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“During the Battle of the Frontiers … 70 French divisions, or about 1,250,000 men, were in combat at different times and places over a period of four days. French casualties during those four days amounted to more than 140,000, or twice the number of the whole British Expeditionary Force in France at the time.

“In the wake of [the Battles of] Charleroi and Mons, [August 24, 1914] Belgium lay coated with white dust from the shattered walls of its houses and pockmarked with the debris of battles. Muddied hay used by the soldiers as beds trailed in the streets along with abandoned packs and blood-stained bandages. “And over all lay a smell,” as Will Irwin wrote, “which I have never heard mentioned in any book on war—the smell of half a million unbathed men.… It lay for days over every town through which the Germans passed.” Mingled with it was the smell of blood and medicine and horse manure and dead bodies.

General Joffre, standing amid the tumbled debacle of all French hopes, with responsibility for the catastrophe resting finally upon him, with the frontiers of France breached with every one of his armies in retreat or fighting desperately to hold a defensive line, remained magically unperturbed. By immediately casting the blame on the executors and absolving the planners, he was able to retain perfect and unblemished confidence in himself and in France— and in so doing, provide the essential and unique requirement in the calamitous days ahead.

The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I; , Barbara W. Tuchman