Tag Archives: British Expeditionary Force

We are in Belgrade, Serbia where the first shots of World War I were fired

At this moment my wife, Sarah Barker, and I are in Belgrade, Serbia visiting sites associated with the first days of the First World War. The massive fortification at the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers, and the vast plane that spreads out across what was then Hungry gives a good idea of the Serbian defense at the start of the war. In the years that followed Serbia, like much of Europe, suffered the horrors of war, which its fortification could not withstand.

While no one was certain when war in Europe would break our, or even which countries would take pafortean_times_736_8rt, it was certain that there would be a war. Germany was fully armed, equipped, and staffed. It had a conscripted army trained and ready for battle. The countries of the Balkans and Austria likewise had small armies at the ready. France had plans for offensive and defensive action. England was similarly prepared.

Germany and Austria only awaited a pretext. The killing of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife was that pretext. On July 28, 1914 Austro-Hungry fired the first shots of the war against Serbia.

This turned out to be the moment of truth for my Vickers teams, the Ruffians and the Victors, for on August 4 King George V declared war on Germany.

The Vickers teams who went to Belgium had to have enlisted in the British Expeditionary Force at least six months before the war in order to complete their training. Many had been in the army for several years already. They brought their training to the field of battle. They meet, train, compete, and are gotten ready for war.

On the Firing Range and Fields at Hythe and Grantham

(from Chapter Two, The Angel of Mons)

The soldiers trained. The squads practiced maneuvering in open country, ranging through every kind of terrain. They raced in full service kits. Calisthenics. Stamina, dexterity, speed. Built their bodies. And minds. Among the recent recruits—six months in training boys and men became soldiers. The veterans, who had a natural contempt for recruits, overcame it, and even came to like them. Those new to His Majesty’s army grew accustomed to the routines and rigors of army life. Their fear of their instructors and the veterans diminished. They knew they could depend on each other.

Catchpole complained, “I’ve been drilled to death. I dream about the weapon’s parts. They dance before me, singing and cavorting. They replace the lovely girls of my dreams, the delights of the dance hall, much to my regret.”

His colleague in mischief, Palmer said, “Drilled to distraction. I have forgotten everything else about life. I will kill Germans just to get even for the torments I have already endured. If not for them, I would be living a life of ease, posted to some sweet place in the colonies, eating well, playing cricket, better yet, polo, going to parties, romancing the ladies, lazing in the tropical sun.”

On the firing range the instructors timed each action, scored each shot, each man, each team, for speed and accuracy always needing improvement.

In the field the soldiers practiced sighting, elevating mechanisms, searching fire, distribution of fire, searching with distribution, fixed fire, correcting measurement error fire, volume of fire, accuracy of fire, sustained, indirect, overhead, and plunging fire. The Vickers trainees rehearsed enfilade and frontal fire, known distance, field, and combat fire, extended drill order firing, and control. The gunners fired in formation and at formations. They fired by squad, platoon, and company. They practiced as squad and platoon skirmishers, squad in column and platoon in column, platoon advancing in thin lines, squad and platoon rushes. Fired at every formation in every likely terrain. Mastered spotting hidden and lurking targets. Their eyes sharpening, their senses awakening to signs of enemy presence and movements.


St. George! In the Flesh!

A sample from Chapter 12: St. George and the Angels of the Dark Cloud

imagesSt. George in the Flesh!

All up and down our ragged line those still able to raise their voices shouted like men in a madhouse, “St. George! In the flesh! St. George! Come to do for England!”

“God save us!”

“Sweet saint, I’ll worship at your feet forever.” Some nearly wept. Heavenly reinforcements. And the soldiers about cried in relief, “Heaven’s knight, save us.” An instinctive moaning and involuntary sobbing, breath drawn deeply and quickly expelled.

Seemingly in reply to our cries the phantom warriors roared the ancient salutation, a summoning shout, though in speech of Chaucer’s day:

“Sente George! The longe bowe and the stronge bowe.”

The voices of all, as in chant or call, resounded above the shrieks and blasts of the artillery, machine guns, and rifles. “Comen we to saufe merrie Englonde!”

“Joynen as a bretherhede!”

“The bowe and the swerd, the launce and the pike!”

In words and speech closer to what we spoke, we heard the same pledge of aid. Their bloodcurdling yells died away. The officers of the King’s Own Something called out commands. The drummers beat the signals to the troops. The soldiers faced straight ahead. As if we weren’t there. As if they were real while we were not.

The celestial soldiers and cavalry covered the field, devouring the Germans before them. Blasts of horns and trumpets assailed the ear, fifes and drums tore the air, beat louder and louder until it seemed we were in the midst of interminable thunder.


In The Angel of Mons St. George and his horde of angels save the British not only at Mons, but again at the next battle. In reality, the fact that the British Expeditionary Force survived those two battles is considered vey much a military miracle. All the reason I needed to have St. George help again. This passage appears in “St. George and the AngeIs of the Dark Clouds” I had two scenes in mind, two ways I wanted St. George to save my Vickers machine gun crews. So I separated them, assigned them to two locations, being that there were only two Vickers guns for the entire company of one hundred soldiers. I had the Victors fighting here along a stone fence line. Elsewhere and later St. George saves the Ruffians when they and the company band—the musicians–are trapped in a quarry. This appears in the preceding chapter, “The Quarry, St. George, and the Angels of the Golden Mist of Salvation.”


Gentlemen, We Will Stand and Fight

I highly recommend reading @Tonybird  #GentlemenWewillStandandFight #ww1 military history. #lecateau #angelofmons #ww1centenary

In writing my upcoming book, St. George and the Angels of Mons I’ve read some great military histories of the opening days of World War I. Tony Bird’s Gentlemen, We will Stand and Fight is one of the best. In the First World War’s opening days British success at Mons, Belgium and two days later at Le Cateau, France were vitally important.  Tony Bird’s  book details the day’s battle at the battle of Le Cateau. I highly recommend it.

At Mons (23 August, 1914)–the first battle between the British and Germans in World War I–the British were heavily outnumbered. At Le Cateau (26 August) the British were even more greatly disadvantaged. If the fighting have gone badly at Mons or at Le Cateau nothing of consequence would then stand between the German Army and Paris. In military history, the two battles, and the separation of BEF’s I and II Corps at the Foret de Mormal were strategically of great importance. Mr. Bird’s book gives a detailed account of the fighting at Le Cateau.
In my novel, St. George and the Angels of Mons, angels join the fight at Mon, the Forest of Mormal, and  at Le Cateau. The novel will be published in May.