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First Name: Lawrence Seymour Last Name: BROCKELBANK
Date of Death: 26/08/1914 Lived/Born In: Lee
Rank: Second Lieutenant Unit: Royal Lancaster1
Memorial Site: 1. Blackheath, All Saints 2. Lee, St Margaret 3. St Pancras, Holy Cross

Current Information:

 

 

Elm Lodge, The Glebe, Lee

SDGW-BROCKLEBANK

Naves Communal Cemetery, France

 

Le Cateau 26th August 1914

By the evening of the 25th August, after their withdrawal south following the Battle of Mons on 23rd August, II Corps of the BEF, commanded by General Smith-Dorrien, had reached Le Cateau, in France. They had been retreating, but still fighting rearguard actions for two long days and they were done in. The Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French ordered them to continue the next day but Smith-Dorrien chose instead to stand and fight.  He reasoned that with the Germans on their heels a retreat would be disastrous without first halting the enemy advance. So, on the next day II Corps turned and faced the enemy. The town of Le Cateau saw little of the actual fighting on 26th August, the main actions taking place along the line of the road running between Le Cateau and Cambrai. A fierce battle ensued when the Germans began an artillery bombardment at dawn. Their infantry followed up in the wake of this barrage and became the targets of both the British artillery and infantry. The Germans were held at bay until the afternoon but by then they were threatening the flanks of II Corps which withdrew, whilst the enemy reorganised. British casualties for the day, killed, wounded or taken prisoner, were nearly 8,000.

26th August,1914, was not a good day for the 1st Royal Lancaster (King’s Own) battalion. In fact it was their worst day of the war as far as casualties were concerned. They were to suffer more killed, wounded and missing at Le Cateau than on any other single day during the entire war and this was a battalion that attacked on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 as well as being engaged in most of the other major battles of the war. What is more, it was their first taste of action. The battalion was part of 12 Brigade, 4th Division and they arrived in France on 23rd August 1914, too late to take part in the Battle of Mons but soon to be part of a much bigger battle, that of Le Cateau three days later.

As the main body of the British Expeditionary Force retreated from Mons, 4th Division hurried east across France to join up with them. By the 25th August they had reached Solesmes, an important town because roads from the north, north-west and north-east converged on it, roads down which the retreating army would travel and which the pursuing Germans would also use. Overnight they moved further south.

By the following morning 4th Division were in a position around the village of Haucourt where they could cover the left flank of II Corps. Le Cateau was five miles to the east. Just to the north of Haucourt, running along a valley, is a small stream, the Warnelle Brook. Early on the morning of the 26th August, 1st Royal Lancaster crossed this stream to the high ground north of it and there, believing that the Germans were still some way off they rested to have breakfast, after which they would dig in. The men, weary from their all night march, stacked their rifles and made themselves comfortable amongst the stooks of corn. But they never got to have their breakfast that morning. Off to their left they watched some French cavalry troops moving forward but within a few minutes these same troops were seen galloping back, desperate to seek cover. At the same time fierce machine gun fire opened up on the battalion. The Colonel was among those killed whilst the rest of the men flattened themselves on the ground to try to escape this deadly fire. The German machine gun fire eased off but was soon followed by even more devastating artillery fire. The cooker with the breakfasts was blown to bits. A small dog, the mascot of the battalion and wearing the Union Jack coat made for him by some of the men, was killed. The men desperately tried to find cover. A nearby sunken road provided this for some but for the rest the nearest refuge was the valley of the Warnelle and there was a lot of open ground between them and that stream. “C” Company was practically wiped out.

The British position was untenable so the order came for a withdrawal back across the Warnelle to a road that ran behind it where they hastily dug in, hacking away at the ground with their bayonets whilst all the time the German shelling continued to cause casualties. The firing slackened around noon and a party of men re-crossed the Warnelle and managed to bring back many of the wounded they had left behind in the early morning. The battle continued through the afternoon. Others from the 4th Division tried to regain some of the lost ground but it was a forlorn task and in the late afternoon the order came for a general withdrawal.

Most of the men who made up the 1st Royal Lancaster were of course men from Lancashire but there were some London men among their ranks, including Lawrence Brockelbank, who was one of those killed.

 

 

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