A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Page 263

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GOOD STAFF WORK


this disability naturally added to the difficulties of leadership. It is the privilege of the soldier on the spot to allow his mordant humour to play on the comparatively easier circumstances of the staff, but in the retreat from Mons staff officers shared all the hardshipsofthemen. Theresponsibilitywhichrestedonthem daring daily retirements, often ordered at an hour’s notice, was truly onerous. To them fell the task of communicating orders to the brigades, of organizing the lines of retreat and reassembling units at the halting places. However orderly a retreat may be, confusion is bound to occur, and there were days and nights during the retreat from Mons when the situation was wellnigh inextricable. Itsaysmuchfortheunflaggingworkofthestaff that at every halt a presentable line was formed. As a passage in military history the retreat from Mons can never be accounted inglorious to British arms. Apart from successful actions and the many htroic deeds which marked these anxious days, Sir John French had magnificently fulfilled his instructions. His cooperation with the French had been com- plete, and his retreat was a natural corollary to General Joffre s movements. His losses were heavy, 16,000 killed, wounded, and missing, with 42 guns and a great quantity of material, but con- sidering the numbers engaged and the nature of the operation theywerenotdisproportionate. Oneofhistaskswastopreserve as far as possible a nucleus of his regular army upon which the new armies in training could be drafted and built up, and this he triumphantly did. That the indomitable spirit of the British remained unshaken during ihe great retreat is evident from a letter of a corporal of the Coldstream Guards. From this account it appears that on the third day after Mons it was supposed that the British had left the enemy 20 miles in the rear. About 5,000 or 6,000 CkTrnans, however, came and trapped them. All that was pos- sible under the circumstances was done to line the road, and by good luck there w'as a house on either side. The soldiers lay between them ; in front there was barbed wire, which must have been put there before the war, but it was a godsend. The enemy tried to break it down with Uieir rifles, but were knocked down as they came up. Some of them got partially over the wire, and tliey were hanging there the next morning—riddled with shot. It was their big guns from which they fired case shot that did most of the damage.

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