The incident involved Colonel John Ford Elkington of the Royal Warwickshire regiment and Colonel Arthur Edward Mainwaring of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Both battalions were part of the second wave of British troops to reach France, arriving in time to take part in the battle of La Cateau and the retreat that followed. During this retreat the two men found themselves apparently isolated in St Quentin, and decided to surrender rather than see the town bombarded by the Germans.
What made their decision so controversial is that the Germans were actually some distance from the town, on the other side of the British cavalry rearguard. Mainwaring and Elkington didn't know this, but they also had no contact with the Germans. There was thus nobody for them to surrender to, and so they made their intentions known to a local French official.
Later in the day another British officer reached the town, realised whatwas going on, and extracted the soldiers. Mainwaring and Elkington remained with their units for a few days more, before being arrested, court martialled amd disgraced. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the story follows the trial. Determined to redeam himslef, Elkington joined the French Foreign Legion, served as a prviate in the trenches and was badly wounded. This story emerged after his return to England, and his rank in the British Army was restored.
Hutton follows the two men and their battalions from the comfort of pre-war Britain to the chaos of the early fast moving campaigns in Belgium and France and on to the fateful day at St Quentin. His aim is to try and explain why two experienced military men made the decisions they did, and by tracing the days and hours that led up to the incident he succeeds in this.
1 - August 1914: Britain Goes to War
2 - 23-25 August: Elkington and Mainwaring Go to War
3 - 26 August: Crisis at Le Cateau
4 - 27 August: Surrender at St. Quentin?
5 - 12 September: Court Martial
6 - Elkington's Redemption, Mainwaring's Resignation
1 - VC Winners, 23 August-1 September 1914
2 - Operation Order no.8
3 - 4th Division Order of Battle
4 - Colonel Elkington's interview with the Daily Sketch, 8 September 1916
5 - Colonel Elkington's interview with The Times, 9 September 1916
Author: John Hutton
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military