The 1914-18 War
These facts are taken from scribblings that were entered in small notebooks during or within a day or so of the events. I expect I shall spell the names of towns and villages in France and Belgium incorrectly. Some of the towns and villages are difficult to pronounce let alone spell . However I will do what I can to make them readable to whoever may read them.
These memoirs are transcribed directly from Richard Chant’s notebook. I have only corrected obvious minor errors. Where there are references to people, places or slang terms I have annotated additional information as appropriate. The language is the language of the early 20th century and must be viewed in that context. What was acceptable over 100 years ago may cause offence today>
1. August 1914
I enlisted in the 5th Dragoon Guards on August 24th 1909. I served in Dublin and the Curragh and the regiment moved into Aldershot about October 1912. My brother was in the regiment also, but went to India in 1913. In that year, being a groom to Lieutenant Nettlefold E.J., we got posted to Dunbar Depot. It was a new depot for recruits and Mr. Nettlefold held duties there to staff the new principle to train recruits in drills on the square etc. before joining the regiment proper. The recruits then started riding school and when dismissed were classed as a trained cavalrymen. We were there a year when war clouds started to thunder.
On August 4th, 1914 war was declared on Germany. The depot was also a mobilisation Centre for reservists, and we all had duties to perform in issuing the reservists with their kit. After a while we joined our regiment in Aldershot. The reservists were put through a few exercises to get them back in training. I well remember Tommy Tucker rejoining, also Sergeant Snelling of the King’s Dragoon Guards. Tommy Tucker was in my troop – the 3rd troop C Squadron before going on the reserve. We had many good times together in Dublin in 1910.
It was about four o’clock in the morning on 15th August that the regiment entrained at Farnborough for Southampton for active service overseas. The regiment disembarked at Le Havre on 16th August. We had a couple of nights in bivouac then entrained to the Haumont area. Here we met up with the regiments forming the 1st Cavalry Brigade, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the 2nd Dragoon Guards and the 11th Hussars.
I think it was on August 21st, an advance was started towards the Canal-du-Conde to the east of Mons [Editor’s Note: Possibly the Condé Canal which is to the west of Mons]. The night of the 22nd and 23rd of August, the cavalry division were moved to the left, or outer flank, of the British Expeditionary Force and after a march of 18 miles, the 5th Dragoon Guards reached Audregnies and stood to till midday on 23rd August. The German attack had started and the retreat from Mons had begun on 24th August 1914. As I did not have a notebook at that time, I am unable to quote the many villages we passed. We lost many men during the retreat, one or two I particularly remember. Corporal Medlum was killed very early on, he was in my troop.[Editor’s Note: Cpl. Edward Jesse Medlam was listed as “killed in action” on 12th Sept. 1914] My officer was wounded sometime later in the grounds of a big chateau, by what we named afterwards as “coal boxes”[Editor’s Note: a heavy German shell – usually a 5.9 – from the black smoke of the shell-burst].
Sgt Sands was killed in I believe our first action.[Sgt George Rattray Sands – Black Watch – listed as “killed in action” on 9th November 1914] It was all action, and we were all very tired. As we halted, it was nothing to see men and horses flop down for a rest. The refugees did not make it any easier either, but the poor folks could not help it. It is not possible for me to name all we lost, as I stated I did not take notes during the retreat, and my memory is not very clear now.