The Munsters at Mons
- THE MUNSTERS AT MONS
What a story could be written round the glorious stand of the Munsters at Mons. It is one of the romances of the war. A few months ago I met one of the men who was through it all. He had been a prisoner of war in Germany for over two long years, and marvellous to relate, after several efforts had finally succeeded in making his escape. And as he was a man of good memory and keen observation he was able to give me a thrilling account of the manner in which the Munsters had saved the guns at Mons, of how they fought a wonderful rearguard action, and finally got ringed around with fire, and such as remained of them were taken prisoner. The Battle of Mons – the first encounter of any magnitude between the British and the Germans – commenced about one o’clock on Sunday, 23rd August, 1914. The day was beautifully fine. The bells were wringing for the Sunday services as usual, and our soldiers were resting themselves in billets and tidying themselves up after their weary and tiring marches in France and Belgium.
Suddenly the bugles sounded the call to arms, and soon the peaceful Sunday morning scene was invaded by the crack of rifles and the heavy rumbling of artillery, and the sabre and the lance of cavalry gleamed in the bright sunlight. The Germans had advanced suddenly to within striking distance and before many minutes several of our Irish regiments were hotly engaged with them. Caught unawares our brave Irish boys were "fearfully cut up." But they stood their ground gallantly all through that terrible Sunday evening until relief came at last. Amongst the relieving regiments was the Gordan Highlanders, and one of these wrote: -- "When we got to the trenches the scene was terrible. The Irish were unprepared for the sudden attack. They were having dinner when the Germans opened on them, and their dead and wounded were lying all around."
The story of the retreat of the British Army from Mons is well known – how in the evening Sir John French found out that he was vastly outnumbered in men and guns – 250.000 Germans to 80.000 British – and that to escape outflanking and annihilation there was nothing for it but to retire. Harassed by enormous masses of the enemy and worried in every possible way as they were, yet our magnificent little army never lost their moral. It was in truth a splendid military achievement, and the brave Irish regiments contributed not a little to its success. They accomplished what have been justly described as "feats of unparalleled heroism and endurance." The British rearguard frequently gave action, and on Wednesday, 26th August, a stand was made on the Cambrai-Le Cateau-Landrecies line. Here the Connaught Rangers distinguished themselves. The day was a most crucial one for us. The Second Army Corps was streaming southwards, but von Kluck was making a determined effort to outflank and envelop the First Army Corps. The corps, however, escaped, thanks largely to the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers.
A few days previously this same regiment had covered itself with glory. They were entrenched behind six guns of Field Artillery when a host of Uhlans swept down upon the battery and killed the gunners. What would our redoubtable Munster boys do but instantly charge the Germans with fixed bayonets, and put them to immediate flight. Then the problem was what to do with the guns. All the horses had been killed. The Germans were re-forming for attack, and a deadly fire was pouring upon our men. But to abandon the guns was a thing not to be thought of. And these resourceful fellows put themselves in harness and hauled the guns back for five miles until horses were available. It was a fine feat of daring, and all the world rang with the glory of it during the following week.
- THE MUNSTERS HELD ON
On the night of the 26th August the same regiment were rearguard to the retiring First Army. It was ever the gap of danger for them. They were posted at two cross-roads, and got instructions to hold them at all hazards until the order came to fall back. That order never came until it was too late. The order, no doubt, was sent, but the despatch riders either lost their way or were shot or made prisoners. However this may be, the fact remains that the Munsters held on like grim death to their positions. They were discovered by the enemy, surrounded on three sides, and attacked by an immensely overwhelming force. My prisoner friend gave me a most graphic description of what followed – how, though hopelessly out numbered and assailed with every form of warfare, they retreated yard by yard for a few miles, contesting every inch of the ground, taking advantage of any cover they could find, losing men every moment, but selling their lives dearly like the unconquerable heroes they were.
- GALLANT MAJOR’S DEATH
Major Paul Carrier was in command. Three times he gallantly led his men in an attempt to break through. He was twice wounded, yet he continued to lead until finally he fell, to rise no more, mortally wounded. Eight other officers were also killed. Six of the survivors were disabled. Between four and five hundred of the rank and file were killed and wounded. Ammunition was run out. Shot and other cartridges were to be found by the men in the bandoliers of their dead or dying comrades. There was nothing left for the remnants of the battalion, reduced to four officers and 256 non-commissioned officers and men, but to surrender. And what a wonder that they should, seeing that they had held out for a whole day against seven battalions of German infantry, three batteries of artillery, many cavalry and several machine-guns.
Surely, as a great writer remarked: — "If ever surrender was justifiable, it was so in these circumstances." Their achievement was so mighty as to appear almost superhuman. The glory of it can never fade, nor the honour it brings to the fighting fame of the Irish regiments. [