Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Taken Prisoner: Firsthand Account of Major George Hercules Forster Tailyour, Royal Horse Artillery

Major Tailyour

Major George Hercules Forster Tailyour  (1877–1921) joined the Royal Horse Artillery in 1896. With the BEF, he was Brigade Major with the 5th Division, Royal Field Artillery. In the early struggle he was mentioned in General John French's First Despatch, which usually means he was reported by a superior officer to the higher command as having performed a gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy. At the Battle of Le Cateau, during the retreat from Mons, Tailyour was captured while helping the division's artillery withdraw as the battle was beginning to go poorly for the British He would spend the remainder of the war in captivity. He seems to  have spent his time in two POW encampments, Clausthal in Bavaria and Torgau-Bruckenkopf in Saxony. Possibly because of declining health, he was paroled to Holland on 5 January 1918 and returned home after the Armisitice. He resumed his service career and was given command of the Royal Artillery Brigade in Colchester, where he died in 1921 from the health problems caused by his time as a prisoner of war.

The British National Archives holds this firsthand account of his capture in 1914, which was republished in Stand To in June 2014. It's unclear when Major Tailyour wrote it.

On the 26th August 1914 at about 1pm there was a stampede to the rear of a number of teams of draught horses including those of the 28th Bde. RFA; with General Headlam's authority I proceeded from  the Div[ision] HQ to reform the teams of the Bde; and to try withdraw one of its batteries to a position near Reumont south of Le Cateau, as there were at the time no guns in the rear of the main position.  Owing to the confusion in the road near the Div. HQ I could not get my own horse so I took one that was being led by an orderly towards the rear.

After reforming the teams and taking them up to the position under cover near their guns, I went forward to reconnoitre the best line by which the teams could reach the batteries. I then met General Headlam, who said it was useless to attempt a withdrawal from the Bde. until the fire slackened and that he was going to see how the batteries were getting on the left.  On returning to the teams I found two of the captains with them (R.A. Jones and J. Thornburn) and conveyed the General's instructions to them.  I then discovered that the horse I was riding belonged to Major Bayley of the 28th Bde,. and had therefore to give it up. Unfortunately, though my orderly had followed me, he had done so without either of my horses and I had to proceed on foot after instructing him where to bring me a horse.  I then went to try to find out how the 15th Bde. on the right was getting on, especially the 11th Bty. which had been under severe fire earlier in the day.  

British Artillery at Le Cateau

I found one gun of this Bty. overturned in the valley to the South of this position and whilst detaching its breech block was passed by a company of Argyll and Sunderland Highlanders going up to the front trenches.  I brought the breech block back to the wagon line.  On my way to the gun I had secured a horse, said to belong to a man in the 11th Bty. who had been killed.  On my return to the teams of the 15th Bde. at about 2:20pm, I realised that the 28th Bde. could not have been moved and  feeling convinced that a Bty. would be required near Reumont, I decided to withdraw one of the Batteries of the 15th Bde., although I had no orders to do so.  I took up the teams of the 80th Bty. and after seeing all the vehicles off the position went on to inform the OC 15 Bde., Lt. Col Stevens, of what I had done.  

I missed his trench at first and coming back to it fell over the parapet thoroughly winded.   After recovering my breath I explained as best I could, what had happened and gave all the information I had, e.g. 40,000 French en route from Arras to come up on our left, 1st Corps (British) on our right, and an infantry brigade in reserve near Reumont.  As the last order known to Col. Stevens and myself was that there would be no retirement and as he was anxious no one should leave his trench at the time, I waited in his observation station in order to be able to take back full information on the situation.

A short time after my arrival in the trench the enemy, who must have collected in large numbers in the dead ground, suddenly turned from the right rear the flank of the infantry line in which the observation station was.  There was apparently no possibility of getting away and I was captured with Lt. Col. Stevens and his Bde. HQ.  Owing to the order issued earlier in the day, to throw away the government revolver cartridges, as they were of doubtful pattern, I was unarmed.


Sources:  R.S. Tailyour article in the Wartimememoriesproject: Stand To: The Journal of the Western Front Association; In the Hands of the Enemy: Being the Experiences of a Prisoner of War;

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