The Retreat from Mons Remembrance Trail
About the Trail
The Battle of Mons, the first major engagement between British and German forces of the Great War, was fought on Sunday 23 August 1914. Heavy fighting took place in and around the city throughout the day and by nightfall, the heavily outnumbered British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had begun a tactical retreat. In the two weeks that followed, the officers and men of the BEF, under General Sir John French, fought and marched from the battlefield at Mons to the outskirts of Paris.
For some 200 miles, the BEF was followed by the German 1st Army and fought a series of rearguard actions in order to protect the retreat.
The Retreat from Mons Remembrance Trail follows this journey and tells the stories of men like Lieutenant Colonel George Morris.
Lieutenant Colonel Morris, originally from the west of Ireland, was killed on 1 September 1914, when the 4th(Guards) Brigade fought a rearguard action in the Forêt de Retz near Villers-Cotterêts. He was later buried at Guards' Grave Cemetery.
At each of the sites on this trail, you can use your mobile phone to access the personal stories of some of the men who fought and died during the retreat.
How to use the Trail
The trail is yours to explore, but we recommend starting at St Symphorien Military Cemetery, Mons, and finishing at La Ferte sous Jouarre Memorial on the Marne. Click here to download the leaflet and work out the clearest route on the map.
Symphorien Military Cemetery
The cemetery at St. Symphorien was established by the German Army as a final resting place for both British and German soldiers killed at the Battle of Mons.
As British soldiers began to retire from the Mons area, German forces established the cemetery at Hautrage for soldiers killed or mortally wounded in subsequent actions south of the city.
The BEF fought a rearguard action against German forces at Élouges in August 1914. After the battle, German troops buried some of the British dead in this place.
On 25 August 1914, 4th(Guards) Brigade acted as a rearguard for the British III Corps and fought a night action at this place.
Le Cateau was a German railhead throughout the war and the site of a large hospital centre. The cemetery was laid out by the Germans in February 1916.
Many of the soldiers killed at Étreux were from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. By holding out against a much larger German force, the Munsters protected the retreat of the British III Corps.
The remote village of Néry was the scene of a rearguard action fought by British artillery and cavalry units against a larger German force on 1 September 1914.
The Forêt de Retz was the scene of a rearguard action fought by the 4th(Guards) Brigade on 1 September 1914. In the aftermath, many of the dead were buried by the people of Villers-Cotterêts.
The La Ferté-sous-Jouarre Memorial commemorates almost 4,000 officers and men of the BEF who fell at the Battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne.
The village of Vailly-sur-Aisne was the location at which the British 3rd Division crossed the River Aisne on 13 and 14 September 1914, during the Allied advance from the Marne.
Why not download a free QR code reader to your phone before tackling the trail? This will allow you to scan the QR code on the information panel about the cemetery and those commemorated there.