4th Dragoon Guards Memorial, Casteau
On the 22nd August 1914 the 4th Dragoon Guards were on a reconnaissance patrol on the outskirts of Mons, looking for the enemy. It was at this point that the British first exchanged shots with the Germans; shots that were later credited as being the 'First Shots of the British Army in the Great War'. They were fired by Corporal E.Thomas, who would later transfer to the Machine Gun Corps and win the Military Medal. He survived the war and moved to Brighton, in Sussex. In the 1930s he wrote his account of what happened for the weekly magazine 'The Great War: I Was There'. This is an extract from that account:
“Major Bridges… gave the order ‘4th Troop, dismounted ready for action; 1st Troop, behind, draw swords ready to go!’ I can recall no sense of battle of ferocity of encounter event at that moment, or anything that seemed more exciting that one of the peace-time manoeuvres.
I saw a troop of Uhlans coming leisurely down the road, the officer in front smoking a cigar. We were anxiously watching their movements when… they halted, as if they smelt a rat. They had seen us! They turned quickly back. Captain Hornby got permission to follow on with the sabre troop, and down the road they galloped.
My troop was ordered to follow on in support, and we galloped on through the little village of Casteau. Then it was we could see the 1st Troop using their swords and scattering the Uhlans left and right. We caught them up.
Captain Hornby gave the order ‘4th Troop, dismounted action!’ We found cover for our horses by the side of the chateau wall. Bullets were flying past us and all round us, and possibly because I was rather noted for my quick movements… I was first in action. I could see a German cavalry officer some 400 yards away standing mounted in full view of me… immediately I saw him I took aim, pulled the trigger and automatically, almost as it seemed instantaneously, he fell to the ground, obviously wounded, but whether he was killed or not is a matter that I do not think was ever cleared up…
… That rifle was the first shot that was fired by a rifle in the British Army, and I cannot repeat too often that at that time it seemed to me more like rifle practice on the plains of Salisbury.
… This now historic moment now over, and the job that we had been appointed to do discharged, our C Squadron patrol… safely withdrew, with five prisoners captured in the sabre charge, to our position at the little village of Casteau, off the main road at Soignies.”
Source: 'I Was There', No 1. (1930s)
4th Dragoon Guards Memorial (click to enlarge)
©Paul Reed 2004