30 August 1914

On this day Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the B.E.F., telegraphed Joffre, his French counterpart, that he could not contemplate putting the B.E.F. back in the front line ‘for at least ten days’ and was intending to withdraw beyond the Seine.  Actually he wanted to pull the B.E.F. out of France altogether.

It beggars belief.  After a fierce rearguard action by II Corps at Le Cateau on 26 August, the B.E.F. had managed to complete a disorderly retirement to the Aisne, although it had lost 15,000 killed, wounded or taken prisoner.  It simply had to regroup, refresh, and display inspiring leadership.  Many of French’s own colleagues thought he was not up to the job, but his telegram suggests he had lost his nerve and was completely without understanding of the political issues, namely Britain’s commitment to the French through the Entente and to the Belgians through the 1839 Treaty of London.

On the same day, the ‘Amiens Dispatch’ was published in The Times.  It came from the newspaper’s reporter Arthur Moore in France and described the B.E.F. as ‘broken’.  It was so graphic that Asquith and others denounced it as sensationalist.  Moore concluded that the B.E.F. had suffered ‘terrible losses and requires immediate and immense reinforcement […] it needs men, men, and yet more men’.  At least this led in the following weeks to some of the highest enlistment totals of the war.

Next entry: Kittie again


About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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