SUFFOLK BRANCH, LE CATEAU TOUR, AUGUST 2014
In cold and pouring rain, which only let up intermittently, a party of thirteen members of the Suffolk branch travelled to Le Cateau on 25 and 26 August to attend the centenary commemoration of the Battle of Le Cateau and to commemorate the stand of the 2nd Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment by walking the ground of their action. We started by following the battalion’s route to Mons on 22 August 1914 and reaching the point on the extreme left of the Mons-Condé canal where, on the following day, two companies of the Suffolks reinforced the 1st East Surreys and in so doing, sustained their first four casualties of the war, three men killed and one officer wounded and captured. From there we followed the battalion’s route on the retreat to Le Cateau. It had been our intention to walk some of that route (along the west side of the Forest de Mormal) ourselves but the rain was very heavy, leading us to reflect on the irony that a hundred years previously the marching men had suffered from the sweltering heat.
Having enjoyed a very pleasant evening meal at L’Estaminet du Musée in Le Cateau and spent the night in Valenciennes, we arrived at the II Corps memorial for the ceremony the next morning. It was a memorable, if somewhat lengthy, event, consisting of an hour’s service and an hour of speeches and wreath-laying. But it was heavily attended, both by deputations from the U.K. (including 93 Le Cateau Battery of 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, The Great War Society, 10th Essex Regiment Living History Group, scouts from Wiltshire and from Belgium) and by large numbers of the residents of Le Cateau. We were moved to find how important this commemoration was for local people. Taff Gillingham laid a wreath on behalf of the Friends of the Suffolk Regiment and the Suffolk Branch of the Western Front Association, while Mark Forsdike, in the uniform of the 1914 Suffolk Regiment, carried the standard of the Ipswich Branch of the Suffolk Regiment Old Comrades Association.
After the ceremony and a hasty sharing out of our ‘iron rations’, we walked the ground of the battalion’s stand, ably and expertly guided by Taff and Mark, who gave us a vivid and lasting insight into the events of that terrible day. We ended the afternoon by laying a wreath on the spot where we guessed that the body of Lieutenant Colonel C.A.H. Brett, the battalion’s commanding officer, was last seen on a stretcher near the regimental aid station. Colonel Brett is commemorated on the La Ferté-sous-Jouarre Memorial to the Missing. An uneventful journey home concluded our trip. Those of us who participated are very grateful to Taff and Mark for what proved to be a very memorable experience.
Suffolk Branch Member