British at Mons 1914

Posted on Wednesday 23rd March 2016


Extracted from William Langford's The Great War Illustrated 1914 and reproduced with permission by Pen and Sword Books Ltd.


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The Battle of Mons was the first engagement on the Western Front in which the advancing German army clashed with the advancing Allied armies along the Franco-Belgian and Franco-German borders. It was one of the so-called Battles of the Frontiers that took place during August 1914 at Mulhouse, Lorraine, the Ardennes, Charleroi and Mons.

The British reached Mons on 22 August where they attempted to hold the line at the Mons–Condé Canal against the advancing German First Army.

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was stationed to the left of the Allied line, which stretched from Alsace-Lorraine in the east to Mons and Charleroi in southern Belgium. The British position on the French flank meant that it stood in the path of the German First Army, the outermost wing of the massive ‘right hook’, intended by the Schlieffen Plan to encircle and destroy the Allies. The BEF helped to resist the German right wing and prevent the Allies from being outflanked.

The BEF was heavily outnumbered with 70,000 troops as opposed to 160,000, and 300 guns against 600 German. The British fought well and inflicted disproportionate casualties on the numerically superior Germans, however they were eventually forced to retreat due to both the greater strength of the Germans and the sudden retreat of the French Fifth Army, which exposed the British right flank. Though initially planned as a simple tactical withdrawal and executed in good order, the British retreat from Mons lasted for two weeks, and took the BEF to the outskirts of Paris before it counter-attacked with the French at the Battle of the Marne.

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Much of the fighting at Mons took place in built up areas from which many of the inhabitants had been unable to flee in time. (Coloured by Jon Wilkinson)


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'Bonjour Madmoiselle!' The Tommies arrive in France.

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British Tommies enjoying a drink with their French comrades.
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Men of the 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders crossing a canal in Belgium on their way to Mons.

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Marching through French countryside, men of the 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment head towards the Belgian border and Mons.

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British infantry take a meal on the way to Mons.
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British infantry winning hearts among some French children.
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Gifts of fruit and flowers from grateful French people.
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British artillery transported on the French railway system.
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British artillery in a French town on the way to Mons in Belgium.
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Cavalry acting as scouts at the vanguard of the British Army marching on Mons.
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A view from the Church tower looking along the Mons-Condé canal. The railway station is in the foreground.

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August 21, 1914 and the British advance guard enters Mons.

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Two scouts attempting to gain information from the locals. Language was a barrier.

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Civilians assist the British soldiers to erect barricades in the streets.

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Tommies in the streets of Mons.
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British soldiers fixing a machine gun into position.
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Royal artillery men with their 13 pounder await the enemy attack.
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German artillery horses bringing a 77mm field gun into action.
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In touch with the OP.
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German artillerymen bringing a 77mm field gun into a firing position.
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Hauling a 120mm heavy Krupp Howitzer into place.
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Bavarians with bayonets fixed and looking ready for the attack.
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British soldiers working at Mons, preparing for the coming fight.
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Royal Engineers despatch riders acting as scouts tasked with locating the advancing Germans.

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German infantry awaiting order to advance.

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A snapshot taken by a British soldier: infantry in a position of defence on a bridge at Mons.

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British positions along the Conde-Mons canal stalling the German advance.

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British positions along the Conde-Mons canal stalling the German advance.

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A horde of grey-clad figures began overwhelming the British defence line.

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The German army's method of attack in 1914 was employing massed ranks. This was portrayed by a German artist as a glorious event as depicted here.

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British infantry in 1914 operating a machine gun.

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The result of attacking in massed ranks was that the attacking soldiers were killed and fell in ranks.

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The Germans capture Mons.

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British officers planning the retreat from Mons.

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British infantry taking a break for a bite and a brew during the withdrawal from Mons.

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British cavalry on the run at a gallop.

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Men of the 1st Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) taking a rest during the retreat.

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German artillery moving through a French village during the advance towards Paris.

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Elements of British cavalry keeping ahead of the advancing Germans who are intent on capturing the French Capitol.

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British infantry resting by a French canal.

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German artillery battery men with their 7.7cm field gun.

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German cavalry, men and horses, brought down by British rear guard.

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German battery about to open fire.

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German cavalry keep up the pressure on the retreating French and British.

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British 13pdr gun crew during the retreat from Mons.

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Néry: In this Matania painting Captain Bradbury, Sergeant Major Dorrell and Sergeant Nelson are depicted operating F Gun during the fighting.

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British 13pdr gun crew, men and horses killed in battle.

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Men of L Battery, Royal Artillery, before leaving for France, 1914.

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German cavalry caught by British artillery attempting to cross the canal at Mons (colourised by Jon Wilkinson).


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Lt M.J. Deace VC, Royal Fusiliers, for action at Mons. Died of wounds.

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Pte S.F. Godley VC, Royal Fusiliers, for action at Mons.

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Capt. E.K. Bradbury VC, Royal Horse Artillery, for action at Néry.

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Sgt. Maj G. Dorrell VC, Royal Horse Artillery, for action at Néry.

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Sgt D. Nelson VC, Royal Horse Artillery, for action at Néry.

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