The first shot fired by a British soldier in World War One came on August 22nd 1914 in the village of Casteau in Belgium. Cavalry reconnaissance patrols had been sent out ahead of the advancing British Expeditionary Force to investigate claims that the Germans were advancing towards the BEF in huge numbers.
120 men from C Squad of the 4th Dragoon Guards were part of this wholesale reconnaissance effort. In the evening of August 21st, the men from the 4th Dragoon Guards stopped to rest on a road that led to Brussels. C Squad was commanded by Major Tom Bridges and his second-in-command was Captain Charles Hornby. The 120 men they commanded were split into four troops of thirty men.
At 06.30 on August 22nd, the men from C Squad were informed by locals that 4 German cavalrymen were seen just down the road. Hornby was given permission to set out with 1st Troop to pursue them. He ordered that 1st Troop formed into a traditional cavalry charge. The Germans were caught in the main road in Casteau, to the northeast of Mons, and a fight ensued. It was here that Drummer (later Corporal) E Thomas from 1st Troop fired the first shot by a British soldier in World War One despite the fact that the fight seemed to be mainly between British swords and German lances.
No British casualties occurred in this skirmish though one horse was shot and it had to be put down and was given to a Belgium butcher. Hornby and his men returned with three German POW’s. A British medic in the 4th Dragoon Guards described the captured men as “German plough boys” because the POW’s did not come up to what he had expected – fearsome soldiers who were steamrolling over Belgium. In fact, they were conscripts who had been hurriedly moved to the front with minimal training.
Hornby and his men received the following message on August 22nd:
“The Brigadier desires to congratulate the 4th Dragoon Guards on the spirited action of the troops on reconnaissance which resulted in establishing the moral superiority of our cavalry from the first over the German cavalry.” Cavalry Division HQ memo, 22/08/14