David Childs

On 30 August 1914 the French Government quit Paris for Bordeaux absenting itself just as the capital was about to be spared a siege because of a change in German strategy. Late in August the right wing of the German army, instead of pressing west to encircle Paris from the north, changed direction to the south-east to pass just twenty five miles from Paris in an attempt to join up with its southern forces. This decision was one of the most momentous of the war for it exposed the, until now unstoppable, German army to a flank attack by the French and British forces which had been in retreat. Spurred on by the elderly military governor of Paris, General Gallieni, a makeshift French army was rushed to the front, many travelling, famously in commandeered taxis and buses. What followed was the Battle of the Marne, in which some two million soldiers were engaged. This led to the retreat of the Germans to the Aisne.

Then came the 'Race to the Sea' as both armies tried to outflank each other in northern France and Flanders with the British holding on against heavy odds at Ypres. The war of movement was now over, from 15 September the troops dug in along a line that would stretch, eventually from the Channel to the Swiss border. The war of the trenches had begun. The six weeks of fighting that had taken place up until then were to be the bloodiest of all the war with hundreds of thousands slaughtered in frontal attacks against machine-gun fire.

Meanwhile, in the east the Germans had turned their overwhelming victory at Tannenberg into a crushing defeat of the Russians at the nearby Masurian Lakes, engineered by Hindenberg and Luddendorf. From that time the Russians ceased to be an effective fighting force doomed to defeat and, of course, revolution.

At sea on 28 August the Battle of Heligoland, in which the Germans lost three light cruisers, marked the start of hostilities. On 3 September HMS Speedy struck a mine in the Humber while, two days later HMS Pathfinder was sunk by a submarine. The navy's first major loss occurred on 28 September when HM Ships Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy, one after another were torpedoed by U9. Over sixty officers and 1,400 men were drowned that day.

Wiltshire did not raise any of the famous 'Pals' battalions but local recruitment at this time increased the size of the county regiment by four Service and three Territorial battalions. In September also an Indian army Corps disembarked at Marseilles: they would be slaughtered at Neuve Chapelle, Ypres, not many months later.


There is much attention paid these days to the young men who wrote poetry while serving in the trenches, but the war came when some of the great poets of the Victorian and Edwardian age, such as Kipling, Hardy and Housman were still writing and able to view the catastrophe from their position of mature wisdom.

Men who March Away (Song of the Soldiers)
by Thomas Hardy

In our heart of hearts believing
Victory crowns the just,
And that braggarts must
Surely bite the dust,
Press we to the field ungrieving,
In our heart of hearts believing
Victory crowns the just.

Hence the faith and fire within us
Men who march away
Ere the barn-cock say
Night is growing grey,
Leaving all that here can win us;
Hence the faith and fire within us
Men who march away.

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