Painting by Willy Stöwer
 (I was just about) to leave it when someone shouted from behind; Is that an Englishman?  I answered in the affirmative and asked him to help to get this box upon my shoulder again.   He said, never mind that, I am going to tell the "Anson" to retire,  as the Belgians have evacuated the forts. Anyway, just as we managed to swing it up again I spotted hundreds of men in the road above us. I at first thought the Germans had succeeded in cutting their way through, but upon arriving at the gap where they were streaming from, found that  they were the Belgians leaving the last fort.   I plugged along back to our trench, and upon arriving there threw down my box of amm(unition.)
 ammu) nition.  Just then, the Adjutant came up and told me that as yet, only one man had arrived back with ammunition. He brought back a box containing 500 rounds.  I shew him the hole made by the piece of a shell, he exclaimed -  good God! Ashley, you've had a jolly narrow shave, and damn it, it's all for nothing too as we have got to retire , but anyway, fill your pockets with food and ammunition and do what you can to  make that gun of yours useless.   I went along to it and stripped it of its vital parts putting the "lock" in my haversack, also the "tangent-sight" and fuse spring. The last two things I threw into the river Skelt but the "lock" I brought to England as a 
 momento, and I still have it.  Before moving off I picked up a tin of bully-beef, and placed it in my haversack - this came in very handy indeed when we had entrained.  Just then the order came along to evacuate the trenches.  A Company moved out, and commenced to retire along the road to "Antwerp". A request was made by the "Adjutant" for  volunteers to form the rearguard  of course one could not refuse this, as it must promise more "sport", everyone of my guns-crews or what was left of them, volunteered and we fixed bayonets, also charged our magazines full.  At the same time, I, and the "Adjutant", kept behind, to keep an eye open for German cavalry; which we expected every moment, to come in our direction.   We retired ourselves very slowly, in order to 
 allow the "Battalion" to advance as far as possible in the direction of the "bridge" over the river Schelt.   The country was lit up by the burning Anglo-American petrol tanks, which had been  set on fire by shells, thousands of gallons of petrol, was in flames , and it reminded me of a sea of flames.  We had to pass very close to this conflagration in order to cross the "bridge". In passing this fire we came upon  thousands of refugees - poor people, it brought a lump to many a throat, to see all those poor souls all tramping in the same direction,  with but one object in view, - to get as far as possible from the advancing Germans.  It occurred to me, that could some of the people in England see all this suffering, they would cry out "coward" to every able-bodied, young man, who was 
 not serving his country.  The  heat caused by the flames was terrific , and I must admit, I thought there was the great possibility of it exploding the large amount of cartridges, that I was carrying in my right pocket of my greatcoat, also whilst passing, we had to unfix our bayonets, to prevent the flames from shining on the blade and so giving away our position.  All this time the "Huns" kept up a "searching" shell-fire, and it was whilst passing a street corner, that a shrapnel shell burst, causing the  house to collapse which killed 7; and severely wounded 2 other men,  who happened to be passing.  Upon arriving at the "bridge" a contrivance built on long rafters, with wood laid crosswise and supported by barges, guyed by wires. It was a 
 magnificent piece of engineering as all the bridges crossing the Schelt had been blown up, and  had it not been for these "bridges" we none of us would ever have escaped.   We proceeded to cross it; and upon gaining the other side, we halted, to get a "breather" before moving off again.  Whilst we had halted, the marines had crossed, and upon the last man coming over,  it was immediately blown up .  We moved off again, the refugees following, it was then that I took a poor little kiddie from a weeping Mother who was doing her best to keep up with us.  The poor little beggar evidently seemed frightened of my black face, for I was compelled to return it to its Mother, owing to it crying, after carrying it about a mile.  Soon after leaving the river, we came 
 to a street in which was stationed barrels of biscuit and pails of water, in passing these  we would snatch a handful of biscuit , and contrive to fill as best as possible, our water-bottles.  After leaving this small town behind, we proceeded along the railway track for about three miles, and one could not help continually falling over the sleepers.   Anyway, we came out upon a small town, where we called a halt. The place itself was thronged with British and Belgians.   Interned in a house standing on the Market-place was  a German spy,  he seemed to have two or three bullet-marks, or stabs, spoke good English, and told me he had been working in America for some years.  He also knew what his fate was, for  he was taken out and shot  soon after.  After the halt was called, the same 
 thing happened at that place, as in the case of every halt, all through  this terrible retreat; the men dropped down in the muddy roads, and immediately fell asleep .  I this my haversack came in very handy - as a pillow.  After halting here for about 20 minutes, we "fell in" again and marched off, where we did not know, but at 12.30 that night another halt was called, and we drpped down alongside of the road.  It was pretty evident that  something was seriously wrong , and about 15 minutes we heard a shot, and it was afterwards explained that our guide had been shot behind a haystack.  Upon his body was found a map of the country we were then in, with certain places marked off along the road, ahead of where we were marching.  It was only discovered in time, that, had we proceeded to march along the road about a mile 
 further,  we should have undoubtedly walked into an ambush of cavalry and machine guns , which the "huns" had waiting for us.   The results would certainly have been disastrous, for all of us were in a terrible state, having practically no sleep, and very little to eat, for a week.  At 1.0 am we marched off again, but back along the road to where we had come, and we continued marching until about 9.0am when we, that had continued to push on, managed to get entrained, between St Nicolas, and the St Giles stations.  By this time the different Battalions had got mixed up, owing to men constantly  falling down asleep through sheer exhaustion, by the roadside.   It seemed that at every yard, there were British or Belgians, all sleeping where they fell.   I was invited by a very kind Belgian woman to have a cup of coffee, and a piece of toast 
 was very welcome indeed.  The motor - omnibusses were at every chance flying past to pick up a cargow of exhausted men and  I reached the siding where the train was waiting  at 9.15am, and was fortunate enough to secure a seat on top of the second train, it was the last carriage as there was absolutely no room inside.   At 9.20 we moved off, although very slowly, so slowly in fact that a man was running behind until we stopped at St Giles, where he managed to get a seat inside the rear buffer of the luggage van.  Another man, a marine, was stretched full length along the footboard.  Every station we arrived at, the Belgians brought us out baskets of food, and apples, also buckets of home-brewed beer. They treated us splendidly. I would be having forty winks, when a shower of apples,
 etc would come flying down upon me, and with a hard apple hitting me on the head one usually gets a rude awakening.  About 4.30pm we rode into Bruges, ten or twelve miles from Ostende.  We disembarked, and marched through the town, where we dropped down on the stones in the market-place, when a halt was called.  We looked rather pitiable objects, for the majority of us had had no wash for a week, neither had we a shave.  I had left my cap behind in the trenches, sticking upon the end of a stick, for the Germans to fire at,  so consequently was bare-headed. A Belgian soldier took compassion upon me by giving me one of his caps, which fitted me about as much as would a pill-box fit an elephant.  Anyway, it served its purpose, the only drawback was that the Belgian girls took me for one of their 
 own countrymen, and commenced the kissing and embracing sport, - of course that did it.  All this time  my arm was paining me , and it was well nigh useless so when we marched off again - to a schoolroom where we were allowed to lay down upon the stones - I could only carry my rifle upon my right shoulder.  There was  a devilish weight hanging to my shoulders , caused by my bandoliers, haversack, and the ammunition in my pockets. I carried my sword-bayonet in my leggings as we had no "frog" to carry it by.  Upon reaching the schoolroom, we were at once waited upon by Belgian refugees. A splendid bowl of soup was given us, also a piece of bread. The men were so sleepy, that their heads would practically fall down over the basin, as they were in the occupation of eating their 
 soup.  Whilst marching out, we were given a small tin of sardines, for the following morning's breakfast.  That night, we slept in a R.C. School, and at 7.30am Reveille sounds, on the morning of the 9th Saturday.  After having breakfast, we clean and oil our rifles, and I counted my cartridges and found that  I had carried from the trenches 482 rounds of ammunition , including the 10 rounds in my magazine.  Afterwards I joined up with the doctor's gang and remained with him for the remainder of the time. We waited on Bruges station all Saturday until 6pm when we embarked for Ostend hospital.  During the day, there were thousands of English troops, R Gls?, also guns passed through the station in the direction of Ghent.  On arriving at Ostend we had the pleasant experience of accompanying wounded 
  men on stretchers  through the town at 3.0am Sunday morning.   A "red-cross" nurse carried my rifle for me.  Arriving at the Hospital, we were put to bed.  I felt rather ashamed to turn into such a clean bed  in the state I was in, but then it could not be helped, so I turned in, and slept the sleep of the "just" until 6.30am when I was called up to get my arm dressed, also a wash, which we were very much in need of.  At 10.30, word came through that all the English that could be moved must be got down to the S.S. "St David" lying down at the Ostende docks. Of course  I had to accompany the wounded  down to the ship where I arrived at about 12.0 noon.   We left the harbour at about 4.30 in the afternoon enroute for Dover, which was reached at 6 pm the following 
 afternoon.   There was a "special" waiting for us at Dover Pier,  and at 7.30 we arrived at Sandwich station, from whence we marched to "Betteshanger Camp", arriving there at 11.30pm.  Immediately upon arriving, hot food was served to us, and after we had finished denim blankets, and waterproof sheets, were given to us, which after putting on the ground, and pulling the blankets about us, we were not very long ere we fell asleep and forgot that I had just succeeded in passing through the most "enjoyable" week of my life.   Yours truly    John Ashley.          
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