"The Story of the 9th King's in France"


Three days were spent at Le Maisnil, during which the seizure of Lille was carefully studied by the officers and orders were given as to the mode of procedure should the enemy evacuate the town. On the 17th October at 1 15 p.m. the Battalion paraded in fighting order and advanced to the deliverance of the city. There was at this time a vague report that the enemy had departed, but it was not known to what point the British troops had then attained. There might have been troops between the Battalion and the enemy, and there might not. Road mines and "booby" traps were to be expected. The Battalion arrived at Haubourdin at 4 p.m., where there was a halt for a meal. On reaching the suburbs of Lille advance guards had to be sent out, as any point of vantage might have concealed an enemy machine gun. The canal on the west of the city was reached about 5 o'clock. The bridges had all been blown up, but the Pont de Canteleu, though broken in two and half in the canal, afforded a means of crossing one at a time.

At this bridge the greatest excitement prevailed. Crowds of women were singing the "Marseillaise." They surrounded the troops and could not be prevented from kissing the soldiers. So great was the crowd that the passage of the troops was impeded. Eventually the companies reached their allotted stations and formed guards on the various gates to prevent all egress. In this way the Battalion was the first infantry to reach the city. Actually the first to enter was "D" Company.

Here was a city without civil administration. The late authorities had been the Germans, and they had gone. There were no police and no post; the streets were unlit and the trams had long since ceased to run; garbage was deposited in the street and there putrefied. There was a great shortage of food. The shops were empty, hundreds had died of want, and the strength of the inhabitants was very low.

For three days the Battalion remained on guard at the gates to prevent all egress of the inhabitants, as there were some residents in the city that the French authorities wished to arrest, and so it was necessary to prevent their escape before the French police arrived. Out of the men not actually on duty, a guard of honour was found to accompany M. Clemenceau on his triumphal entry into the city on behalf of the French Republic. It was an inspiring occasion, and the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. The Battalion on the 21st marched through Lille, being met by "A" Company at the Porte des Postes, to Ascq, where it stayed the night. The next day it moved to Willems on the Belgian frontier.