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Quorn soldier's experiences - 1914

Loughborough Herald - 24th September 1914
With the Royal Scots in the Fighting Line

On Tuesday Pvt. George Harris, of the Royal Scots, returned to his home at Quorn from the front on sick leave. His wound was not of a serious nature, and was sustained during the retreat from Mons to Paris between the Belgian town and Cambrai. When the British army arrived at Mons on Saturday the Scots took up a position on the right of the town, with the Middlesex Regiment on their left, and Gloucesters on their right. Harris's company was sent on outpost duty while the rest of the regiment dug trenches. Nothing was seen of the German army that day. On Sunday Harris was again on outpost duty, and shortly after mid-day rifle bullets commenced to sing around them, and a number of Uhlans appeared. The trenches were occupied, and firing was continued till about 5.30. During this day the Scots sustained only four minor casualties, but they had orders to retire. At mid-day they again came into position in trenches dug by Engineers, while the fighting was proceeding at Mons, and in this manner the retreat was carried out until Cambrai was reached.

While Harris was climbing over some wire in a hedge, the wire broke, and he fell with his cheek on a stake. This caused a rather severe cut, but he did not take much notice of the injury. On Tuesday they were in the trenches again all day, but did not fire a shot. All day long, from about seven o'clock to well into the night, the British artillery was engaged with the guns of the enemy, and shells were bursting all over the trenches. A German aeroplane came towards the lines, and flew the whole length of the trenches. From this Germans got their range, and it was from shrapnel that most of the casualties were sustained.

Private Harris said it was quite true that a number of the German shells failed to explode, but his view is that they were not intended to do so. When they struck the ground they threw up a lot of black smoke and were evidently intended as sighting shots. The soldiers were told to hold the trenches at all costs, as they expected reinforcements from the French army. These did not turn up however, and on Wednesday a fresh line of trenches was occupied. While retiring on these the transports were reached, but the Germans, who followed up in motor cars, got their guns into position, and destroyed the whole convoy - ammunition wagons, water carts and cooker, the latter containing food for 11,000 men. The result was that the troops had no food except turnips and apples gathered on the way for five days.

When Cambrai was abandoned the German artillery blew up practically all the place. The shells from their heavy guns seemed to plough lanes straight through the town. The trenches which were occupied behind the town were not large enough for all the soldiers, and the third-class shots received orders to retire. The Germans came towards the lines, and appeared over the top of a rise 500 yards off, marching five deep. As soon as they came into view the British machine guns and riflemen mowed them down like corn, but as fast as one lot was disposed of, another lot came along, and all the time the artillery of both armies was thundering away.

The casualties were very heavy, and the Gordon Highlanders suffered severely, as was found when the regiment was reorganised. At first only eight men out of the 1,500 could be found, but eventually 170 mustered. The Royal Scots also lost 508 men. The army retreated about eight miles at a time, sometimes into trenches dug by engineers, and at others having to spend the greater part of the night digging their own.

During the first few days there was a heavy rainstorm, which caused a lot of water to collect in the trenches. The troops were waist deep in water for the greater part of the day. The army had retreated towards Paris, and Harris thought they were still retreating, when it was found that they had advanced about 16 miles. He was then ordered to report himself sick on account of the wound in his face, and after spending about half an hour in Paris, was sent to Havre and transported to England. He said there were four other Quorn men, Wilders, Squire, Allen, and Hutton, in the Royal Scots. Two of the men were in India, but the other two he left with the regiment in France.

See artefact 669 for a photograph of George Harris

   
 Submitted on: 2010-12-08
 Submitted by: Kathryn Paterson;
 Artefact ID: 1019
 Print: View artefact in printer-friendly page

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