A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 256

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THE BRITISH RETREAT


in retiring his troops to ground with a better field of fire, or may urgently desire to rescue his men from the enfilading fire of the enemy, the grim necessities of war may require him literally to obey that order. In other words, the sacrifice of certain battalions and certain batteries may be absolutely essential to the safety of the main body, and for all the officer in the field knows this r61e of self-immolation may be allotted to him, not only in the case of a general retirement, but also during a stand when time is needed to bring up reinforcements. So naturally enough when orders for retreat failed to reach units on the scattered battlefield of Le Cateau those units re- mained where they were, prepared to fight to the last man or until a complete encirclement forced them to surrender. In this instance, however, as has been said, it was no part of Smith- Dorrien's scheme to sacrifice a single man who could be retired, and it was no more than the impossibility of communication which led those gallant troops to stand fast. The story of what happened to the ist Gordons in the 3rd division is one of the most tragic incidents in theii; regimental history. The account in the Official History of the War: Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1914, p.p. 187-88? well bears quoting in detail Some time after dark, firing having ceased, it became known to Lieutenant Colonel Neish of the Gordons that an order had been shouted by two staff officers to different parts of the line for the 8th infantry brigade to retire and that this order had reached every one except the bulk of his own regiment, the company of the Royal Scots which lay on its right, and two companies of the Royal Irish on its left. At 7.45 p.m. Brevet Colonel William Gordon, V.C., of the Gordon Highlanders, being the senior officer in army rank, assumed command of the whole of these troops ; and at 9.20 p.m. Colonel Neish sent an officer and two men to Troisvilles to obtain orders, if possible, from the headquarters of the 3rd division. This officer not returning within the allotted time of two hours—he had falleji, as a matter of fact, into the hands of the enemy at Troisvilles— Colonel Gordon assembled his force towards Caudry at mid- night, and at 12.30 a.m. marched off quite undisturbed througli Audencourt, two miles north-north-west of Bertry. All was quiet in the village, and at 1.30 a.m. the head of the column reachedMontigny,oneandahalfmileswestofBertry. Here a light was seen in a cottage, and tfie occupants—a man and a woman who were presum^ to be French—reported that early in the morning the British troops had moved on Bertry and

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