Commemoration and Remembrance
In the 100+ years since The Battalion of Audregnies, in addition to private acts of remembrance, there have been two major acts of Commemoration to mark the 50th and 100th Anniversaries.
Although individual visits will always go on, the culmination of the remembrance process came on 24th August 2014 when a new Memorial was unveiled overlooking the Battlefield at Audregnies (see below).
Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary, 24th August 1964
“A beautiful day dedicated to Remembrance. Under the High Patronage of H.M. the Queen of England, Belgian military and civil authorities, a committee formed in Audregnies by M.F. Thibeau, president, M.M. Michez, Delmotte, Baudour, and the local youth, in order to respect the memory of those who gave their lives, 50 years ago, for the freedom of Belgium, dedicated the day of this Sunday [23rd August 1964] to the memory of the Battle of Audregnies, during which many British soldiers gave their lives.
A delegation of English soldiers from the 22nd Infantry Regiment composed of current soldiers, former members of this Regiment and a majority of soldiers who fought in 1914 in the region was officially received in the town decorated for the occasion with the colours Belgian and English.”
So read the opening paragraphs of an article in the Mons newspaper, published on 27th August 1964.
The delegation of around 40 men from the Cheshire Battalion and English veterans was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Julian McGarel-Groves, who served as 2/Lt. E.J. Groves (Special Reserve) in ‘C’ Company, under Captain W.E.L.R. Dugmore in August 1914. (He changed his name by Deed Poll in 1926.)
They all went by train (via Hull) to Munster (Germany) where the Regiment was stationed. From there they took coaches to Audregnies and stayed in lodgings with local families.
Contemporary newspaper articles from Mons reported that the delegation arrived in the morning at 9:30 am were welcomed by Mlle. Liliane Vallée on behalf of all the people of Audregnies.
“The Colonel [Edward Julian McGarel-Groves] replied in laudatory terms and then gave the burgomaster a reproduction of the flag of the battalion, which was saved at Audregnies, and a gift to MM. Hannecart and Thibeau, as well as Jean Stiévenart, parish priest, and Sister Paule.”
This “Flag” was, of course, a copy of ‘The Miniature Colour‘ which had been hidden in the village for the duration of the War. “M. Georges Dupont, … with the help of M. Alphonse Vallée, former teacher, placed the Flag under the roof of the municipal school for girls, where it remained throughout the war.”
All the participants then went to the school for a reception and immediately afterwards, a procession was formed with the gendarmerie and the local police following behind.
After a tour of the immense Place d’Audregnies, the procession arrived at the Church where, on the steps of the staircase, a bouquet of flowers marked the spot where, fifty years ago, a wounded English soldier came to die.
After mass, the whole group gathered in front of the monument to the victims of the 1914-18 war where M. Glineur, president of the local FNC section, recalled the entry into the war of the English in 1914.
The day’s event was intended to remember The Battle of Audregnies and express: “Great thanks to those who fell in this battle, for the defense of law and freedom.”
Afterwards, everyone went to the Foyer Notre-Dame de Paix home where the Sisters had prepared a lunch for them at the end of the tiring day.
In the evening the younger ones, for their part, ended their day by taking a very large part in the ball which took place at the Salon de la Place, which they did not leave until very late.
The photograph of some of the group (above) shows Edward McGarel-Groves, front row, third from left. On his left is Lt. Col. M.D.K. (Mike) Dauncey, then Col. B.Y. Hayes Newington, OBE, (joined Sept. 1915).
Other members of the Original Battalion in the photograph are:
Back Row: Pte. 8436 W. Buckley (‘A’ Coy.); [Pte. 124 F. Woods, joined 25 Sept 1915 ?]; Pte. 7746 S. Fish (‘C’ Coy. p.o.w.); Pte. 8261 Frank Woodier (‘A’ Coy. captured and escaped); L/Cpl. 10030 J. Marr (‘C’ Coy. p.o.w.); Sgt. 9524 J.A. Drinian (joined 14 Dec 1914), and Pte. 2816 W. Corrin (joined 9 Jul 1916).
Middle Row: Bdms. 8001 D. Dolan (‘A’ Coy. p.o.w.); —[Woods n/f]—; Pte. 7674 F. Bailey (‘C’ Coy. p.o.w.); Pte. 9712 W. England (‘D’ Coy.); Pte. 10075 H. Morrissy (‘B’ Coy.); L/Cpl. 9984 G. Davies (p.o.w.) OR Pte. 8258 G. Davies OR Pte. 9872 G. Davies (All ‘D’ Coy.); Pte. 10021 R. Schofield (‘D’ Coy. p.o.w.); Cpl. 9219 F. Brashaw (‘D’ Coy. p.o.w.), and Pte. 7811 W. Robinson (‘D’ Coy. p.o.w.).
Front Row: (In addition to Officers) Cpl. 10077 W.S. Rigby and Pte. 8275 W. Phillips (‘A’ Coy. p.o.w.).
Although not named on the official photograph above, it is possible that Lieutenant Harry Randall also attended the reunion and commemoration.
Although identified as a “Sergeant-Major” Henry was also photographed for the local press in Mons alongside a Vickers machine gun “… which remained buried on the battlefield during all the hostilities.”
(This gun is now an exhibit in the Mons Memorial Museum – right)
Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary, 24th August 2014
Fifty years on and no members of the original Battalion were left, but, in a day very reminiscent of the 1964 Commemoration the people of Audregnies and the surrounding area threw open their doors to welcome the present Officers and men of the Mercian Regiment, plus a number of descendants of those who had fought in the surrounding fields.
After gathering in the village centre the first stop was the Cemetery where a short service was held.
Wreaths were laid at the War Memorial in Audregnies Cemetery which contains 5 named soldiers of the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment as well as 14 whose gravestone bears the message “Known Unto God“.
The five men known to be buried here are:
After the ceremonies in the Churchyard those assembled formed up outside and processed back through the village for the main business of the day:
Unveiling of the New Memorial Commemorating the Fallen at Audregnies:
After the dedication of the Memorial wreaths were laid. (The photo below right shows the author laying a wreath on behalf of his grandfather, Pte. 7632 Ernest John Conway, ‘D’ Company, 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment.As dusk was falling after a memorable and moving day, the people of the village treated all of their guests and visitors to a wonderful meal of roast oxen and all the trimmings … plus some beer specially brewed in a local monastery, bearing the Cheshire Regiment motto:
N.B. As a grandson of one of the men who fought at Audregnies, the author and his wife were fortunate enough to be invited to join the commemoration as guests of the people of Audregnies.
It was also a great honour to be able to wear Grandad’s Medals.
On 19th April 2018 30 descendants of the men of the Original 1st Battalion (22nd) Cheshire Regiment gathered in London to commemorate and celebrate the efforts of their ancestors on 24th August 1914 at Audregnies. The Mercian Regiment was represented by Major Rob Johnson (front centre) who spoke of the importance of the ‘The Cheshire Family’.
A great mix of great-grandsons and great-granddaughters, grandsons and granddaughters, son, daughter, great nieces and great nephews etc., all now part of the Cheshire Family and some great new stories and anecdotes were shared among us. (Author extreme left on photo above.)
N.B. That group has grown to 56 (April 2023) and another similar get-together is in the planning.