Page 3459

3459 THE TWENTIETH CENTURY-THE GREAT WAR.

his advance. Again and again they turned

and fought to gain the precious hours

needed for withdrawal. They mowed down

the great massed formations of the Germans as grass falls before the sickle, yet

more masses were constantly pushing

forward. "Nothing seems to stop them,"

a French soldier explained to a correspondent. ''We kill them and kill them,

but they come on." One of the most

heroic episodes took place at Marville,

where five thousand Frenchmen of all

arms, with quick-firrer, beat back 20,000

of the enemy for twelve hours, inflicting

tremendous losses and falling back at

last, carrying many helmets as trophies,

only because they were losing touch with

the rest of their army.

For the British, Wednesday, the 26th,

proved to be "the most critical day of all."

The little army had been reinforced the

day before by a new division, the Fourth,

which had just detrained, but this accession

hardly more than made up for the losses

already suffered. "At daybreak," says

Field Marshal French, "it became apparent that the enemy was throwing the

bulk of his strength against the left of the

position occupied by the Second Corps

and the Fourth Division. At this time

the guns of four German army corps were

in position against them, and Sir Horace

Smith-Dorrien reported to me that he

judged it impossible to continue his retirement at daybreak (as ordered) in face

of such an attack. I sent him orders to

use his utmost endeavors to break off the

action and retire at the earliest possible

moment, as it was impossible for me to

send him any support, the First Corps

being at the moment incapable of movement."

No help was possible either from the

French, while the position was the more

serious because the troops had not had

time to entrench their position properly.

But the artillery, though outmatched at

least four to one, fought splendidly and

inflicted terrible losses on the German

masses. Once the Prussian Guards Cavalry Division charged the British 12th

Infantry Brigade, but "were thrown back

with heavy loss and in absolute disorder."

In the afternoon, however, it became "apparent that, if complete annihilation was

to be avoided, a retirement must be

attempted," and the movement was begun,

and successfully carried out, with the

utmost skill and resourcefulness, by Sir

Horace Smith-Dorrien.

Singing Tipperary as he went, "Tommy

Atkins" trudged southward day after day,

pausing to shoot when the Germans came

too close, and disgustedly demanding why

he was kept retreating when he had not

been beaten!

Meanwhile what of France? News of

the retreat from Mons and Charleroi was

suppressed as much as possible, but the

fact could not be indefinitely concealed

from the people that the armies were falling

back. Terror-stricken fugitives in hordes,

bearing their most precious possessions,

streamed southward to escape the "Huns,"

spreading far and wide the bitter news

that the enemy was coming.