THE COLONELS

The fighting at Mons and the subsequent retreat taxed both officers and men to the limit of their endurance. Unable to rest or sleep and in some cases unable to find food, their morale was put to a further test as they trudged too and fro without any idea of what was happening.

Two splendid battalions – the 1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Elkington and the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers under Lieutenant- Colonel Mainwaring - had reached the main square in St. Quentin on the 27th August, among the last British troops to arrive in the city. With officers and men totally exhausted, the two colonels, one of whom was certainly sick, had been persuaded by the Mayor to give a written undertaking not to endanger the city’s inhabitants by putting up a resistance against the entry of the Germans which was expected within the next few hours.

Also en route for St. Quentin was Major G.T.M.Bridges of the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards whose squadron had claimed to have fired the first British shot of the war on the 22nd August at Mons. As his men rode in to the main square they were astonished to see it full of soldiers wandering about aimlessly, exhausted and some lying asleep on the pavement. Bridges recovered the undertaking given to the Mayor and then set about bringing the tired soldiers to their feet and on the march again. Driven by desperation perhaps, he found a local shop which sold toy musical instruments and formed an impromptu military band. Marching round and round the square the "musicians" with their penny whistles and drum managed to rouse the weary men and form a column ready to set off out of the city to safety. By now Elkington was nowhere to be seen, but armed with a walking stick, Mainwaring marched wearily alongside Major Bridges at the head of the column. By 2 a.m. on the 28th August, as a patrol of Uhlans was about to enter St. Quentin the line of marching men was well clear of the city.

Subsequently both Elkington and Mainwaring were dismissed from the army in disgrace. Elkington joined the French Foreign Legion and was badly wounded in the fighting at Navarin Farm. His distinguished service with the French Army eventually led to his reinstatement in the British Army, but Mainwaring still very sick, and despite pleas for similar treatment was not to resume his army career.