02:45AM, Friday 22 August 2014
The National Army Museum, London, has released an audio recording of Sergeant Vernon Matthews, of the 5th Dragoon Guards, as part of their First World War in Focus commemorative exhibition.
The project is supported by a £11.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund which will see an extensive programme of First World War exhibitions in collaboration with regimental museums.
Born in Windsor in 1892, Sgt Matthews was among the first cavalry of troops sent to the continent in August 1914.
Having joined up 1911, he formed part of the small but skilled British Expeditionary Force (BEF) sent to Belgium to counter the German invasion.
An audio recording has survived of an interview with Sgt Matthews in 1987 in which he describes his recollections of his role in the war and the harsh realities he encountered.
He said: "You lived the history of the time but you didn't know it. You were there to fight and get on with the war.
"We lost people. Villages were being shelled. They were alight at that moment."
The recording also details the BEF's 10-day 200 mile retreat to the River Marne on the outskirts of Paris.
The mounted cavalry fought with weapons that required hand-to-hand combat, with swords, rifles and lances, with soldiers coming face-to-face with the enemy.
Sgt Matthews said: "You must understand the ferocity of the '14 war was tremendous. It was killing, killing hand to hand.
"Anyone who know what war means, they know exactly what happens.
"You don't have to be told that men were blown to pieces and they were here, there and in the wire and in trees."
Sgt Matthews received a bullet to the chest later in the conflict but he went on to serve in the Second World War before retiring from the Army in 1948 with the rank of major.
He died in 1989 at the age of 97.
Dr Matt Thomas, National Army Museum online content curator, said: "The recording of Sgt Matthews is very unusual because there are not many recordings of guys from 1914.
"It's really important that we have these documents to educate us on what happened and it's good to get it out in public."
Listen to the audio recording: