11th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 1915

Early in the following April 1915, two companies moved to Norton Barracks, and at the end of that month the Battalion left Worcester and moved to camp at Fovant in Wiltshire. In July 1915 the Battalion moved again to Long-bridge Deverill, near the other units of the 26th Division.

11th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment group at Camp at Fovant, Wiltshire (June 1915)

At the beginning of September 1915 it was decided to strengthen the Third Army in Picardy by the addition of a third Army Corps, which should take over a new sector of the line, on the right of that already held. That new (XIIth) Corps was to be built up of one regular Division (the 27th) and two new Divisions from home, the 22nd and 26th. Included in the latter (26th) Division was the new 11th Battalion of the Worcestershjre.

The 11th Worcestershire, with the other Battalions of the 78th Brigade, left its Wiltshire training ground at Longbridge Deverile on the 21st September 1915, entrained at Warminster for Southampton, and thence crossed to Boulogne.

After a short stay in the rest camp at Ostrohove, the 11th Worcestershire were carried by troop trains to Saleux, near Amiens, whence they marched to billets at Foudrinoy.

An advanced party, under the 2nd-in-Command Lieut.-Col. W. F. Barker, C.M.G., D.S.O. , had crossed to Le Havre on the night of the 19th/20th September 1915 and met the Battalion at Foudrinoy.

Two days later the Battalion marched by Ferrieres to Pont de Metz and thence, with the other battalions of the 78th Brigade tramped forward through Amiens and Longueau, along the banks of the River Somme, through Aubigny to billets at Fouilloy.

After four days of training the 78thBrigade was split up for instruction in trench-warfare, and the 11th Worcestershire marched forward on September 29th along the Somme valley through Corbie and Vaux-sur-Somme to Sailly-Laurette to be attached to the 1st D.C.L.I. That battalion and the 5th Cheshire aided in the instruction of the platoons of the 11th Worcestershire during the ensuing weeks.

The following officers proceeded overseas with the Battalion:-
Colonel R. M. Rainey-Robinson. C.B.
Lieut.-Col. W. F. Barker, C.M.G., D.S.O. (2nd-in-command)
Captain and Adjutant T. J. Edwards
Lieutenant and Quartermaster A. Ham
Lieut. J. H. Gurney (M.G.O.), Lieut. O. M. D. Bell (T.O.), Lieut. J. P. Lusk,
R.A.M.C., Rev. Looby, C.F.
"A" Coy. - Capt. J. A. Welby. Capt. P. A. Leicester, Lieut. A. J. B. Hudson, 2/Lts. J. North, C. E. Turner, E. J. L. Warlow.
"B" Coy. - Major W. W. Hudson, Capt. J. G. Reid, Lieut. W. Jones, 2/Lts. F. L. H. Fox, A. B. R. Leech, H. King.
"C" Coy. - Capt. H. Dippie, Lieut. A. R. Cooper, 2/Lts. D. Brand, H. R. Vance, H. M. Edwards.
"D" Coy. - Capt. A. E. J. Legge. Capt. B. Barton, Lieut. C. Bishop, 2/Lts. H. Williams, A. E. Gibbs, J. R. T. Marsham.

On the banks of the River Somme the companies and platoons of the 11th Worcestershire, then training with the 1st D.C.L.I. and the 5th Cheshire at Suzanne and Maricourt, were but little affected by the repercussion of Battle of the Loos offensive. There was some sharp shelling, which caused a few casualties (2/Lieut. J. R. T. Marsham and 3 men wounded) but there was no serious fighting.

2/Lieut. H. Melville Edwards ("C" Coy)
(later became Lieut.-Colonel of the 11th)

On the 8th October 1915 the initial training of the 11th Worcestershire was completed, and the companies reassembled at Sailly Laurette; whence on the following day the Battalion marched back to Fouilloy and rejoined the 78th Brigade. Ten days of training followed, after which the Battalion was detached for entrenching work on a reserve line of trenches. For that work they marched on the 18th October to Framerville and Vauvillers; but two days later the Battalion was suddenly recalled to Fouilloy. It was learnt that plans had changed, and that the French would again take over all trenches and billets south of the Somme. The reason for that change of plan was rightly believed to be the impending departure of British troops to Salonika.

Events in the Near East were causing many changes on the Western Front. General Monro had already been sent to the Levant (15th October 1915) and General Allenby commanded the Third Army (posted 20th October 1915) in his stead; now it had been decided that the XIIth Corps should move from France to Macedonia. At first only the 22nd and 27th Divisions were placed under orders, but on the 30th October 1915 came a message from G.H.Q. that the 26th Division also would move to the new theatre of war.

The 11th Worcestershire with the rest of the 78th Brigade had moved on the 22nd October 1915, from Fouilloy to new billets. Marching through Corbie, Pont Noyelles, Querrieu, Allouville and Coisy the Worcestershire had settled into billets at Vaux-en-Amienois (about 5 miles north of Amiens). There Battalion training had been resumed until, on the evening of November 1st, urgent messages were received from Brigade Headquarters as to whether the Battalion was complete in iron rations, ammunition and transport. "These inquiries," daily records the Battalion Diary, "led us to believe that a move would shortly take place." On the next day a message was received ordering all smoke-helmets and respirators to be handed in. "This," recorded the War Diary, "confirmed the idea that the Battalion would not go into the trenches again. . . . . "

Two days later (3rd November 1915) came definite news that the 26th Division was under orders for Serbia. Thence forward all was a bustle of preparation. "A supply of publications dealing with the Balkan States" was received, the Battalions transport horses were exchanged for mules, and finally on November 9th the Battalion marched through Amiens to Longueau Station. There the 11th Worcestershire entrained and commenced a long railway journey, which, after many stops, brought the Battalion to Marseilles at 5 p.m. on November 11th. Two battleships were waiting to receive them. The right-half Battalion, under Colonel Rainey-Robinson, embarked on H.M.S. "Mars" and the left-half Battalion, under Lieut.-Col. Barker, on H.M.S. "Magnificent" (the Battalion transport embarked separately on the transport "Verna"). Next morning, the two battleships put out to sea and steamed south-eastward across the Mediterranean.

The two battleships carried the Battalion across the Mediterranean to Alexandria. The companies disembarked and lay in camp for two days. Then further orders came; the Battalion re-embarked in the same ships and was carried northwards to Salonika.

On November 24th H.M.S. "Magnificent," with the leading half-battalion, under the second-in-command, Lieut.-Colonel W. F. Barker, C.M.G., D.S.O., arrived at Salonika. The companies landed, and marched through the city to camp at Lembet, some two miles to the northward. There next day they were joined by the remainder of the Battalion (Except the Battalion transport which did not reach Salonika until December 16th) under the Commanding Officer, Colonel R.M. Rainey-Robinson, C.B.

When the Battalion landed the weather was fine and warm, and the march of the companies to Lembet Camp was made unpleasant by clouds of dust; but on the night of November 26th a blizzard—that same blizzard which brought disaster to the army in Gallipoli—suddenly struck the camp. Hail, sleet and snow swept through the tent lines, and during the next few days the troops suffered severely. The bad weather continued during the ensuing fortnight, while the camp filled up with troops and the Allied Commanders debated their course of action (It was not possible for a general advance to be made, as the transport of the force had not then been landed).

News came back of the failure of the troops in front and of their retreat after the fight at Kosturino. The enemy were known to be pursuing, and it was not anticipated that their pursuit would stop at the Greek frontier. It was decided to entrench a position around Salonika to cover the retreat of the troops in front. Plans were drawn up and on December 11th orders were issued. The British and French Divisions were to construct a line of defensive works round Salonika at a distance of about seven or eight miles from the city. The sector of this line allotted to the 26th Division was from the Langasa Lake along the northern slope of the Derbend Ridge. Of this sector the line from Laina to Tumba was allotted to the 78th Brigade, which included the 11th Worcestershire.

At 7.0 a.m. on the 12th December 1915 the Battalion paraded, drew picks and shovels, and then marched off to its allotted portion of the line to be entrenched. The march was made over steep hills in a thick mist and progress was slow. Presently the track disappeared completely and the officers’ compasses provided the only guide. The ten-mile march took nearly five hours. Shortly before midday the Battalion reached their allotted position (About 2 miles S.W. of Kavalar) and set to work in the mist on the construction of defensive works. That evening the Battalion marched back to camp through the Derbend Pass. The narrow pass was not entered until after dark, and before the further end was reached a Greek transport column of laden donkeys was encountered coming in the opposite direction. Great confusion ensued. "It took about an hour and a half of forcible language and still more forcible action to eject the Greeks" (Lieut. J. H. Gurney). It was not until late that night that the weary platoons reached their tents.

Two days later the 78th Brigade moved out from Lembet Camp and went into bivouac near their work. It was known that the advancing Bulgarians were not fifty miles away; and all ranks worked their hardest, in spite of incessant rain and cold, with the result that the entrenchment was almost completed by December 18th.

By that date the general situation had altered. The Bulgarian armies, instead of advancing, had halted, as we have told, at the Greek frontier. The retreating 10th Division and their French comrades had reached Salonika and had joined the main Allied army. The whole position was reconsidered and the 78th Brigade was ordered to draw back their line and establish a new position.

The entrenchment of the new position was commenced forthwith. The line selected was close to the foothills, and it was presently discovered that the position of the battalion traversed the ground of an ancient and forgotten cemetery of the early Greeks. Many tombs were opened by the picks of the labouring troops, and some of these contained swords and bronze helmets, which experts declared to be of the period of Alexander the Great.

On December 23rd the battalion transport rejoined. They had been left behind at Marseilles, for want of accommodation on the battleships, and had only reached Salonika on December 18th. With the aid of the transport a good camp was pitched close to the defensive works and here the Battalion spent their first Christmas in the field. "A large quantity of beer, oranges, fresh meat, bread, flour, raisins, etc., having been secured, the men were able to enjoy a fairly seasonable meal" ( Battalion Diary. Next day, it is recorded, the Commanding Officer read to the troops the King’s Christmas message, after which three cheers were given for the King, and then another three for the Queen. The troops had a holiday for the remainder of the day).

Thereafter work on the defensive line was busily continued. The principal excitement was provided by German aeroplanes, which came over the lines, flying high and drawing some futile shell-fire from the guns of the battleships in the harbour. On December 30th those aeroplanes dropped some bombs, without any great effect save on a Greek shepherd, who was killed with five of his sheep; but General Sarrail, the Allied Commander at Salonika, made use of that "violation of Greek neutrality," and on that account forcibly expelled from the city the German, Austrian, Turkish, and Bulgarian Consuls (Till that date the situation had been extraordinary, for German, Austrian and Bulgarian military attaches in full uniform had promenaded the streets of Salonika and had watched all Allied movements).

That high-handed action indicated the practical occupation of the city by the Allies, for it had been decided to hold Salonika to prevent it falling into hostile hands. The port might provide the enemy’s submarines with an ideal base; and it became clear that the miserable Greek Government had no intention of offering opposition to either army. So the French and British troops remained at Salonika, and the construction of defences in the forward zone continued to be the principal occupation of the 11th Worcestershire.