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THE ROAD TO WAR -
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My Road to Mons
 
Driving through the vast open fields and undulating hills of Northern France and Belgium gives one a sense of tranquility. Farmers are constantly working their vast tracts of land churning up the soil ready for planting the seeds that will grow into fields of crops, as high above in the clear blue skies larks sing adding peace to this lovely day.
All is at peace now, so difficult for us to believe today as we pass through this beautiful countryside of tree lined avenues, their canopy of green against the clear blue sky, the sun spreading its warmth across fields full of colour, how different everything was, so long ago… for this is where great ferocious battles were fought, artillery shells screamed through the air, day after day, night after night in artillery barrages the world had never believed could happen, machine-guns clattered their evil song of death as hundreds of thousands fell dead in the “bloody” horrific carnage and mess, such was the result of “The Great War”.
There is very little indication of the horror that raged here a hundred years ago, the land has been repossessed, trenches and shell craters filled and leveled, the barbed wire gone, the machinery of war taken for scrap to be used for other means.

The Battlefields of France today…all the trenches and craters filled in and at Peace!
 
The terror, horror, misery and pain that was felt and endured here are only for those who now lie asleep in death, under the clear blue skies of France and Belgium. The only reminder left for us today, are the row upon row of gravestones of crosses of plaques of marble slabs, in the hundreds of war cemeteries scattered across these two lands.
Those all from many different countries of Europe and many different nations around the world fought and died here, they are also buried here!
Many people flock here in there thousands, coaches from every country wind their way down the narrow country roads to find the cemetery where perhaps a family relative is buried. They slowly pass each and every gravestone, looking at the regimental badge, the age, more so the name etched on the cold white stone, it could well be the one they have been searching for.
I have toured these Battlefields of France and Belgium for many years, and yet it never ceases to amaze me how many hundreds of thousands of dead… rest here.
This tour took me to where some of the first and most famous battles of the “Great War” had taken place, the town of Mons, Belgium. I had read of the brave actions that were fought here and wanted to find out more, find the places where these men had been made Heroes by their Bravery and Courage.
There are very little signs of the battles that raged here in 1914 and 1918, but around the town and surrounding countryside many plaques and memorials to the battles fought can be found.
In May 1940, and September 1944 great battles were fought here during the Second War, the US VII infantry Corps captured the town in 1944, after fierce and severe losses fighting with German forces.
There are two very good museums in the heart of Mons, the Musees du Centenaire, and particularly the Musee de Guerre which was originally a pawnshop built in 1625, and holds one of the finest collections of First and Second War relics in Belgium.
I wanted to find the bridge on the canal where the first such heroic actions took place at the beginning of the war. With my map in place I followed the marked route, and headed my camper in the direction of Obourg.
An incredible and Heroic story recalls the actions of Lieutenant Maurice J. Dease and Private Sidney F. Godley, in one of the first encounters with the enemy on the 23rd August 1914. Unknown to them both, on that very day they would both become Heroes of the British Army, and of England.
The 4th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers was defending the bridge that crossed the canal at Obourg, unfortunately for them they were directly in the path of the advancing German Army who wanted to seize the bridge as a crossing point.
 

The original bridge that was so gallantly defend by the 4th Battalion
of the Royal Fusiliers has now been replaced with a steel one, but remains in the exact same location. (C/Right www.edenbridgetown.com I.R. Bridle)
 
Suddenly German artillery and machine-gun fire opened up on the British soldiers guarding the bridge and the defending troops nearby, killing many and causing severe casualties.
The Germans advanced from the Nimy station side and a fierce battle ensued, however the Fusiliers on the bridge gave their very best defending it, in a hope to give enough time for the other battalions to retire to safer positions. Those on the bridge were simply mown down by the German rifle and machine-gun fire, nearly every one of them were either killed or seriously wounded.
Lieutenant Dease, already badly injured grabbed a machine-gun and continued a succession of rapid fire against the Germans until he was so seriously wounded, he could not continue. Private Godley rushed to volunteer and grabbed another machine-gun and opened fire immediately, holding his position for two long hours as the Germans tried to get across, he too succumbed to the German fire and was seriously wounded, he had just enough strength to break the machine - gun against the metal of the bridge and throw it in the canal, minutes later he was a prisoner.
Lieutenant Dease, despite all his Heroic efforts died on the bridge, and Private Godley was taken to a prisoner of war camp.
Lieutenant Maurice J. Dease, 24 years old, was to be posthumously awarded the most prestigious Victoria Cross, “For Valour” during his courageous actions on the bridge that day in August 1914. He is buried in a British cemetery in nearby Obourg.
 
These were the very first two Victoria Crosses to be awarded, “For Valour”
during “The Great War”.
 
Private Sidney F. Godley returned to England after nearly 5 years as a prisoner of war in Germany, unaware that he was to become a Hero of the British Army and the people of England.
On February 23rd 1919, the young private who had displayed such absolute bravery on the canal bridge on that hot day in August 1914, would be invited to Buckingham Palace to receive this most prestigious award “For Valour”…the Victoria Cross, by the King himself.
He would later become a school caretaker, and died in 1957, aged 68.
There would certainly be others awarded during this war.
The original bridge that was so gallantly defend by the 4th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers has now been replaced with a steel one, but remains in the exact same location.
 
At the small village of Casteau, on the main road there stands a stone memorial that records the first confrontation with the enemy, it was here that the very first shots that begun “The First World War” in Europe rang out between the B.E.F and the First German Army.
 

British Troops attack the German Cavalry units.
 
At 07.00 am on 22nd August 1914, reports came in that an enemy a group of German Cavalry had been sighted, “C” Squadron of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards were ordered by Major Tom Bridges to scout the known area where the enemy had been seen. As they patrolled the main road and the adjacent woods they were suddenly confronted by the group of German 4th Kuirassiers Cavalry started charging at them, Corporal E. Thomas of the B.E.F. took the necessary action, aimed his rifle and fired at the charging Germans.
These were recorded as the first shots fired by the B.E.F. on the continent, for 100 years…!
 

The woods behind this sign and on this road, where the Major Thomas Bridges first rifle shots of WW1… were fired!
 
To add a note of interest to this…just across the road and almost directly opposite from where the first shots were fired by Corporal Thomas, there stands a house with a bronze memorial plaque on the wall recording that this is where the 116th Canadian Infantry Battalion out-post had stood on 11th November 1918, when the cease fire rang out across the world, bringing “The Great War”, at last to a final, horrific, destructive end.
 

How ironic, as I stood there in utter amazement, it was absolutely unbelievable, that the distance of perhaps only 50 feet separates the start and finishing lines of the most horrific conflict of such proportions killing over 10, 000, 000, and four years later it would end…just across the road…!!!
The bronze sign on the hotel wall, marked
the end of WW1.On the right hand side of the car…across the road just 15 meters away…!
 
On reaching the station at Obourg, the plaque on the newly built red brick memorial, remembers the Bravery displayed by the 4th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, for on the day of 23rd August 1914, these regulars of the British Infantry held off the oncoming Germans with superb rifle fire, their skill at using Lee Enfield rifles was no match for the German advance, as these professional soldiers could load, aim, and fire sixteen rounds every minute, some men could fire more.
 

Memorial Plaque at the old Obourg station Copyright I.R. Bridle/ www.edenbridgetown.com
The German infantry were amazed and frightened at this ferocity of fire from the British, even believing that every single British soldier could fire as fast as this and that the Infantry Battalions were using “machine-guns” instead of just “plain old rifles”.
Strange as it was they had received the finest reputation from the enemy for their fast accurate mode of fire, which we know were only rifles…!
Nearby is the orchard where the first officer of the war was killed, Major Abell, who now lies with all his men killed at St Symphorien, Military Cemetery. In remembrance of the Heroic battle fought by the 4th Middlesex Regiment, a road has been named in their honour.
 
Sir Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Army had his headquarters in the small town of Givry, on the Bavay road, General Allenby also had his H.Q. and quarters at Villers St Ghislain which belonged to the local school mistress, they both still stand and can be seen on the main road. Just down from the Industrial estate at Peronnes, a disused coal slag heap stands proud on the left hand side of the road giving an excellent view of the surrounding countryside. From here you can see for miles in the far distance, hence this spot was ideal for the artillery to set up their gun positions.
This is the exact spot (image below) where the “First” artillery shell of “The Great War” was fired at the German lines, by “E” Battery, RHA, on 22nd August1914.
 

This slag heap is the exact spot where the first British
artillery battery fired the first shells starting “The Great War”.
 

Under a small bush sits the commemorative stone recording this event.
The actual gun is now in the Imperial War Museum, London.
(C/Right of the two images www.edenbridgetown.com Ian R. Bridle)
 
I looked on the map for the little cemetery that these men were now buried in.
The little narrow roads led me to the British cemetery at St Symphorien surrounded by lush fields. I clicked the catch and went through the iron gates it was exquisitely beautiful, flowering shrubs and trees blossomed everywhere, it was so very peaceful only the birds sung sweetly from the flowering trees above breaking the silence of this most beautiful day, strangely it felt like it was paradise… but the reminders were there that this was a war cemetery and the remembrance stones and graves where these men now lie was evidence enough...they had given their lives for their Country!
This was not a big cemetery as many are, it was small in comparison, but the graves that are here are reminders of the very first battles that raged here on the Western Front.
This is where the first soldier and the last soldier were killed during “The Great War” they both now lie here so close together only a few feet apart…maybe they never met in life, in peace or in battle, but now together at Peace!
The grave of the first soldier killed on the Western Front was… L/ 14196, Private J. Parr of the Middlesex Regiment, who was out on a scouting mission on his bicycle on the evening of 21st August, 1914, when he was killed by the enemy.
 

Private G.E. Ellison’s Grave

Private J. Parr’s Grave
Copyright I.R. Bridle – www.edenbridgetown.com
 
Not far from this first casualty, is the grave of the last British soldier killed…Private G.Edward Ellison, of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, who was killed on 11th November, 1918…tragically killed within hours and so close to the end of “The Great War” finishing!

Just across from these two graves is perhaps the most tragic memorial of all, the grave of the last Canadian to be killed on the Western Front…Private George Lawrence Price, of the 28th North West Battalion Canadian Infantry who was killed at Ville-sur-Haine at 10.58 a.m. November 11th 1918, only “Two Minutes” before the end of “The Great War”, on Armistice Day.
Such is the irony of conflict and war…for had this last shot been fired only minutes after, as we all realize now ….this soldier need never have been killed, but reunited with his family soon after!

Pte George Price… The
Very Last soldier killed in “The Great War”
A memorial plaque to the memory of these soldiers can be seen on the wall of the Hotel de Ville.
St Symphorien cemetery, where these men now lie is one of the most beautiful on the Western Front.
How strange it was to feel and see the beauty of life growing, flowering, and filling the air with sweet scent in this most exquisite of places… to remember it sadly is a cemetery and not just a beautiful place, but I am sure that it was designed and landscaped like this especially for the young “Boys” who now lie there…in their own “English country garden”.
 
The Poppy…A symbolic reminder and a Remembrance for us Today and always, for All those killed in “The Great War” and Wars ever since, down to our day…!!!
(Sole Copyright of www.edenbridgetown.com) I.R. Bridle
 
I closed the iron gates to this sad reminder of the horror of war, looked back at the graves, reflecting in my mind and heart as I headed back to Mons in my camper, how sad I was that these young “Boys” had given their lives for a cause of Freedom, that they had earnestly believed and trusted in, and eventually sadly and tragically gave their lives for.
Also, the many Brave young men in their ten’s and hundreds of thousands whose bodies were never found, drowned in the craters, engulfed by the mud, left to die in extreme suffering and agony all alone, only possibly in their last breath on this earth to call-out for their Mother’s or a last prayer to their God…then to finally to rot away in the earth where they lay.
Sadly and so tragically they would never see the results of their sacrifice, as they lay in the fields where they fought. Their blood would drain from their bodies and soak into the soil of so many countries across the earth where they each and every one died, and where they are now buried, at rest from their own personal “Terror, Suffering Pain and Horror”….that this “The Great War” had now delivered them from.

These “Boys” were part of the same millions worldwide that had stood watching the clock hands strike in the New Century in 1899 -1900, at 23.59pm, aspiring to all their hopes, dreams and ideals that they all looked forward to, far from the depressing terrible suffering that many had to endure during the late 19th Century…Yes, there were a few years of peace in the early years, but all to soon the “The First World War” broke out and would engage these young “Boys” in a life and death struggle in the years to come!
For the millions who survived the “Great War”, the ordinary soldiers, for most of them, especially if they had been wounded, who had lost arms and legs, blinded and been partially gassed all…had no chance of work to support their wives and children. They were inexcusably discriminated against in towns and cities all across England, even some of the local Mayors refused to assist them in any way due to the severity of their ailments and wounds. No – one really cared for these Brave “Boys”!
Those without legs (My Mother related to me this story) that in the streets of Motherwell, Scotland, she saw these pitiful sights of ex-soldiers with no legs, their trousers tucked-up under their stumps, kneeling on a wooden cart with wheels, shuffling along the pavements using their hands to move the cart, desperately trying to sell boxes of matches, bootlaces and odds and ends to passers – by for a penny (or less), she was horrified and cried to see these young men in such torment and pain, sadly, desperately needing a pittance of money in a hope to pay the rent or feed their families!!!
 

The Wounded of “The Great War”...Come Home.
 
Tens of thousands and many, many more were literally thrown on the scrap heap of humanity to find work wherever they could, which was in reality a near impossibility…ALL their hopes, dreams, the promises and ideals had now been completely smashed, broken and shattered…. all they fought for, suffered, was more or less lost… forever!
They wondered, in desperation, anguish, frustration and anger where was this “New Era of Peace and Prosperity” for all?... that these World Leaders, Politicians, and Generals had promised in the 1900’s, these grandiose words, ideals, speeches of prosperity and peace for everyone, that they all had emphatically stated and promised faithfully that they would achieve this in the coming …New Century…All these words had now all faded away into insignificance as the early years passed and now a World War was looming on the horizon, so fast for all mankind.
How different it was for The Ministers of the War Cabinet, The Politicians, The Generals, who were the ones who had outspokenly, blatantly and arrogantly stated, with great rejoicing, jubilance, full of pride and exultation in their defeating the “Hun”. They had proclaimed to the press and nationally, of how successful they had been in winning. They now stated belligerently that this War was… “The War to End All Wars”. They were welcomed by Royalty, medals awarded to them by the King, aroused great celebrations in their home towns, official parties by Mayors and Councilors given, invitation’s to elaborate gatherings – to give their own account of their Brave Actions?
These were the ones who organized, contributed, made the plans, arranged the battles, saw the “Boys” killed, and were rewarded with huge sums of money as a retirement pension from their four odd years of supporting this War when they finally returned home. They as always, were the “Lucky Ones” never to face the horrors of the War (possibly the Boer War”)…just give the orders, stand-by and watch the killing of their men!
Not one of them, not any of them of these great leaders, politicians, army Generals, Presidents, King and Rulers, World Leaders around the world, after the finality and ending of WW1, could ever conceive that this was just the beginning of complete breakdown of humankind encompassing all the evil traits that mankind possessed, disruption, disillusionment, anarchy, revolutions, wars in one country after another, killing, bloodshed, lawlessness would prevail across the countries around the world!
This would become the “Bloodiest Century” in Mankind’s history on this earth. It would continue without let-up with a reign in terror Worldwide, even more Barbaric, Evil and Destructive…That no-one could or would ever believe or imagine such was the sad illusion of the twentieth century.
 
The “War to End All Wars” would not achieve the lasting peace that mankind desired, despite the Politicians and World Leaders stating otherwise, accompanied by the dozens of signatures on the “League of Nations” charter in 1919. Their acceptance, agreement, with their devout promises written in ink, signatures of a future world they believed in, would all come to realize that they would be standing on the edge of the “Abyss” once again very soon… led by an unseen but very evil force that would so very soon, bring and usher in another ...World War…!!!
   
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