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Remembered Today:

Boitron. 8 Sept, 1914.


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On 8 September 1914, the second day of the turning of the armies on the Marne after the BEF's retreat from Mons, the 4th (Guards) Brigade encountered the German rearguard in the wooded heights of Boitron, as they attempted to cross the Petit-Morin.

Another anniversary of another small skirmish in a war that engulfed the world for the next 40 years comes and goes, but for the men who fought there, and the families of the few hundred who died or were maimed, physically or mentally, by the fighting, it may have been the defining moment that influenced generations. 

3rd Coldstream Guards soldiers give their impressions of the fight in the following letters & diaries. The terrible damage inflicted by artillery shells on the human body is a common theme:

Pte WD Thompson, 3rd Coldstream Guards diary:

8 September. -- By what I can see we are fated to be in for it on Tuesdays. We were up at 3:30 am and off at 4:30 am. Less than an hour after that we had run up against them. One of their guns spoke, and about 15 of our chaps went down close by me. I think only four of them were dead. It is terrible to see your comrade's falling around you, and never a moment sure whether it is your turn next. We are rounding them up and intend to capture them. My company lost 29 killed and injured. We took the position that had been held by the Germans, and advanced over the ground over which we had been firing. Good God! What a sight; dead horses and men everywhere. I saw two with their heads blown off, and one with his head and shoulders blown away (Germans). About 6 pm we took up a position and prepared for a bayonet charge. Two of our chaps had been hit by a machine gun, but, with a good British cheer, we got over the ground. Before we got quite up to them they surrendered, and we cheered again. Some of the prisoners, 200 in all, said they did not know they were fighting the English or they would have refused to fight. That finished our fourth Tuesday. 

Pte Cuttiford, 3rd Coldstream Guards. 

September 8. – We set out again at daybreak, and were crossing an open plain prior to entering a village named Acy, when we heard that the enemy were near, but we still continued to advance. Our leading company walked straight into the deadly artillery fire of the German rear guard. The order was given to take cover. They continued shelling, so "advance" was given. After getting through the village, we found the enemy were skilfully placed in woods on a hillside, with an unusual number of machine guns. We could make no more headway at first owing to the difficult country, quite unsuitable for artillery. After a little scheming the officer commanding our artillery placed his guns in action, and, judging from what was left behind of the Germans, we must have given them a terrible reception. When we forced the enemy to retire we could see the result of an artillery duel. They were lying all over the place, killed and wounded. Machine guns, limbers and horses were blown to pieces. A bayonet charge forced the enemy to retire over the hill. When we got on the top of the hill they opened a heavy machine gun and rifle fire on us. We were on the point of charging when they surrendered. We took a battery of six machine guns (limbers and horses complete) and 400 prisoners. After this we halted for the night.

Corpl J Dendle, 3rd Coldstream Guards

…..On one occasion they encountered some Germans, and a short but quick fight ensued. The Germans proved themselves to be fearful cowards, flying at the point of the bayonet. It was an awful sight going over the German position. Overcoats and ammunition were left scattered about, and dead and wounded were lying about in large numbers.

Pte E Bedford, 3rd Coldstream Guards, North Devon Journal, Thursday 29 October:

…..No doubt you have read in the papers how we captured six of the quick firing guns in five minutes, when we were getting this position where we are now. They were firing at us with the whole six, when we got the order to charge. My word, what a charge our chaps made, it was something to behold, I can tell you, a charge like that; talk about getting excited, it's 10 times worse than that, and especially to see your mates falling by the side of you. My chum had two shots through his hat, but never touched his hair even. However, as soon as the dirty German saw we were charging them, they began to run and squeal like pigs, but they had to have it.

Pte Baker, 3rd Coldstream Guards

…..we captured 11 machine guns from the enemy. [When we followed] them up a hill as they retreated, we came upon a wounded Guards officer whom they had left on the roadside. He had been shot by our men through the shoulder, and his horse was also lying shot by his side. Two women were standing over him, and as we approached, a peasant, who was with them, became very excited, flourished a knife, and exclaimed ‘Allemand,’ ‘Allemand,’ (meaning German), beckoned us to hurry, and then drew the back of the knife across his own throat. The French hate the Germans bitterly. He then made a movement as if he were going to cut the Germans throat, but we promptly stopped him, and before passing on left a sentry to look after the wounded officer.

Pte Blakemore, No.2 Company, 3rd Coldstream Guards

….I see PC Smith has been interviewed, and that he saw me as he was lying wounded. I recognised him, but could not fall out of the ranks to see what was the nature of his injuries, as the battalion was advancing. I am pleased to see that he has got alright so soon, but it will be a bit before he comes out here again. The day he got wounded we captured machine guns and about 100 men in the woods. They surrounded a lot of our chaps, but in the end they surrendered, so Smith was out of that lot. It was a bit rapid that day.

L/Cpl Ernest Barwick, 3rd Coldstream Guards

…We were down by Meaux. It was on a Sunday morning that we started to move forward, and we fought a splendid engagement soon after. The Kaiser flung the best of his troops against the British — the famous Prussian Guards. We thought we were big fellows, but most of them were from 6'4" to 6'6" high. Before they attacked us we had been asleep for about 20 minutes. We were soon awake, though, and peppered it into them, finally going for them with the bayonet. We put them to flight, and took 150 prisoners and six machine guns.

Private Charles Hewitt, 3rd Coldstream Guards.

Writing from Armstrong College Hospital, Newcastle, to his parents, who reside at Brickfields, Ormesby, of which village he is a native, Private Charles Hewitt, of the 3rd Coldstream Guards, who has been a member of the Yarmouth Police Force about four years, and who rejoined his regiment on mobilisation, says: –

I have at last arrived here after being wounded on September 8. I have had a lot of riding about in trains and ships which are all fitted up well. I am quite comfortable here and have a good appetite. I was hit in the leg on September 8 by a bursting German shell. We were advancing in formation towards the Germans, who held a nice ridge. My section, about 20 men, were all hit except for three. I was in the leading four. Three men behind me were killed, so I was lucky. About 111 others came here on September 15. It is a college turned into a hospital. I have been under the x-rays this morning and they told me there are three pieces of shell about the size of a shilling in the muscle of my calf, and it is an ugly wound I am going under an operation tomorrow and hope soon to be well.

In a letter to his wife, Private Hewitt explains that he and other wounded crawled from the firing line into an orchard, where they remained till the field ambulance came along and examined their injuries, giving them temporary treatment, after which they were taken to a barn and subsequently conveyed to a Red Cross train.

Pte T Wilson, 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards

…..But things have changed since then and the Germans have had to hop it. We engaged the enemy on the board. The Germans had a strong position, but we drove them from it, the Germans again losing a lot of men. When we marched over the German position, what a sight met our eyes – dead and dying lay all over the place, and the Germans in their hurry to get away had left them lying on the battlefield. A battlefield is a funny place.

Pte A New, 3rd Coldstream Guards:

Mrs. F. New, of 67 Forton-road, Gosport, not having heard from her husband, Private A. New, who was with the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards at the Front, wrote to the officer commanding of the regiment, and received the following reply:—

Dear Madam, ln reply to your letter of the 18th inst., I am very sorry to have to tell you that your husband, No. 5712 Private A. New. was killed in action at Boitron, on September 8th. The company was advancing against the Germans, and suffered a certain number of casualties, among them your husband. He was a good soldier and fought gallantly and also cheerfully carried out the hard marching of the first three weeks of the campaign. I can only offer you my sympathy and say that your husband helped to maintain the reputation of the Coldstream Regiment and the British Army.

Yours faithfully, A. Tritton, Captain, 

Commanding No. 4 Company Battalion Coldstream Guards. October 27th, 1914.

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