Private Nathaniel Hartley, 2nd Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers
Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1914, Private Nathaniel Hartley of 2nd Battalion The Lancashire Fusiliers was killed in action at the Battle of Le Cateau. One of eight children, in 1901 at the age of 13 he was working in an Oldham cotton mill as a warehouse boy. In 1904, even though underage, he enlisted into the Lancashire Fusiliers for a period of seven years. Returning home in 1911, he found work as a bricklayer’s labourer at the Coventry colliery where he stayed until the outbreak of the Great War, at which time he re-enlisted in his old regiment. On 22nd August, 1914, Private Hartley sailed from Southampton on board SS Saturnia, arriving in Boulogne the following day; his regiment marched towards Lille and then on towards Le Cateau-Cambrai, where they entrenched on the 25th. It was reported that “tropical rain” fell towards evening and the sky was illuminated by the fires which were the aftermath of the Battle of Mons three days earlier, the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force in the Great War. The Battle of Le Cateau resulted in the deaths of approximately 700 British soldiers, with ten times that amount either missing, wounded or captured – 55,000 British troops were outnumbered by 140,000 German troops, an imbalance not seen again in that war. The British Expeditionary Force at that time consisted of 30% regular soldiers and 70% reservists with previous service in the British Army, and the German officers were known to be begrudgingly impressed with what the Kaiser referred to as a “contemptible little army.” The Germans rejoiced in their victory in this battle, their satisfaction heightened because they had won (according to a regimental historian) “a frontal attack against an enemy that was heretofore considered unbeatable, the crack troops of the British Army, superbly trained and equipped.” What they did not know at the time was that they had not defeated the entire British Expeditionary Force, but only one corps and one of the cavalry brigades; had they known they would not have been given time to rest but would have been sent off in relentless pursuit of the retreating British forces. Private Hartley is buried in the Esnes Communal Cemetery, 8 kilometres south-east of Le Cateau-Cambrai – British graves there cover an area of 214 square metres and are known to be immaculately tended. Nathaniel, from Manchester, was 26 years old.