Monty in WWI: A Future Field Marshal’s Close Call at Meteren…


While the First World War is notorious for large-scale bloody battles comparable to the ones on the Somme, the Ardennes and Passchendaele, the forgotten and determined struggle waged through males of Britain’s Royal Warwickshire Regiment for town of Meteren in 1914 altered the process army historical past.

Meteren is positioned in a traditionally Flemish-speaking house in present-day France. The area, referred to as Flanders, has been immortalized in literature and poetry comparable to John McCrae’s masterpiece, “In Flanders Fields.” Meteren was once one of the scenic European cities the place numerous males had been killed right through World War I, a long way from their properties and households. Many of those infantrymen are forgotten in time even though their names as of late stay inscribed on plaques and memorials.

On Oct. 13, 1914, the quiet village was once the web page of a ruthless and bloody siege. German forces entrenched in dugouts and snipers holed up in homes beat again an attack introduced through British flooring forces. The 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment tried to force the Germans out with weapons and bayonets.

In the thick of the fierce blade battling was once 26-year-old Anglo-Irish Lieut. Bernard Law Montgomery, later cited in The London Gazette for wielding his weapon with valor and difference. A powerful-willed athlete with a love of army science, Montgomery threw himself into the struggle with power—starting a platoon fee through brandishing a sword and frame slamming a German rifleman in a trench. By dusk, Montgomery’s future and solution to conflict would eternally trade.

Going to War

When conflict broke out in 1914, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, fated to combat at Meteren, was once stationed at Shorncliffe in England. The battalion had in the past been stationed in India—first at Peshawar and therefore in Bombay and Deolali till they embarked for England on Dec. 11, 1912. According to Charles L. Kingsford’s 1921 historical past of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the 1st Battalion was once a part of the tenth Brigade of the 4th Division serving below the command of Brig.-Gen. James Aylmer Haldane. Called to the Western entrance, the battalion arrived in France on Aug. 22, 1914.

Prior to serving in World War I, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment already had a noble historical past. Undergoing quite a lot of title adjustments, it was once some of the oldest infantry regiments within the British Army. The regiment fought in lots of notable conflicts together with the War of Spanish Succession, the Peninsula Wars in Spain and France, the Indian Mutiny and the Boer War. King William IV gave the regiment the identify “royal” in 1832. Throughout the nineteenth century, nearly all of the regiment’s infantrymen had been hardy males from Lancashire, Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Ireland, in step with Kingsford. The males had been referred to as “Warwicks.” The regimental image was once the antelope.

Montgomery joined the regiment in 1908. He had a boisterous and unbiased character, in addition to nice interest and intelligence. Born into an ecclesiastical circle of relatives, he had scandalized his strict family members when he introduced his vocation to be a soldier. Joining the military, the son of a bishop remodeled right into a tattooed, mustachioed adventurer recognized for enthusiasm for sports activities, commute and sensible jokes. Young Montgomery was once additionally very highbrow—an avid reader, he loved finding out historical past and literature, and penned a lot of articles for his regimental mag.

Lt. Bernard Montgomery. (Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images)

Arriving at the shores of war-torn France in 1914, Montgomery and his fellow Warwicks may just hardly ever have recognized the horrors that awaited them. They arrived within the Le Cateau house on Aug. 23 with the tenth Brigade—simply having overlooked the Battle of Mons.

A perplexed environment overshadowed the geographical region. The newly arrived males discovered the British Army in retreat. According to Kingsford, “information of what had took place was once tough to acquire.” The males marched north towards St. Python to hide the retreat of the threerd and 5th Divisions. Cut off from different forces, the Warwicks took a flawed flip that just about introduced them into the trail of the advancing Germans.

“If This Was Real War…”

It was once no longer lengthy earlier than blood was once spilled. As the drained infantrymen rested in a cornfield on Aug. 26, a hailstorm of German bullets rained down upon others of their brigade. The Warwicks had been ordered to assault. Among the crowd was once Montgomery, whose corporate rallied forward of the opposite troops in a firing line.

“The C.O galloped up…and shouted to us to assault the enemy at the ahead hill immediately,” he later remembered in his memoirs. “This was once the one order; there was once no reconnaissance, no plan, no protecting hearth. We rushed up the hill, got here below heavy hearth, my Company Commander was once wounded and there have been many casualties.”

As German bullets claimed the lives of 7 officials and 40 males, the commander ceased giving orders and the lads retreated with a loss of technique that Montgomery discovered mindless. “If this was once actual conflict it struck me as maximum curious and didn’t appear to make any sense towards the background of what I were studying,” he recalled with cynicism.

Afterwards the Warwicks had been deserted and not using a additional orders. “We had been left in the back of when the retreat started and for 3 days we marched between the German cavalry display screen and their major columns following in the back of, shifting most commonly through night time and hiding through day,” Montgomery recalled. “In command of our celebration was once a first class regimental officer, Major A.J. Poole, and it was once due completely to him that we in any case were given again to the British Expeditionary Force and joined up with our battalion.”

Life for males of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment was a sequence of grueling marches, taking pictures skirmishes, and repeatedly converting orders earlier than their true baptism of fireside got here at Meteren in early October. After the German takeover of Antwerp on Oct. 9, a combat for port towns alongside the English Channel adopted.

On To Meteren

Gen. Haldane gained orders to clutch the Meteren house from German forces. The brigade marched out from Caestre at the morning of Oct. 13 earlier than 10 a.m. It could be a protracted and grueling day. The Warwicks shaped the development guard and had been first to conflict with the enemy. The Germans, sensing their means, retreated into constructions and ditchs. The small Flemish the city was once now an armed citadel.

“The Royal Warwickshire had been then ordered to force them out, and through skillful use of the bottom made secure growth until about 1 o’clock, after they had received the outskirts.

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Meteren after struggle later within the conflict in 1918. (National Library of Scotland)

Then they had been halted while the assault advanced in different quarters,” wrote Kingsford.

A Bayonet Fight

The struggle was once particularly bloody. The attacking Warwicks relied closely on the usage of the bayonet to force the Germans from dugouts. British infantrymen had been issued a typical 17-inch bayonet with which to slash and stab enemies. The French army most popular a needlepoint-style bayonet, whilst some German bayonets had serrated edges. The rifle butt was once extensively utilized as a bludgeoning software.

Bayonet battling was once brutal and private. German conscript Stefan Westmann, drafted into the 29th Infantry Division in April 1914, later recalled in a BBC interview printed through The Telegraph in 2014 that the use of a bayonet in struggle was once a sickening revel in that males briefly were given used to. “My comrades…had been completely undisturbed…One of them boasted that he had killed a [French infantryman] with the butt of his rifle, every other one had strangled a captain,” he stated. “A 3rd one had hit any individual over the top together with his spade they usually had been peculiar males like me.” Westmann alternatively by no means recovered from the use of his bayonet. “I awoke at night time once in a while soaking wet in sweat as a result of I noticed the eyes of my fallen adversary, of the enemy,” he stated.

Montgomery was once within the thick of the fray and described the struggle as “grim battling.” In peacetime, he were a literal bayonet-fighting champion—profitable prizes in man-to-man contests right through coaching. Until Meteren, alternatively, the younger soldier had handiest stabbed sacks of straw. However, Montgomery proved tricky within the gory combat. The London Gazette on Dec. 1, 1914 famous that Montgomery displayed “conspicuous gallant main, when he became the enemy out in their trenches with the bayonet.”  

At the peak in their good fortune, the Warwicks had been unexpectedly ordered to prevent the development and hang their place. The initiative was once misplaced. The males had been centered through German hearth as they had been pressured to carry again. “They had complex with admirable keenness, and lots of the casualties came about while halted below heavy hearth,” wrote Kingsford with feel sorry about.

Shot In The Lung

A sniper’s bullet struck Montgomery within the chest. The shot pierced via his proper lung. He fell within the open—uncovered to enemy hearth and affected by what scientifically will have to had been a deadly damage. A fellow soldier, it seems that with some affinity for struggle medication, ran to his support and carried out a box dressing to his damage. This guy was once shot within the head and fell on most sensible of Montgomery, who remained pinned underneath the corpse for agonizing moments as extra pictures had been fired at him. A chain of bullets geared toward Montgomery struck the lifeless guy. Montgomery gained a 2nd shot wound to the knee. Montgomery remained trapped there as his chest stuffed with blood.

British forces captured Meteren after dusk. Yet the Warwicks, in spite of their heroism, weren’t credited with profitable the struggle. “This extend disadvantaged the Royal Warwickshire of the credit score of the particular seize of Meteren, which Gen. Haldane idea they could have completed, had they been allowed to press ahead,” wrote Kingsford. The troops moved to the jap outskirts of Armentieres right through the following a number of days.

Assuming Montgomery was once lifeless, the lads left him in the back of at the battlefield. Stretcher-bearers discovered him nonetheless clinging to existence and took him to an Advanced Dressing station. His situation, within the eyes of scientific body of workers, was once hopeless—a grave was once dug for his coming near near burial. Against all odds, Montgomery survived. He was once transported to a health facility in France and sooner or later to a health facility in England because of the severity of his situation. Doctors established that almost all of his inner bleeding came about within the pleural hollow space round his lung. This “fortunate” result of the shot wound was once inexplicable, as was once Montgomery’s restoration. 

Montgomery gained the Distinguished Service Order for his heroism right through the struggle—a unprecedented difference for a lowly lieutenant. His extended restoration within the health facility gave him time to mirror quietly. He was motivated to grasp instances round him through gaining higher army wisdom. This was a existence pursuit.

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General Montgomery about to deal with males of the British eighth military who took section within the invasion of Sicily, July 1943. (Getty Images)

Returning to Battle

“When I lay in health facility…I got here to the belief that conflict was once a extremely skilled industry, and there’s no room in conflict for the beginner,” he stated right through a Sixties interview. “So I determined that I should learn about my occupation and get proper right down to it. And I gave up the entirety—the entirety. I took no section in social existence. I labored.”

Montgomery returned to the battlefront in 1916. By the conflict’s finish, the decided younger Montgomery would transform a Chief of Staff of a department at age 30. He would move directly to combat many extra battles and sooner or later transform well-known for victories right through World War II. Although he made a complete restoration, the lung damage took its toll—he may just no longer tolerate cigarette smoke, even though he at all times gave cigarettes to his males.

His revel in at Meteren had modified him. Montgomery’s successes had been spurred on through his snatch of morale and humane command genre that he advanced according to his early studies battling within the trenches.

Following their motion at Meteren, the surviving troops of the regiment’s 1st Battalion dug in out of doors of Houplines, had been they remained for a month below consistent shellfire. In 1918, Meteren was once lowered to a heap of rubble right through a heavy bombardment. Many British infantrymen who fell right through the determined struggle for town on Oct. 13, 1914, together with males of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, are as of late buried in Meteren Military Cemetery in France; 180 of the ones buried within the cemetery are unidentified. MH

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