the the well published items along the route but i wonder if anybody has any sugestions where I may find some more detail of people in the BEF

who were part of retreat so that I could follow the route they took.

Geoff

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Hi,

Try Mons, Bavay, Le quesnoy,Le Cateau, Fresnoy le Grand and finally Mons via the canal. This route takes you past the Forest of Mormal and keeps to the route taken by some units on the retreat its generally broken down into 15 or 20 miles each day.

Dave

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you are in Le Cateau don't forget to tip your hat at the Suffolks memorial as well as the cemetaries, it's on top of a small hill just outside of town, up a track next to a school (Chemin de Reumont) off the Avenue des Essarls, an un numbered road leading out of town on the S side.

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I think there will be a fair few people on the road around there next August - me included hopefully.

My grandfather was there with the 19th Hussars as divisional cavalry. Family folklore has it that he had his horse shot away from beneath him at Mons.

But just to go and walk in the footsteps of the O.C's 100 years on will be a great experience.

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If you go to the Suffolk Hill Memorial (not on the map) by car it is a fair distance up a single track (could be nearly a mile),

as David says, and if you meet a farm vehicle or other car coming down someone will have to do a lot of reversing

no passing places.

A fine Memorial, no graves.

Before you start the Retreat a visit to St Symphorien Military Cemetery (outside Mons) is a must.

Billy

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When you reach the Foret de Mormal you will have to decide

do you go down the west side with II Corps leading to the Battle at Le Cateau or

go down the east side with I Corps leading to the actions at Landrecies

A lot of walking ahead for you

Billy

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here is a view of one side of the Suffolk memorial, we were there a couple of weeks ago - as previous posts have said, park near the school and walk up the hill to it, worth the walk without a doubt

post-93679-0-68316900-1382900645_thumb.j

also while in Le Cateau - go to the International Cemetery - i was quite pleased we stopped there

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we also visited Ors communal Cemetery to see Wilfred Owens grave along with the 2 VC's also buried there.

bit disappointed with position of it - but pleased to pay my respects

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post-57413-0-85915800-1382901873_thumb.j

another view of Suffolk Hill Memorial

Billy

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I've got a very good pdf guide to the Mons area if you want a copy? If you PM me your e-mail address I'll send it on.

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Everyone will be thrilled to know that Mons is opening a new museum to replace the one that was in the Town Hall and then evicted a few years back. But, wait for it, it opens, so I was told at the tourist office, in 2015! It seems that it will be a fairly 'peace' oriented museum, from what I can gather from the flyer.

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As regards the retreat, Jerry Murland's newish book, Retreat and Rearguard, is very useful indeed. There are a few 'battlegrounds' - one each on Mons (a very busy town now), Le Cateau, Nery and the Aisne 1914. A bike might be a more sensible option than walking (though cycling around Mons might prove diverting). Le Cateau is especially interesting, as very little has changed substantially and the Official History map is as good as any for getting around it.

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Thanks again for all the ideas.

I like the bike suggestion. I have a standard transit van and a bike will fit easy.

The plan is now to follow the track of II Corps so that will take in Le Cateau and on down.

If I can follow particularly 13 and 14 Infantry Brigade the route will also take me up to The Aisne.

It's a very sad route. I'm reading a lot of books and looking at maps and more and more I have to admire the courage and shear bravery of those BEF solders.

So many died and others were terribly wounded. I don't want this trip to be a "tourist outing" it's got to have a meaning something more than just looking.

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One hint: don't try the (always rather poor) road past 'Arbre' to Troisvilles - having proceeded merrily along from the Le Cateau end, with 'arbre' almost reached, despite very muddy conditions, I was brought to a shuddering halt by the sight of the road ploughed up and incorporated into the field and thus quite impassable. That was quite a long reverse! Even with a bike it is not somthing I would attempt, as you would have to carry it a fair dsitance over a field. Most strange - no sign that the road was closed.

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Everyone will be thrilled to know that Mons is opening a new museum to replace the one that was in the Town Hall and then evicted a few years back. But, wait for it, it opens, so I was told at the tourist office, in 2015! It seems that it will be a fairly 'peace' oriented museum, from what I can gather from the flyer.

Mons is very busy at the moment preparing to be the 'City of Culture' in 2015. Not sure how that's going to work out though! They're doing the Belfry at the moment - that should have a lift next year according to their office (was there last week) so that you can go to the top and look at the vista. And a couple of slag heaps!

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  • 4 months later...

I too have been toying with the idea of following the II Corps route this summer! I've never been much of a battlefield tourist, but there's something about the Retreat that's very compelling. Mons to Le Cateau doesn't look that far on the map - 50k? Two long days walking, or three easy days? I'm more preplexed by the logistics. What would theexperienced recommend - leave the car in Le Cateau, get public transport up to Mons, a B&B overnight at the halfway point, then pick up the car at the end (for instance)? It will be me and my fit 15 year old son doing this, I would imagine.

All thoughts welcome...

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Make sure you have a copy of Richard Holmes 'Riding the Retreat'.

Along with checking out "War Walks" on Youtube which has an episode on the retreat.

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I too have been toying with the idea of following the II Corps route this summer! I've never been much of a battlefield tourist, but there's something about the Retreat that's very compelling. Mons to Le Cateau doesn't look that far on the map - 50k? Two long days walking, or three easy days? I'm more preplexed by the logistics. What would theexperienced recommend - leave the car in Le Cateau, get public transport up to Mons, a B&B overnight at the halfway point, then pick up the car at the end (for instance)? It will be me and my fit 15 year old son doing this, I would imagine.

All thoughts welcome...

I would not do that if I were you: the distances are not inconsiderable and I doubt very much if there is an easy public transport route between Le Cateau (when all is said and done, a small and not particularly prepossessing town) in France and Mons in Belgium. I would be inclined to do only a limited number of points on the Mons battlefield if you want to retain your sanity - as mentioned before, it is not the easiest place to get around, given that it is very built up) and then work down to le Cateau, overnight there and then do the Le C battlefield. This is a much easier battlefield to 'read' as it is, for the most part, in open country. Maybe drop the Mons idea and go and look at Audregnies and Elouges and then Le C? And possibly Landrecies and Le Grand Feyt etc, which are close by. Caudry has a number of reasonably priced hotels and there are some not too pricey 'chain' eateries on the eastern side of the (almost) ring road, just off the Cambrai - Le Cateau road.

Jerry Murland has a Battleground Europe coming out quite soon - August maybe? - on I Corps' retreat, but there is his Retreat and Rearguard already out and that is well worth it.

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Public transport from Mons to Le Cateau is difficult. I have run it through the SNCF site and there are no direct trains between the two. Everything goes through Paris Nord and the cost is about €70-80 single. The best bet using the rail appears to be: leave your car in Lille, take the train to Mons (€17) go to Le Cateau and take the train back to Lille (€18).

Accommodation: when are you going? If it is the last week in August, you will need to move very quickly. Everything is being booked up.

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Nigel, Hedley; many thanks for your ideas. I did suspect that 23rd August may well be the worst possible time to be in Mons. I might pick a week either side in order to let the crowds to disperse a little. Given that the outskirts of Mons are not exactly picturesque, I can see why you're suggesting not lingering there. However, the idea was to walk at least a section of II Corps route, so...

Planning by committee! I like the idea of using Lille SNCF as a hub, so taking your views into account, how about drive to Lille (easy as I live near Ashford in Kent), SNCF Lille to Mons to see what there is to be seen, then taxi to Elouges so as to avoid the suburbs of Mons. Walk Elouges to Le Cateau, which I estimate to be slightly under 40k as the crow flies, so probably about 55-60k on the ground, excluding hunting about on the battlefields. SNCF Le Cateau back to Lille and back to UK. Three (not too strenuous) days? Will the IGN maps enable me to plan a detailed route in the way an OS map would in the UK?

And as for sources:

Riding the Retreat

Le Cateau (Battlefield Europe)

Retreat and Rearguard

Any other 'must haves'? and what about contemporary and post-war writing on the retrreat?

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You may wish to consider the contents of the 150 War Diaries that were kept by the Infantry and Cavalry (and Yeomanry) in 1914. Most kept meticulous records of where they were every day. It is impossible to follow the 'Retreat' as a whole as the units were dispersed over thousands of square miles. You may wish to consider following the route of a particular unit. There are plenty to choose from.

If you are looking for personal diaries (usually richer in content) might I suggest the following - all available for a mere £3.30 from TNA's website as part of their respective battalion War Diaries. In my view this is the narrative gold dust.

2nd Inf Bde - Gen Bulfin

1st Bn South Wales Borderers - Capt Paterson (11th Aug-25th Oct 1914)

2nd Bn Ox & Bucks Light Infantry - Lt Col H R Davies (23rd Aug -11th Nov 1914 (with gaps) )

1st Bn King's Liverpool Regt - Capt Hudson (12th Aug- 31st Dec 1914)

2nd Bn Duke of Wellington's Regt - Col Gibbs (4th -24th Aug 1914)

4th Middlesex Regt - Lt Woolcombe

1st Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regt - Lt J G W Hyndson (5th Aug - 21st Nov) - one of only 2 officers to survive unscathed.

etc.....

2nd Bn Queen's Royal West Surrey Regt war diary is entirely based on a personal narrative...

I think it would be a rich experience following the iaries of one of these and also taking along the relevant published history. It is a different approach - deep diving- raher than trying to cover the complete ground.

The unit War Diaries with the largest content (Word count) in 1914 are;

1st Bn South Wales Borderers

1st Bn Hampshire Regt

1st Bn DCLI

1st Bn Irish Guards

1st Bn Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regt

MG

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I agree, primary sources always have a voice that even the best secondary accounts can't replicate. My choice has to be between 1/SWB (eventually amalgamated into RRW, in which I 'served' myself as a territorial, although as you'll see from my screen name, not the half of that regiment whose heritage I could really claim as my own, I'm afraid) or RWK, the county regiment for the area in which I've lived most of my adult life? Hmmm

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