Mons… First and Last
(Three day tour of Mons, based in Ypres)
It is here at Mons on the 23rd August 1914 that the BEF’s II Corps collides with elements of the German First Army and the Battle of Mons ensues. Prior to this on the 22nd August German lancers and British cavalry had encountered each other and the first allied shot of the Great War was fired by 20-year-old private, Ernest Edward Thomas, a strapping young soldier of the 4th Dragoon Guards. This action is remembered on a memorial stand on the opposite side of the road where a plaque ironically remembers the last shots of the war being fired. Upon the British withdrawl the Germans occupy the town and it remains in German hands for fifty months until being until recaptured by the Canadians on the 11th November 1918.
And so, Mons is very much a historic town of first and lasts. From the inevitable shots that were fired to the first and last Commonwealth soldiers to be killed in this war to end all wars, as well as the famous first Victoria Cross to be awarded. For those interested in the military history of this town and a look at the beautiful city of Ypres, this tour should be first and last on your list.
Day One: Depart by coach from your chosen UK collection point and proceed to Dover for our channel crossing by ferry and then on to Ypres to check in to the Novotel Hotel (located in the centre of Ypres). With the rest of the day at your leisure, you can explore the historic and beautiful town visiting St Martin’s Cathedral and St George’s Chapel and finishing at the Menin Gate. Then enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants in the Grote Markt and sample the famous Belgium beers before taking in the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.
Day Two: Upon arriving at Mons we visit the Memorial Museum (included in the price of the tour) before looking at where the first and last shots were fired and where the 4th Dragoon Guards engaged the German Lancers on the morning of 22nd August 1914. We then look at the canal defences in particular the 4th Middlesex at Obourg and the 4th Royal Fusiliers at Nimy Bridge. Here Dease and Godley hold off advancing Germans with their Vickers machine gun and are awared the first VC’s of the war (one posthumously).
A packed lunch is taken in the Grand Place (included in price), the centre of the town. This gives you a chance to pat the head of the Guard Room Monkey for luck before we move on the visit the George Lawrence Price Memorial. Price is recognised as being the last soldier to be killed in the Great War.
Continuing the tour we pay our respects to the fallen at the stunning St Symphorien Cemetery. Originally created and opened by the Germans, it is now looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and has a number of noted burials here as well as memorial.
Day Three: Before travelling home, we see some of the Ypres Salient including a visit to Tyne Cot, the largest British War Cemetery in the world with 11,956 graves of which 60% are ‘Known unto God’. From here we visit Vancouver Corner and the Brooding Soldier memorial to the 1st Canadian Division. This area was the scene of the first gas attacks in 1915 which culminated in the start of the Second Battle of Ypres.
We will then take a look ‘behind the lines’ and visit Essex Farm Cemetery with its Advanced Dressing Station and finish at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery and visitor centre. We then journey back to the port for our crossing back to the UK.
Dease and Godley won VCs at Nimy Bridge
Essex Farm Advance Dressing Station