Spies with heads for horseplay

Corpl A. S. Conquest, of the 1st Black Watch, a Luton man who is now staying in Rothesay Road, Luton, recuperating after being badly wounded by shrapnel at Rebis. He gave a thrilling account of his experiences on the Continent to a representative of The Luton News.

Having explained that he had been in the Black Watch for nearly eleven years, he said: "We were among the first to go out, leaving Aldershot on 13th August. We went to Southampton and eventually landed at Havre. The second morning we went up to a place called Boué. We were there for about three days.

"Here we had our first encounter with the German spy system. In this place there was an advertisement for British dubbing. On this placard there were five horses' heads but the peculiar thing about it was that each of these horses' heads pointed to different British camps. Our Brigade Staff proceeded to the Belgian coast to see if they could find the author of the advertisements. Whether they were successful I don't know. That incident only goes to prove what people there are in France as regards spies.

"After three days in Boué we went to Grande Greng, near the Belgian coast and about seven miles from Mons. We had been all night marching previous to this and arrived there about three o'clock in the morning. That was a 25 miles march.

"After two or three days' hard fighting in the battle of Mons, we started that brilliant retirement, retiring from there to as far back as St Gobain, about 10 miles from Paris. We had not the slightest idea what we were retiring for. We took up positions at every possible opportunity, had a snipe at the Germans and then retired again. We contested practically every inch of the ground during that awful three weeks. I came 'Scot free' through Mons and the retirement. We then commenced the forward movement.

"As we started advancing we reached a place called Coulimieres, and out first night there we were entrenched with barbed wire in front. About two o'clock in the morning we were startled by the galloping of horses. We found this to be cause by a party of Uhlans, and got ready for them. We had had orders to kill cavalry horses. There were about fifty of these Uhlans, and out of the 50 horses we brought one back and that was used afterwards by the transport sergeant of my regiment. The other horses we accounted for.

"As regards the men on the backs of the horses, every one was killed with the exception of four troopers and an officer. We sent our stretcher bearers out to bring in the wounded and they found only those mentioned. The others were dead. The four troopers had been wounded by their horses and were unable to walk. All of them were pretending to be dead, but when the stretcher bearers turned them over they were found out.

"The first thing the officer did was to offer his purse to the stretcher bearers. There were about 100 marks in it, but it was refused on the word from the commanding officer. The four troopers seemed jolly glad and were laughing all over their faces at the idea of being captured, but you never saw a more deplorable looking figure than the officer. He offered the purse thinking he was going to be shot. We handed these over to the line of communication and never saw anything more of them.

"The fighting was thick at Coulimieres, but we did not have much time there. Going on towards Rebis we were surprised on the road, and the Coldstreams and my brigade were badly cut up. The first shell fell among the stretcher bearers of the Coldstreams, and the majority of them were killed. A medical officer attached to the Coldstreams 1st Battalion, whilst bandaging up one of the wounded, was killed instantly by a bullet right through the head.

"My regiment went on and took up a position about 500 yards from Rebis, but were not there long before we started to get shelled. They came so thick we lost a great number of men and officers. Out of about 20 officers there numbered about eight.

"I was wounded there - in the back and thigh - with shrapnel I crawled for quite 200 yards to get out of the firing line and was eventually picked up and taken by the motor transport of the Army Service Corps down to Coulimieres. There I stayed the night and in the morning I was put in a train bound for Nancy. In various stages I was taken to the shipping base, and the next morning arrived at Southampton. That was September 25th. As soon as we got there we were put into the ambulance train and taken to Glasgow.

"I was jolly glad to be home, I can tell you. Now as regards getting back there again, I don't want to go but I know I've got to, so I shall go with a good heart."

[The Luton News, October 29th, 1914]