Nimy Railway Bridge

The 4th Royal Fusiliers moved up to the village of Nimy, on the outskirts of Mons, on the eve of the battle. It had been a long march to Mons, and the men were weary, but setting up position alongside the canal bank offered little protection for the rifle companies, so the night was spent in digging in or using material found in the surrounding area to make improvised firing positions. At Nimy itself Y Company (Captain L.F.Ashburner) of the battalion was set up with its left flank on the Nimy railway bridge and the right flank on a swing bridge, which had been closed to stop the movement of traffic. In the early hours of 23rd August 1914 a German patrol was heard and at first light was spotted and fired upon, hitting four of the men and wounding the officer who was taken prisoner. It transpired that this officer was Lieutenant von Arnim, son of the commander of IV German Army Corps who had been observing the Fusiliers from the Nimy road.

German attacks on Nimy soon began, and artillery fire fell on the area between the two bridges. Lieutenant Maurice Dease, in command of the machine gun section, had placed his two guns on the south side of the railway bridge in two sandbagged emplacements. These laid down deadly enfilade fire into the ranks of the advancing German infantry, but they soon came under fire themselves;

The machine gun crews were constantly being knocked out. So cramped was their position that when a man was hit he had to be removed before another could take his place. The approach from the trench was across the open, and whenever a gun stopped Lieutenant Maurice Dease... went up to see what was wrong. To do this once called for no ordinary courage. To repeat it several times could only be done with real heroism. Dease was badly wounded on these journeys, but insisted on remaining at duty as long as one of his crew could fire. The third wound proved fatal, and a well deserved VC was awarded him posthumously. By this time both guns had ceased firing, and all the crew had been knocked out. In response to an inquiry whether anyone else knew how to operate the guns Private Godley came forward. He cleared the emplacement under heavy fire and brought the gun into action. But he had not been firing long before the gun was hit and put completely out of action. The water jackets of both guns were riddled with bullets, so that they were no longer of any use. Godley himself was badly wounded and later fell into the hands of the Germans.

H.C.O'Neill The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War (Heineman 1922)

For their bravery Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sid Godley were both awarded the Victoria Cross - the first British soldiers to receive the award in the Great War.

Meanwhile the right flank of Y Company at the swing bridge was also under threat. A German soldier called Niemeyer had jumped into the canal and swum to the bridge, set the swing mechanism in motion again and re-opened the bridge. Germans began to stream across towards Nimy and about 1.40pm the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel N.R.McMahon DSO, gave the order to withdraw. This was done in "perfect order" according to the regimental history, and the Retreat From Mons began.

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Memorial to 4th Royal Fusiliers at Nimy

Captain Ashburner's Y Company at the Nimy bridges had suffered around 75 casualties, and in total the battalion lost about 150 officers and men. The majority are commemorated on the La Ferte sous Jouarre Memorial to the missing, while a few are buried at St Synphorien Cemetery, just outside Mons; including Maurice Dease VC. He was originally buried close to the Nimy railway bridge, but his grave was moved to this cemetery in the 1920s.


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