While researching at the Durham County Records Office, I came across mention of Charles Edmondson, Head teacher of Whorlton School. During the early weeks of the First World War he was to be found serving with the Expeditionary Forces in Belgium. He wrote weekly letters back to his family in Whorlton, where his father was a church warden. His parents gave permission for extracts from his letters to be published in the monthly Parish Magazine, and here is one of those extracts from 7th November 1914.
“We landed at Rouen, August 20th and left on 22nd for Amiens which we reached at 9pm and on 23rd had orders to proceed to La Cateau, and got there just in time to catch the shells coming over, and proceeded at once with the ammunitions towards Mons, from which place we had to retreat as soon as it was dark: what a sight it was, enough to turn anyone grey. I do not know how many cars we had lost. We reached St Quentin on Tuesday and we stayed there all night. The next day we were sent with four wagons to find and feed a regiment at Guise, but we could not find them. Next morning, we found a Battery of the Royal Field Artillery with only two men left! That day the Battle of St Quentin was fought, and we had to retire to Hain, from which we were ‘shelled out’, and retired during the night.
At Amiens, the Germans dropped on us unawares and we lost over 30 cars, together with two workshops and repair vans, and the column generally was so severely handled that they sent us to the Headquarters at Relun…I think the nearest shave I had was at a place near Hoblis in the forest of Crepy, where we had been ordered to stay the night, and had only rested for quarter of an hour when an order came to start the engines, each man to have his rifle, and to clear out as soon as possible. We had not proceeded more than half a mile when we were furiously attacked, but the drivers kept on going until one of the wagons stuck in the side of the road and we could not get past, so we took cover behind the wheels, and finally beat off our assailants, and reached safety at 4am.
We were at the Battle of Compiegne and the Marne, and at Soissons, and now we are having breakfast in one country and tea in another… It is good of the Vicar to have prayers for us…
We see some lovely scenery and some awful sights on the field. Anyone who has not seen them cannot realise how awful war is nowadays, but all the same I should not like to come back until I have seen it through. We must have got the worst over, for nothing could be worse than the scenes at Mons, at La Cateau and the retreat to Hain”.
Unfortunately, the Records Office do not possess a full set of the Parish magazines, and this extract is the last personal contact that I have been able to trace. How I wish I could have read more about his life, and personal thoughts on the battles he was involved in.
Looking back now in 2016, and knowing how long the war continued, the most poignant aspect for me of his letter is the thought that ‘we must have got the worst over’. How sad to reflect he had no idea of what was still to come.