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A Latin noun (masculine, second declension), meaning mountain. Used colloquially in English as a contraction of mons veneris, q.v., amidst much sniggering.


City in southern Belgium, province of Hainaut.

Located in a (mostly former) coal mining area, Mons was once at the heart of the industrial revolution in Europe, but is now basically a university town with an attractive central square, the Grand'Place. It is also the location for SHAPE, the central command for NATO forces in Europe. If you're trying to get there from anywhere in Flanders (such as the Brussels Ring motorway), you should be aware that its Dutch name is Bergen, which is less than obvious unless you go into the etymology, not an easy or obvious thing to do when you are getting lost on a foreign motorway system.


In August 1914, Mons was the site of the first battle fought by the British army in the First World War. The tiny British Expeditionary Force fought a holding action against the German 1st Army among the pitheads and spoil heaps along the line of the Nimy-Blaton canal before being forced back (a) because the French on their right (east) flank had been forced to retreat after the Germans forced a crossing over the Sambre at Auvelais and (b) because there were a lot more Germans than there were of them. The BEF's retreat from Mons, via Le Cateau to the Marne became something of an epic. Although a small-scale affair by comparison with the massive bloodbaths that followed once the Western Front settled into its trench lines, it was significant in that it disrupted the German advance through Belgium and helped draw their advance to the east of Paris instead of the west as the Schlieffen Plan had proposed. Traditionally, it is considered as a victory by the Germans and an honourable draw by the British.

The fighting on the Western Front did not return to Mons until the final German retreat in November 1918; the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at St.-Symphorien holds the graves of both the first and the last British soldiers to be killed in the war, Private J. Parr and Private G.E. Ellison, and of Canadian Private George Price, killed just two minutes before the guns fell silent at 11 am on 11 November 1918.

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