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BEF 1914: Nery

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Can anyone tell me where I might find any first-hand accounts of the Affair at Nery. Maj A F Becke RA wrote a detailed account (published). I vaguely recall seeing a copy embedded in a war diary, but now cannot find it. I may be confusing this with his similar account on Le Cateau (attached to the RFA diaries). If anyone has any pointers on where to find 'diary copy' this I would be grateful (I have a hard copy heading my way).

The Affair at Nery is quite contentious. A number of units claim to have eventually captured the German guns that were abandoned. The history of the Eleventh Hussars has an extremely detailed account (I will post snippets later). I am very keen on tracing any first hand accounts, so any pointers would be welcome.Below is all I can glean from the diaries.

 

HQ 1st Cavalry Brigade - Report

L Battery RHA - War Diary

2nd Dragoon Guards - War Diary

5th Dragoon Guards - War Diary

11th Hussars - War Diary & Report on Action

1st Bn Middlesex Regt - War Diary

 

I have attached Capt Bradbury VC's obituary for good measure.

1st CAVALRY BRIGADE – REPORT ON THE ACTION AT NERY 1st Sep 1914

I have the honour to report the following details of th action fought by my Brigade at NERY on Sep 1st.

Under Brigade Standing Order the Brigade saddled up ready to move at 04:30, patrols were sent out to the East by 11th Hussars, to the South by 2nd Dragoon Guards, to the North by 5th Dragoon Guards.

 

That of the 2nd Dragoon Guards returned and reported no signs of the enemy. The 11th HUSSARS patrol under 2nd Lt Tailby returned just before 05:15 and reported to OC 11th HUSSARS that 200 Germans were advancing from the East and that he had been chased back. To show they were Germans he had brought back one of their cloaks. The 11th Hussars at once lined the Eastern end of their billets and their CO came at once to my HQ to report. He was just reporting to me at about 05:15 when a heavy artillery ad machine-gun fire commenced and was dispersed all along the village.

At this moment the 2nd Dragoon Guards were shifting their saddles as their horses had been saddled up in the dark and the most of the artillery horses were returning from water and were just to the South of their lines.

One gun of L Battery RHA from its position in billets opened fire and at once drew on to this Battery practically the whole fire of eight German guns at a range of 600 yards.

The lines of C Sqn 2nd Dragoon Guards being immediately in rear of those of the Battery got the full effect of this fire – The horses of the Battery were almost all killed and those of C Sqn 2nd Dragoon Guards which were not killed, stampeded. The 11th HUSSARS steadily returned the enemy’s fire and held the Eastern edge of their billets whilst the Bays held the South and Western perimeter as the attack was being forced with greater [illegible] in the South and East edges of the village. I walked along to the 5th Dragoon Guards and ordered Lt Col Ansell to take two Squadrons to attack the enemy’s right flank and to try to reduce the pressure on my front. This he did by manoeuvring two Squadrons Northwards and attacking round the enemy’s flank. I sent to the HQ of the Cavalry Division and to the 19th Infantry Brigade who were to the North East and asked for support saying where cooperation would best help me.

About 07:30 a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment under Lt Col Ward arrived and moved by my direction round my West and East [?] flanks, the Cameronians being in reserve.

When the infantry got within 500 yards of my flank the 2nd DG advanced and took eight of the enemy’s guns which had been pinned to the ground by machine gun fire. Were secured by the machine gun detachment 2nd Dragoon Guards. I then detached a Squadron of 11th Hussars to pursue and many of the enemy’s stragglers surrendered to them.

When the Middlesex Regiment came up about 50 Germans came out from the factory to the South and surrendered. I sent to Brig Gen Haldane for Horses to withdraw the captured guns and for ambulances and Doctors to attend to the wounded. These he sent and they were able to withdraw 4 guns the others being too badly damaged to move.

As already reported [illegible] I exceedingly regret the loss of Maj J S Cawley, my Brigade Major, who was a loyal and true Staff Officer and Lt Col Ansell than whom we have no finer leader of Cavalry. I wish to bring to special notice my Staff Captain Osborne, 20th Hussars, Staff Captain of this Brigade. I wish to recommend the following Officers and NCOs and Men:

Lt Col Wilberforce who supervised the defence of the Southern part of the billets which received the bulk of the fire.

Capt Osborne, my Staff Captain

In L Battery RHA I wish to record that the gun which came into action was manned and served by

Captain Bradbury

Lt Campbell

Lt Munday

Battery Sgt Major Dorrell

1 Gunner

1 Driver

Capt Bradbury continued until he had both legs blown off, then Lt Campbell was killed. Lt Munday was shot trying to get another gun into action

The one gun in action continued to be served by Battery Sgt Major Dorrell, 1 Gunner and 1 driver until all the ammunition was expended.

I wish to recommend for the VC

Battery Sgt Major Dorrell

1 Gunner – whose names I have not yet ascertained

1 Driver – whose names I have not yet ascertained

 

L Battery RHA – War Diary 1st Sep 1914

Ready to start at 04:30. Orders received from GOC to “Stand Fast” and be ready to move at ¼ hours notice. Poles were let down, horses off saddled and the Battery started watering at a sugar factory by subsections.

About 05:05 a heavy shrapnel, machine-gun and rifle fire was suddenly opened into the bivouac from a ridge 700-800 yards on the right flank and right rear of the line of guns. It had been a misty morning and the ridge was only just becoming visible. Some of the men took cover behind vehicles, haystacks and in the road, those who were watering horses were unable to get back. Major Sclater-Booth was at HQ and was knocked out by a shell when running back to the Battery. The rest of the Battery Officers all of whom were in or near the bivouac and several NCOs and men who were handy made a rush under heavy fire and got 3 guns into action against 8 of the enemy’s which were to the left of a small wood. In this they were mostly ably led and encouraged by Captain Bradbury. One of the guns was knocked out at once. Another under Lt Giffard suffered very heavy casualties after firing as ref rounds.

The third, which had been very quickly got into action by Sgt Nelson and Gnr Derbyshire kept up a good rate of fire manned by the above with Capt Bradbury, Lts Campbell and Mundy and others, ammunition being supplied by Gnr Derbyshire and Dvr Osborne.

Capt Bradbury and Lt Cambell were killed, Lt Mundy and Sgt Nelson very severely wounded. Meanwhile the 5th Dragoon Guards went round the enemy’s flank. The 11th Hussars an Queen’s Bays manned the village, sunken road and sugar factory. A machine gun of the Bays did great execution amongst the enemy’s gunners. Under this combined defence the enemy did not advance after first opening fire and their guns gradually ceased firing. Subsequently reinforcements arrived, I Battery RHA, Household Cavalry, Somerset Light Infantry and Middlesex Regt who captured 10 German field guns and a number of prisoners. With teams from I Battery the 6 guns and personnel under Sgt Maj Dorrell joined XIV Brigade RFA Ammunition Column under Capt Brown and bivouaced there for the night. The wounded were taken over by the medical authorities.

Casualties

Killed:

Capt Bradbury

Lt Campbell

20 NCOs and Men

 

Wounded:

Maj Sclater-Booth

Lt Giffard

Lt Mundy (Died 2 days later)

29 NCOs and men

 

Horses killed and lost about 150.

NB The account of Sep 1st is compiled from accounts given by various survivors of the engagement.

 

2nd Dragoon Guards - War Diary 1st Sep 1914

05:15. 12 German guns opened fire at close range on our billets. L Battery RHA practically wiped out. C Squadron's horses nearly all killed at first burst of fire, remainder stampeded through A and B Squadrons causing them to follow. Maj G H A ING and Capt G P O SPRINGFIELD rallied some men and Lt LAMB got into action with machine-guns at edge of village. The enemy continued firing for some time but were unable to get their guns away owing to our rifle and machine-gun fire. The Germans retired leaving 8 guns.

Casualties: Officers

Killed:

Lt C N CHAMPION DE CRESPIGNY

 

Wounded:

Maj A E W HARMAN

Maj G H A ING

Capt E A CHANCE

Capt W G F RENTON

Lt H D St G CARDEW

Lt [illegible]

Lt E WALKER

 

NCOs and men killed 12.

NCOs and men wounded 44.

Billeted at BOREST at 6:00pm.

 

Mentioned NERY Sept 1st 1914:

Maj ING

Lt LAMB

Sgt FRASER

Sgt WEBB

Pte GOODCHILD

Pte HOORE

Pte ELLICOCK

Pte SHORT

Sgt YEURTS

Pte BRYANT

 

5th Dragoon Guards – War Diary 1st Sep 1914

Partridge shooting begins! A very thick misty morning. The ball opened with half a dozen shells bursting over the village. Immediately all was bustle. Everybody ran to the lines to saddle up, under shell and rifle fire. C Sqn was ordered to hold the houses facing East. A and B Sqns were quickly collected, and galloped, under Col ANSELL, to the N with the object of turning the German right flank. In the centre of the village the 11th Hussars held the outskirts facing East, while the Queen’s Bays maintained their position at the South end, though they lost many Officers and men wounded, and over 200 horses, by shell fire. Their lines were exposed to the fire of two batteries at a range of about 700 yards.

L Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, suffered most heavily of all. All of their Officers and men who were in the battery were killed or wounded except Maj Sclater-Booth, commanding, the Battery Sgt Maj, and their French Interpreter. The two latter were left at the end of the fight, still serving a gun. Capt Bradbury, Royal Horse Artillery, had a leg shot off and continued doing his duty until his other leg was carried away by a shell, when his only request was that he might be carried to the rear, in order that his men might not hear him groaning. All the gun team horses were found shot and lying in their teams.

Col Ansell's move to a flank had the desired effect of making the Germans withdraw, but unfortunately he was killed in the doing of it. He had ridden to the crest of a bluff to view the situation, and was shot through the right breast. A Cpl and two men carried him to shelter, where he died in a quarter of an hour. His last order to them was to get back to the firing line and leave him.

Meanwhile, the German guns had been silenced by the fire of L Battery, and by that of the Queen’s Bays’ MGs, under Lt Lamb, which came into action at the crossroads at the South end of the village, and made extraordinarily good practice. C Sqn, 5th Dragoon Guards, had gone to South end of the village to support the Queen’s Bays, who feared a flank attack round their right. A and B Sqns reformed under Maj WINWOOD, commanding the Regiment, and returned to Nery to find that the fight had ceased in that part, and that the Germans had retired, leaving eight guns on the field.

The Regiment lost Lt Col G K Ansell, killed, and about 10 men; and 2 Lt Maurice Hill, and about 20 men, wounded; together with from 60 to 80 horses killed of stampeded. The Brigade was supported towards the end of the action by the 19th Infantry Brigade and part of the 4th Division. It transpired that the Germans, who consisted of about a Cavalry Division with 10 or 12 guns, had blundered onto us in the fog. A wireless message was intercepted to the effect that this Division had been unable to fulfil its mission, as it had been heavily attacked by the English. The only desire of the English at Nery at that moment was to get outside an excellent breakfast!

The Brigade continued its retirement, and billeted that night at BOREST. Rumours of a Regiment of German Cavalry in the woods to the S kept us all on the alert, but the night passed quietly.

 

11th Hussars - War Diary 1st Sep 1914.

Engagement at NERY. 1st Cavalry Division continued retirement during the day. 1st Cavalry Brigade to Barest arriving there about 6:00 pm.

 

Appendix C - The Attack on the 1st Cavalry Brigade at NERY September 1st 1914

On August 31st the 1st CAV BDE arrived at NERY just before dark and billeted. At 4:15 am on the morning of September 1st 1914 a patrol under Lt G W A TAILBY was sent out to the high ground to the NE and the Regiment stood to arms at 4:30 am.The morning was misty and it was difficult to distinguish objects at a distance of more than 150 yards.

At 5:30 am Lt Tailby’s patrol galloped in and reported that they had ridden close up to a Regiment of German Cavalry and been chased into camp. The Squadrons were immediately placed in positions B Sqn sending 1 troop to the SE corner of the village, 1 troop to the NE corner of the village and 1 troop being kept in support. C Sqn defended the farm immediately to the S of the church and A Sqn was kept in reserve.

Scarcely had the dispositions been made when an extremely heavy artillery and machine gun fire opened form the ridge to the NE of the church.

The 11th Hussars who were posted behind walls escaped lightly but L Battery RHA and the Queen’s Bays which had bivouacked in the open at the S and SW of the village suffered very severely. As soon as soon the situation was clear A Sqn was placed at the disposal of the GOC BDE and sent to fill the gap between L Battery and to right troop of B Sqn, when it remained in action until the conclusion of the engagement. About half and hour after the commencement of the attack the German guns were shifted from their first position to the SE of the village and brought up to within 700 yards. The wagons with their escorts were left on the ridge immediately to the E of the church but owing to the mist and a report that French cavalry was coming up, fire was not opened until a dismounted patrol had been sent across the ravine to clean up the situation and a good opportunity was thus lost.

Meanwhile the enemy had been gradually working round to the South and occupied the factory shown on the sketch map. At about 8:00 am the 4th Cavalry Brigade arrived in support and opened a heavy artillery fire on the German guns. The enemy then tried to manhandle the guns out of action but being under close range of the Queen’s Bays’ MG (which was most admirably handled all through) and of the 2 MGs of the 11th Hussars which had been brought round to the road at the SE corner of the village, the enemy hastily withdrew. 8 guns were left on the field.

Our infantry now arrived from the north and passed through the village. C Sqn were ordered to mount and follow up the German retreat. They crossed the ravine and worked round the left towards the German guns. The advance troop dismounted and opened fire on some 30 Germans who were retiring. No 3 Troop galloped through the Germans only to find them abandoned, and the advanced infantry close upon them. The Sqn pushed on capturing a number of prisoners and horses and made good a farm about 1 mile beyond the guns - here they captured about 25 led horses and more prisoners. The Sqn was then recalled and the Brigade was ordered to move West.

 

1st Bn Middlesex Regt – War Diary 1st Sep 1914

5:30 am. Outposts withdrawn at 5:30 am and march continued to SAINTINES. There are ordered to high ground South East of SAINTINES to support CAMERONIANS who are in position there. On arrival ordered to prolong their line to left (facing East). Almost immediately ordered to advance on NERY there to assist Gen BRIGGS Cavalry Brigade who was being heavily attacked by enemy's cavalry and artillery from very close range.

Attack was carried out on village of NERY - D, ½ C, A Coys to South and South East of village, B, ½ C Coys to North of village. On the attack on South of village getting close the enemy's gunners fled and the Battalion rushed in and captured about 30 of them and eight guns. These guns were at once disabled. The attack via North of village was continued to a large farm 1 ½ miles East of village. There an ambulance was captured with some 15 Ambulance Corps and 2 Medical Officers. Of these all men brought away expect 1 Medical Officer and 2 orderlies left to attend the enemy's wounded who were left behind.

On the attack reaching NERY it was found that Cavalry Brigade had suffered very heavily. The enemy's guns having come into action on them at an estimated range of 500 yards and nearly all horses of 1 Regiment and L Battery RHA had been killed.

General retirement was then ordered to be continued and Battalion retired to FRESNOY forming Rear Guard with remainder of Brigade. Of the 8 guns captured by Battalion at least 4 were brought away, remainder having to be left as not enough horses for them.

Casualties 1st Sep

Officers wounded: Lt W W JEFFERD This Officer was Machine Gun Officer and was advancing with his guns. His horse was also shot dead under him.

Other ranks killed or wounded: nil

Bradbury 1.JPG

Bradbury 2.JPG

Bradbury 3.JPG

Edited by Guest

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Guest

Modern Map (Geoportaile) v contemporary sketch map (11th Hussars' history). What is quite striking is the depth of the valley between the German and British positions. MG

Nery.JPG

Edited by Guest

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charlesmessenger

Martin

Anglesey in History of British Cavalry Vol 7 gives a pretty good account.

Charles M

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Guest

Martin

Anglesey in History of British Cavalry Vol 7 gives a pretty good account.

Charles M

Charles. Thanks for the prod. Anglesey relies heavily on Lumley, Pitman and Becke for his accounts as well as Norrie's personal recollections. It is quite interesting when comparing the various versions of events to see the discrepancies in timings, positions and sequence of events. Brigg's report (transcribed above) is very heavily edited in the original with lots of crossing out. It looks as if the original version has the Middlesex Regt arriving earlier but this is crossed out leaving the Cavalry to capture the guns prior to the Middlese Regt's arrival on the scene.

One major difference is that Norrie has all the German Guns to the South East near Feu Farm but almost every other account implies most of the German guns were on the high plateau immediately East. Norrie may simply have been more acutely aware of the guns to the South East but given it was his troop that overran the German gun position it seems odd.

Capt Bradbury's demise is described in many different ways. Some versions have him at the gun to the end, and others have him carried back mortally wounded. The L Battery Officers, NCOs and men seem to have been a rather determined lot.

Anglesey's version does have some nice anecdotes; It is interesting that despite the BEF being dog-tired they still had the energy to drag away some of the German guns and have them paraded in London a few weeks later. 'captured at Le Cateau'. Clearly the propaganda value was extremely high. I wonder if there are any pictures of the captured guns in the newspapers of the day.

MG

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gilbo139

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Sepoy

Lieutenant Pierce Grove White, 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
wrote the following about Nery 1st September, 1914.

We had hardly left our bivouac when we heard the sounds of firing all round. We were told off to support the Cavalry to drive off the enemy
from the rear. The Cameronians supported us. We advanced over a ravine and over crops. There was not much firing.
D Coy came across 7 German guns, the escort surrendering. Three were taken away by our Gunners and the rest destroyed.
We captured one of the enemies field ambulances.
Jefferd was wounded whilst with the M.G. I got a helmet and a sword.

Sepoy


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Sepoy

Unfortunately, not everyone covered themselves in glory at Nery.

post-55476-0-85727500-1452387945_thumb.j

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nigelcave

It is a fascinating battlefield to visit. The ravine on the northern edge of the village is very impressive, which explains all the movement to its left and right. It is a battle filled with confusion, so that, apart from getting the overall idea and the broad details and timings, I doubt if it will ever be possible to be definitive - in any case, the situation was not at all helped by the early morning mist/fog. It is certainly one of those places that it is possible to understand proceedings if one can get to it on the ground. Since things have changed very little, in the great scheme of things, over the last hundred years, this is made all the more rewarding. Add on to that the fact that the whole atmosphere is 'dozy', with little rushing traffic, this is an ideal spot to spend a most useful half day or so. Other recommendations that are not an impossible distance away would include Clery and Villers Cotteret.

The cemetery part of a visit is also worth while; with a most unusual burial arrangement in the Communal Cemetery at Nery.

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Guest

This is the part that I am most confused by.... Most accounts imply the 11th Huusars charged through the Gun positions. There were two gun positions - immediately East on the edge of the high plateau and one to the SE of the village, directly East of the Sugar factory (see maps above). Norrie's account paraphrased in Lumley's history of the Eleventh Hussars decribes C Sqn as crossing the ravine North of the guns - implicitly to the north end of the ravine, however it then states that he charged from Feu farm which is at the Southern end closer to the sugar factory...

Here is the extract (my emphasis):

"At about 7.45 a.m. C Squadron mounted and approached the ravine some four hundred yards north of the German gun position. It was so steep that the squadron had to dismount and lead the horses up. No. 3 Troop, under Lieutenant C. W. M. Norrie, was the leading troop and secured the ground at the top of the ravine before the rest of the squadron made the ascent. A patrol from this troop captured four Germans, near a small wood at the top, who made little show of resistance. Scattered parties of the enemy, both mounted and on foot, could be seen retiring east. Major Lockett, who climbed up with the leading troop, then ordered Mr. Norrie’s troop to charge the guns, while No. 2 Troop, under Lieutenant W O Bell Irving, opened fire on the enemy retiring eastwards. Mr. Norrie charged into the guns from the direction of Feu Farm across about three hundred yards of open ground. With drawn swords and a rousing cheer they galloped through the guns. A few of the shell-shaken personnel were about, one was run through by Sergeant Hailey, the remainder put up their hands and shouted “ Kamerad ” before the troop was on top of them. About twenty prisoners were captured in this charge. The troop then wheeled about and captured a few more who had evaded the first charge.

Separately, in a talk to the Royal Artillery in the 1960s, Lord Norrie stated:

"One Battery of four guns may possibly have been in position North of Feu Farm, but certainly the other two, and personally, I think, all three were South East of Nery and Feu Farm"

Which seems quite clear in his mind that the guns he was focused on were the ones to the SE near Feu Farm. When we look at all the other accounts, including those with sketch maps (war diaries, later histories), the guns are nearly always shown as being directly to the east on the high plateau. It is possible that there were two gun positions and the guns moved at some stage between the two. If anyone can help shed some light on this I would be interested...

MG

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Guest

Compare this map from Maj Becke's "Nery 1914" with the map on Post #2 and the account in the Eleventh Hussars' history and Lord Norrie's view on the disposition of the guns. Becke has all 12 guns on the plateau...the 11th Hussars history shows at least one Battery to the SE. I am even more confused. MG

post-55873-0-78834000-1452424307_thumb.j

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sheldrake

Hi Nigel and Charles! What an illustrious bunch of contributors to this thread.

There is a newspaper interview at the time which reported Gunner Derbyshire's account of the battle which includes the comments quoted by Richard Holmes that includes the lines "These 13 pdrs could fire 15 rounds a minute. We were weren't firing that fast but we were doing all right"

L /N battery is still part of the British Army as a Tac battery, providing Fire Support Team for 1st RHA. Their battery officers have a lot of historic material and the battery Old Comrades Association has been visiting Nery regularly over the last century and maintained a link with the surviving veterans. http://www.lneryoca.org.uk/page_322793.html

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stiletto_33853

Martin,

Becke presented a talk at RUSI, Journal 64 in 1919 where he says that "I am indebted to the courtesy of The Historical section, Committee of Imperial Defence, for permission to use the official records when writing this account. Further information has been received from officers who were present at the action."

If you would like a pdf copy of this talk let me know and I will send it over to you.

Andy

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battiscombe

I would note that Becke went to a great deal of trouble to contact survivors of many actions [and of course integrated the German accounts] - as we see with copies of many post war letters/accounts lodged in many war diaries.

I would also tend to trust a RA map [such as that in published in the JRA] due to the strong professional emphasis on mapmaking skills instilled at Woolwich... Who made that map in Norries and how closely this was supervised/checked might be asked?? That they both cannot be correct makes clear that one was not. There is plenty of scope in the accounts for ambiguity to creep in.. that for example there was Rifle/MG [the Guards MG Battery?] fire and troops at the southern position by Le Feu farm at one time could have been conflated to include artillery??.

That Norrie's memory of events by 1964 was imperfect is of course possible, or indeed that his account should have read 'south of the German gun position' [as i know my grandfathers memory of the retreat from Mons and fighting guns across the Aisne in Sept 1914 was also very imperfect by the 1960s....].

I never get the impression in the gunners' accounts that they were firing at two German positions [90 degrees apart from the perspective of L] at the same time.. the exact position of I Battery which was able to engage [and hence see] the German guns.. as i recall ...might be helpful. But whether the Germans gunners limbered up and moved during the action - might be further considered ?? the accounts suggest to me they are engaging guns on the northern position .. that account suggests to me I Bty was firing at a single target of 'German guns' ... firing over the factory chimney as an aiming point (p.337) [this could not be the case if firing at guns in a southern position] ; and found latterly - when visiting the German artillery position three German guns had been turned to face I Bty .. while other 5 faced L' .. 4 guns having being got away by the Germans (Becke p.339) [these must surely be as shown on the northern plateau position?]

Why the Germans would split a battery to take two positions - creating major problems of coordination/communication might also be asked.. and again does seem to not fit well with the German account of their Dragoons' advance down towards the Sugar factory

[the references to Becke are from the text in the I Battery war diary - noted below. .. which also draws on German sources]

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Guest

Martin,

Becke presented a talk at RUSI, Journal 64 in 1919 where he says that "I am indebted to the courtesy of The Historical section, Committee of Imperial Defence, for permission to use the official records when writing this account. Further information has been received from officers who were present at the action."

If you would like a pdf copy of this talk let me know and I will send it over to you.

Andy

Andy - That is a very kind offer. I will PM you.

He was of course employed by the Historical Section for years and I believe was churning out reports even before the end of the War. His report on Le Cateau is really quite detailed and the Nery report is equally so, although I am still confused by the eact disposition of the German guns.

Separately I have re-located Becke's published account "Nery 1914" - A reprint of his article in the Journal of the Royal Artilliery LIV No.3 1927. It forms the first 80 pages of I Battery RHA war diary and can be accessed via Ancestry or downloaded for a mere £3.30 from NAUK. WO 95/1108/2. Worth downloading in my view as it is far easier to navigate on pdf and Ancestry is rather sticky.

MG

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Guest

It is a fascinating battlefield to visit. The ravine on the northern edge of the village is very impressive, which explains all the movement to its left and right. It is a battle filled with confusion, so that, apart from getting the overall idea and the broad details and timings, I doubt if it will ever be possible to be definitive - in any case, the situation was not at all helped by the early morning mist/fog. It is certainly one of those places that it is possible to understand proceedings if one can get to it on the ground. Since things have changed very little, in the great scheme of things, over the last hundred years, this is made all the more rewarding. Add on to that the fact that the whole atmosphere is 'dozy', with little rushing traffic, this is an ideal spot to spend a most useful half day or so. Other recommendations that are not an impossible distance away would include Clery and Villers Cotteret.

The cemetery part of a visit is also worth while; with a most unusual burial arrangement in the Communal Cemetery at Nery.

Thanks Nigel.

You wouldn't by chance have any photos of the area? All I have seen are those in the 11 H history (Pitman's) which Becke also used and have occasionally been recycled in more recent histories. It would be nice to see some photos of how the area looks today.

The contours on the map make the ravine look rather steep and all accounts indicate both the British (5 DG and 11H) and the German (15H and 16H) found it impossible to ascend/descend without dismounting. One very small point of curiosity is that Becke claims the German Cavalry had specially trained horses/horsemen who tried and failed to descend the side of the ravine.

I hope to visit it this summer. MG

PS Villers Cotteret is equally interesting and equally confusing. MG

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Guest

I would note that Becke went to a great deal of trouble to contact survivors of many actions [and of course integrated the German accounts] - as we see with copies of many post war letters/accounts lodged in many war diaries.

I would also tend to trust a RA map [such as that in published in the JRA] due to the strong professional emphasis on mapmaking skills instilled at Woolwich... Who made that map in Norries and how closely this was supervised/checked might be asked?? the underlay for the map is exactly the same as Becke's. The only difference is that the 11 H map has the Battery close to Feu farm.

That they both cannot be correct makes clear that one was not. If the guns moved , both might be correct.

There is plenty of scope in the accounts for ambiguity to creep in.. that for example there was Rifle/MG [the Guards MG Battery?] fire and troops at the southern position by Le Feu farm at one time could have been conflated to include artillery??. There is also the possibility that Norrie conflated Feu Farm with Ste Luce at the northern tip of the plateau. Note C Sqn was sent North when it crossed the ravine.

That Norrie's memory of events by 1964 was imperfect is of course possible, or indeed that his account should have read 'south of the German gun position' [as i know my grandfathers memory of the retreat from Mons and fighting guns across the Aisne in Sept 1914 was also very imperfect by the 1960s....]. I would agree that we must always be cautious of memories after 50 years and Norrie's version is the out-lier...however...then I find the 1st Cav Bde has a sketch map which partially concurs with his version.(see below)

I never get the impression in the gunners' accounts that they were firing at two German positions [90 degrees apart from the perspective of L] at the same time.. I would strongly agree. the exact position of I Battery which was able to engage [and hence see] the German guns.. as i recall ...might be helpful. Becke's version has I battery engaging using the Sugar Factory as a reference point. His map shows them in the extreme SW corner. Also he records enfilading fire by I Battery. If there were Guns SE of Nery pointing NNW, then I Battery would have been in a perfect position to enfilade these guns...so some of Becke's anecdotal record partly supports the idea of this southern German Battery...

But whether the Germans gunners limbered up and moved during the action - might be further considered ?? I agree. the accounts suggest to me they are engaging guns on the northern position .. that account suggests to me I Bty was firing at a single target of 'German guns' ... firing over the factory chimney as an aiming point (p.337) [this could not be the case if firing at guns in a southern position] I think we are on the same page; and found latterly - when visiting the German artillery position three German guns had been turned to face I Bty .. while other 5 faced L' .. 4 guns having being got away by the Germans (Becke p.339) [these must surely be as shown on the northern plateau position?] I cant see how guns on the plateau (North) would need to fully turn to engage I Battery. If there were guns to the SE of Nery and they were being enfiladed by I Battery as stated in Beckes version, then it makes perfect sense that these guns would be turned to counter I Battery. Also from I Battery's perspective the southern German Battery would be in its immediate view. It doesn't make sense to engage the Northern battery if the Southern Battery was only a few hundred yards away. ...also note the 11 H MGs were moved further South during the battle.

Why the Germans would split a battery to take two positions - creating major problems of coordination/communication might also be asked.. and again does seem to not fit well with the German account of their Dragoons' advance down towards the Sugar factory. Becke's description of the German 15H and 16H 'charge' that was held up on the ravine has 15H right on the immediate left of the German Battery... again with no reference to the 'Southern Battery'.

My thoughts in blue...

You can clearly see why I am slightly confused. 1st Cav Bde sketch maps below - attached to Briggs' report but not in his handwriting. I suspect Staff Captain was the author as the Bde Maj was KIA. . There are two and show German Guns in different positions. One clearly shows guns to the immediate East, on the Plateau and one shows guns to the SE.

The 'Official' view that all 12 guns were on the Plateau to the immediate East of Nery seems to need verification in my view. MG

Edit. I see Sgt Nelson's account describes seeing artillery on the 'right flank'. MG

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sheldrake

You wouldn't by chance have any photos of the area? All I have seen are those in the 11 H history (Pitman's) which Becke also used and have occasionally been recycled in more recent histories. It would be nice to see some photos of how the area looks today.

Here are some photos of the area taken on 1st September 2014. I'm afraid the landscape a little obscured by err "heritage"

This one shows the corner of the field close to where there may have been hay stacked and where BSM Dorrell? was firign a rifle. The men in the photo are the 1980s L Battery. The BC Chris Bonney is in the light coloured suit. post-93821-0-62878500-1452470799_thumb.j

This is the view from the middle of the hayfield towards the ravine. As you can see, there seem to be more trees on the German side of the ravine in 2014 than in 1914.post-93821-0-52591800-1452471157_thumb.j

This view looks towards the area of the "sugar beet factory" with a Kings troop 13 Pdr around where D & D Sub may have been.post-93821-0-60449800-1452471377_thumb.j

British cavalry moving through the village from the Cemetery to the hay field via the town hall.post-93821-0-35237000-1452471544_thumb.j

Captain Bradbury's grave in the village cemetery

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Cavalryman on the road outside the cemetery. The dark shape on the ridge over the horse's head is a small cavalry troop just over the crest.

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Guest

As is often the case, the answer was staring me in the face all along..... The report (Appendix C) from the 11H war diary records that the guns moved position from the ridge directly East to a second position SE....


"The 11th Hussars who were posted behind walls escaped lightly but L Battery RHA and the Queens Bays which had bivouacked in the open at the S and SW of the village suffered very severely. As soon as soon the situation was clear A Sqn was placed at the disposal of the GOC BDE and sent to fill the gap between L Battery and to right troop of B Sqn, when it remained in action until the conclusion of the engagement. About half and hour after the commencement of the attack the German guns were shifted from their first position to the SE of the village and brought up to within 700 yards. The wagons with their escorts were left on the ridge immediately to the E of the church but owing to the mist and a report that French cavalry was coming up, fire was not opened until a dismounted patrol had been sent across the ravine to clean up the situation and a good opportunity was thus lost."

So it would seem that some of the gunfire after the first half hour would have been directed from the second position SE of Nery and between Feu Farm and the Sugar Factory. It seems strange that none of the narratives in the histories pick up on this point. Most (all?) seem to imply the German guns remained on the ridges immediately East. To reiterate Loed Norrie's view; he believed possibly all of the German Batteries were in the SE position.

One other factor worth considering is that the six German MGs would have been on carriages and from a distance in the mist might also have been mistaken for artillery guns. My speculation. MG

Edit. The British reports generally concur that 8 guns were captured and 4 were captured later. I wonder if the 8 guns were on the plateau immediately East and the 4 had moved to the second position. If the 11H had crossed the ravine to the North, swept South across the plateau through the 8 gunsand the limbers and wagons then to Feu Farm and charged on it might explain how the Middlesex Regt (advancing from the North West and crossing the ravine) subsequently 'captured' the 8 guns. The 4 guns SE may well have been disabled by I Battery before Norrie's troop reached them (11H had only two men wounded throughout the day) assuming L Battery had solely focused on the guns to the East. Given the mist, or dare I say 'fog' of war, is it possible that the single Gun from L Battery had no idea the Germans had opened a second position as they were so focused on the opposite ridge line?

There are a number of first-hand accounts by L Battery men and none mention having to turn the gun to engage the second position. The only discrepancy in this version is one of timings. The RHA believe it was a two hour action yet 11H believes the Germans moved position after half an hour. If only some of the German guns moved, it would accommodate all versions of the events. Also, if the 11H version is out on its timing slightly, and the second position opened up a bit later, this might explain L Battery's total focus on the first position, leaving I Battery to deal with the SE guns.

MG

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mebu

One of the men I have been researching......Gunner 61053 William Richardson....was killed at Nery and is one of those buried in the village cemetery. I have been unable to find much detail as to his gun etc as only the officers name appear in the accounts.

If anyone comes across a reference to Richardson I would be very pleased to know.

Thanks, Peter

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Sepoy

Here is a photograph of 64153 Gunner Edward Thomas Marsh, "D" Gun, “L” Battery, Royal Horse Artillery who was wounded during the action and died three days later.
The publication "The Affair at Nery 1st September, 1914" by Patrick Takle contains the following quote from 56832 Acting Bombardier Frank Perrett, "D" Gun, "L" Battery RHA.

When the first salvo fell, Gunner Marsh, my Number 2 and I were just finishing shaving in rear of our detachment horses, which were tied to the gun wheel. A shell dropped right amongst them and the explosion flattened us. Marsh was struggling, but I told him to lie still as I could see he was badly hit; a piece of shell had gone right through his back and disembowelled him

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Sepoy

A private Memorial Scroll to Gunner Marsh

Sepoy

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charlie962

Pte J Hearn, 2nd Dragoons, gives this account , as interpretted by the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 24/9/14. The stories already repeated above and elsewhere show how the destruction of horses was horrific. But the idea of 600 charging off and distracting the Germans might give a reason for some of their guns being moved about early on, if it is true ?

post-119876-0-29427500-1452544354_thumb.post-119876-0-99441900-1452544365_thumb.

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sheldrake

Another image from the Centenary. Taken around 6 AM . Possibly the best impression of the battlefield of Nery. post-93821-0-24797100-1453422977_thumb.j

Edited by sheldrake

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Another image from the Centenary. Taken around 6 AM . Possibly the best impression of the battlefield of Nery. attachicon.gifNery_1_Sep_2014.jpeg

Thanks for the photos. I believe more are on the weblink. MG

Pte J Hearn, 2nd Dragoons, gives this account , as interpretted by the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 24/9/14. The stories already repeated above and elsewhere show how the destruction of horses was horrific. But the idea of 600 charging off and distracting the Germans might give a reason for some of their guns being moved about early on, if it is true ?

attachicon.gifnery 1.JPGattachicon.gifnery 2.JPG

Thanks for this. The account is at odds (in part) with most other accounts. A useful example of how the same event gets reported in quite different ways.

And thank you to everyone who has responded. MG

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