The Battle for Mons1914 Photographed while living in Belgium 1996 by M. Couturier
The Battle for Mons • Telling this story for me is a bit of irony. While being stationed at NATO’s military headquarters, better known as SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), I biked from my house in Soignies to the base. It was only out of curiosity (and fatigue) that I stopped to read several markers along the road. I wonder, how many people drive down this road never knowing what had happened here?
The Battle for Mons • This is the road looking towards Soignies, and going a little further you’d be in Brussels. My back is turned to Mons and a bit further; France! It was here, that on August 22nd, 1914, the German army marched down this road. Note the restaurant on the right!!!
The Battle for Mons • As the unsuspecting Germans marched down this road, a British unit (Irish Dragoons) arrived at this point and set up an ambush. It was here that the first shots of the war were fired (between Germany and Britain); the first from Corporal E. Thomas. Again, note the restaurant on the right and the white marker on the left!!!
The Battle for Mons • The ambush on the Germans was short lived and the British soon withdrew to this point. Although a new modern bridge has taken its place here, there was once a manual draw-bridge. As the British retreated, they drew the bridge in a parallel manner with the canal so as to not allow the Germans to cross over it.
The Battle for Mons • Musketier August Niemeier climbed the bridge to draw it perpendicular. He was shot several times, but still managed to close the bridge and allow the German units on the northern side of the canal to cross making the takeover of Mons imminent. August Niemeier died and was the first soldier to be awarded the Iron Cross on August 23rd, 1914.
The Battle for Mons • Only a few hundred meters away on this bridge, Lt. M. J. Dease V.C. and Private S.F. Godley V.C. set up a position to prevent the Germans from crossing. For their efforts, they were both, posthumously, awarded the first Victoria Crosses of the First World War.
The Battle for Mons • Take a second now to see how close the actions which won the first Iron Cross and Victoria Crosses were.
The Battle for Mons • A couple kilometers away is a quite cemetery in St. Symphorien. It is here that Musketier August Niemeier, winner of the first Iron Cross in combat in the First World War is laid to rest.
The Battle for Mons • A couple yards away, you can find the resting place of Lt. M. J. Dease V.C., winner of the first Victoria Cross in combat in the First World War.
The Battle for Mons • Here is another view of St. Symphorien Cemetery. The grey tombs are German soldiers. They are marked only with the name, city of origin and their function in the war. The British are much more decorated and if they won medals, it is noted.
The Battle for Mons • Note the coat of arms of the soldier's regiment or nationality on Allied British or Commonwealth soldiers only. Also notice the flowers on all the Allied tombs and compare with the Germans.
GOT TWO MINUTES? • In this same cemetery, we find Private George Price. As he arrived along the southern bank of the Mons Canal, he noticed some young ladies on the northern side dancing in the centre square of their small village.
GOT TWO MINUTES? • Price jumped at the opportunity to introduce himself to them. As he approached the young ladies, a German sniper ended his life. It was only 10:58 in the morning of November 11th, 1918. At 11:00, the war ended. Private George Price was the last soldier of the war killed in combat (not just Canadian). He too, is buried at St. Symphorien. Two more minutes and he was going home!
GOT TWO MINUTES? • Many years later, Private George Price's comrades came back to the site where he was killed and left a commemorative plaque.
The Battle for Mons • Another short drive and you get to this memorial. It commemorates the resistance of some Belgian civilians who dared to oppose the Germans during the First World War. Behind these trees, there was a Prisoner of War camp and a German military base.
The Battle for Mons • Behind the trees and inside the base, are these five pillars. These were the posts that the resistance and other Allied POWs were tied to, before being executed.
The Battle for Mons • Ironically, the German military base has now been converted … into another military base!
The Battle for Mons • This is now the site of NATO’s military headquarters known as S.H.A.P.E. What is perhaps more ironic, is that a short walk from this gate leads you to a hotel and restaurant! Note the plaque.
The Battle for Mons • Before we look at the next photo, consider these points: the First World War lasted four years, the Germans nearly made it to Paris (about 250 km away) and about 11 million people died …
The Battle for Mons • … and the war on the Western Front begins and ends within 100 m of each other.