They have no fear in them

### 16th November 1914

In the yesterday’s letter, Frank reports that the first snow has fallen. The weather was definitely turning. Gleichen reports that at the time “the weather had turned beastly cold—snowstorms and sleet during the day and a hard frost at night”.

Frank gives Mabel his location by referencing the London Scottish. They had achieved the dubious honour of being the first Territorial battalion to see action. They lost nearly half their strength preventing the Germans breaking through the allies’ lines on the 31st October at Messines. He also mentions the Indian Corps which would have been from his time at La Bassée and seems especially impressed by the Gurkhas, who allegedly terrified the Germans “with their knives in their hands coming after them they have no fear in them when they start”. The letter is the most expressive of all the letters so far. His description of the hopelessness of men trapped out in the open is very moving.

Frank mentions a winner of the “French Legion of Honour who was killed.” The truth of this story is quite tragic. The battalion was awarded a Médaille Militaire, a French award that could also be given to foreign nationals. Lieutenant-Colonel Bols had decided it should be awarded to the machine gun section for its work on the 26th August at Mons. It’s not clear what date this happened or why the battalion won the award. It’s a story I will return to. Private Thomas Anthony Skipsey was selected as its recipient by the rest of the machine gun section. He remarked that he “would be the first to meet trouble”. He wasn’t wrong. On the 13th October Skipsey was shot and killed. The medal isn’t listed on his Medal Card, nor in the Medal Rolls, but it is noted on his CWGC casualty details page.

The Dorsets began to withdraw from their positions, getting ready for welcome relief. D Company went first, assembling at Battalion HQ with C Company at 6am. The machine gun was withdrawn from A Company’s trench.

At 2pm tragedy struck B Company. Some high explosive shells burst in one of their their trenches and buried part of a platoon. Men from C Company were sent to support them. At 6pm A and B Companies were ordered to withdraw from their positions but that was cancelled just half and hour later.

11th Brigade had already been informed that the Dorsets were to remain in their command for another day so all this movement seems to have been rather a waste of time. The 11th Brigade’s diary also rather testily notes that snipers had infiltrated the lines behind Hill 63 and the Dorsets are ordered to catch them. Lieutenant-Colonel Butler “suggests” the Dorsets assign observation posts on the top of the hill. The lack of any mention of this in the Dorsets’ war diary suggest to me that this “suggestion” carried a bit more weight than that.

I get the impression from the 11th Brigade’s diary that they had a less than favourable impression of the Dorsets. Whether this was due to inter-divisional rivalry or that the Dorsets’ reputation was tarnished from their disastrous time at La Bassée it’s impossible to say. I might be totally imagining this but the Dorsets’ star has definitely waned since the broiling heat of September.

The Dorsets’ diary reports 5 killed with 2 wounded. CWCG lists 5 men killed too. One of these men, James Henry Budden aged 34, came from a Peabody Estate in Vauxhall. I’ve just come home from one on the Old Kent Road. That is all.

Mysterious mishaps in the mist

6th November 1914

Teething baby alert! Although I might have promised more letter stuff tonight I fear the alarm may go off at any minute so it will have to wait until tomorrow.

The Dorsets enjoyed, if that’s the word, a quiet morning. Fog seems to have been the main cause of the calmer day – the 11th Brigade’s diary reports that it was so thick that they couldn’t see further than 100 yards.

Later in the evening the Dorsets reported a certain amount of fire and at 9pm a machine gun was placed in Frank’s Company (A) trenches. The strange mishap with C Company yesterday is recorded as miscommunication in the 11th Brigade’s diary. It appears that they didn’t retreat but no explanation other than confusion is forthcoming. It’s not the first time that we’ve seen the Dorsets get muddled in foggy conditions.

You are in a twisty maze of passageways, all alike


6th September 1914

It’s important to take stock of what had been happening in the days since Le Cateau. The general retirement by the BEF appeared to have had no real plan other than to keep moving back.

Sir John French was considering defending Paris or even withdrawing from the field completely and making for the Channel ports. But all this was set to change. The previous day a battle had started almost by accident.

Joffre had been hastily assembling a scratch force, under General Michel-Joseph Maunoury. Moving troops from his eastern flanks by train and any vehicle that could carry them, Joffre created the French Sixth Army to screen Paris from the approaching German forces. The BEF was now no longer on the extreme left flank of the Allies.

The German Schlieffen plan had wanted to encircle Paris from the west, but their pursuit of the retreating French and British forces led them down the eastern edge of Paris. The Germans weren’t aware of the new Sixth Army on their right flank. They generally believed the BEF to be pretty much destroyed. And so they were drawn on by the pursuit, possibly hoping to draw the Allies into a pitched battle.

On the morning of the 5th September, the French Sixth Army started to advance east from Paris. At the River Ourcq they met the approaching German IV Reserve Corps. As the German First Army began to wheel eastwards to face this new threat to its right flank, the Allies spotted a potential gap between the German First and Second Armies. This gap opened up exactly where the BEF and the French Fifth Army were positioned.

Joffre gave the orders to attack early on the morning of the 5th September. The British Army HQ was informed but, unfortunately, as we saw yesterday, the BEF had already started continued to retreat with a night march, and so was 12-15 miles away from where Joffre thought they were.

So when the Dorsets set out at 5am to Villeneuve (sic) as advanced guard to the 15th Brigade, they could already hear the guns in the distance. Gleichen remembers the attitude of the men as they advanced.

What had happened, or why we were suddenly to turn against the enemy after ten days of retreat, we could not conceive; but the fact was there, and the difference in the spirits of the men was enormous. They marched twice as well, whistling and singing, back through Tournans and on to Villeneuve.

The 15th Brigade then marched, passing with some difficulty through the forest at Crécy, to Montcerf. Here the Brigade paused for an hour. While Gleichen met with General Smith-Dorrien, the Dorsets pushed C and D Companies into outposts. Later on at 6:45pm the advance continued to La Celle-Sur-Mourin. It was very difficult terrain to move through in the dark, with narrow streets, tight valleys and twisting roads. The Dorsets disturbed a German Uhlan patrol, who left after firing a few shots but nothing else was seen of the enemy.

The Brigade bivouacked in a stubble field and waited for their next orders, while guns rumbled to their right. The Third Division was engaged with the Germans at Faremoutiers. The Battle of the Marne had begun.

In an aside, I think I can confirm that Frank was in A Company. I recently found a conduct sheet marked with A Company. There are also a few other shards of evidence that confirm this but they appear further down the line. I’ll go back and elaborate any A Company action in previous posts.

Image showing Frank's conduct sheet
Frank’s conduct sheet showing A Company reference