10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 1917
August to December 1917
The training period of the 19th Division had been completed by the end of August 1917, and the 10th Worcestershire had moved on August 28th by motor lorry from Escouelles to Wallon Cappel. Thence on the following day the 57th Brigade marched to the Merris area—a trying march made in pouring rain and much hampered by obstructions on the road: notably a long column of Australian artillery marching in the opposite direction. The companies lay quiet' for a week in the little village of Moolenacher, training busily. On September 7th a move was made forward to the Battalion's old quarters in "Corunna Camp" near Westoutre; and thence three days later the 10th Worcestershire moved forward towards the battle-area.
The object of the attack in preparation was to capture the high ground known officially as the Menin Road Ridge. The northern end of that ridge is marked by "Glencorse Wood." South-west of that wood lies the cross-roads known as "Clapham Junction," where the ridge is crossed by the Menin Road. Thence the ridge runs south-westward by "Stirling Castle" to "Mount Sorrel." South of that height the ridge divides. One prolongation of the Ridge bends eastward to Hill 60 and thence southward again, to end above the Ypres-Commines canal at the hillock known as "The Bluff": the other prolongation of the Ridge turns south-eastward from Mount Sorrel and forms the western rim of the narrow wooded valley of the Bassevillebeek. That south-eastern prolongation of the Ridge is marked by the hamlet of Klein Zillebeke. In the crescent hollow between the two arms of the ridge lie "Battle" and "Fusilier" Woods.
Menin Road Ridge
These two woods, as well as the ruins of Klein Zillebeke, had been captured by the advancing British troops in. the fighting of the previous month; but the defending Germans still clung to the edge of the high ground just beyond Klein Zillebeke. The attack of the 19th Division was to drive them down the slope into the valley beyond.
Preparations for the battle were made as soon as the 19th Division took over the line. In spite of an improvement in the weather, the state of the ground was very bad, and it was clear that to ensure success the troops must come fresh to the attack. So it was planned that the assaulting battalions should first do a short tour of three days in their battle positions, in order to acquaint themselves with the ground, and then should have a clear four days for training and rest before the day of battle.
So the 10th Worcestershire (on September 10th the Battalion marched from Westoutre to camp near Vierstraat) moved up after dark on September 11th and crossed the Ypres-Comines canal by a pontoon bridge below "The Bluff." Thence the platoons filed forward into the front line (relieving a Battalion of the 37th Division). One company took over the shell-holes which sheltered the forward posts just east of Klein Zillebeke; behind them the other companies took over dugouts in "Fusilier" and "Battle" woods and in the strange mound called "The Caterpillar," hard by Hill 60.
In those positions the Battalion remained for three days, sniping and reconnoitring the ground in front (casualties, 10th Worcestershire 11th-14th September, 1 officer (2/Lt. H. Moorhouse) and 3 men wounded). Then, after some intercompany reliefs (on the evening of the 13th the place of the front-line company was taken over by a company of the 8th Gloucestershire, and the Worcestershire company was drawn back into Battle Wood), the 57th Brigade was relieved by troops of the 37th Division, and the 10th Worcestershire marched back to their camp near Vierstraat.
RSM James Henry Farley (5661)
There, to the dismay of the Company officers, was found a large draft of half-trained recruits, sent to fill up the ranks of the Battalion for the forthcoming battle. During the next few days every effort was made to fit those raw lads in some sort for the ordeal before them (But in the event they went into the battle with but the most rudimentary knowledge and, though they behaved most gallantly under fire, their unhandiness was evident and might under different circumstances have proved dangerous. A great part in their hasty education was played by Regimental-Sergeant-Major H. J. Farley).
From the 15th to the 18th of September training was strenuous and incessant; then the Battalion was carried forward by bus to St. Eloi, and on the following evening (September 19th) moved forward to the line.
That night, a fine night but dark, lit only by the stars, troops were in motion along the whole front of the Salient, from Langemarck to Hollebeke, filing forward into position for the attack. Intentionally the sound of their movement was drowned by the thunder of the British guns. That clamour of gun-fire again broke the weather, and at dawn a heavy drizzle came down, soaking the troops and making everything obscure; but by that time the 10th Worcestershire were in position. The companies had marched eastward from St. Eloi, had crossed the canal by a pontoon bridge and had reached the line.
The attack was to be delivered by three companies in line, the fourth company being held back in reserve. Each company would attack in four waves, a platoon in each wave. The two leading waves would take the first line of the German defences on the high ground. Then the two waves in rear would pass through, and would carry the attack down to the foot of the slope.
THE BATTLE OF THE MENIN ROAD (The official dates for this battle are September 20th-25th)
At dawn (5.25 a.m.) on September 20th the gun-fire all along the front rose to intensity, and the British battalions advanced to the attack. Apparently the enemy had not expected the attack to be prolonged so far southward as the front of the 19th Division, and the German resistance, though stubborn, was not well supported. The attack was completely successful. The German front-line defences were overrun without difficulty; then after a pause, to allow the artillery to lengthen their range, the platoons in rear passed through and pushed down the slope. Some venomous machine-guns in Wood Farm caused many casualties before the ruins of that building were finally stormed, and from the right flank German machine-guns in Hollebeke Chateau swept the slopes. Immediately to the left the 8th Gloucestershire had a stiff fight in Belgian Wood, but by 9 a.m. all resistance was over, and the 10th Worcestershire were busily at work entrenching the captured ground (For their gallant leadership in that attack Captain A. E. Owins and 2/Lieut. J. Clarke were awarded the M.C. and Sergts. E. J. Calder and A. Barber were awarded the D.C.M.). Patrols were pushed forward to Moat Farm, which was occupied and secured.
Away to the left, higher up the valley of the Bassevillebeek, the battle was raging in Shrewsbury Forest and along the Menin Road, with repeated attack and counter-attack; but on the front of the 19th Division the enemy attempted no counter-attack until after dark. Then an attempted German advance from North Farm drew down a storm of fire. Thereafter, except for an angry gun-fire, the night was quiet and the 10th Worcestershire slept on the ground they had won. The losses in the advance down the exposed slope had been about a third of the Battalion's "battle strength"-150 in all, including 7 officers (killed one officer [2/Lt. P. Jones] and 20 other ranks. Wounded 6 officers [2/Lts. H. Thompson, H. M. Hale, J. Froggatt, E. C. Coxwell, F. A. Brett, H. J. Luckman] and 95 other ranks. Missing 28).
All next day the Battalion held its position near Moat Farm, while patrols worked cautiously forward to the line of the stream (casualties 21st September, Killed, 10; Wounded, 1 officer [2/Lt. T. B. Hunt], and 19 other ranks; Missing 5). That evening the 7th East Lancashire of the 56th Brigade took over the line, and the Worcestershire platoons moved back up the slope. After concentrating behind the ridge, the companies marched back across the canal and thence made their way to camp near Vierstraat. There breakfasts had been eaten. Then the Battalion assembled and marched to Locre. About noon (September 22nd) the companies settled down in "Fermoy Camp" for a well-earned rest.
Thus on the right flank of the battle-line the plans of the British Commander-in-Chief had been successfully carried out; but on the left flank the attack had not been so successful. In the heavy mud about Langemarck and in the valley of the Steenbeek the attacking troops had been, able to make but little progress, and fresh Divisions were now brought up in relief. Among those fresh troops was the 29th Division, which relieved the Guards Division after the battle. The Guards Division had not actually taken part in the attack. The left flank of the attack had been the 20th Division immediately to their right.
Sergt. Edward John Calder, D.C.M. (12424)
(awarded the D.C.M. 20th September 1917)
The 57th Brigade then rested and cleaned up for three days in their camps at Locre; then orders had come for the Brigade to move back into the Salient. On September 26th the 10th Worcestershire had marched forward from Locre to a camp near Vierstraat, and on the following day the companies marched up across the Ypres-Comines Canal and. took over a reserve position around Hill 60. Further forward the other battalions of the 57th Brigade took over the front line, but the 10th Worcestershire remained in that reserve position under intermittent shell-fire (casualties September 27th, 1 killed, 1 wounded. September 28th, 1 killed, 1 wounded) until the evening of October 1st: then the Battalion moved up through the devastated "Shrewsbury Forest" into the forward positions (relieving the 8th Gloucestershire). The line taken over was about a mile to the northward of the ground over which the battle had been fought ten days before, and ran round the front of Bulgar Wood with outposts close to the line of the Bassevillebeek. To the left, the line held by the rest of the Brigade crossed that stream. Still further to the left the 37th Division continued the line up the sharp slopes to Tower Hamlets.
On October 3rd (casualties, October 1st-3rd, 3 wounded) came news that a fresh attack was to be made. The main weight of the new attack was to be put in around Polygon Wood, but the front of attack was to be extended northwards to Poelcappelle and southwards to Tower Hamlets, where the 37th Division was to attack. The line of the 19th Division lay outside the front of attack, but arrangements were made for the 19th Division to co-operate by fire.
THE BATTLE OF BROODSEINDE
At dawn (6 a.m.) on October 4th the attack began; the British artillery all along the line opened an intense fire. Away to the left of the 10th Worcestershire, the troops of the 37th Division pushed forward to the assault. Every available gun and rifle of the 19th Division opened fire; and the enemy's guns replied by a heavy barrage fire on Shrewsbury Forest. So intense was that hostile fire that communication from front to rear became impossible.
From their posts on the edge of Bulgar Wood the 10th Worcestershire could see the struggle along the higher ground to the left, and could see groups of the enemy moving about rapidly among their defences on the ridge beyond the valley. In spite of brave efforts, the 37th Division failed to gain more than a few yards of ground. Fighting continued-all day, and when it died down the line at Tower Hamlets was but little further forward.
Situation map 4th October 1917
Further north, however, a substantial gain had been made; Broodseinde had been captured, and on the left flank an advance had been made from Langemarck eastwards towards Poelcappelle.
The casualties of the 10th Worcestershire during that day of battle had not been as heavy as might have been expected—no more than 3 killed and 12 wounded.
Next evening (5th) the 10th Worcestershire were relieved (by the 7th East Lancashire of the 56th Brigade. During that day 2/Lt. G. H. Formby was wounded) and marched back across the canal to St. Eloi; whence busses carried the platoons back to Rossignol Camp. There the Battalion remained until October 11th.
After a week of rest at Rossignol Camp the 10th Worcestershire had moved forward again on October 12th to dugouts on the Spoil bank of the canal near "The Bluff." Northwards a big battle was in progress (The First Battle of Passchendaele) and the enemy's artillery sent shells crashing all about the British reserve positions as the companies settled down. Otherwise the front along the Bassevillebeek was quiet, so quiet that it was decided that the whole Divisional line could now be held safely by one Brigade. So the 57th Brigade's frontage was extended, and when the 10th Worcestershire filed forward two days later to relieve the troops in the line, the front taken over (the Battalion relieved both the 8th Gloucestershire and the 10th Royal Warwickshire) extended from the canal on the right round the whole face of the hill to "Top House." That front was held by three companies with one company in reserve in "Imperfect Copse." Battalion Headquarters were in a dugout by the railway near "Fusilier Wood."
Such an extended position entailed much strain on the troops, and tours in the line consequently were short. On October 17th the Battalion was relieved by the 8th Gloucestershire (casualties October 14th-17th, Wounded, 2 officers [2/Lt. J. M. H. Storr, 2/Lt. — Brice], and 12 men) and moved back to the previous position in support. Two days later the 57th Brigade was relieved and. the 10th Worcestershire moved back to Bois Confluent behind St. Eloi, where the Battalion was accommodated in Norton Camp.
Thence on October 26th the 10th Worcestershire moved back to a hutment camp near Kemmel and carried out training till November 4th; then the routine was repeated; the Battalion took over the same forward position from the canal to "Top House" on November 4th and held it for three uneventful days (November 5th-7th) (casualties November 4th-9th. Killed 1, wounded 3), followed by two days in the reserve position at the Spoil Bank and then a night in the Bois Confluent. After that the 19th Division moved back out of the line to rest and train, and the 10th Worcestershire were carried back by bus to billets at Moolenacher near Merris. On November 12th the 10th Worcestershire entrained at Caestre and were carried westwards through Hazebrouck to Ebblinghem. A short march took the Battalion to their destined rest billets at Blaringhem.
As the heavy fighting died down, fresh Divisions were brought up to relieve the troops which had borne the brunt of the battle. Among these were three Divisions which included Battalions of the Regiment. The 19th Division, including the 10th Worcestershire, joined the Third Army on December 10th and relieved the 6th Division in front of Marcoing: a week later the 63rd Division, including the 14th Worcestershire, took over the defence of Welsh Ridge north of Gonnelieu from the Territorials of the 61st Division; and meanwhile, just beyond the western edge of the wide battlefield, the 3rd Division had been relieved in the line before Queant by the 25th Division, which included the 3rd Worcestershire.
The 10th Worcestershire, as we have said, arrived in the Cambrai battle-area on December 10th, fresh from a period of rest and training. After moving out of the Ypres Salient in the middle of November the battalion had laid at Blaringhem till the last day of that month. Then a move had been made to Sablioniere.
There on December 5th the Battalion received an interesting present eight silver bugles presented by Miss Heap, with the intention that they should be presented to the Regular Battalions when the 10th Battalion was broken up (The bugles are now divided between the 1st and the 2nd Battalions).
On December 7th the training period of the 19th Division came to an end and the 10th Worcestershire entrained at St. Omer for the South.
Detraining at Mondicourt at midday of December 8th, the 57th Brigade marched eastwards to billets in Berles-au-Bois. The stay there was short. Urgent orders came to move up to the Cambrai area in relief to the troops which had been engaged in the fighting there; and at noon next day the battalions of the 57th Brigade were enbussed. The jolting busses carried the 10th Worcestershire forward to Etricourt; thence at 4.0 p.m. on December 10th the Battalion marched through Equancourt to Fins and thence northwards through Metz and along the edge of the Havrincourt Wood to Trescault. Guides from the 1st Buffs met the platoons and led them to relieve that battalion in the reserve positions, the old Hindenburg front line, immediately south of Ribecourt; and during their stay of twenty-four hours, the troops explored the captured trenches and admired their elaborate revetting and dugouts. The enemy's guns were angrily pounding their lost positions, and the Battalion suffered several casualties (2 killed, 5 wounded) before darkness fell. Then the 57th Brigade took over the forward zone, and the 10th Worcestershire filed forward down into the ruins of Ribecourt and up the slope to relieve the 11th Essex in the front line.
That position proved to be very strong. The old Hindenburg Support Line formed the backbone of the defences, but in front of it a new trench had been dug to command the further slope and beyond that a line of outposts was held. In that position the Battalion was on the eastern end of the Flesquieres spur. Ruined Marcoing lay in the valley below the right flank of the Brigade line.
Later, the 58th Brigade came into line on the right, extending the front held by the 19th Division across the northern end of Highland Ridge to the valley about Couillet Wood.
During the remainder of December the 10th Worcestershire held the line above Marcoing or lay in support or reserve behind it (casualties, December 11th-15th—Nil. December 11th-18th-2 killed, 3 wounded). The first tour in the front line lasted until December 15th. Then the 7th South Lancashire took over and the Worcestershire moved back to their previous position in reserve. Three days later the Battalion moved back for a short rest in Havrincourt Wood.
The 57th Brigade moved forward again on December 20th, taking over this time the right sector of the Divisional front, and the 10th Worcestershire after two days in Brigade reserve took over front line trenches on December 21st (from the 9th Welsh). The new line was astride the "Grand Ravine," in the valley between the "Flesquieres" and "Highland" Ridges. Those trenches were held by the 10th Worcestershire until after Christmas.
THE ACTION OF WELSH RIDGE
The last fight of 1917 affected both the 10th and the 14th Battalion; in the trenches before Marcoing. The 10th Battalion had held trenches in front line from Christmas Day onwards till December 28th; then, relieved by the 8th Gloucestershire, the Battalion had moved back into support trenches in the old Hindenburg front line.
The 10th Worcestershire were still in those support trenches, and to their right the 14th Worcestershire were busily working on the defences of Highland Ridge, when, at dawn of December 30th, the enemy's guns opened an intense fire. For ten minutes shells burst all along Welsh Ridge; then German infantry attacked the line of the 63rd Division. For several hours fighting raged all along the Ridge, especially at the northern end of the high ground, the old battle-ground of the 4th Worcestershire, and at "Corner Trench" which the Worcestershire Territorials had so gallantly defended at the beginning of the month. Not until nightfall did the firing die down. The apex of "Corner Trench" was gained by the enemy, and further to the north the line of the 63rd Division was forced back from the forward slope to the crest-line of Welsh Ridge.
Neither of the Worcestershire battalions was actually engaged in that fight, but both the 14th Battalion on Highland Ridge and the 10th Worcestershire in the valley behind remained under arms all day. Shell-fire cost the Pioneer Battalion a couple of casualties, and inflicted considerable loss on the 8th North Staffordshire in the valley at Couillet Wood.
Next day some sporadic minor attacks brought the action to an end. That night the 10th Worcestershire filed forward round the slopes of Highland Ridge and relieved the 8th North Staffordshire in Couillet Wood. There the Battalion saw the dawn of the New Year.
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The general situation on the Western front at the close of 1917 contrasted sombrely with the high hopes with which that year had begun. In spite of fierce fighting and heavy loss no appreciable success had been gained. The strength of the enemy was unbroken; and the, defection of our Russian allies opened gloomy prospects of reinforcement to the German forces in France. But the fighting troops did not lose heart. The defection of Russia had been balanced by the entry of America into the war; and the possibility of ultimate defeat for the Allies was scarcely considered. The troops remained in good spirits, cheered by messages and comforts from those at home, steeled by the knowledge that they were protecting their land from the horrors they witnessed in France, and heartened by that keen pride in their Regiment which had held them together through the long campaign.