"The Affair at Néry - The Bigger Picture
I was recently asked about the involvement of the Queens Bays, 5th Dragoon Guards, 11th Hussars and of course L Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery in "The Affair at Néry". These units together made up the First Cavalry Brigade and at the start of the First World War were stationed in Aldershot. I was only able to help with some information that had been passed on to me by Major Paddy Verdon and that came about through a coincidence with his boss at his place of work. His (Paddy's) boss had mentioned one day that he would be back at work on 1st September to which Paddy remarked " Ah Néry Day". It turned out that the boss Lieutenant Colonel the Honourable Guy Norrie (late Royal Hussars) was the son of an officer, now Lieutenant General - the Lord Norrie G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., C.B., D.S.O., M.C., who actually served with the 11th Hussars at Néry. Lord Norrie gave a talk to the Royal Atillery Historical Sociey in 1967 about the episode at the village of Néry during the retreat from Mons. As this talk took place in 1967 it is a little dated but nevertheless just as emotive and very worthy a rerun to keep the memory of Néry alive.
I produced a few copies for the reunion in 2004 and luckily Robbie had held on to a copy.
I thought it may be worthwhile to incorporate the main part of this talk in the web site in the hope that ex members find it interesting as I did.
The transcript is copied from a well worn document and therefore the quality is not perfect and due to the transfer and uploading there a number of alignment problems. At the end the article refers to the Victoria Crosses held by the battery and names two Bradbury and Nelson. As this article is dated I believe that all three, the VC of Dorrell, are now held by the battery.
MAJOR-GENERAL HUGHES: I am very pleased to be able to welcome Lord Norrie this afternoon. While the name of Nery is of great significance to all gunners, it is possible that the all-arms aspect of the battle has not re ceived all the attention that it merits.
We are therefore, extremely fortunate to have Lord Norrie with us to describe the battle from the point of view of the 1st Cavalry Brigade in general and in particular from the llth Hussars, in which he was serving at the time.
LORD NORRIE: Mr. Chairman, Master Gunner and Gentlemen. First of all I must thank you for your kind hospitality and excellent lunch. If any of you fall asleep during my talk I certainly won't blame you or feel insulted . . . some of you I know attended the dinner at the Royal Artillery Mess last night, so have a double excuse.
Over the years a number of accounts have been written about Nery. The latest one appeared only last June in "The Picnic Basket" by General Sir Edward Spears, a former llth Hussar, and I highly commend the book.
When I was first invited to talk to you I felt reluctant to accept your invitation . . .not exactly a reluctant deb, but a reluctant survivor, as there are only two llth Hussar Officers left who were present at Nery.
I am delighted to see a number of old friends and a few who were actually at Nery on September 1st 1914.
As you heard, your Chairman suggested that I should confine myself as far as possible to what the 1st Cavalry Brigade as a whole and what the 11th Hussars in particular did on September 1st.
I intend to give you a talk on Nery from a personal angle and this is not in any way a Staff College lecture.
I realize that all of you here have a good knowledge of what happened at Nery and are extremely proud, as we all are, of the heroism of L Battery, Royal Horse Artillery. To obtain the correct background may I take you back very briefly to the 1914 days in Aldershot, just before World War One?
The First Cavalry Brigade was stationed in Aldershot and consisted of The Queen's Bays (Lieut.-Col. Wilberforce), 5th Dragoon Guards (Lieut.-Col. Ansell, Father of Colonel Mike Ansell), 11th Hussars (Lieut.-Col. T. T. Pitman) and L Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery (Major Sclater-Booth). - ,
Our Brigade Commander was Brigadier-General C. J. Briggs to whom we were devoted, a great trainer of troops, and later a splendid leader in war.
On June 28th, 1914, the heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo.
There was great excitement in the Press and throughout Europe, but we, the younger generation at Aldershot were perhaps too young or too slow to appreciate that this incident might possibly lead to a World War, But Germany seemed bent on making War.
France and Russia looked anxiously to Great Britain and we seemed in honour bound to help them, but the British Government hesitated to go to their aid.
They were unwilling to commit the country to war on account of a Serbian quarrel. However, the Government was determined not to tolerate the violation of Belgium, the integrity of which, Great Britain and other countries were pledged by treaty to uphold.
It was not until the evening of August 3rd that it became certain that Germany was going to invade Belgium, and in fact the German Government declared war at 4 o'clock on August 4th 1914.
At home the order to mobilize was immediately given, and at midnight Great Britain was at War.
Our mobilization plans had been most carefully worked out and practised and everything worked smoothly. One of our officers was on his honeymoon (Squeak Sutton), we had a polo team at Cowdray, and others were away at Goodwood Races, but they were all back within hours.
On the 5th day, our Regiment's Reservists arrived from Dublin full of enthusiasm. It is hard to. believe, but quite true, 120,000 horses were collected for the Army in 12 days.
We in the llth Hussars got some very good hunt horses from the Fernie and Pytchley, but they had not been up very long off grass.
On August 15th we left our Aldershot Barracks and rode to Farnborough Station and entrained for Southampton without any fuss or bother.
We embarked ona ship called "The Cestrian", a rather dirty Liverpool cattle boat of some 5,000'tons. The rest of the Cavalry Brigade embarked in other ships and we arrived at Le Havre in the early morning where we stayed for a couple of days.
On August 18th we left Le Havre by train for an undisclosed destination in Belgium and were welcomed with the greatest enthusiasm by the French inhabitants wherever the train' halted. "Vive les Anglais" and our boys werea bit too generous in giving away their cap badges or buttons to the French girls. The British Army was to be disposed on the left of the five French armies and we were to concentrate in the area between Maubeuge and Le Cateau.
I am telling you this past history because few people today realize that the action at Nery took place within 14 days of us leaving Aldershot.
Sunday, August 23rd was the opening day of the Battle of Mons, We fought very hard and stopped the Bosche but to describe this battle is beyond my terms of reference. Sufficient for me to say that the B.E.F. soon found itself in a perilous position with both flanks exposed, due to the withdrawal of the French on our right, who received a bad bashing and nobody on our-left.
Our C-in-C, Sir John French ordered an immediate withdrawal, and this was the beginning of the retreat from Mons.
The B.E.F. fought gallantly to delay the enemy, but our Operations were made more difficult by the absence of maps. Maps for the advance into Belgium had been issued, but none for the retreat through France. This fact was respon sible for much of the confusion which arose during the next few days. I was lucky and pinched a road map off a French cyclist, which was better than noting. The fog of War became complete.
As far as the fighting troops were concerned few knew where they were, or where their neighbours were, and few even of the senior officers could tell why we had to retreat and what was to be expected the next day.
We had to live off the country as no rations came up, and we got practically no sleep.
Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien decided to make a stand at Le Cateau and the Cavalry Division under General Allenby remained on his left flank. We never got heavily committed but were always in contact and on the move
The Bays started to groom their horses and L Battery began to water by sections m the sugar factory.
2nd Lieut. George Tailby of the llth, nicknamed "The Tapeworm" or "Tape", because he was long and lanky, went out on his first patrol, with 6 specially selected troopers to reconnoitre the high ground to the East and South East of the village.
The patrol had been ordered the previous night, so was ready to start about 4.30 a.m. and Tailby knew all about the Ravine and its steepness,
Tailby was a grandson of Squire Tailby of Leicestershire fame and had been brought up to hunt and ride since he was ten, but had less than a year's service in the Regiment.
Due to the fog, visibility was very poor. When the patrol crossed the Ravine and made a complete circuit of the plateau, the fog shifted a little, and Tailby saw 200 yards away a column of Cavalry.
By their long cloaks and spiked helmets he was certain they were Germans. Tailby's leading file rather stupidly fired and the enemy advanced towards the patrol.
Patrols are meant to find out information and not to attack an enemy ten times their strength, so George wisely gave the Order "Files about, Gallop".
Tailby returning at speed down the Ravine on his horse "Ronald", which I had sold him a month before, crossed his legs in a hole and both horse and rider fell heavily.
Although once my horse I accept no responsibility for the accident!
I am glad to say the horse was soon caught and Tailby hurried back to report what he had seen.
Passing a local Estaminet on the road back to Nery, he saw and picked up a German grey cloak on a table where the enemy had obviously been drinking coffee, ,: :
The patrol returned through the lines of the 5th Dragoon Guards who they immediately warned, but 1 am afraid disbelieved the story.
Tailby then rode on to report to Col. Pitman. He too thought that Tailby might have made a mistake, i.e. French Cavalry for German.
However, the production of the German cloak was a very good bit of work which settled the question, the 11th Hussars stood to arms and Colonel Pitman just had time to report to General Briggs at his Headquarters.
We will now look at the enemy side of the curtain and see what was brewing on the German side. General von Kluck (commonly known as old 1 o'clock) had had little contact with the British since he moved Southwest after Le Cateau.
The 2nd German Cavalry Corps under General von der Marwitz was ordered to make for the flank of the 5th French Army in the direction of Soissons.
The Cavalry Corps was composed of the 2nd, 4th and 9th Cavalry Divisions, and it is on the 4th Cavalry Division that we must fix our attention.
The.G.O.C. was Lieut-General von Gamier and consisted of 3 Cavalry Brigades each of two regiments:—
The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Cuirassiers and the 9th Uhlans.
The 17 th Cavalry Brigade, the 17th and 18th Dragoons.
The l$tk Cavalry Brigade, 15th Hussars and 16th Hussars.
The First Horse Artillery Regiment (12 guns) and the 2nd Guard Machine Gun Company.
At full strength this division would have mustered some 5,000 men and 5,500 horses, 12 horse-artillery guns, and 6 machine guns, but it had beencampaigning for 23 days and had covered at least 400 miles in that time. It had been engaged in a big fight with the Belgian Army at Haelen on August 12th where it had received severe losses.
On August 31st the Division left Roye about 2 a.m. and marched all day and part of the night through the Forest of Compiegne.
About 4 a.m. the leading troop began to climb out of the valley which leads from Bethisy to the Plateau East of Nery.
The route this division took is shown on the map. It was then at this stage that an Officer's Patrol reported that a British force was in bivouac at Nery and resting there uncovered and unsuspecting. This seemed a chance too good to be missed and General von Gamier decided to attack Nery at once.
The German plan was a simple one.
In the centre his three horse-artillery batteries and the machine gun battery were to take up position opposite the village.
Under cover of this fire two attacks were to be launched. The 3rd Brigade was to attack the British left flank from the direction of Bethisy. To the South one regiment of the 17th Brigade was to attack the sugar factory and the other regiment covered the left flank, the remaining Brigade, the 18th was kept in reserve.
The German guns unlimbered on the edge of the Ravine about 700 or 800 yards from L Battery and the Bays.
One Battery of four guns may possibly have been in position North of Feu Farm, but certainly the other two, and personally I think, all three, were South East of Nery and Feu Farm.
I don't think this really matters as within 24 hours all twelve guns had been captured, 8 on the 1st September, and the remaining four on the following day. Now back to our side.
Colonel Pitman having warned General Briggs just got back to the Regiment when about 5,40 a.m. according to my own wrist watch, shells began to burst.
This was the beginning of heavy and prolonged bursts of fire from guns, machine guns, and rifles from the Eastern ridge near Feu Farm.
The first effect of this fire was terrible on the troops and horses who were sitting targets in the open.
In the Bays lines horses were shot down in rows and many stampeded and galloped off into the open country.
L Battery, which was nearer the enemy was in an even more unfavourable position and I will come to this in a moment.
At the Northern end of the village shelling was nothing like so heavy.
The 5th Dragoon Guards stood by their horses and only a few stampeded.
Lieut. Brocas Burrows attached to the 5th Dragoon Guards (later aGeneral) was lying under a tree not feeling well, and got kicked on the head by a horse and became unconscious. He was captured the following day.
Another old friend of mine, also attached to the 5th Dragoon Guards, Maurice Hill, was very badly wounded in the head, and after we had all gone was tended near Nery by some nuns. Nobody knew who he was as his identity disc had disappeared and he was eventually identified by a number on the sole of his field boots made by Peals, which was sent back to England.
The Bays, as soon as they could, hurried their remaining horses under cover of buildings and then entered the fight. *,
One Squadron, under Command of that great leader, Jakes Harman, (the late General Sir Wentworth Harman), deployed alongside the road leading up to the sugar factory. The Bays machine guns under Lieut. Lamb found an excellent concealed position and opened a very effective fire on the German guns and did a lot of damage.
We in the llth also used our machine guns under Dennot Kavanagh with very good effect.
It is at this stage I would like you to hear for yourselves how L Battery made a name which will live for always in British History. This account was written by the late Major A. F. Becke in your own R. A. Journal, and is included in the llth Hussars History. Having witnessed the scene of the battlefield, I would much prefer our Chairman to read the story than that I should attempt to describe it.
Mr. Chairman, would you very kindly read the Account on my behalf.
"Capt. E. K. Bradbury and the subalterns were standing near the haystacks in the north-west corner of the field when a shell burst over the battery and immediately the whole field was swept by a devastating fire. The poles being down, the teams had no chance, and as the horses tried to bolt the poles were driven into the ground and the field rapidly became a shambles. It was a moment that called for a leader, and Bradbury rose magnificently to the occasion. Shouting for volunteers, he raced for the guns followed by the three subalterns and by Sergt. D. Nelson. The officers, assisted by some men who were helping with the horses, managed to unlimber three of the guns and turn them in the direction of the enemy. Capt. Bradbury took one, Lieut. Giifard another, and Lieuts, Campbell and Munday the third. But the ammunition wagons were twenty yards away and over this death-swept space the rounds had to be carried up to the guns. Unfortunately a disaster occurred at once for, before it could fire a round, Lieut. Campbell's gun was knocked out by a direct hit. The two officers then ran over to Capt. Bradbury's gun and reinforced his detachment. The two guns opened fire at once on the enemy, but Lieut. Giffard's gun, after firing a very few rounds, was smothered with shells, Lieut. Giffard was severely wounded and nearly all the detachment were either killed or wounded. Thus only Bradbury's gun still remained in action, and round this gun gathered the few survivors from the other two guns, and the detachment was further reinforced by Battery-Sergeant-Major G. T. Dorrell. This gun bore a charmed life, and, despite a constant stream of casualties, Capt. Bradbury kept it in action against the three hostile batteries under a thousand yards away. As the detachment dwindled and the difficulty of getting up ammunition became greater, fire became desultory. But for well over an hour the grim, unequal duel continued of the one gun against the twelve, until at last, as he was trying to fetch up more ammunition, Bradbury was mortally wounded. The detachment now consisted of only two men, both wounded, B.S.M. Dorrell and Sergt. Nelson. Gradually the few rounds of ammunition at the gun were expended and then the end came—the gun was silent at last, but it still stood there unconquered, glaring defiantly at the foe."
Thank-you Mr Chairman.
A most moving account and such was the deed which gave L Battery it's immortal name and three Victoria Crosses.
General Briggs took prompt and effective steps to meet the situation. After getting the news from Colonel Pitman he sent Despatch Riders off to General Allenby at St. Vaast and another to the 4th Division Headquarters at Verberie.
Hardly had he done this when a shell penetrated his Brigade Headquarters, and not long after this his Brigade Major (Major Cawley) was killed.
Hardly had he done this when a shell penetrated his Brigade Headquarters, and not long after this his Brigade Major (Major Cawley) was killed.
About the same time Major Sclater-Booth of "L" was wounded, partially blinded, when trying to return to his own Battery. He was not found until after the battle was over.
General Briggs decided to counter attack with the 5th. Dragoon Guards, and ordered the llth to prolong their own lines into the 5th Dragoon Guards Area.
The 3rd German Cavalry Brigade were definitely surprised by Colonel Ansell's counter attack and the vigour of their rifle fire, and a number of German led horses were killed, by this rifle fire.
The enemy thought they were being counter attacked by superior troopsand withdrew.
Unfortunately we had to pay a heavy price for this success as Colonel Ansell was killed on his horse while making a personal reconnaissance near Luce Farm. A tremendous loss to his Regiment and to the Army, but his counter attack was more than successful.
The other attack by the 17th German Cavalry Brigade towards the sugar factory was held up by fire of the Bays and llth. It was here that Norman de Crespigny in the Bays was killed. A splendid personality and he was responsible for getting the enemy m.g's. out of the Factory.
Von Gamier didn't want to prolong the fight so he ordered his reserve Brigade the 15th and 16th Hussars to make a mounted attack which was led by Colonel von Printz, who gave the order to "Follow me, Form up and Charge".
They were brave enough, but they had done no ground reconnaissance and the mounted troops ran up against the Ravine and were completely stopped.
I could see them all very clearly at the top of the ridge and they proved a great target for the llth machine gunners.
The results of Brigadier-General Brigg's early calls for assistance now began to make themselves felt.
The 4th Cavalry Brigade and I Battery moved towards Nery and 4 guns of I Battery under Captain Burnyeat entered the fight with great effect from about 1,200 yards.
Their fire was very accurate and helped to silence the German guns and prevented teams from withdrawing them ... an important factor in our subsequent Victory.
The 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment of the 19th Brigade began to arrive from the South and added their fire to that of the Cavalry.
Brigadier-General Briggs still had one final stroke to play, and C Squadron of the llth was ordered to capture the guns and carry out the pursuit.
We in the 11th had already reconnoitred the Ravine and my troop was the leading one of C Squadron.
We secured the ground at the top of the Ravine and captured several Germans who made little signs of resistance.
We could see parties of the enemy both mounted and dismounted, retiring eastwards.
My squadron leader, Jeffery Lockett, who climbed up with my troop, ordered me to charge the guns, while No. 2 troop opened fire on the retiring enemy.
With drawn swords and a rousing cheer No, 3 troop galloped through the guns from the direction of Feu Farm. Quite a few of the shell shaken personnelwere still about and one was run through by my troop sergeant Sergeant Halley for failing to put his hands up or shout "Kamerad".
About 4 years ago I was invited to talk about Nery on Southern Televisionwhich included the "sticking" of the German gunner by Sergeant Guy Liailcy.Later, 1 got quite a few fan letters but received two other letters, protestingabout the cruel use of the sword, and signing themselves as members of ananti-blood sports Society!
In point of fact there was little opposition and no organized fire but the occasional rifle shot.
There were 8 guns in position flanked by two machine guns. As far as I remember, 5 gun;; were pointing in the direction of "L" and 3 in the direction of "I".
After we had galloped through the guns, elements of the Middlesex Regiment arrived soon on the scene and Locke it quickly made a plan of action for the infantry to act as a pivot from which we in C Squadron could operate eastwards.
The Middlesex Regiment were splendid and could not have been more co-operative,in Le Plessis Chatelain we captured Germans from ail 6 regiments of the 4th Cavalry Division, and also 2 Doctors and two ambulances.
One of the German doctors protested when we removed his Field Glasses that they had been a present from his girl-friend in Berlin. He also said his grey charger was private property and should not be taken from him. He even produced the Geneva Rules of War printed in French.
None of us could talk German but I was appointed official Interpreter as the Doctor and I could both talk French.
I should add that I kept the field glasses myself and the grey charger was transferred to C Squadron, 13thHussars.
I thought nothing of the charge at the time but it is historically correct that my troop were first on the scene and captured the guns, the first to be taken in World War L
The German guns had been silenced by the combined action of L and I Batteries and the machine guns of the 31st Cavalry Brigade, but somebody had to reap the fruits of victory and it was the good fortune of the 11thHussars to have done this.
The German Horse Artillery certainly got their revenge on me, as 10 days later when chasing the enemy across The Marne the same horse that 1 rode at Nery was killed stone dead by shrapnel, and T got one in the leg as well.
I was far more concerned about saving my Sowter saddle and didn't realise until 4 hours afterwards I had been wounded myself.
After capturing Le Plessis Chatelain and a number of prisoners we were ordered to break the fight off and withdraw.
We returned via the scene of L Battery's heroic stand and it is a sight 1 will never forget.
There were large numbers of dead horses with their swollen bellies, and these were subsequently buried by local inhabitants during the following fortnight .
As far as casualties were concerned records show that there were ? British officers killed and 35 other ranks, and 13 officers and 80 other ranks wounded. It is estimated that we lost nearly 400 horses, of which L Battery and the Queen's Bays each lost 150
The Germans lost 8 guns and 2 machine guns and about 230 horses. Some 200 officers and men became casualties, and we captured about 100 German prisoners.
This briefly is the story of Nery, and I will end up by mentioning just a few of the lessons.
I have been back to Nery many times and even met Mr. Rolond's son then aged 8, who escaped with his Mother in a farm cart the night before the battle.
I won't dwell on the lessons as they are fairly obvious and all this happened such a long time ago; It is however, interesting to speculate what might have been, if things had happened differently.
(a) If there had been no fog.
(b) If the 1st Cavalry Brigade had moved off at 4.30 a.m. as originally planned.
(c) If the Germans had attacked further South and so avoided the Ravine and got behind us.
We can, however, pause in admiration of three things about this action which might otherwise be overlooked.
Firstly the behaviour of the troops who were caught by the sudden hurricane of foe was absolutely magnificent. This was the finest example of what good training in peace with regular soldiers could accomplish in War. The behaviour of "L" Battery and the Queen's Bays was quite outstanding.
Secondly, the handling of the Brigade by General Bnggs was a very big factor in bringing this light to a satisfactory conclusion. He was completely cool, calm and collected.
I single out his immediate warning to neighbouring troops, the decision to counter attack the enemy's flank and rear and the free hand given to Colonel Ansell of the 5th Dragoon Guards.
General Briggs walked down the whole defence positions and his presence certainly inspired the troops. The arrival and co-operation of reinforcements particularly "1" Batten/ R.H.A. and the 4th Cavalry Brigade, and the timely arrival of the Middlesex Regiment, all contributed to our Victory.
The decision to send "C" Squadron, 11th Hussars to pursue and reap the fruits of victory was another reason why we were able to turn the tables on the 4th German Cavalry Division.
Thirdly, after this length of time, we can pay genuine tribute to the performance of the 4th German Cavalry Division. They had already covered 400 miles in 3 weeks and on August 31st proceeded to march for 22 out of the next 26 hours.
On getting the information from his patrol. General von Gamier gave the decision to attack immediately. You have already heard his plan and how fortunate it was for the defenders that the Ravine was in the way. There was no lack of dash by the German Cavalry though there was certainly a lack of reconnaissance.
They had forgotten what we have been taught all our lives and still believe in, that "Time spent, in reconnaissance is seldom wasted". A German wireless message from 4th Division was intercepted at our G.H.Q. "Attacked by English at dawn, cannot fulfil mission".
Finally, as a result of what happened at. Nery, General von.Kluck was deprived of his feelers on the vital flank and did not perceive the French Army assembling under General Manoury. The Germans fell into the trap Genera Joffire was setting for him, and this made possible the battle of The Marne, a turning point in human history.
This concludes the story of Nery.
Some of you may consider Nery primitive compared with modern battles, but this action did prove how brave the British can be and created repercu sions of the greatest importance.
No battle honour was awarded the troops taking part but we can be thankful and proud that L Battery is immortalized and now bears the name L (Nery) Battery, Royal Horse Artillery.
MAJOR C. W. IKIN: I think this question is more of a gunner one but during my time in the Army I have never served in a horsed unit. Why were the poles down at the time 'L' battery was attacked?
LORD NORRIE: I think a gunner should answer this one.
BRIGADIER M. W. HOPE: In this way the weight of the limber pole was taken off the horse's neck. This procedure was adopted if you wanted to move off fairly soon and the order was—"without unhooking, poles down". As a result of this battle of Nery it was ordered that this procedure should never be adopted in the gunners again.
GENERAL SIR RICHARD GOODBODY: Major E. H. B. Jackson of the Rocket Troop, who was at Nery, used to tell the story that on this foggy day he was on an officer's patrol from a Field Brigade early in the morning and suddenly found himself face to face with some German cavalry. He galloped off and soon came to the officers mess of a British cavalry regiment having breakfast. He stopped and asked them if they realised that some German cavalry were only 400 yards away. He was greeted with laughter. So he moved on to report to his Colonel. Later in the day he was hit on the head and 'has worn a silver plate ever since. Which cavalry regiment did Jackson encounter?
LORD NORRIE: It must have been the 5th Dragoon Guards. When he arrived at the mess the battle obviously had not started. Nevertheless, the 5th Dragoon Guards did very well in the action.
BRIGADIER W. A. STIRLING: I understand the llth Hussars stabled their horses in a barn. Did you lose many?
LORD NORRIE: Very few—I think only three horses were wounded. We were very lucky.
BRIGADIER M. W. HOPE: I have read somewhere that one of the first of the German shells that burst, was over Brigade Headquarters and that someone picking it up discovered that it was German and set at 800 metres.
LORD NORRIE: Yes, this is so but it was not one of the first shells. It was General Briggs himself who picked it up.
BRIGADIER W. E. DUNCAN: I am glad it was marked or else they would have said "Those blasted gunners again!"
LORD NORRIE: Our French interpreters were terrified that our machine guns would shoot their own people. They stopped Dermot Kavanagh when he had the chance of a first class target.
LIEUT-COLONEL S. RUDD-CLARKE: Concerning the counter-attack made by the 5th Dragoon Guards—was it delivered mounted or dismounted?
LORD NORRIE: Both; on seeing the enemy they dismounted and used rapid fire. Colonel Ansell was killed whilst on his horse. I heard this from his son Colonel Mike Ansell. His father is buried in the little cemetery at Nery that you saw on the map.
MR. R. NORTH: Is there any musketry drill laid down for these attacks ?
LORD NORRIE: We always fired dismounted. We were taught never to fire from the horse. If you have read General Spears book you will see that he was our musketry officer for a period. He does tend to give himself a pat on the back and suggest that his musketry lessons won the battle of Nery! I agree our rapid rifle fire was most effective.
MAJOR-GENERAL H. C. PHIPPS: You told us about Maurice Hill. I stayed recently in a house in Nery where I was told that an officer from the battle had remained until he got well—he even brought his wife out. But unfortunately there was no record at all of his name.
LORD NORRIE: It may easily have been Hill. I am sorry he died some years ago.
CAPTAIN M. HOOGEWERF: The town of Altringham in Cheshire where I come from holds the memory of Bradbury in great esteem. There is a school in the town named after and founded by his father, Judge Bradbury. In it is a large portrait of Captain Bradbury. His name is still kept very much alive in the town of his birth.
LORD NORRIE: I am very glad to hear this.
LIEUT.-GENERAL G. C. BUCKNALL: I would like to thank you General Mansergh and General Hughes for inviting me to attend this very interesting study, and also for the warm hospitality of the Royal Artillery. I would also like to tell Lord Norrie how much I have appreciated his clear and valuable story of the affair at "Nery". The background of this story was, naturally, largely concerned with 1st Cavalry Brigade.
As one of the two officers of 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment present at the action, and still alive, the Master Gunner has asked me to say a few words, enlarging a little on the part played by that Regiment.
During 31st August 1st Middlesex had been rearguard to 19th Infantry Brigade and halted for the night at St. Sauveur at south end of Foret de Compiegne, protected by outposts.
The 1st September opened misty as 1st Middlesex continued its move southwards. 19th Brigade H.Q. was at Saintines, 1£ miles north of Nery. In command was Colonel Ward of 1st Middlesex. About 6 a.m. Colonel Ward heard that 1st Cavalry Brigade with 'L* Battery R.H.A. were in difficulty at Nery, He himself with his Brigade Major (Major Ross, 1st Middlesex) and Transport officer 1st Middlesex (Lieut. Brodie, still alive) was on the high ground south of Saintines. He ordered Major (later General) Rowley, then commanding 1st Middlesex to move at once to Nery and contact 1st Cavalry Brigade H.Q. there.
As the noise of the engagement at Nery developed 1st Middlesex had been partially deployed on the high ground south of Saintines, Major Rowley therefore ordered the leading companies 1st Middlesex to move on Nery, while he with the leading Company Commander and Machine Gun Officer rode to join General Briggs,—1st Cavalry Brigade, north end of Nery,
The 1st Middlesex Regiment followed up the attack by 'C' Squadron llth Hussars, ably supported by their machine gun sections and this completed the rout of the enemy who withdrew eastwards followed by the Cavalry. The German guns were then rendered unserviceable.
Meantime, a composite Company 1st Middlesex (Capt. Gibbons) with a dismounted squadron 2nd Dragoon Guards, covered by the 1st Middlesex machine guns (whose commander had been wounded) cleared the German Jaegar escort out of the Sugar Factory and pressed on towards Le Plessis Chatelain, captured earlier by 'C' Squadron llth Hussars in a mounted attack.
My company, the Reserve Company 1st Middlesex, was now also at the south end of Nery. While we could see something of the action, we were not called to take part. We could however, see clearly the scene of devastation in 'L' Battery lines, where the gallant Battery had put up such a splendid fight.
I would like now to pay my Regiment's warm tribute to 'L' Battery.
I would also like to say how much we enjoyed co-operating with the llth Hussars—a liaison which has gone on ever since.
The "Affair" ended with the disengagement eastwards of the German 4th Cavalry Brigade. 1st Middlesex rejoined 19th Infantry Brigade and continued the move southwards to Fresnoy.
It should be remembered that 3rd British Division (with which was 4th Battalion Middlesex Regiment) was continuing the British retreat only some 12 miles to the east. General Duncan (who was then with 3rd Division Artillery) has been describing to me here a minor action with German Cavalry around. Viilers Cotterets.
No doubt, therefore, the most important result of the "Affair at Nery" was the sharp rebuff to the 4th German Cavalry Division, which never perceived the French Army assembling under General Manoury.
MASTER GUNNER: Gentlemen. It has been a privilege for us to listen to Lord Nome's intensely interesting description of this historic incident in World War I, which is of great Regimental importance and pride to all Gunners. His graphic comments and personal reminiscences have made this a very exceptional occasion. I am sure you, as well as I, greatly appreciate both the personal details and the human feelings, the damp foggy morning—anxieties, doubts and ignorance as to what was happening—just typical of war. These, combined so brilliantly with the facts and accurate details of the action have given us a record of events we will long remember.
We are most grateful to you, Sir, for your kindness in visiting us and for giving us such a fine description of this action which is such an important incident in our Regimental history and indeed in the history of the British Cavalry—with whom the Royal Horse Artillery have the honour to serve,
May I again thank you, Sir, for your valuable and most enjoyable address.
RELICS OF THE ACTION AT NERY ON 1st SEPTEMBER 1914 IN POSSESSION OF 'L' (NERY) BATTERY R.A.
'L' (Nery) Battery History 1914-18 which includes various accounts of the action at Nery, nominal rolls and casualty lists.
Account of the action in The Times October 21st 1914.
Report on the lecture by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle concerning the action.
Photographs of F Sub-Section Gun.
Photographs of the Battery on its return to Woolwich in 1914 showing Gnr. Derbyshire and Dvr. Osbourne.
Print of the Matania Painting of the action with signatures of the medal recipients.
Map of the Battlefield around Nery.
Record by the War Graves Commission of the cemetery at Nery.
Pencil sketch map of the battlefield drawn by a member of the Battery after the battle.
The following medals awarded for the action at Nery:—
Victoria Cross and medals of Captain E. K. Bradbury, R.H.A.
Victoria Cross of Sergeant D. Nelson.
Medaille Militaire and medals of Gnr. Derbyshire.
Medaille Militaire and medals of Dvr. Osbourne.
Some of the accounts:
1. Nery 1914 R.A. Journal, By Major A. F. becke, late R.F.A. Vol. LIV 1927/28,page 30
2. 'L' Battery R.H.A. at Nery 1st Sept. 1914R,A. Journal, By Lt. Col. H. C. R. gillman, m.b.e.,R.A.
3. The Action of 'L' Battery R.H.A. at Nery R.A. Journal, By Major P. F. rodwell, R.A.
4. Attack on 1st Cavalry Brigade at Nery, 1st Sept. 1914 Cavalry Journal, By Brigadier General T. T. pitman, c.b., c.m.g
5. The History of the Eleventh Hussars (Prince Albert's Own) 1908-1934 By Captain L. R. lumley, M.P. 1936