In June 2011 I had the good fortune to finally attend a performance of War Horse at the New London Theatre on the West End, one of my motivations for wanting to attend being down to my grandfather’s involvement in the First World War in the trenches in Belgium and France and the story that has been passed on by word of mouth in the family from generation to generation, that of my grandfather having received a medal for his involvement in freeing a number of horses whilst under enemy fire. The Great Retreat, also known as the Retreat from Mons, is the name given to the long, fighting retreat by Allied forces to the River Marne, on the Western Front early in World War I, after the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914. I had initially understood that Edward Groves had been wounded in battle during the during the so-called Retreat from Mons, a coal-mining town in Belgium, however, according to his own memoirs, it was sometime after 6th September, 1914, that he was wounded whilst on the offensive close to the river Aisne, around the town of Vailly-sur-Aisne (near Soissons), in France. The memoirs of my grandfather and the time spent in the service of the British army, from the late 1800’s to the end of World War I, includes an account of the retreat, until the moment he was shot and wounded.
“The enemy attacked furiously and their gunners found our range, and were sending hundreds of high explosive shell over, and causing heavy casualties, and whilst lying in the open trying to stem their infantry attack, I felt a dull thud on the left leg, and looking back to see what it was, found my puttee ripped off my leg, and a ghastly wound there. I called out to Sgt. Marshall to take over, and crawled and hobbled back to the dressing station, which I located in a comfortable dug-out on the other side of the river”.