Ferocious Fighting at a Belgian Canal; An Angel on the Battlefield
Special to The Great War Project
(23 August) The battle rages at the Mons-Conde canal in Belgium. The British against the Germans. In mist and rain.
The British forces there hold off a far superior force of German troops – with rifle fire. Not with machine guns. They inflict heavy losses on the Germans.
Thousands of German soldiers die.
As the fighting intensifies, local villagers panic.
One French soldier witnessing the unfolding battle writes: “Women started to wail, and rushed for home, followed by the men, while the children, torn by curiosity, lagged behind turning to see.”
As the German troops near, the villagers in their Sunday best (they are returning home from church) start to flee: men, women, children, and babies.
The Germans bring in superior artillery. They move in quickly. By nightfall, Mons is in German hands.
The British and the French decide to withdraw, according to historian Norman Stone “with a view to a regrouping around Paris.”
In this, the French have an advantage. They use the French railway system to retreat. The Germans pursue on foot.
Under no circumstance must Paris fall to the Germans.
A strange story emerges from the Battle of Mons, according to historian Martin Gilbert. The story, passing from person to person by word of mouth, has it that an angel appeared on the battlefield, “on the traditional white horse and clad all in white with flaming sword.”
This angel, so the story goes, stood against the attacking Germans blocking their further advance.
There are also important but unclear developments on the Eastern Front. There are clashes between the Germans and the Russian army in what is known as East Prussia, a province of Germany north of Poland.
The German plan is to avoid a two-front war: knock France out of the war first, then turn to Russia. It’s not working out that way.
Yesterday (a century ago) the Germans and the Russians clash in East Prussia and the German commanding general panics. Today the fighting intensifies, with the Russians pressing on the East Prussian city of Konigsberg.
There is confusion on both sides about how the confrontation in East Prussia is developing.