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A Picture from History: Gordon Highlanders & the Battle of Mons

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England had entered World War I and, in an attempt to stop the German invasion of France, fought an introductory battle with machine guns at the Battle of Mons.

Though they fought valiantly, the might of the German military was too much, and the Brits were forced to retreat back to the town of Le Cateau.

Germans attacked the Nimy Bridge during the Battle of Mons on August 23, 1914. (Picture: W.S. Bagdatopoulos)

It was there they made their next stand.

The Enemy Closes In

The English did their best, but the Germans had the advantage. General Horace Smith-Dorrien had received the orders to withdraw, but to do so was impossible.

if General Smith-Dorrien followed these orders, the Germans would be able to surround the English position — potentially preventing any English response in northern France.

However, Smith-Dorrien received extra reinforcements the next day, making the withdrawal possible, so the order went out for an organized fighting retreat.

British soldiers from the Royal Fusiliers rest in the town square at Mons one day before the Battle. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A Message Unreceived

But not all would receive this news.

The 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders were one of the premier fighting forces from Scotland. Protecting the line was a trait every Scotsman at the time understood, and now it was up to them to do so once again.

6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders during an inspection in 1918. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The only problem was that they don’t know that they were virtually going to be left alone.

Communications at the time relied on runners, horses, cars, and bicycles. For whatever reason, when Dorien sent out his retreat orders, nobody made it to the Gordon Highlanders.

Were they forgotten? Were the couriers killed?

Regardless of the cause, because of this communications failure, as the rest of the English forces withdrew, the Highlanders and some Irishmen were left behind to face the full onslaught of the German army.

A Battle Rages

Unaware of the situation, these brave men continued to fight as if they were receiving the full support of their brothers in arms.

British troops retreated after the initial battle, unknowingly leaving the Highlanders behind. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Just like their fathers had been forced to do so many times in the past, they continued to hold the line. Their rifles were furious, and the Germans fell by the score.

But then the truth came out — they were alone. When the Highlanders realized what had happened, it was too late.

A map of the Battle of Mons (Map by John Fawkes)

There was little hope of their ever being able to make it back to the safety of the rest of the army, but what choice did they have in the matter?

They had no other option but to fight.

Retreat and Destruction

As the Germans began to overwhelm their position, the Highlanders fell back in a desperate attempt to rejoin the British line they had helped allow to reach a position of safety.

A depiction of the 1st Gordon Highlanders battling against German forces. (Credit: W.B. Wollen)

The men fought and ran as fast as they could in the direction of Clary. And it was here that they were overrun and slaughtered.

Five hundred Highlanders were killed.

A few survivors who avoided capture managed to sneak through the German lines to find some degree of safety in Amsterdam.

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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