Battle Honour 'LE CATEAU'.

Event
Wednesday, 26 August, 1914
LE CATEAU Queen's Colour Battle Honour
Battle Honour LE CATEAU on The Queen's Colour

The Battle Honour LE CATEAU is emblazoned on The Queen's Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.

During the retreat from the area south of the Mons-Condé canal the inevitable fog of war had separated the 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles from its parent 7 Brigade. The Battalion then found itself under orders from 5 Division to escort a supply column to Maurois where it arrived at 0400 hours on the morning of 26 August. There the Riflemen rested for three and a half hours - a very short reward for the day’s fighting on 23 August followed by 48 hours of marching some 45 miles.

Lieutenant General Smith-Dorrien had determined that his II Corps needed to inflict a blow to check General Von Kluck’s First Army pressing hard on his withdrawal. He chose to stand on the open downs along a line running west from Le Cateau. When he turned to face the enemy he deployed the 5th Division on the right, just east of Le Cateau, the 3rd Division to the left with the 4th Division placed under his command to face any envelopment of the left flank. The 4th Division detrained in and around Le Cateau on the morning of 25 August with the 2nd Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in its 12 Brigade. Two Inniskilling companies moved to Ligny to guard the Divisional transport and two companies were moved to a western flank guard in the villages of Bevillers and Beauvois.

Map Le CateauThe morning of 26 August was misty after a night of drizzling rain and at 0700 hours, the Rifles received orders to march north-west to Bertry, the location of Headquarters II Corps, where one of the Corp's Staff Officers, mounted on his horse, led the Battalion to occupy positions north of Montigny. There, in effect, it became a Corps reserve battalion ready with others to counter any German breakthrough. Further north from the Rifles, the precarious salient around Caudry was held by 7 Brigade, the left brigade of 3rd Division. The 4th Division to its west, in addition to the 2nd Inniskillings, included the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers. The Inniskillings were on the extreme left of the Division and therefore the extreme left of the British line. The German advance fell on the 2nd Inniskillings just after dawn as breakfast was being prepared in Longsart farm orchard. The Battalion was forced to withdraw, but later fought forward again to regain its positions. The 1st Faughs were in the Division's reserve brigade (10 Brigade) and a Captain later described the effects of advancing German fire:

... as we go shells burst over us like hail. A couple of men start running, and I shout to them to walk, one cannot have a panic. It is awful - how we got through it, I don't know. The bullets strike all around me and the crash, wail, and bang of each shell is desperate.

IWM Q109602The actions throughout the morning were dominated by artillery and two Royal Field Artillery batteries were deployed close to the rear of the Rifles. In most cases these British guns were in the open from 50 to 300 yards behind the infantry, and with such guns quick firing air-burst rounds, the enemy advancing in the open was devastated by shrapnel from above. However, the German numbers were so overwhelming that by mid-afternoon the forward divisions were beginning to give way. The Army Commander, General Sir John French, in order to prevent the annihilation of II Corps ordered Smith-Dorrien to commence retirement at 1530 hours.

Above right, a Royal Field Artillery detachment in action (© IWM Q 109602).

Elements of the Rifles withdrew from Caudry, following an earlier deployment of reserves, to cover 7 Brigade’s eventual withdrawal. Some twenty minutes after the Brigade was clear of Caudry, the Rifles withdrew and rejoined 7 Brigade around midnight at Beaurevois. By the end of the Battle of Le Cateau, the Rifles had lost most of their transport and the casualties included 60 killed in action.