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They were all shot; but the man with the message was now crawling towards the battalion in danger. With assistance he reached them and the object was gained; they were withdrawn to a new position before the Germans succeeded in their plan of cutting them off.

The weather generally was intensely hot, making the retreat still more trying to the Army. The situation was further complicated by the flight southwards of almost the entire population, thronging and blocking the roads. When the British fell back the inhabitants had just commenced the saving of the harvest which, undreaming of war, they had tended with solicitude and saw growing with joy. But the corn and grass were to be garnered by a dissolute and predatory foreign soldiery whose hands, in many instances, were red with the innocent blood of those who had sown [26] them.

So, accompanied by tens of thousands of fugitives—wailing women and children for the most part, distracted by the dread and terror of this calamity which had so incomprehensibly fallen upon them—the British hastened on towards Paris. On Tuesday, September 1st, the 4th Guards Brigade—Grenadiers, Coldstreams, and Irish—had to sustain at Villers-Cotterets the brunt of another of these fierce onslaughts which the Germans delivered against such of the British troops as attempted to stem the pursuit.

The Brigade had had little rest since the commencement of the retreat with the enemy ever at their heels. Only the day before, August 31st, the Irish Guards had the longest and most trying of their forced marches. Hardy, wiry, and fleet-footed, they covered thirty-five miles with very little food, as their transport had to keep far in advance of the column to avoid capture. At a parade of the battalion on the roadside at Villers-Cotterets on the morning of September 1st, the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Morris, addressing them on horseback, congratulated his men on their grit and vitality.

He made the very interesting statement that whilst a substantial percentage of the other regiments in the Guards' Brigade had succumbed to the heat and fatigue of the march, only five men of the Irish Guards had fallen out from exhaustion. Then all of a sudden, as the tale is told by Private Stephen Shaughnessy of Tuam, the men got orders to "Fix bayonets.

Colonel Morris rode through the ranks, shouting, "Irish Guards, form up! Remember you are Irishmen! Both sides blazed away at one another with the rifle, through the trees and undergrowth, and frequently came into grips [27] at the point of the bayonet. Sergeant Patrick Joseph Bennett, in a letter to his sister at Thurles, gives another instance of the unruffled mood and quiet confidence of the men during the three hours of fighting in the wood. They were calmly picking blackberries. Morris was among the fallen. The last that Private Shaughnessy saw of the Colonel was on the road beside the wood giving orders, mounted on horseback and smoking a cigarette.

He was the younger son of Lord Morris and Killanin, a famous Irish judge and humorist, and brother and heir-presumptive of Lord Killanin. He left a son, Michael, who was born ten days before his father left for the Front, and was just a month old when his father fell on the field of honour. Colonel Morris was of the finest type of soldier, and was long mourned by the regiment. A good idea of the dangers and hardships of the retreat, apart from the fighting, and also the humours which relieved it, is given by a private of the 2nd Irish Rifles:—"It wasn't the fault of the Germans if we got away alive.

They were after us night and day," he says.

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The greatest trouble of the regiment was to find their way through woods and strange country by night. We dare not light a match or make a sound that would betray our presence, and when we saw lights in the distance twinkling like will-o'-the-wisps, we had to send our scouts to find out the meaning before we approached. We heard them talking and shouting to each other, but they gave no chase, thinking we had got away in another direction.

We had no food for hours, except such fruit as we could pick up on the way. By September 3rd the Marne was crossed, and the long retreat of the British was brought to an end without any grave disaster.

Chronology

French had out-generalled and out-marched Von Kluck. But the Germans were also over the river by the 5th and practically at the gates of Paris.


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The British Army then fell back upon the Seine. So black did the prospect appear that the French Government and Legislature thought it prudent to remove from Paris to Bordeaux. The British Expeditionary Force was driven through Northern France before a mighty and irresistible wind of steel and lead, but the tempest did not overtake and disperse them, as it might have done—such was its roaring fury—any less disciplined and stubborn troops. At the end of it all the British were weary from want of sleep and plenty of hard fighting, but not badly shaken, and certainly with spirits undaunted.

So marvellously quick did they recover that on September 7th, within a few days of the end of the retreat, they had the great joy of joining with the French in turning upon the Germans and rolling them from the gates of Paris back over the rivers Marne and Aisne.

The Battle of the Rivers consisted of a series of almost continuous engagements, lasting till the end of September, principally with strong rearguards of the enemy who were holding the fords and bridges of the Marne and Aisne, and their tributaries, the Grand Morin and the Petit Morin, and the villages, farmlands and orchards of the intervening countryside. Between the different British regiments there was an emulation to outshine each other. It was a splendid vanity, for everything done to realise it tended to the confusion of the common enemy.

This phase of the [30] war was therefore crowded with incidents showing the bravery of the soldiers of all the nationalities within the United Kingdom. From the Irish point of view the most remarkably dramatic was the rallying of the Irish Guards round the green flag.

That is the flag the Irish Guards obtained when they received information that they were for the Front, and from the moment they set foot on foreign soil that treasured emblem of Irish nationality has been displayed at the head of the battalion, the pride and admiration of the regiment. The first occasion upon which the flag was produced was when the Marne was crossed, and on September 9th the Irish Guards had to advance for miles across rather open country, swept by shot and shell, to dislodge the Germans from a commanding position south of the Aisne.

The Irish as soldiers have two qualities which, though widely different in nature, are really each the concomitant of the other. The first is imperturbability, springing from indifference to danger, of which the Retreat from Mons supplied some choice examples, as I have recorded.

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This attribute is displayed while they are waiting for the shock of an advancing attack, or for the command to launch themselves upon a foe shooting at them from behind entrenchments. The clash comes or the order to charge is given; and then it is that, showing the other quality, they give vent to the fire and force of their passionate temperament, which, as often as not, impels them to attempt strokes more daring and rash than the occasion quite demands. In the course of the advance between the Marne and [31] the Aisne on September 9th the changeful fortunes of the conflict seemed to make the final issue doubtful.

The line of the advance of the Irish Guards was a hill upon which the Germans were strongly posted with several machine-guns, each pouring forth a terrible stream of bullets a minute. Men were dropping on all sides. Then it was that the towering form of an Irish Guardsman was seen running well on in front of the first line flourishing the green flag, which he had tied round the barrel of his rifle, and shouting "Ireland for Ever. On they swept, with redoubled speed, after the darling flag, in one of their furious, overmastering Irish charges, made all the more terrible by their vengeful yells.

A thunderstorm was raging at the time. The gleam on their bayonets may have been the flash of the lightning, but it was more suggestive of a glint of the flame of love of country that glowed in their eyes. Mulloney to his sweetheart in Ireland. I shouldn't like to stand in front of that charge myself.

Our men were drenched to the skin, but we didn't care; it only made us twice as wild. Such dare-devil pluck I was glad to see. We proceeded to line up the prisoners and collect the spoils, which amounted to about prisoners, six Maxim guns, and 38, rounds of ammunition. The hill was surmounted and the machine-guns taken.

Afterwards the advance was continued for five miles, over a country covered with dead Germans and horses, and blazing homesteads. The Irish [32] rested for a time in a field, and then pushed on again until they reached the banks of the Marne. They captured Germans, including many officers and eight machine-guns.

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But if the advance was swift, sure, and triumphant a bitter price had to be paid for it, as is the way of war, for many a fine and stalwart Irish youth found his grave between the rivers. The man who produced the green flag was Corporal J. Cunningham from Dublin. He bought it in London before the Irish Guards left for the Front.

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It became a prized possession of the regiment. Clay from the trenches has made the harp on it very dirty, but, thank God, that is the only disgrace it has suffered. I did not think when we were buying it that it would go through so much. He knew of the episode between the Marne and the Aisne. He had probably heard also a story of the American Civil War. An Irish regiment on the side of the North carried a green flag bearing a harp in the glow of a sunburst, and so noted were they for their wild and reckless daring that a Confederate general, seeing the dreaded colour surging forwards, and borne proudly aloft through the battle smoke and the hail of bullets, cried out to his men, "Steady, boys, steady.

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Here's that infernal green flag again. On September 13th the main forces of the Germans retired to the high ground two miles north of the Aisne and entrenched themselves. As the British also dug themselves in, this was the beginning of trench warfare. But the combatants did not settle themselves down to it entirely for some months afterwards. There were still surprise attacks and counter-strokes, in which cavalry took a part, as is seen from an adventure of the 2nd Irish Fusiliers as told by Lance-Corporal Casement.

We had to tackle them in our shirt-sleeves. It was mainly bayonet work, and hard work at that. They were well supported by cavalry, who tried to ride us down in the dark, but we held our ground until reinforcements came up, and then we drove the enemy off with a fine rush of our horsemen and footmen combined. One of the most inspiring of the deeds of self-sacrifice which the war has produced was done by an Irish soldier. In the churchyard of a village near the Aisne is the grave of a private of the Royal Irish Regiment marked by a cross without a name, but with the arresting inscription—"He saved others; himself he could not save.

On September 14th, in the concluding stage of the struggle for the Aisne, the battalion was sent ahead to occupy a little village near Rheims. Immediately we heard the crackle of rifles in front, and the poor chap fell dead before he reached us. Then they discovered that an ambush had been prepared into which they would have moved to their doom but for the warning given by the man in khaki at the cost of his life. He was a private of the Royal Irish Regiment—2nd battalion—who was taken prisoner the day before and confined in the farmhouse, but his identification disc had been removed by the Germans, and there was no means of discovering his name.

At this early period of the war, while the cavalry—not yet transformed into infantry by the adoption of trench warfare—were still being used as horsemen, Irish troopers were distinguishing themselves. I have noticed in the newspapers, from time to time, disputes as to which unit of the auxiliary forces was the first to come under fire. The honour had been claimed by the London Scottish, who entered the field at Neuve Eglise in the first days of November, and allowed until it was established that the Northumberland Yeomanry had been in action before the London Scottish left home.

This section of the Irish Yeomanry went to France early in August, They were attached to the Guards' Brigade, and were with the Irish and Coldstreams when they turned in the little town of Landrecies to hold back the Germans on August 25th, the second [35] day of the retreat from Mons. The North Irish Horse arrived in France on August 20th, and pushing forward at once reached the French and Belgian frontier in time to relieve the pressure on the retreating forces.