Letters from the Great War: Slaughter at Mons

08:08 23 May 2014

Bill Burgess.

Bill Burgess.

Archant

A letter home from wounded Ilfracombe artilleryman Will Burgess.

The North Devon Gazette is asking readers to share family records and memories of World War One ahead of the centenary this summer.The North Devon Gazette is asking readers to share family records and memories of World War One ahead of the centenary this summer.

Ilfracombe Gazette, September 11, 2014.

Mrs E Burgess of 10 Larkstone Terrace, received the following further letter from her son, William, who was wounded in the battle of Mons:

Dear mother - Many thanks for the letter and parcel. Do not send any fruit, because they give us plenty of that. We get very good food. When I get better they are sending me to a convalescent home. They will be sure to give me a holiday before I go out again. Tell Mrs Klee not to worry about Harry, because he is not with the guns. He was looking after two spare horses up to the time I left so I do not think he can get touched.

We left our landing place for the front on the Tuesday, and got there on Saturday night. The Germans had just reached Liege then, and we got into action on the Sunday morning.

The first thing we did was to blow up a bridge to stop the Germans from crossing. Then we came into action behind a lot of houses, attached to the main street, in Belgium. We were there about 10 minutes, when the houses started to fall around us, the poor people were buried alive. I saw poor children getting knocked down by bursting shells.

The next move was to advance across, where there was a Red Cross Hospital. They dropped shells from airships and fired on it, until the place was burnt down to the ground.

Then they got a plan on to retire, and let the French get behind them. We retired eight miles, but we had to fight until we were forced to move again. We got as far as Le Cateau on Tuesday night. It was a place just like Dartmoor, all flat, so we camped there until two o’clock the next morning.

Then we all heard there was a big fight coming off, so we all got together and cleared the field for action. We had 75,000 men, whilst there was against us 200,000. We cut them down like rats. We could see them coming on us in heaps, and dropping like hail. The colonel passed along the line and said ‘stick it boys’.

I tell you, mother, it was awful to see your own comrades dropping down, some getting their heads blown off, and others their legs and arms. I was fighting with my shirt off, and a piece of shell went right through my vest at the back and never touched me. It stuck into a bag of earth which we put in between the wheels to stop bullets.

We were there all busy fighting when an airship came right over the line and dropped a bomb, which caused a terrible lot of smoke. Of course, that gave the Germans our range. Then the shells were dropping on us thick. We looked across the line and saw six German guns coming towards us. We turned our two centre guns on them, and sent them yards in the air. I reckon I saw one German go quite 20 yards in the air. Just after that a shell burst right over our gun, that one got me out of action. I had to get off the field the best way I could. The bullets were going all around me.

On the way off, they got completely around us. I went about two miles and met a Red Cross cart. I was taken to St Quentins hospital.

We were shelled out of there, about two in the morning and then were taken in a train, and taken down to a plain near Rouen.

Next morning we were put in a ship for dear old England. We got a fine send off, and a good reception at London. I think we are safe enough now, for a few weeks.

Well, mother, I think that is all now. I hear the King and Queen are coming to see us tomorrow.

From your ever loving son, Bill.

PS: Excuse writing, as the wounds affect me a lot. They have taken all the bullets out.

Will Burgess was killed in action in June 1916 aged 20. His name is on the Menin Gate memorial.

Other News Stories

Yesterday, 09:49
Book Relief charity chairman John Carvosso with Brenda Evetts. Picture: Sarah Howells

Appledore man leaves lasting legacy with charity helping promote literacy.

Read more
Yesterday, 09:44
Andy Skarzynski

North Devon man survived on 50p a day to raise £250 for the charity Send A Cow.

Read more
Mon, 19:45
Somersault Festival 2015.

Around 17,000 people flocked to Castle Hill Estate this weekend to party through the rain and sunshine at Somersault Festival.

Read more
Mon, 11:55

Police appeal after break in at Barnstaple home on Friday evening.

Read more
Mon, 10:20
Bideford Water Festival 2015. Pictures: Graham Hobbs

Bungee jumpers lept from 175ft platform above the River Torridge as part of Bideford Water Festival yesterday (Sunday).

Read more
Mon, 09:35
The North Devon Link Road.

Caravan towing could be ‘difficult’ for towing vehicles and outdoor activities disrupted due to strong winds today (Monday).

Read more
Mon, 07:24
Scratch is back with his owner Cheryl Mundy

Scratch is returned to his relieved Chittlehampton owner after being found seven miles away thanks to his microchip

Read more
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Scenes from the visit of cruise liner MS Prinsendam to Ilfracombe.

Cruise ship passengers surprised and interested by Damien Hirst’s Verity when the MS Prinsendam called in at Ilfracombe today (Sunday)...

Read more
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Fair Queen Chulmleigh Academy pupil Daisy Parsons, pictured with attendants Morgan Robinson and Katie Elder, and crown bearer Gracie McKinnon-Jones. Picture: Submitted

Town’s 762nd fair will be extended by a day to take in busy programme of events.

Read more
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Barnstaple carnival queen Jasmin Husband is pictured with princesses Donna Barton and Tilly-Lee Brown, carnival committee chairman Andy Shiner and deputy mayor Julie Hunt. Picture: Submitted

Park School teenager lands special role at head of procession.

Read more

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 15°C

min temp: 10°C

Most Read News

Great British Life


Great British Life

Advertise in the paper
Submit a Story
Subscribe to the paper
Competitions
North Devon Football League
Order Photos
Family notices
iwitness24
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus Page
Reader Travel

Family Notices 24

Digital Edition

Image
Read the North Devon Gazette e-edition today E-edition



North Devon's trusted business finder