The First Battle of the Marne raged until 12 September, causing heavy casualties on both sides. It was a strategic victory for the Allied forces and put an end to German hopes of invading Paris. It also marked the end of the war of movement and the beginning of the trench warfare which was to characterise the Western Front for the next four years. For the mounted troops, the First Battle of the Marne was a swan song in many ways, witnessing as it did the last lance against lance cavalry charge of the First World War between the 9th Lancers and the German 1st Guard Dragoons on 7 September. In England, news of the Great Retreat and the heavy casualties of Mons and Marne resulted in a recruiting boom of volunteers: by the end of September, over 750,000 men had enlisted for service. Mrs Armstrong and her daughters witnessed these activities first hand in Bridgnorth, where their host Captain Harold Welch was in charge of recruitment.
Wrote letters. Muz & Ione went in the car, & brought recruits in to Bridgnorth. […] Mr Blacklock came for dinner, & he & Capt W. worked after dinner, I went to bed early, Harry sent Ione the rabbits, as he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment at Dover yesterday. Muz came up to bed at about twelve. Sept 2nd was the first quiet day, our troops have had, since the Battle of Mons on Aug. 23rd. Our casualties both officers & men, up to Sept. 1st is about 15000.
Jouy-le-Châtel. Starting point was held by enemy. Advanced guard shot at. 9th Lancers charged a squadron with one troop headed by David Campbell who was wounded twice. Reynolds wounded & Allfrey was killed. Was sent round to get in touch with 4th Bde. 18th Hussars practically wiped out a squadron with rifle fire from behind stooks. Sat on a hay rick & watched their ambulance gathering dead & wounded. Billeted in Fretoy. Place in a dreadful mess, bottles & dead hens everywhere. Heard that they had drunk 200 bottles of wine.
Tuesday 8 September
Lieutenant Frederick Allfrey
[…] We went off at about 11-30 in our car to Wolverhampton to get the door mended. […] We had lunch in the park there, & then Muz, Heppie & Tom went & looked at the town, & Ione & I sat beside the wee lake & read. We had tea there, & got back at about six. […] Another casualty list 10 officers killed, 29 wounded & 46 missing. Nevvy & Buzz are in it, & Dick Phillips. There are a lot of Gordon Highlanders, Cheshire Regt. & Middlesex in the lists.
2nd Sep was the first quiet day our troops had had since August 23rd our casualties officers & men are placed at 15000, Nevy Buz Porter & Dick Phillip are in casualty list as wounded. Captain W. has now had definite orders that he is to take all these men he has recruited about here to train & he now goes to Aldershot tomorrow, he has worked it all up very well. Our army have now crossed the Marne & enemy retired about 25 miles.
Fretoy. Started 4.30. Staff late. Had fight in wood, Jones sent to gallop barricaded bridge. Had good scrap in Station of Sablonnieres. Shot a German. Followed them up & got at them with the guns who did a lot of damage. Found a good many wounded. Stayed the night in a small house & the Padre got dinner for us. Horses were tied up outside a forge. Rotten wet night.
Wednesday 9 September
I packed some of the morning. After lunch Muz & Ione went off in the car to tell some of Capt W’s recruits that they would have to go off in the morning instead of next day. Heppie, Tom & I drove in to Bridgnorth, & then Heppie went on in a hired car, to bring another man back to the station, she didn’t get back till nearly eight, & the others got back at about seven. We went for a drive, on our way back, with Janet. […] Capt. Welch had dinner with his mother. Muz stayed up for him, but I went to bed. Another list of people who are in hospitals, is in the paper today. Mr Liesching & Mr Stokes are wounded, & Mr Cartwright. […] There is a photograph of Nevvy & Buzz Porter in the paper today. We went in to see Mrs Welch this afternoon.
Bassevelle. Moved at 3 a. m. and assembled behind wood. Saw Germans had barricaded the bridges. Worked away back to the right flank where Bde halted. Went up to Cav Div with Gen & sat about a high ground overlooking Chezy. Crossed in Marne & went up big hill. 5th Lancers captured 22 prisoners. Had rather fun rounding them up. Billeted in farm at Thiolet. Borritt was sent to the base as he had a row with Coleman.
Letter from Gwendolen Lyster [?], Wappenham House, Towcester, to Jess Armstrong, undated but written at around this time
British Army remount handlers wanted poster WWI
My dear Winona.
Thank you so much for your letter. Yes isn’t this war too dreadful, one doesn’t know where or when it will end, as the Germans will not give in easily. I know two men who were killed, & two yesterday wounded. My brother has got a commission in the 16th Lancers & is over at the Curragh training at present he goes out he hopes in about 2 months’ time. My brother in law has been out for some time, but he is on a remount job1, which is not dangerous I’m glad to say. I am doing first aid & nursing & have done 2 exams & have another tomorrow, as I want to get a certificate. I should love to go out as a nurse if I can manage to. I suppose you saw Barbara’s engagement in the papers. I hear from her that she is to be married before he goes out whenever that may be. Nearly everyone’s horses round here have been taken by the Government, but I hear notwithstanding that there are to be 4 days a week of hunting. I wonder whether you are in Folkestone still, I am sending this to Ireland as I’ve forgotten your mother’s address.
with love yours affectionately
Gwendolen Lyster [?]
Thursday 10 September
Captain Harold Welch marching with recruits
We got up at about six, as Capt. Welch was going off. We went over to Shrewsbury, in both cars, & waited at the barracks, while he got his men & then they all marched to the station. The “Shrewsbury Pals”2 & the Bridgnorth lot went together. They marched up to the station, & the Mayor made a speech; they wouldn’t let us into the station, so we couldn’t see the train off. They are going to Blackdown. Muz & Ione went off to see the Youngs, but only found him, & they got back at about seven. We came back by Much Wenlock, & looked at the abbey. […] Another casualty list, 90 wounded, 9 wounded & missing, 9 dead & 40. Roger, Mr Olphert, Major Day (Warwicks) Mr Maunsell are wounded. Mr Foljambe (Rifle Brigade) wounded & missing. Mr Dalton, Mr Chichester-Constable, Major Gray, Mr O’Donovan & Mr Vernon are missing. Our army has crossed the Marne, & the enemy has retired about 25 miles
We all went in two cars to see Captain Welch off, with his men it was all very interesting seeing these men who had had no training at all going off. the Mayor gave them an address & then they all went off. we stood on a cart to see them all off we were not allowed on to the platform soldiers with rifles guarded the doors only letting them pass. Ione & I got back to Cantreyn at 7. Heppie Tommy & Jess went back at once. Roger Wakefield3 & any number of men we know are in today’s list.
Thiolet. Was sent off at 4.30 to catch Gen Allenby. Got a lot of clean bit up for the men. Thompson went away. Watched an artillery battle between German & French. Saw one French battery silenced. French Inf came up in native cars & made an attack, which was never pushed home. Saw Brock who was very bored. Went a long way off & billeted in a chateau at Rozet which had been used by the Germans. Gen was taken for a German. Gunners dined with us. Couldn’t get any bread for the men.
Friday 11 September
Mrs & Miss Welch & Mrs Layton came for lunch, & we sat in the little glass room afterwards & I helped Miss Welch to wind wool, then Ione put a few photographs into my book, & then walked about the garden. Janet taught Ione to make socks, & Francis taught me to make a tie. Miss Welch came back again, & the others walked in to the town with her. I worked at my tie, but went to bed after dinner, at about eleven.
Rozet. Left 4.30. Saw John St G with 4 D.G’s. Trekked along slowly. 9 Lancers got 4 prisoners. Sat in hay barn with General. Rained very hard. Halted in shed by side of road saw John Vaughan. Moved into billets at Arcy about 6. Bernard Neame came back & wanted his horse. Got our transport & had good wash
Saturday 12 September
Captain Gerrard Sherlock
Muz & Ione went off in the car to Wolverhampton, to get the car mended, but they couldn’t get it done so got back at about three. In the morning Heppie, Tom & I walked in to the town, to see the market, & watched them auctioning china! I bought four bowls for 6d! It rained when we were coming out, & rained hard the rest of the day. Read for a little while, then Francis taught me how to make a rattle, so I worked at it, she finished it up for me after dinner, & we went to bed at about 11-30. Another small casualty list yesterday – Friday – six wounded, two missing, Mr Clarke in the 3rd is missing. A total number is in the paper today. Capt. Sherlock was killed in Cameroon.
Arcy. Left at 5 am. Saw shells bursting over hill away to our right. Stewart went off into Braine in motor & got killed. 1st Bde had to fight their way into Braine. Got through about midday. Saw a good many Germans dead & wounded. Our guns seem to have done good work. Rained hard in the afternoon. Billeted in Longueval. C Sqd of the 18th was left out by mistake. Gibblet came round absolutely furious. Horses had quite good stables. Horrid old people at farm who didn’t like us a bit
Sunday 13 September
Muz & I walked in to Bridgnorth to church, & then went & saw Mrs Welch afterwards. Miss Welch walked some of the way home with us. After lunch I rubbed Muz’s toes, & after tea I read for a bit. Tom & Ione went in to the town. Then I did some knitting. We went to bed at about eleven. The French have captured 160 guns.
Longueval. Geoff went off in H—’s car to reconnoitre the bridge at Bourg & was shot at. Saw what looked to be a Division of Cavalry passing along la route des Dames. Sewell wounded Pat Fitzgerald was killed. Advanced due North by way of a pursuit & opened fire with guns at a few stragglers. They got live batteries into action against us, and got our range at once. Retired back through woods. Lucas Tooth was killed. Stood about in the road all the afternoon & saw the Infantry going through. Billeted in the Chateau at Oeuilly which was in an awful mess. Several pictures were badly knocked about
The Army Remount Service was the body responsible for the purchase and training of horses and mules for the British Army; the number of depots in Britain was increased from five to nine during WWI to cope with the increased demand of animals. ⇑
Captain Harold Welch’s regiment, The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, was commonly known as Shrewsbury Pals. ⇑
Lieutenant Roger Owen Birkbeck Wakefield (b. 1892) of the Royal Irish Fusiliers was killed in action on 28 August 1914 aged 22. He was listed as wounded on the casualties list to which Mrs Armstrong is referring. ⇑