On a summer’s day in a wheat field in Belgium, the body of Private Samuel Burkhill lay.
The 20-year-old of Frodsham was one of many who fought and died at the Battle of Mons in the 1914-1918 war.
He lies with his fallen comrades of the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment at Belgium’s La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial.
On August 24, 1914, the affectionately-known Cheshires suffered heavy losses while protecting the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force.
A century later a party of ex-Cheshires, soldiers from the 1st Battalion Mercians and the Lord Mayor of Chester attended a special ceremony at the village of Audregnies near Mons.
Major Eddie Pickering, retired, curator of the Cheshire Military Museum, Chester, organised the trip.
He said: “The Battle of Mons should be remembered for the sacrifice and bravery of the men who stood firm to the end and only surrendered when low in numbers and completely overwhelmed by the enemy.
“The Battalion started out with 1,000 men. By the end at roll call 200 men answered their names. Seven officers (of 25) survived. The rest were either killed, wounded or missing. It was devastating.”
The battle came just twenty days into hostilities and was the first major British engagement after war was declared on Germany on August 4.
British forces were sent to the eastern French border to meet the swiftly advancing German forces.
The day war erupted the 1st Battalion Cheshires, consisting of regular and reservist soldiers, were in Londonderry with the 2nd Battalion in India.
On August 24 the Battle of Mons commenced in open fields near Audregnies with the Cheshires part of 15th Brigade, 5th Division, outside Audregnies.
Orders were to adopt a defensive position with the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment L Battery RA, the 9th Lancers and the 4th Dragoon Guards.
They bought the British Expeditionary Force four hours to escape.
Four German regiments – each of three battalions – surrounded the Cheshires who now stood alone facing a relentless onslaught.
Major Pickering said: “This was not the trench warfare we normally associate with that war. They were fighting in open fields.
“There had just been a harvest so there was no cover – merely sheaves of wheat.
“There’s no doubt the reservists fought hard but they found it difficult keeping up with the regular soldiers.”
Afterwards Brigadier-General Count Gleichen, commander of 15th Infantry Brigade, paid tribute to the Cheshires.
He said: “The battalion behaved magnificently in the face of terrible odds and immense difficulty, one could not expect more of them.
“They did their duty, and did it thunderingly well, as I should have expected from such a gallant battalion, and I am only grieved that they had such terrible losses.”
As defeat loomed a plot to thwart German efforts to seize the Cheshire’s regimental colours – a miniature copy of the original – was hatched.
Drummer Charles Baker asked a family in the village to hide the colours and ‘not to give them to anyone but an Englishman’.
The family consulted the village priest who with the schoolmaster and town clerk decided to conceal the flag in the priest’s house.
Later it was transferred to the church and lay undetected for years.
Major Pickering said: “The Germans were brutal and so those who hid the colours took a very great personal risk.”
When peace eventually came the flag was returned to the Cheshires, who in turn thanked the trio with a silver rose bowl each in an expression of gratitude.
Three years ago Major Pickering was contacted by an associate in Belgium informing him he had spotted the schoolmaster’s bowl in an antique shop.
The museum bought it and it can be seen today at the museum.