The Great War, I was there - Part 3

alternatives. The German army is at Gricourt ?Very well I, representing the inhabitants of St. Quentin, who do not want our beautiful town unneces­sarily destroyed by shell-fire because it happens to be full of English troops, have said to your colonels and your men :‘Will you please outgo and fight the German army outside St. Quentin ?’But your men, they say, ‘No we cannot fight 1 We have lost nearly all our officers, our Staff have gone away by train, we do not know whereto. Also, we have no artillery, most of us have neither rifles nor ammunition, and we are all so very tired !’Then, m’sieur le Majeur, I say 1o them, ‘Then, please, if you will not fight, will you please go right away, and presently the Germans will enter St. Quentin peacefully so the inhabitants will be glad to be tranquil and not killed, and all our good shops not burnt.’ But they reply tome, ‘No, we cannot go away !We are terribly, terribly tired. We have had no propar food or forrest many days, and yesterday we fought a great battle. We have not got any maps, and we do not even know where togo Soto. wc will stay inSt. Quentin and have a little rest.’ Then I say to them, 4 Since you will neither fight nor go away, then please you must surrender.’ SoT send out a list of those who surrender to the German commander, and now all is properly arranged.” Ahhangkd! Yet the logic of this ^argument was irresistible but for one point, which Bridges had quickly seized upon. The men could begot away if every horse and cart inSt. Quentin was collected for those men too tired to march his cavalrymen would escort them out of the town. So the shops and streets would be cleared of tired and drunken men, and there would be moreno firing off of rifles. But there was to be moreno of this wine, only tea or coffee and bread. So eventually it was arranged. Bridges had saved the situation which, though bad, was understandable. Disorganized stragglers had arrived by the hundred, h many out of sheer fatigue having thrown away their pucks and rifles. They had tramped beneath the blazing August sun with empty stomachs, dispirited and utterly weary many had received quantities of wine front friendly French peasants to revive them in those dusty lanes. Literally, in many cases their bellies were full of wine and their boots were half-full of blood that I saw myself. The English soldier’s feet, like his head but unlike his heart, are not his strong point. Tome it seems there was every excuse for the two colonels and the one or two pale, exhausted-looking subalterns whom 1 had noticed mingling with the crowd down at the station. Without Staff, without maps or orders, without food, without ammunition, what could the remnants of broken infantry do before the advance of a victorious army whose cavalry could have mopped them up in an hour ?Probably, looking back on it now, the two colonels did almost the only thing feasible and the brave ON THE LINE Or THE GREAT RETREAT North of St. Quentin lies this stretch of -flat country, across which the Britisli Army retreated into the town in August 1914, and from which the Germans entered it a few hours later. Here the incidents related bv Sir Tom Bridges in page 99 occurred. Later this country was the scene of fierce lighting, and in the foreground, on the highest ground N. of the town, are the remains of a concrete “pillbox.” in the centre background can be seen the magnificent church of St. Quentin, which was badly damaged by shell-fire, but is now completely restored. Photo, A .J. lnsall copyright A .P .Ltd.
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