Monty in WWI: A Future Field Marshal’s Close Call at Meteren in 1914


Whereas the First World Warfare is notorious for large-scale bloody battles equivalent to these on the Somme, the Ardennes and Passchendaele, the forgotten and determined battle waged by males of Britain’s Royal Warwickshire Regiment for the city of Meteren in 1914 altered the course of army historical past.

Meteren is positioned in a traditionally Flemish-speaking space in present-day France. The area, often known as Flanders, has been immortalized in literature and poetry equivalent to John McCrae’s masterpiece, “In Flanders Fields.” Meteren was one in every of many scenic European cities the place numerous males have been killed throughout World Warfare I, removed from their houses and households. Many of those troopers are forgotten in time though their names at this time stay inscribed on plaques and memorials.

On Oct. 13, 1914, the quiet village was the positioning of a ruthless and bloody siege. German forces entrenched in dugouts and snipers holed up in homes beat again an assault launched by British floor forces. The 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment tried to drive the Germans out with weapons and bayonets.

Within the thick of the fierce blade preventing was 26-year-old Anglo-Irish Lieut. Bernard Legislation Montgomery, later cited in The London Gazette for wielding his weapon with valor and distinction. A powerful-willed athlete with a love of army science, Montgomery threw himself into the battle with power—starting a platoon cost by brandishing a sword and physique slamming a German rifleman in a trench. By dusk, Montgomery’s future and strategy to struggle would ceaselessly change.

Going to Warfare

When struggle broke out in 1914, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, fated to struggle at Meteren, was stationed at Shorncliffe in England. The battalion had beforehand been stationed in India—first at Peshawar and subsequently in Bombay and Deolali till they embarked for England on Dec. 11, 1912. In keeping with Charles L. Kingsford’s 1921 historical past of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the 1st Battalion was a part of the tenth Brigade of the 4th Division serving below the command of Brig.-Gen. James Aylmer Haldane. Referred to as to the Western entrance, the battalion arrived in France on Aug. 22, 1914.

Previous to serving in World Warfare I, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment already had a noble historical past. Present process varied identify modifications, it was among the many oldest infantry regiments within the British Military. The regiment fought in lots of notable conflicts together with the Warfare of Spanish Succession, the Peninsula Wars in Spain and France, the Indian Mutiny and the Boer Warfare. King William IV gave the regiment the title “royal” in 1832. All through the 19th century, the vast majority of the regiment’s troopers have been hardy males from Lancashire, Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Eire, in line with Kingsford. The lads have been often known as “Warwicks.” The regimental image was the antelope.

Montgomery joined the regiment in 1908. He had a boisterous and impartial persona, in addition to nice curiosity and intelligence. Born into an ecclesiastical household, he had scandalized his strict family when he introduced his vocation to be a soldier. Becoming a member of the military, the son of a bishop remodeled right into a tattooed, mustachioed adventurer identified for enthusiasm for sports activities, journey and sensible jokes. Younger Montgomery was additionally very mental—an avid reader, he loved learning historical past and literature, and penned quite a few articles for his regimental journal.

Lt. Bernard Montgomery. (Hulton-Deutsch Assortment/Corbis/Getty Photographs)

Arriving on the shores of war-torn France in 1914, Montgomery and his fellow Warwicks may hardly have identified the horrors that awaited them. They arrived within the Le Cateau space on Aug. 23 with the tenth Brigade—simply having missed the Battle of Mons.

A confused environment overshadowed the countryside. The newly arrived males discovered the British Military in retreat. In keeping with Kingsford, “information of what had occurred was tough to acquire.” The lads marched north towards St. Python to cowl the retreat of the threerd and 5th Divisions. Reduce off from different forces, the Warwicks took a mistaken flip that almost introduced them into the trail of the advancing Germans.

“If This Was Actual Warfare…”

It was not lengthy earlier than blood was spilled. Because the drained troopers rested in a cornfield on Aug. 26, a hailstorm of German bullets rained down upon others of their brigade. The Warwicks have been ordered to assault. Among the many group was Montgomery, whose firm rallied forward of the opposite troops in a firing line.

“The C.O galloped up…and shouted to us to assault the enemy on the ahead hill without delay,” he later remembered in his memoirs. “This was the one order; there was no reconnaissance, no plan, no protecting fireplace. We rushed up the hill, got here below heavy fireplace, my Firm Commander was wounded and there have been many casualties.”

As German bullets claimed the lives of seven officers and 40 males, the commander ceased giving orders and the boys retreated with a scarcity of technique that Montgomery discovered mindless. “If this was actual struggle it struck me as most curious and didn’t appear to make any sense towards the background of what I had been studying,” he recalled with cynicism.

Afterwards the Warwicks have been deserted with no additional orders. “We have been left behind when the retreat started and for 3 days we marched between the German cavalry display and their most important columns following behind, transferring largely by night time and hiding by day,” Montgomery recalled. “In control of our get together was a first-class regimental officer, Main A.J. Poole, and it was due totally to him that we lastly acquired again to the British Expeditionary Pressure and joined up with our battalion.”

Life for males of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment turned a sequence of grueling marches, capturing skirmishes, and continually altering orders earlier than their true baptism of fireplace got here at Meteren in early October. After the German takeover of Antwerp on Oct. 9, a battle for port cities alongside the English Channel adopted.

On To Meteren

Gen. Haldane obtained orders to grab the Meteren space from German forces. The brigade marched out from Caestre on the morning of Oct. 13 earlier than 10 a.m. It could be an extended and grueling day. The Warwicks fashioned the advance guard and have been first to conflict with the enemy. The Germans, sensing their strategy, retreated into buildings and trenches. The small Flemish city was now an armed fortress.

“The Royal Warwickshire have been then ordered to drive them out, and by skillful use of the bottom made regular progress until about 1 o’clock, after they had gained the outskirts.

Meteren after battle later within the struggle in 1918. (Nationwide Library of Scotland)

Then they have been halted while the assault developed in different quarters,” wrote Kingsford.

A Bayonet Combat

The battle was particularly bloody. The attacking Warwicks relied closely on the usage of the bayonet to drive the Germans from dugouts. British troopers have been issued a normal 17-inch bayonet with which to slash and stab enemies. The French army most popular a needlepoint-style bayonet, whereas some German bayonets had serrated edges. The rifle butt was additionally used as a bludgeoning device.

Bayonet preventing was brutal and private. German conscript Stefan Westmann, drafted into the 29th Infantry Division in April 1914, later recalled in a BBC interview revealed by The Telegraph in 2014 that utilizing a bayonet in fight was a sickening expertise that males shortly acquired used to. “My comrades…have been completely undisturbed…One among them boasted that he had killed a [French infantryman] with the butt of his rifle, one other one had strangled a captain,” he stated. “A 3rd one had hit any individual over the top along with his spade and so they have been atypical males like me.” Westmann nonetheless by no means recovered from utilizing his bayonet. “I wakened at night time typically drenched in sweat as a result of I noticed the eyes of my fallen adversary, of the enemy,” he stated.

Montgomery was within the thick of the fray and described the fight as “grim preventing.” In peacetime, he had been a literal bayonet-fighting champion—successful prizes in man-to-man contests throughout coaching. Till Meteren, nonetheless, the younger soldier had solely stabbed sacks of straw. Nonetheless, Montgomery proved robust within the gory battle. The London Gazette on Dec. 1, 1914 famous that Montgomery displayed “conspicuous gallant main, when he turned the enemy out of their trenches with the bayonet.”  

On the peak of their success, the Warwicks have been all of the sudden ordered to cease the advance and maintain their place. The initiative was misplaced. The lads have been focused by German fireplace as they have been pressured to carry again. “They’d superior with admirable keenness, and a lot of the casualties occurred while halted below heavy fireplace,” wrote Kingsford with remorse.

Shot In The Lung

A sniper’s bullet struck Montgomery within the chest. The shot pierced by his proper lung. He fell within the open—uncovered to enemy fireplace and affected by what scientifically ought to have been a deadly damage. A fellow soldier, evidently with some affinity for fight medication, ran to his assist and utilized a area dressing to his damage. This man was shot within the head and fell on prime of Montgomery, who remained pinned beneath the corpse for agonizing moments as extra photographs have been fired at him. A sequence of bullets aimed toward Montgomery struck the lifeless man. Montgomery obtained a second shot wound to the knee. Montgomery remained trapped there as his chest stuffed with blood.

British forces captured Meteren after dusk. But the Warwicks, regardless of their heroism, weren’t credited with successful the battle. “This delay disadvantaged the Royal Warwickshire of the credit score of the particular seize of Meteren, which Gen. Haldane thought they could have achieved, had they been allowed to press ahead,” wrote Kingsford. The troops moved to the japanese outskirts of Armentieres through the subsequent a number of days.

Assuming Montgomery was lifeless, the boys left him behind on the battlefield. Stretcher-bearers discovered him nonetheless clinging to life and took him to an Superior Dressing station. His situation, within the eyes of medical personnel, was hopeless—a grave was dug for his imminent burial. In opposition to all odds, Montgomery survived. He was transported to a hospital in France and ultimately to a hospital in England because of the severity of his situation. Docs established that the majority of his inner bleeding occurred within the pleural cavity round his lung. This “fortunate” final result of the shot wound was inexplicable, as was Montgomery’s restoration. 

Montgomery obtained the Distinguished Service Order for his heroism through the battle—a uncommon distinction for a lowly lieutenant. His extended restoration within the hospital gave him time to mirror quietly. He turned motivated to grasp circumstances round him by gaining better army data. This turned a life pursuit.

Basic Montgomery about to handle males of the British eighth military who took half within the invasion of Sicily, July 1943. (Getty Photographs)

Returning to Battle

“After I lay in hospital…I got here to the conclusion that struggle was a extremely skilled enterprise, and there’s no room in struggle for the novice,” he stated throughout a Nineteen Sixties interview. “So I made a decision that I have to research my career and get proper all the way down to it. And I gave up every part—every part. I took no half in social life. I labored.”

Montgomery returned to the battlefront in 1916. By the struggle’s finish, the decided younger Montgomery would turn out to be a Chief of Workers of a division at age 30. He would go on to struggle many extra battles and ultimately turn out to be well-known for victories throughout World Warfare II. Though he made a full restoration, the lung damage took its toll—he couldn’t tolerate cigarette smoke, though he at all times gave cigarettes to his males.

His expertise at Meteren had modified him. Montgomery’s successes have been spurred on by his grasp of morale and humane command type that he developed primarily based on his early experiences preventing within the trenches.

Following their motion at Meteren, the surviving troops of the regiment’s 1st Battalion dug in outdoors of Houplines, have been they remained for a month below fixed shellfire. In 1918, Meteren was lowered to a heap of rubble throughout a heavy bombardment. Many British troopers who fell through the determined battle for the city on Oct. 13, 1914, together with males of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, are at this time buried in Meteren Army Cemetery in France; 180 of these buried within the cemetery are unidentified. MH

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