Home History Monty in WWI: A Future Field Marshal’s Close Call at Meteren in 1914

Monty in WWI: A Future Field Marshal’s Close Call at Meteren in 1914

by Enochadmin

Whereas the First World Struggle is notorious for large-scale bloody battles resembling these on the Somme, the Ardennes and Passchendaele, the forgotten and determined battle waged by males of Britain’s Royal Warwickshire Regiment for the city of Meteren in 1914 altered the course of army historical past.

Meteren is positioned in a traditionally Flemish-speaking space in present-day France. The area, referred to as Flanders, has been immortalized in literature and poetry resembling John McCrae’s masterpiece, “In Flanders Fields.” Meteren was considered one of many scenic European cities the place numerous males have been killed throughout World Struggle I, removed from their houses and households. Many of those troopers are forgotten in time though their names immediately stay inscribed on plaques and memorials.

On Oct. 13, 1914, the quiet village was the positioning of a ruthless and bloody siege. German forces entrenched in dugouts and snipers holed up in homes beat again an assault launched by British floor forces. The 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment tried to drive the Germans out with weapons and bayonets.

Within the thick of the fierce blade combating was 26-year-old Anglo-Irish Lieut. Bernard Legislation Montgomery, later cited in The London Gazette for wielding his weapon with valor and distinction. A powerful-willed athlete with a love of army science, Montgomery threw himself into the battle with power—starting a platoon cost by brandishing a sword and physique slamming a German rifleman in a trench. By dusk, Montgomery’s future and method to conflict would ceaselessly change.

Going to Struggle

When conflict broke out in 1914, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, fated to struggle at Meteren, was stationed at Shorncliffe in England. The battalion had beforehand been stationed in India—first at Peshawar and subsequently in Bombay and Deolali till they embarked for England on Dec. 11, 1912. In keeping with Charles L. Kingsford’s 1921 historical past of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the 1st Battalion was a part of the tenth Brigade of the 4th Division serving beneath the command of Brig.-Gen. James Aylmer Haldane. Referred to as to the Western entrance, the battalion arrived in France on Aug. 22, 1914.

Previous to serving in World Struggle I, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment already had a noble historical past. Present process varied title adjustments, it was among the many oldest infantry regiments within the British Military. The regiment fought in lots of notable conflicts together with the Struggle of Spanish Succession, the Peninsula Wars in Spain and France, the Indian Mutiny and the Boer Struggle. King William IV gave the regiment the title “royal” in 1832. All through the 19th century, the vast majority of the regiment’s troopers have been hardy males from Lancashire, Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Eire, in response to Kingsford. The lads have been referred to as “Warwicks.” The regimental image was the antelope.

Montgomery joined the regiment in 1908. He had a boisterous and unbiased persona, in addition to nice curiosity and intelligence. Born into an ecclesiastical household, he had scandalized his strict relations when he introduced his vocation to be a soldier. Becoming a member of the military, the son of a bishop remodeled right into a tattooed, mustachioed adventurer recognized for enthusiasm for sports activities, journey and sensible jokes. Younger Montgomery was additionally very mental—an avid reader, he loved finding out historical past and literature, and penned quite a few articles for his regimental journal.

Lt. Bernard Montgomery. (Hulton-Deutsch Assortment/Corbis/Getty Pictures)

Arriving on the shores of war-torn France in 1914, Montgomery and his fellow Warwicks might hardly have recognized the horrors that awaited them. They arrived within the Le Cateau space on Aug. 23 with the tenth Brigade—simply having missed the Battle of Mons.

A confused ambiance overshadowed the countryside. The newly arrived males discovered the British Military in retreat. In keeping with Kingsford, “information of what had occurred was troublesome to acquire.” The lads marched north towards St. Python to cowl the retreat of the threerd and 5th Divisions. Reduce off from different forces, the Warwicks took a incorrect flip that almost introduced them into the trail of the advancing Germans.

“If This Was Actual Struggle…”

It was not lengthy earlier than blood was spilled. Because the drained troopers rested in a cornfield on Aug. 26, a hailstorm of German bullets rained down upon others of their brigade. The Warwicks have been ordered to assault. Among the many group was Montgomery, whose firm rallied forward of the opposite troops in a firing line.

“The C.O galloped up…and shouted to us to assault the enemy on the ahead hill without delay,” he later remembered in his memoirs. “This was the one order; there was no reconnaissance, no plan, no masking hearth. We rushed up the hill, got here beneath heavy hearth, my Firm Commander was wounded and there have been many casualties.”

As German bullets claimed the lives of seven officers and 40 males, the commander ceased giving orders and the lads retreated with a scarcity of technique that Montgomery discovered mindless. “If this was actual conflict it struck me as most curious and didn’t appear to make any sense towards the background of what I had been studying,” he recalled with cynicism.

Afterwards the Warwicks have been deserted with no additional orders. “We have been left behind when the retreat started and for 3 days we marched between the German cavalry display screen and their predominant columns following behind, transferring largely by evening and hiding by day,” Montgomery recalled. “In charge of our occasion was a first-class regimental officer, Main A.J. Poole, and it was due completely to him that we lastly acquired again to the British Expeditionary Drive and joined up with our battalion.”

Life for males of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment turned a collection of grueling marches, taking pictures skirmishes, and continuously altering orders earlier than their true baptism of fireplace got here at Meteren in early October. After the German takeover of Antwerp on Oct. 9, a battle for port cities alongside the English Channel adopted.

On To Meteren

Gen. Haldane obtained orders to grab the Meteren space from German forces. The brigade marched out from Caestre on the morning of Oct. 13 earlier than 10 a.m. It will be an extended and grueling day. The Warwicks shaped the advance guard and have been first to conflict with the enemy. The Germans, sensing their method, retreated into buildings and trenches. The small Flemish city was now an armed fortress.

“The Royal Warwickshire have been then ordered to drive them out, and by skillful use of the bottom made regular progress until about 1 o’clock, once they had gained the outskirts.

Meteren after battle later within the conflict in 1918. (Nationwide Library of Scotland)

Then they have been halted while the assault developed in different quarters,” wrote Kingsford.

A Bayonet Combat

The battle was particularly bloody. The attacking Warwicks relied closely on the usage of the bayonet to drive the Germans from dugouts. British troopers have been issued a typical 17-inch bayonet with which to slash and stab enemies. The French army most popular a needlepoint-style bayonet, whereas some German bayonets had serrated edges. The rifle butt was additionally used as a bludgeoning instrument.

Bayonet combating was brutal and private. German conscript Stefan Westmann, drafted into the 29th Infantry Division in April 1914, later recalled in a BBC interview printed by The Telegraph in 2014 that utilizing a bayonet in fight was a sickening expertise that males shortly acquired used to. “My comrades…have been completely undisturbed…Considered one of them boasted that he had killed a [French infantryman] with the butt of his rifle, one other one had strangled a captain,” he mentioned. “A 3rd one had hit any person over the pinnacle along with his spade and so they have been atypical males like me.” Westmann nevertheless by no means recovered from utilizing his bayonet. “I awoke at evening generally drenched in sweat as a result of I noticed the eyes of my fallen adversary, of the enemy,” he mentioned.

Montgomery was within the thick of the fray and described the fight as “grim combating.” In peacetime, he had been a literal bayonet-fighting champion—profitable prizes in man-to-man contests throughout coaching. Till Meteren, nevertheless, the younger soldier had solely stabbed sacks of straw. Nonetheless, Montgomery proved robust within the gory battle. The London Gazette on Dec. 1, 1914 famous that Montgomery displayed “conspicuous gallant main, when he turned the enemy out of their trenches with the bayonet.”  

On the top of their success, the Warwicks have been immediately ordered to cease the advance and maintain their place. The initiative was misplaced. The lads have been focused by German hearth as they have been compelled to carry again. “That they had superior with admirable keenness, and a lot of the casualties occurred while halted beneath heavy hearth,” wrote Kingsford with remorse.

Shot In The Lung

A sniper’s bullet struck Montgomery within the chest. The shot pierced via his proper lung. He fell within the open—uncovered to enemy hearth and affected by what scientifically ought to have been a deadly damage. A fellow soldier, evidently with some affinity for fight medication, ran to his support and utilized a area dressing to his damage. This man was shot within the head and fell on prime of Montgomery, who remained pinned beneath the corpse for agonizing moments as extra photographs have been fired at him. A collection of bullets geared toward Montgomery struck the lifeless man. Montgomery obtained a second shot wound to the knee. Montgomery remained trapped there as his chest crammed with blood.

British forces captured Meteren after dusk. But the Warwicks, regardless of their heroism, weren’t credited with profitable the battle. “This delay disadvantaged the Royal Warwickshire of the credit score of the particular seize of Meteren, which Gen. Haldane thought they could have achieved, had they been allowed to press ahead,” wrote Kingsford. The troops moved to the jap outskirts of Armentieres in the course of the subsequent a number of days.

Assuming Montgomery was lifeless, the lads left him behind on the battlefield. Stretcher-bearers discovered him nonetheless clinging to life and took him to an Superior Dressing station. His situation, within the eyes of medical personnel, was hopeless—a grave was dug for his imminent burial. Towards all odds, Montgomery survived. He was transported to a hospital in France and ultimately to a hospital in England because of the severity of his situation. Docs established that almost all of his inside bleeding occurred within the pleural cavity round his lung. This “fortunate” consequence of the shot wound was inexplicable, as was Montgomery’s restoration. 

Montgomery obtained the Distinguished Service Order for his heroism in the course of the battle—a uncommon distinction for a lowly lieutenant. His extended restoration within the hospital gave him time to replicate quietly. He turned motivated to grasp circumstances round him by gaining higher army data. This turned a life pursuit.

Common Montgomery about to handle males of the British eighth military who took half within the invasion of Sicily, July 1943. (Getty Pictures)

Returning to Battle

“After I lay in hospital…I got here to the conclusion that conflict was a extremely skilled enterprise, and there’s no room in conflict for the newbie,” he mentioned throughout a Sixties interview. “So I made a decision that I have to research my occupation and get proper all the way down to it. And I gave up the whole lot—the whole lot. I took no half in social life. I labored.”

Montgomery returned to the battlefront in 1916. By the conflict’s finish, the decided younger Montgomery would grow to be a Chief of Workers of a division at age 30. He would go on to struggle many extra battles and ultimately grow to be well-known for victories throughout World Struggle II. Though he made a full restoration, the lung damage took its toll—he couldn’t tolerate cigarette smoke, though he at all times gave cigarettes to his males.

His expertise at Meteren had modified him. Montgomery’s successes have been spurred on by his grasp of morale and humane command model that he developed based mostly on his early experiences combating within the trenches.

Following their motion at Meteren, the surviving troops of the regiment’s 1st Battalion dug in outdoors of Houplines, have been they remained for a month beneath fixed shellfire. In 1918, Meteren was decreased to a heap of rubble throughout a heavy bombardment. Many British troopers who fell in the course of the determined battle for the city on Oct. 13, 1914, together with males of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, are immediately buried in Meteren Navy Cemetery in France; 180 of these buried within the cemetery are unidentified. MH

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