Day 4 - 1st August 2019
The owner of the house we stayed in said that we were welcome to leave the bikes parked where they were until lunchtime so after loading them up we walked the short distance into the centre of Mons.
I said that at nighttime I was underwhelmed with Mons, well in daytime I changed my opinion, it's a lovely place.
Although I think whoever was responsible for naming this place was not very creative.
Just before we got into the very centre of Mons there was a Boulangerie/Patisserie on a corner, with tables inside so we went inside and had coffee and unhealthy pastries for breakfast.
On the next corner was the court, with this colourful artwork outside it.
I just looked at google streetview to check a detail and it reminded me that there was a Versys parked there, the same one that's visible in streetview
We had a wander round the back of the town hall where there was a lovely park.
There was a bit of a space theme going on there, rockets made by school children and this fellow.
Suitably fed, watered and exercised we strolled back to the bikes and rode 5 or 6 miles north east on the N6, to this place. On the right there's a monument with flags and on the left a plaque with flags.
The one on the right marks where the first shots were fired by a British soldier in WW1, by Ernest Thomas although the action had started with a cavalry charge.
The plaque on the left marks the place from where the last shots were fired.
I would guess that 15 men side by side would fit across that road. Space each row at 1 yard centres (to make the arithmetic easier) and all the British soldiers killed between those flags would fill the road for 33 miles. That's before adding on Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand etc.
Back into Mons and we followed the canal a short distance to the east to stop at the place where the action happened that resulted in the first VC of the war being awarded, to Lt. Maurice Dease, and the second to Pt. Sidney Godley in defending this bridge.
"“The machine gun crews were constantly being knocked out. So cramped was their position that when a man was hit he had to be removed before another could take his place. The approach from the trench was across the open, and whenever a gun stopped Lieutenant Maurice Dease... went up to see what was wrong. To do this once called for no ordinary courage. To repeat it several times could only be done with real heroism. Dease was badly wounded on these journeys, but insisted on remaining at duty as long as one of his crew could fire. The third wound proved fatal, and a well deserved VC was awarded him posthumously. By this time both guns had ceased firing, and all the crew had been knocked out. In response to an inquiry whether anyone else knew how to operate the guns Private Godley came forward. He cleared the emplacement under heavy fire and brought the gun into action. But he had not been firing long before the gun was hit and put completely out of action. The water jackets of both guns were riddled with bullets, so that they were no longer of any use. Godley himself was badly wounded and later fell into the hands of the Germans
It was only a 3 mile ride back into Mons so we parked in the town square and had lunch outside.
After our brief, two hour, lunch break we headed out again. I remember that round the back of the square some builders were working and they had Jack Russell which started barking at me as we were waiting for the traffic to move. When I moved off it stopped barking and launched itself at me clamping its teeth onto my boot. I was a bit worried (not for my boot or toes) that when it fell off I might run it over so I kept the speed right down until it realised that it was not going to win this fight.
I salute you little dog, maybe 5 kilos taking on 330. True bravery or lunacy. I'm not sorry that I laughed at you though.
Four miles south east of Mons is St Symphorien Military Cemetery. Although it is now cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission it was originally built by the Germans. The land was given to them on condition that the dead of both sides be treated with equal respect.
Because of this the layout is different to "regular" CWGC cemeteries.
Maurice Dease, along with others killed in the Battle of Mons is buried here.
At the back of the cemetery are these two rows (slightly distorted as I had to make a panorama)
The two headstones with wreaths on them are not quite toe to toe, but between them lie a million others.
The one on the left is that of Private John Parr, believed to be the first commonwealth soldier to be killed, and the one on the right Private George Ellison, believed to be the last.
These graves are of the Middlesex Regiment, the German monument calls them the Royal Middlesex Regiment. My brother tells me that the Germans buried them in a circle like this because their shooting was so good that they believed them to have been a company of marksmen.
We had a way to go because I'd booked somewhere in Arras for the next three nights (the rest of our stay) and we needed to get there at a reasonable hour to pick up the key. But when we left the cemetery a mature gentleman approached us and in broken English (but still a thousand times better than our French and as for Flemish...) insisted that we come with him.
We tried to explain that we had to be somewhere, but he kept insisting that we must come with him for a drink. Well we reckoned that we were probably safe enough, we're too old and far to ugly to be sold as sex slaves and if you were going to nick the bikes you'd go for something a bit more expensive (and newer in the case of my brothers).
So we followed him down the hill back into the village and he pulled in at one of the first houses. When we went inside Christian introduced us to his wife, Marie-Claire and we all went outside onto the balcony where there was a bottle of wine (and he fetched some fruit juice for us), and as we chatted he explained why he had invited us. This is the short version...
He had lived in the village all his life and as a boy when the Germans invaded (WW2, none of us are that old) they took his father as a slave labourer and he didn't see him for the rest of the war. Much later (it must have been near the end of the war) the British had got there. The Germans were using aircraft to attack the British soldiers, who were trying to shepherd the locals to safety, and as he was running with the soldiers a plane attacked, one of the soldiers took off his tin helmet and put it on Christian. An act the he was grateful for to this day.
He also told us about how it was when his father was finally freed and came home. When his father was being rounded up he'd picked up one of Christian's toy cars and taken it with him to remind him of his family. When he came back he took the toy out of his pocket and gave it back.
When he'd seen the bikes go past with British plates on them he'd gone up to the cemetery because he still wanted to say thank you for that act of kindness and he appreciated people coming to visit those that didn't get to go home.
By now there was a lot of dust blowing around and it kept getting in my eyes.
We stayed as long as we could but eventually we had to say goodbye and ride back into France to Arras.
Distance for the day 89 miles. Humbled.