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Synopsis

The great retreat of the British Expeditionary Force from Mons in August 1914 is one of the most famous in military history, and it is justly celebrated. But not all the British soldiers who were forced back by the German offensive performed well. Two colonels, Elkington and Mainwaring, tried to surrender rather than fight on, and were disgraced. This is their story. In this compelling account John Hutton shows, in graphic detail, the full confusion of the retreat, and the dire mental state to which brave men can be reduced by extreme stress, uncertainty and fatigue. But he also describes how Elkington redeemed himself. He joined the French Foreign Legion, fought gallantly, was severely wounded and was reinstated by King George V. His is one of the more remarkable stories to come out of the Great War, as is the story of the attempted surrender at St. Quentin itself.

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August 1914: Surrender at St Quentin
Average rating
5 / 5
A glimpse behind the facade
April 17th, 2013
The great war is invariably presented in terms of political maneuvering, military strategy and the movements of vast numbers of men across the globe for the purposes of mutual annihilation. This fine book focuses on the events of a few short days at the outset of British involvement in the conflict to shed light on an encounter between two worlds: the stiff upper lip world of military endeavor and the everyday world of ordinary small town life, the environment in which military endeavor is usually enacted. In sum: a body of men new to war are thrown into the heart of the conflict and in less than a week are all but beaten flat by it. In an unexpected, dream like interlude, they appear in the midst of a small French town trying to go about its business. Which world are they in? Decisions are made that reflect this dual reality, I found Hutton's book to be a life-affirming account of the good that lies in the hearts of men. It's an excellent companion volume to John Keegan's overview of the wear as a whole.
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