A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 248

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THE BRITISH RETREAT


men could hardly put one leg before the other, yet they all marched in singing/' Added to this lack of sleep, the mere action of x’etreat necessitated constant labour in the digging of hasty entrenchments. The weather was very warm, and marching along sunbaked roads or through the close-wooded country invc^vedmuchadditionalfatigue. Andatthisstagetheretreat had only just begun. Meanwhile, reports were being received that the French were in general retirement, and Sir John French was confronted with seriousproblemsastohisnextdispositions. Hehadatonetime seriously thought of taking advantage of the fortifications of Maubeuge, but memories of 1870 and the fate of Bazaine at Metz inducedhimtoabandontheidea. Hegavetheordertocontinue theretreattothelineLeCateau-Cambrai. Butnowhiscourse was complicated by certain territorial difficulties. In the way of retreat lay the forest of Mojmal, nine miles in length and with an average depth of three to four, witli no road through it from northtosouthbutforesttracksnarrowandunmetalled. Itwas necessary to skirt this obstacle, and it was decided to do so in twoseparatecolumns. Topassthewholeforcetothewestof the forest would have involved a flank march across the front of the enemy, and to the east would have caused confusion with the Frencharmy. ItwasthereforedecidedtodividethetwoBritish army corps, one retiring to the west and the other to the east of thewoods. Themovementwastobebegunsothatedlrearguards were clear of the Bavai-Eth road by dawn on August 25. The retreat was accordingly continued along these lines with thecavalryengagedinaprolongedrearguardaction. Novery notable incidents marked this day's retirement, but the threat of German envelopment and the continued retreat of the French made it obvious to Sir John French that he would not be able to stand on the Le Cateau position, but must press back on St. Quentin and Noyon. The discomfort was added to by heavy thunderstorms and the misery of being soaked to the skin. In issuing orders for a continuation of the retreat. Sir John French had come to a momentous decision. His orders were carried out by Sir Douglas Haig (ist corps), but as will be seen later. Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien (2nd corps), took a divergent view, which, in brief, was that as many of his troops had only just come in or were still arriving after oirer 20 hours' continuous work, and as the enemy was dose on his front, it was impossible

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