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       Labour History Lancs.              

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The Battles at Mons 1914 and 1918
This month, Gustav and I have linked up again to write about the same topic but with no collaboration between us. As usual, the outcome ought to prove interesting.
When I asked Gustav which event he would like to cover he replied, ‘the Battle at Mons, the last one in the Great War’. The fact that there were actually two battles at
Mons, one in 1914 and one again in 1918, giv
es one a brief insight into the length and scope of that terrible conflict.

First Victoria Cross actions

Mons is also remembered because it was the place of Britain’s first Victoria Crosses in the conflict. On August 23, 1914, Lieutenant Maurice Dease (Irish) and PrivateSidney Godley (East Grinstead, Sussex), both aged 25, were defending the bridges at Nimny. When the 4th Royal Fusiliers and the battalion’s section came under attack nearly all the men were killed. At this point, Dease took over a machine gun himself and kept on firing. He was wounded five times, and eventually taken to a medical dressing station where he succumbed. Private Sidney Godley took over the remaining machine gun and kept it firing too. Godley covered the withdrawal despite being wounded, and eventually dismantled and threw the gun into the canal just as he was taken prisoner. Both men were awarded the Victoria Cross. Godley died shortly after the Second War and Dease lies in St Symphorien cemetery outside Mons.


Within three weeks of mobilisation the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had concentrated on the Franco-Belgian border and was moving forward, on the left flank of the French armies. Near Mons, on 23rd August 1914, the
BEF was struck by the full weight of the German offensive. The accurate and disciplined fire of the 2nd South Lancashires, in front of Frameries, took a heavy toll of the massed German infantry, but eventually the battalion was ordered to retire.

Though outflanked and outnumbered, the old 82nd withdrew ‘in perfect order as if on parade’.

At Le Cateau The BEF now fell back to conform with their French allies and another stand was made at Le Cateau on 26th August, where the 1st East Lancashires made a stubborn defence in front of the village of Ligny and the depleted South Lancashires grimly held their position in the centre of the British line, near Caudry, until both battalions were ordered to break contact and join the general retirement.


St Symphorien cemetery outside Mons.

Mons 1918

The second time our lads were at Mons fighting again was by late July 1918, wherein the force of the final German offensive was almost spent. At that time the 2nd and 1/12th Loyal North Lancashires had arrived from Palestine and two new battalions, the 13th East Lancashires and the 15th Loyal North Lancashires, had been raised. Eighteen battalions of the East, South and Loyal North Lancashires would take part in the final Allied advance on the Western Front.

On 28th June the 11th East Lancashires took part in a local offensive at La Becque near the Nieppe Forest, using speed and surprise to advance to a depth of nearly 2,000 yards. Casualties totalled 247, but when they were relieved after 48 hours of heavy fighting the ‘Pals’ received many compliments for their gallant conduct.

​The advance in the north continued and gathered pace. On 17 th October the ‘Accrington Pals’ crossed the Deule in single file over the wreckage of a bridge, and on 18th October they liberated the large towns of Turcoing and Wattrelos. Marching on through Courtrai to the River Schelde, which they crossed without opposition on 9th November, the ‘Pals’ were near Grammont on the Dendre, some twenty miles from Brussels, when the Armistice brought hostilities to an end.The Battalion’s advance thereafter was marked by long marches and frequent skirmishes to clear pockets of enemy, and the Armistice found the 2nd East Lancashires just nine miles from Mons.

We Will Remember Them

In the course of the Great War, 61 battalions of the Regiment were raised. In all, 112 Battle Honours were earned, together with twelve Victoria Crosses. Nearly twenty thousand officers and men laid down their lives, and the close association that was forged in those years between the Regiment and the people of Lancashire will never be forgotten.

Peter J Fyles


Second Battle of El Alamein

Many people consider the Second Battle of El Alamein, which took place between October 23 and November 4, 1942, to be one of the war's turning points. This fight, which took place in the North African theatre, was a pivotal turning point in the war because it shifted the tide in favour of the Allied troops, particularly the British Eighth Army under General Bernard Montgomery's command. This essay will explore the Second Battle of El Alamein's strategic significance, the major characters engaged, how the battle developed, and its enormous effects on the trajectory of World War II


Before delving into the details of the Second Battle of El Alamein, it is essential to understand the overall background of the North African theatre of World War II. From its base in Libya, Benito Mussolini oversaw Italy's invasion of Egypt in 1940. The British forces in North Africa, led by General Archibald Wavell, were able to halt the Italian advance and even start a counteroffensive into Libya despite initial difficulties.

Adolf Hitler's Germany, on the other hand, made the decision to intervene in North Africa to defend their ally Italy in the early months of 1941. The "Desert Fox," Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, was assigned to lead the German and Italian forces in North Africa. Rommel immediately distinguished himself as a brilliant tactician and launched a number of effective offensives that drove the British soldiers back to Egypt.

By the middle of 1942, Rommel's Afrika Korps was prepared to take control of Alexandria, a significant port, and possibly pose a threat to the Suez Canal, which served as a vital lifeline for the British Empire. The Second Battle of El Alamein served as the Allies' response to the crisis in North Africa, which had gotten out of hand.


Why North Africa Was So Important

Both the Allies and the Axis powers placed a great deal of strategic emphasis on the Second Battle of El Alamein. Several factors made maintaining control over North Africa necessary. 

  1. Access to the Suez Canal: For the British Empire, the Suez Canal served as the quickest marine route between Britain and its possessions in Asia and the Pacific. For the Allies, losing control of the canal would have had serious strategic and logistical repercussions.

  2. Oil Resources: Both sides valued North Africa's vast oil deposits, which made it a vital asset. The Allies wanted to deny the Axis powers access to these resources, while the Axis sought to secure them.

  3. Control of the Mediterranean Sea, a critical theatre for naval and aviation operations, came with control of North Africa. To establish a presence in the Mediterranean and exert pressure on Axis-held southern Europe, the Allies needed to take control of North Africa.

  4. The North African theatre had enormous propaganda value, which had an effect on people's minds. A resounding victory in this area would raise spirits and show the respective belligerents' will and power to their home fronts and the rest of the globe.


The Armies

Rommel first appeared poised to join the German forces moving forward in the Caucasus and take over the entire Middle East. Although the British force was damaged during their disorganised retreat into Egypt, they rallied and made a stand in the First Battle of El Alamein. Unlike other positions in the desert, this one could not be turned by a flanking operation. The Qattara Depression, a sea of quicksand inaccessible to mechanised forces, and the Mediterranean both flanked it. The final attempts by Rommel to invade Egypt were thwarted in the summer of 1942. The British held the initiative at this time. To finally eliminate the Axis menace to the Middle East, they prepared yet another offensive.

 One of the most talented and divisive British generals was Lieutenant-General Bernard Law Montgomery. He was named the Eighth Army's commander in August 1942, and he set out to change the fighting spirit of the army right away. He oversaw 190,000 soldiers from the British Empire, Greece, Poland, and France at Alamein. They had 1,400 anti-tank guns, 900 artillery pieces, and more than 1,000 tanks.

 On the Axis side there was Erwin Rommel, a field marshal, who was already well-known for his outstanding leadership during the battles for France and North Africa. Rommel was an expert at fighting in the desert, gaining the moniker "Desert Fox." He motivated his men to outstanding acts of bravery and endurance by exuding a frenzied energy and leading from the front. The 'Afrikakorps' routinely outperformed the Allies, frequently against overwhelming odds, thanks to his aptitude for controlling armoured formations and the superiority of German forces in terms of quality. He oversaw 490 anti-tank weapons, 540 tanks, 116,000 German and Italian forces, and 500 pieces of artillery at Alamein.

The Battle Begins

Once more, the Axis forces were in a precarious supply situation. Instead of fighting a mobile combat because he lacked the fuel and mechanised forces to do so, Rommel built strong defensive positions surrounded by extensive minefields, which he dubbed the "devil's gardens." Montgomery rebuffed the impatient calls for an immediate attack from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill because he was aware of the strength of the Axis defenders. Instead, he started bolstering his forces, enhancing the training and morale of his soldiers, and making sure he had more men, tanks, weapons, and aircraft.

 Once more, the Axis forces were in a precarious supply situation. Instead of fighting a mobile combat because he lacked the fuel and mechanised forces to do so, Rommel built strong defensive positions surrounded by extensive minefields, which he dubbed the "devil's gardens." Montgomery rebuffed the impatient calls for an immediate attack from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill because he was aware of the strength of the Axis defenders. Instead, he started bolstering his forces, enhancing the training and morale of his soldiers, and making sure he had more men, tanks, weapons, and aircraft.

Despite the challenges, Montgomery maintained his composure. He emphasised the opposing forces' attrition while mounting a diversionary offensive to entice the limited Axis reserves. Then, on the night of November 1-2, he took a break and gathered his forces before unleashing his final assault, known as Operation Supercharge. On November 4th, after several more days of fierce battle, the British made a critical breakthrough. Montgomery's caution allowed the motorised Axis troops to escape and live to fight another day while the British managed to capture the majority of the Axis infantry. But the British had nonetheless achieved a tremendous victory, and Montgomery started chasing his vanquished adversary back into Libya and Tunisia.


The Aftermath

The British Army's first decisive and unassailable victory over the Axis came at El Alamein. This was a boost to British spirits after years of discouraging setbacks. The victory demonstrated that the Army's long-standing issues had been resolved and that the Axis could not outmatch the Army's equipment, tactics, generalship, or fighting spirit. Before America demoted Britain to the position of junior partner in the western alliance, Churchill believed that the win was essential for restoring British dignity. He had been eager to commence the battle before Operation Torch, the Allied landings on the coasts of Algeria and Morocco, began for this reason.

            El Alamein has been immortalised in British folklore as a major strategic turning point of the war, helped by Churchill's rhetoric that hailed it as "the end of the beginning" of the war. Given that the fierce battles fought on the Eastern and Western Fronts were far more significant, this may be overstating the case. North Africa was really a sideshow. The battle, however, raised national spirits and turned into one of the most lauded wins of the conflict. Alamein also contributed to Montgomery's reputation. He made the most of his gift for self-promotion by taking full ownership of the win. As a result, he became well-known and was given prominent commands in Italy and North-West Europe. Although he was able to solidify his status as a national hero, there is still controversy around Montgomery's actions during the conflict. 

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