After reading the War Diary of the 1st Hampshires from the battle of Le Cateau, I discovered that it also includes a copy of the private diary of Private F.G.Pattenden. To find such a document, especially in amongst an official unit diary, is a pleasant surprise. It gives us a more unofficial, down to earth perspective.
On Monday 24 August, when the 1st Hampshires were waiting to go up to the front, Pattenden writes that ‘We are waiting at Have Station to begin our 12 hour ride to somewhere. It is very hot here… after 16 hours of grinding and bumping, roar and rattle we have now reached the town of Le Cateau…’
The next day: ‘After a hurried breakfast… we stood by for orders and moved off through Le Cateau. We have now retired and at 11.50am we are waiting for the Germans to appear. All the poor refugees are going by us, crying bitterly… we all have good brave hearts with us and are all prepared to help our good friends the French. What a fine country this is’. Pattenden then tells us that he was acting as the CO’s orderly, which might suggest why his recollections found their way into the war diary.
The entry for Wednesday 26 August 1914 was begun at 5am, after two and a half hours rest at the roadside. In true tommy language, Pattenden tells us that ‘we done a night march from about 7pm to 2 or 3.15 o’clock’. In a foretaste of how the day would pan out, he wrote that ‘we are having a baptism of fire’. Apparently shrapnel was causing the most casualties. ‘We marvellously escaped annihilation, we had to retire and they caught us with shrapnel, it was nearly a wholesale rout and slaughter. Poor old Kennard is dead’. This view once again backs up the conclusion that the battle of Le Cateau was a well-fought delaying action.
Private Pattenden’s diary continues throughout the retreat from Mons, all the way to the end of September 1914. Recollections such as this are so important, especially considering that so many of the sources we rely on to tell us about the Great War come from officialdom, or officer-poets.
As he is not listed on either the Portsmouth Cenotaph or the Commonweath War Graves database, it looks like Private Pattenden survived the war. Kennard was Private Ernest Joel Kennard, age 24. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial.