One hundred years ago this week, a Bourne soldier told of his experiences at the front three months into the war.
Pte. Richard Downes was invalided home through receiving shell wounds at La Basse, but was starting to make a good recovery.
He was in the battle of Mons and reiterated how violent the attack of the Germans was. Not satisfied with shelling the trenches, the Germans shelled villages around Mons, setting the churches and houses on fire.
The enemy’s infantry opened a heavy rifle and shell fire, and the British retaliated, but they received the order to retire out of their trenches and they did with only what they stood up in. They retired 36 kilometres but couldn’t find their camping ground, so slept on the side of a road.
The next morning they made a sharp attack, against the enemy.
That day they marched 32 kilometres and took up position on the side of the town. From 5.30am to 3pm there was continuous fierce fighting and, after a brief cessation, there was a bayonet charge.
The following morning they received orders to retire, without firing or taking up a position. In two weeks they had covered a distance of 286 miles and the men were getting a little downhearted.
In the subsequent advancement, they made the Germans feel their pressure. Encountering them at a village named Sancy, the British drove the enemy clean away. The Germans left many wounded and dead, the enemy hadn’t even had time to take the food they were cooking for they day’s meals.
The next day, the British advanced to Brailey and in the action captured 500 prisoners. The enemy’s losses in killed and wounded were great.
Pte. Downes was also at the battle of the Aisne, where he said he saw the Germans turn their machine guns on 60 of their own men who were about to surrender.
He said that he would never forget the sight of that battlefield, and that the Germans had taken the rings from the fingers of the body of a dead British officer.