The Great War, I was there - Part 3

23* August 27,1914 EPIC STORY of St. QUENTIN How Tom Bridges Saved Two Regiments by Lt.-Col. Osburn, D.S.O. [^U RING the retirement the spirits of the troops flagged under retreat and exhaustion. Colonel Osburn’s narrative shows how wholesale surrender St.at Quentin was averted by firm action on the part of a gallant cavalry officer, Major Tom Bridges, who himself adds fresh light to the story in pages 99-100 A s wo turned into the Grand’ Place St.at Quentin on that k late August afternoon not. a single German was to be seen. The whole square was thronged with British infantrymen standing in groups or wandering about in an aimless fashion, most of them without either packs or rifles. Scores had gone to sleep sitting on the pavement, their backs against the fronts of the shops. Many, ex­hausted, lay at full length on the pave­ment. Some few, obviously intoxi­cated, wandered about firing in the air at real or imaginary German aeroplanes. The great majority were not only with­out their arms but had apparently either lost or thrown away their belts, water bottles and other equipment. There must have been several hun­dred men in the Square, and more in the side streets yet apparently they were without officers—anyway, no officers were to be seen. On the road down to the station we found Major Tom Bridges with part of his squadron and a few Lancers, horse-gunners and other stragglers who had attached themselves to his command. We fol­lowed him down to the station. Apparently some hours before our arrival the last train that was to leave St. Quentin—Pariswards—for several years, had steamed out, carrying with it most of the British General Staff. A mob of disorganized soldiery had collected at the station, and I was told some had booed and cheered ironically these senior Staff officers as the Staff train steamed out. /"'krtainly many of these infantrymen appeared to be in a queer, rather truculent, mood. Bridges, who had sized up the situation, harangued this dis­organized mob that only a few hours before had represented at least two famous regiments of the 4th Division. Dismounted and standing far back in the crowd I could not hear what he said, but his words of encouragement and exhortation were received with sullen disapproval and murmurs by the bulk of those around him. One man out:shouted “Our old man (his Colonel) has surrendered to the Ger­mans, we’lland stick to him. We don't want am/ bloody cavalry interfering! ”and he pointed his rifle at Bridges. I failed at first to understand how all these English soldiers could have sur­rendered to the Germans whom we had left several miles outside the city. But I was tired and hungry and I didn’t much care what -happened. Losing interest in what was taking place at the station I rode backup to the Grand’ Place, hoping I should find some food and a sofa on which I could lie down. As I rode up from the station many of the men in the street stared meat disdainfully, their arms folded scarcely one saluted—I was for them only “one of the bloody interfering cavalry officers.” The events of the last three or four days had evidently diminished the prestige of the officer caste. I began to wonder whether Bridges would be really shot if he continued his harangue at the railway station. In the Grand’ Place I seemed to bethe only officer ....MISTAKEN HOSPITALITY I tied my horse to a lamp-post, in­tending to find a shop where I could buy some food and get permission to lie down. But nearly every shop was closed or else the door was blocked by an indignant proprietor and his wife who insisted, as I was an officer, that I should go in at once and clear out the English soldiery who had entered and were lying asleep in the bedrooms and passages, and in some cases had helped themselves to food. “Your men are all drunk, will you order them out of the house? I have young daughters in my house—the men have entered my kitchen—it is disgraceful !Why is there no order ?Why are there no officers ?Your troops have been here for hours and 95 <up to no good please order them togo away 1 ”“It is all your fault,” I said argrily, “ I have seen your people giving our tired men white wine to drink and you know they can have had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours. Why on earth do you not give them all some bread and butter and make them some coflee ?”They looked meat in amaze­ment. French peasants will often give wine away—but whoever heard of a French shopkeeper giving away butter !The townsfolk were exaggerating— only a few of the men were drunk. Certainly in nearly every house and shop I entered there were a few English soldiers. Even in a chemist’s shop where I tried unsuccessfully—the pro­prietor was merely rude—to buy some •soap, two British soldiers were lying fast asleep, not on, but underneath the couch in the chemist’s back parlour. But I saw few actually drunk. Even­tually I got some bread and a bottle of white wine, and to avoid the recrimi­nations of the shop people I decided I would sleep out in the Grand’ Place as so many men were, doing. The pavement looked hard and the cobble­stones in the square too uneven. Eventually, for the first time in my life—may it bethe last!—I decided to sleep in the paved gutter which looked dpy and cleaner than the road. Rolling up my Burberry for a pillow, I lay down in the gutter close to my horse. \Y/h e n I-awoke it was dusk, and two or three officers of the 4th Dragoon Guards were in the square with Bridges. Apparently, Bridges was having an interview with some official—I believe, the Mayor of St. Quentin—urging him to provide horses and carts to take those of pur men who were too sore-footed to be able to march out of the town. I walked over to listen. As far as 1 could understand, the official—Mayor or who­ever he w'as—was very indignant he kept on saying :“You understand, m’sieur le Majeur, it is now too late. These men have surrendered to the Germans !”“How ?The Germans are not here.” “Their colonel and officers have signed a paper giving theme numbers of the men of each regiment and the names of the officers who are prepared to surrender, and I have sent a copy of this out under a white flag to the com­mander of the approaching German army.” “But you have no business, m’sieur, as a loyal Frenchman, to assist allied troops to surrender.” “What else ?”urged the Mayor. Consider, m’sieur le Majeur, the c1
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