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

The mini run 2015 in Bideford. Pictures: Graham Hobbs

The mini run was back in North Devon this weekend celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Mini Grand Tour.

Read more
11:28
Barnstaple McDonald's.

Restaurant to install digital order points and extra drive through lane

Read more
09:07
North Devon Magistrates' Court.

Theft of £18 aquarium pump from Barnstaple shop lands 26-year-old man owing the court nearly £300.

Read more
08:01
Woody Bay Station is giving half its takings to Children's Hospice South West this weekend.

Visit Woody Bay station on September 5 & 6 and help Children’s Hospice South West

Read more
Sunday, August 30, 2015
The Torrington Trumpton bonfire 2015.

Crowds were treated to a giant charity bonfire and spectacular fireworks display in Torrington last night (Saturday).

Read more
Saturday, August 29, 2015
Winkleigh Airfield aircraft watch tower

A two-storey World War Two watchtower and parts of a secret wartime airfield are being auctioned for £35,500-£50,000 on September 22, along with its nine acres of land and several outbuildings.

Read more
Friday, August 28, 2015
Bideford Hospital.

Health bosses announces plans for sessions in Hatherleigh, Lynton and Barnstaple

Read more
Friday, August 28, 2015

Fire fighters rushed to flat in Marlborough Court, Bideford, where they found a woman trapped inside and smoke issuing from the building.

Read more
Friday, August 28, 2015
Artist's impression of the completed Anchorwood Bank development

Firs stage of major Barnstaple development will be completed by Christmas 2016

Read more
Friday, August 28, 2015
Natalie Jones lost her life in the collision near Knowle. Picture: Michelle Ley

A 30-year-old from Ilfracombe has been questioned by police following the fatal collision on August 21

Read more

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 16°C

min temp: 9°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