A personal WW1 centenary – the Battle of Le Cateau

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Le Cateau100 years ago today, the blog’s grandfather went into action for the first time in World War 1, at the Battle of Le Cateau.  A regular soldier, his Battalion had landed in France on 22 August 1914, and had then marched for 3 days from the Channel ports as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) .  They joined the battle for the defence of Paris with little time for rest or food.

The battle involved 110.000 men on the British side, and 160,000 men on the German side.  It was the first battle fought by the BEF in the War, and the last major battle to take place within 1 day.  Over 8,000 British and 9,000 German soldiers died in the battle.

The official battle report by the British commander, Sir John French, gives a foretaste of the stalemate that was to develop along the entire front, and to last for over 4 years:

“At length it became apparent that, if complete annihilation was to be avoided, a retirement must be attempted; and the order was given to commence it about 3.30 p.m. The movement was covered with the most devoted intrepidity and determination by the Artillery, which had itself suffered heavily, and the fine work done by the Cavalry in the further retreat from the position assisted materially in the final completion of this most difficult and dangerous operation. Fortunately the enemy had himself suffered too heavily to engage in an energetic pursuit….

“I deeply deplore the very serious losses which the British Forces have suffered in this great battle; but they were inevitable in view of the fact that the British Army-only two days after a concentration by rail-was called upon to withstand a vigorous attack of five German Army Corps.”

Nearly 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians died during World War 1.  It led to the rise of fascism and to Stalinism.  Most historians agree it was also a major cause of World War 2.  In total, tens of millions died as a result.  Similar numbers were injured physically and emotionally.

On this personal centenary, the blog would like to remember all those who died and suffered as a result of this most unnecessary conflict.

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