On this day in 1914, Sir John French, commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), begins his first official dispatch from the Western Front during World War I, summarizing the events of the first several weeks of British operations.
“The transport of the troops from England both by sea and by rail was effected in the best order and without a check,” French began. “Each unit arrived at its destination in this country [France] well within the scheduled time.” The decision to send British troops to fight in France had been made on August 5, 1914—the day before Britain’s formal declaration of war on Germany. Initially, the BEF deployed only 100,000 men, the largest number that the small, professionally trained army could put in the field. On August 23, some 35,000 soldiers of the BEF saw action for the first time against the Germans at the Mons Canal, in southwest Belgium near the French border. The Battle of Mons—the fourth of the so-called Battles of the Frontiers—stalled the German advance by one day, ending nonetheless in a British retreat.
French subsequently took his men out of the front line, planning to let them rest behind the Seine River west of Paris. Under pressure from his French counterpart, General Joseph Joffre, as well as his own government, to rejoin the fray and offer support to the beleaguered French forces, he capitulated. As he recounts at the end of his first dispatch: “On Saturday, September 5th, I met the French Commander in Chief at his request, and he informed me of his intention to take the offensive forthwith, as he considered conditions very favorable to success.” The offensive began the following morning, as British and French forces halted the German advance in the decisive Battle of the Marne.