Ready to march but where?

20th August 1914, Ors, France

The Dorsets remained in Ors for another day. At 1pm the battalion received verbal orders from Brigadier-General Gleichen that they would be marching tomorrow. This was seen as a chance to get the reservists, those who had been recalled to the ranks since war was declared, up to speed. Brigadier-General Hussey, in his book “The Fifth Division in the Great War ” (1921), counts themselves lucky that they got to practice a “peace march”. It was the first time the 5th Division had moved together as a unit.

Earlier in the morning, the battalion had been paraded and spoken to by the commander of the 5th Division, Sir Charles Fergusson. He, according to Gleichen, spoke about the Germans, their “machine guns and their method of attack in large numbers”. But the truth was that no one really knew where they were in the grand scheme of things. They knew that the British I Corps was to the east, but as to the whereabouts of the Germans, or even the French, nothing was known.

D’Ors set

18th August 1914, Ors, France

The Dorsets continued to guard the approaches to Ors and Pommereuil. The war diary details the various relief patterns throughout the day.

One thing I haven’t been able to find out is which company Frank was in. I’ve contacted the Keep Military Museum in Dorchester but they haven’t got any information down to company level. At this time the battalion is at full strength but as casualties mounted the companies became amalgamated, reformed and reinforced. I think, for Frank at least, it’s going to be very hard to identify his exact company.

The 15th Brigade’s stay around Pommereuil allowed time for the rest of the 5th Division to assemble along with the 3rd Division. These two divisions formed the Second Army Corps.

II Corps had suffered a shock setback the previous day. Sir James Grierson, he of Bluelands Army fame, had died of a heart attack on a train on his way to Le Cateau. Lord Kitchener chose Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien as his replacement. Smith-Dorrien was not a popular choice with Field Marshall Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the BEF.

Smith-Dorrien was, however, popular with the troops and had strong views on how to conduct warfare, including a lesser role for cavalry, greater use of machine guns and development fire and removal actions. All of these elements of modern warfare were to be brought into sharp focus over the next six months.

Gare to Guerre

17th August 1914, Le Havre, France

The 15th Battalion received new orders at 2:30pm that they were to entrain at three different stations at 8pm.

The Dorsets’ war diary isn’t very clear at this point. By comparing the 1st Bn Bedfords’ war diary with Lord Edward Gleichen’s memoirs, it appears that the battalion detrained at Le Cateau at 10pm and then marched to their billets in Pommereuil and Ors.

The Dorsets, billeted in Ors, received their first combat orders which was to guard the eastern approach to Pommereuil and the railway crossing in nearby Ors from possible hostile cavalry.