The Great War, I was there - Part 2

13? August 23,1914 A DOCTOR AT MONS After serving as a private in (lie Yeomanry during the South African War, Colonel Osburn qualified as a doctor in 1902 and was commissioned in the R.A.M.C. in 1903. He was promoted major in 1915 and awarded the D.S.O. in 1916. I WALKED WITH FEAR by Lt.-Col. Arthur O sburn, D.S.O., R.A.M.C. Lt. -COL. OSBURN was at Mons as medical officer of a famous cavalry regiment, tin 4th Dragoon Guards, the first British regiment to afire shot in the war (seethe account in pages 41—42). His wonderfully graphic picture of some of the events of that fateful day and the subsequent cavalry action at Elouges will be followed in later pages by further instalments of his graphic narrative Sunday, the twenty-third of August, 1914. We had arrived at Timlin, on the bank of the canal that stretches from Mons to Coiule. We had had no sleep worth talking about for some days, and had been already, the first unit in the British Armv, in contact with the enemy. O11 the Saturday, Hornby with a half squadron had got as far as Soignies, where from the church tower the held of Waterloo was just visible. They had pursued and charged some German cavalry :Bavarian ploughboys in German uniforms—that was nil they really were. These boys carried long metal lances, like lengths of gas-piping, they could not manage. Some of these lads had been killed and three or four wounded and cap­tured. Fair, resolute, genial and a keen soldier, Hornby with his troop, mag­nificently mounted—as, indeed, we all were—yelling at full charge, their long, straight swords a glittering row of steely points, would have put fear into far more hardened soldiers. ****After forty-eight hours of almost con­tinuous movement we had finished up with along night ride through the wretched slums of Frameries, Wasmes, and Patu rages. That ride had been a nightmare a thin drizzle had turned the coal-dust that lay everywhere into a greasy slime. Our horses, half-asleep like ourselves, had staggered on. stumb­ling over the uneven cobbles and cinder heaps, slipping and falling 011 the endless network of tram and trolley lines. So 011 that Sunday we were all drowsy and slack, yet the tension in the air was unmistakable. Earlv in the after­noon there had fallen an ominous silence. Everyone and everything, even the great line of elm trees opposite our billet, seemed to be attentive, as if waiting for something to happen. A sense of impending disaster per­vaded the silent village. We knew that the Germans were not faraway. Twenty minutes afterwards we were engaged in the battle of Mons five hours later we had begun the long Retreat ...1 shall not easily forget the overture of that extraordinary battle. At three- thirty 011 that sultry Sunday afternoon there arose, apparently about eight hundred yards in front of us, a crackling sound exactly like the noise of an October bonfire into which a cartload of dry holly boughs has been suddenly thrown—a fierce, steady crackle that grew ominously louder and angrier and nearer, moment by moment. I had heard nothing like l/tal in the Boer War !My heart sank. There surged over theme first and worst moments of dismay—of fear—in the war. After­ wards 1 was often partly indifferent to danger from sheer exhaustion, nerve strain and fatigue, yet not seldom— like, 1 think, most others— 1 walked with Fear, or at least apprehension, a tall, grey figure stalking bv my side or never very faraway. The deep thunder of our own or enemy artillery fire could be stimulating, but the angry crackle of massed rifles 1 shall always loathe. FIRST HOT ENGAGEMENT “The regiment mounted, and we moved off a few hundred yards to the left and dismounted again. A German and an English plane, firing viciously atone another, circled overhead ...The infantry in the line ahead of us were evidently in for a hot time. We, as cavalry, were merely standing-to for eventualities. Presently wounded from the infantry regiments justin front of us began to limp and stagger down the road on our right. I left the regiment and walked over to some cart sheds just across this road, which I had already marked down as my prospective 3 1 "dressing station.” My groom anil servant, and my corporal led our horses over, and I knelt down in the shed to dress the first, of the British troops who had been wounded. As 1 did so the first, bursts of German shrapnel were overcoming with a venomous buzz like swarms of angry hornets. Soon I was up to my eyes in work, the knees of my riding-breeches soaked with the blood that was running allover tin* place from those who were badly wounded. AMID THE CARNAGE Kyi OKK and more, in twos and threes, sixes and sevens, then in streams, the wounded poured in, some walking, some carried pick-a-back orin liand- seats, and a few on stretchers. Man- chesters and D.C.L.I.’s, K.O.S.B.’s and several other regiments. But where were their doctors ?There seemed to be not a sign of one! I did not realize, then, the almost hopeless task that tin infantry doctors were engaged in. My orderly and myself made desperate attempts to cope with the streams of wounded men. The whole of the cart- sheds were now full of wounded that lay or sat about in the mud and sodden straw. Every post, was being clung toby those able to stand some slipped down and fainted. There were now streams of men, presumably wounded, passing right and left across the fields: 1 knew not It never occurred tome that anyone was retreating. More shrapnel was over,coming and our own Horse Artillery was replying. We must have been therefor hours, but it seemed only a few minutes before we were lighting candles and lanterns to see what we were doing. So numerous now were the wounded that 1 could only find time to look at the worst, and then do little more than tighten an amateur tourniquet or plug a gaping wound in the chest wall with gauze, and give morphia in heroic doses to those who appeared to be in the most pain. ..1 got up and went out. Ablaze of burning hayricks and a bright glow from a hundred thousand rifles in rapid B1
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