Page 25 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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some twelve miles to Viesly, about two and a half miles south-south–
west of Solesmes, where it dug in in rain of tropical severity. A few
shells, the first to be met by the great majority of the battalion,
landed near the trenches, but with no harmful results. The with–
drawal of the 3rd Division had been seriously delayed by congestion
in and near Solesmes, owing partly to the converging march of the
19th Infantry Brigade and partly to the ever-increasing number of
refugees. The latter were much more of a problem to the kind–
hearted British, who could not bring themselves to thrust these poor
folk and their few belongings piled on carts into the ditch, than they
were to the pursuing Germans, who had no such scruples. As a
result, it was not until 9.30 p.m. that the battalion started from
Viesly to march about five miles back to a position a little to the
north-west of Ligny amidst rain and mud.
The two divisions of II Corps reached their allotted areas on the
Le Cateau position so late on 25th August and so utterly tired that,
although the Commander-in-Chief (Field-Marshal Sir ]. D. P.
French) ordered the retirement to be continued on 26th August,
General Sir H. Smith-Dorrien came to the conclusion that this would
be a physical impossibility and that the only alternative to annihila–
tion was to give the Germans a hard knock where the II Corps stood
and then to slip away before they could recover from it. With this
end in view, he arranged for the Cavalry Division and 4th Division,
up till then operating independently on his left, to act under his
orders. This long chain of causes resulted in a thoroughly tired 2nd
Battalion reaching the high ground near Longsart Farm, between
Haucourt and Wambaix, in pitch darkness at about 3.45 a.m. on
26th August, 1914, to take part in what
for ever live gloriously in
the annals of British generalship and soldiering as the Battle of Le
Cateau, although at the time it was described in the 2nd Battalion's
War Diary as the Battle of Ligny. The tool limbers had stuck in the
mud a couple of miles back; but as soon as it was light enough to see,
Major Griffin began to site trenches while Captain H. B. Roffey (who
was second-in-command) posted picquets in front. Brigadier-General
H. F. M. Wilson, C.B., commanding the 12th Infantry Brigade,
came up and gave some directions as to the siting of the line and
instructed the battalion to dig some trenches for the King's Own
which had been delayed by the congestion of transport
Ligny. Only
the men's own entrenching tools were available for this work;
but by 5-45 a.m. two platoons of "A" Company (Captain
Woodman) had trenches ready for occupation; one platoon (Second–
Lieutenant G. F. Page's) of "A" Company and the whole of
(Captain R. H. M. Moody) and "D" (Captain A. C. Ward, D.S.O.)
Companies had dug shallow shelter trenches; in reserve were one