1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment (1916)
During the first months of 1916 no event of outstanding importance occurred in France and Flanders. The 1st Battalion remained for some two months in trenches between Armentieres and Bois Grenier, or in billets behind the line. Little occurred of note, but at the beginning of February the enemy made life in the trenches more unpleasant than formerly by using a heavier pattern of "minenwerfer," which threw great bombs with a disquietening effect; but the actual loss caused by those erratic projectiles was not severe. On February 20th the 23rd Division moved back into reserve, to rest and train, and the 1st Worcestershire marched with the other battalions of the 24th Brigade through Steenwerck to Vieux Berquin. On the following day the Biigade
continued the march from Vieux Berquin through the Forest of Nieppe, by La Motte, Morbecque, Steenbecque and La Belle H&tesse to billets near Sercus. There the Battalion lay resting and training until the end of the month.
December 29th (1915) till January 7th (1916) — Billets at l'liallobcau.
January 7th-11th — Billets at Rue Delettré.
January 15th-18th — Billets at Rue Delettré.
January 11th-15th. January 18th-23rd — Front line at Bois Grenier. Casualties nil.
January 23rd-31st — Billets at Fort Rompu.
January 31st-Febraary 4th—Billets at Rue Marie.
February 7th-11th — Billets at Rue Marie.
February 4th-7th. February 11th-14th—Front line immediately south of the road from Armentieres to Wez Macquart. Casualties—5 killed, 1 officer (2/Lt. M. P. Atkinson) and 11 men wounded.
February 14th-20th — Billets near l'Hallobeau (Jesus Farm).
The Campaign of 1916 was opened by the enemy. Throughout 1915 the German forces in France and Flanders had remained on the defensive while their comrades on the Eastern front had defeated in succession the Russians and the Serbs. Now, on February 21st, 1916, a tremendous offensive was commenced against the French positions in the salient of Verdun. The struggle which ensued lasted throughout the Spring, and taxed to the utmost the strength of the French Army. As a first contribution of assistance to our ally it was decided on February 27th that British forces should relieve the French Tenth Army in Artois.
In the first days of February a beginning had been made with the formation of a staff for a Fourth Army, to meet the steady increase in the British fighting forces. On February 28th this new Fourth Army came into being, and took over the front hitherto held by the Third Army in Picardy from Gommecourt to the Somme.
Arrangements were then made for the relief of the French Tenth Army in Artois. The British First Army was to extend its right flank and to take over the French line facing Lens; and the Third Army, reconstituted, was to relieve the French troops thence southward past Arras to the left flank of the new Fourth Army at Gommecourt.
The 23rd Division, including the 1st Worcestershire, was among the troops of the First Army used to extend that Army's right flank, while the 25th Division, including the 3rd Worcestershire, was allotted to the reconstituted Third Army.
So it came about that on February 28th, word came to the 1st Worcestershire, then training near Sercus, that the 23rd Division would move forward next day. At 9.30 a.m. on the following morning (February 29th) the Battalion marched from Sercus to Thiennes and entrained. The troop-train carried the Battalion southward, past Lillers and Bethune to Calonne-Ricouart where at 1 p.m. the Battalion detrained, and marched five miles to billets in the mining village of Bruay. The Worcestershire were the first British troops to enter Bruay, and received a very friendly welcome from the inhabitants. The Battalion lay for a week in Divisional Reserve, while further forward the 69th Brigade took over trenches from the French troops. Then on March 7th the 24th Brigade moved forward. After a wearisome march through Houdain, Rebreuve, Fresnicourt and Grand Servins the 1st Worcestershire were billetted in the big empty Chateau of Gouy-Servins. In that dilapidated memorial of past grandeur the Battalion sheltered for two days; after which on the evening of March 10th, the Worcestershire marched forward through Villers-au-Bois and Carency to trenches on the slope of the northern end of the Vimy Ridge. The Battalion was on the right of the Divisional line and now lay on the extreme right flank of the British First Army. The previous trenches held by the Battalion had been on that First Army's extreme left flank.
The new trenches were most uncomfortable. They represented the limit gained by the French in their attacks during 1915. In every direction the ground was shattered and ploughed by shell-fire and scarred by abandoned trenches. The enemy, however, were not aggressive. After five quiet days (The Battalion suffered no casualties during that tour in the trenches) the 1st Worcestershire were relieved by the 20th London; for the 47th (London) Division were now taking over the right sector of the First Army's front. The 23rd Division moved back into reserve and, after one night (March 15th/16th) in Gouy-Servins, the 1st Worcestershire marched back to Beugin. There on March 18th the new Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, visited the billets of the Battalion.
Two days later the 23rd Division moved up to take over the left sector of the IVth Corps line and on March 20th the 1st Worcestershire tramped forward from Beugin to billets at Coupigny. Thence on the following evening the Battalion marched through Herein, Boyeffles and Aix Noulette forward to trenches north of Souchez, where they relieved the 1st Royal Berkshire. A trying period followed. The weather was very cold and the trenches were in very bad condition, shelling was continuous and casualties were frequent (Casualties 1st Worcestershire. March 21st-April 17th:—10 killed, 12 wounded). The 1st Worcestershire and the 2nd East Lancashire held those trenches alternately till April 17th; the battalion out of the line being quartered either in Bouvigny or in the wood south of Aix Noulette.
On April 17th the 23rd Division moved back into reserve, and the 1st Worcestershire marched back, first to Coupigny and then to Bruay. A week's rest followed, during which the Sergeants of the 2nd Battalion came over from Bethune to play the 1st Battalion Sergeants at football (The 2nd Battalion won, 1—0). Then the 24th Brigade moved right back for training. The weather had changed suddenly from cold to heat and an eighteen mile march to Beumetz (about 18 miles east of Bethune) on April 26th proved very trying to the troops.
The training of the 24th Brigade lasted for ten days. Then by road and rail the (marched to Pernes then by train to Hersin) 1st Worcestershire moved back on May 5th to their former area and were, billetted in Hersin. On May 10th the Battalion once more took over the trenches previously held near Souchez. Between their position and that of the 3rd Battalion further to the right was a distance of about a mile, held by the 47th (London) Division. After four days of intermittent shelling (Casualties 1st Worcestershire, May 10th-15th:—8 wounded), the Battalion was relieved on the 15th by the 2nd East Lanes, and moved back to reserve billets at Bouvigny.
Thus both the 1st and 3rd Worcestershire were lying in reserve on the evening of May 21st, when the enemy attacked in force. Determined to gain the upper hand in the crater-fighting on the Ridge, the Germans had made their plans with characteristic thoroughness. After a terrific bombardment, in which the front line was literally flattened out, every British battery 'neutralised' by gas and lachrymatory shells and all communications cut, the enemy's infantry swarmed forward. The attack was mainly directed against the 47th Division, whose defences were overwhelmed, but the left flank of the German attack struck the 10th Cheshire and drove them back, capturing "Bertrand" and "P79" trenches as well as "Broadmarsh" Crater.
In their huts at Bouvigny the 1st Worcestershire stood to arms, while above their heads the ridge of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette shook under a rain of heavy shells. Eight-inch shells struck all around the billets of the Battalion, but by a miracle not more than one man was wounded. All day the Battalion awaited orders for action. No orders came. The enemy had secured the British front line but made no attempt at any further advance. They were content to have gained possession of the British mine shafts, and thereby to cripple our activities against their trenches. Sharp fighting went on for some days at the northern end of the Vimy Ridge, but the 24th Brigade were not called upon to take an active part.
After the enemy attack on May 21st for a week the 1st Battalion was called on to find numerous working parties to repair the damage: then on the evening of May 30th new trenches were taken over, further to the north than the previous line and facing Angres. The 1st Worcestershire and 2nd East Lancashire held those trenches alternately till June 12th. When out of the line the Battalion was billetted at "Fosse 10," near Coupigny. That period was not eventful nor were casualties heavy, only 16 wounded. During that period a battalion of Royal Marines was attached for instruction
On June 10th orders were issued that the 23rd Division would be withdrawn into reserve. On the evening of June 12th, the 19th London (c) took over the trenches of the 1st Worcestershire, and the Battalion, after one more night at Fosse 10, marched back on the following day in soaking rain through Hersin, Barlin and Houdain to Dieval. On June 14th the march was continued westward through Sains-Les-Pernes to Fiefs, whence on June 16th the Battalion marched northward to the allotted Training Area and found quarters at Flechin.
Shortly after the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Regiment moved out of the Vimy sector, a new Battalion of the Regiment, the 14th (Pioneer) Battalion, came up into the area which they had left.
In the last week of June the 1st Battalion moved south to join the concentration on the Somme. The 23rd Division had completed its training in the area west of Bethune, and on June 24th the battalions of the Division entrained for the south. After a seven-hour railway journey from Lillers the 1st Worcestershire detrained at Longueau at 9.30 p.m. and marched through Amiens westward to billets at St. Sauveur.
By that time the date fixed for the great attack was known to be close at hand. From Bray to Bien villers the countryside swarmed with troops. "Camps wherever the eye rested," wrote an officer (2/Lieut. E. P. Bennett). "No attempt at concealment or fear of the consequences. Many sausage balloons in the air. Countless aeroplanes all day. 9.2-inch and 12-inch batteries at work. A most heartening and inspiring spectacle—rather suggesting a Bank Holiday on a gargantuan scale." Excitement and enthusiasm were running high, and all ranks were in high spirits and confident of victory.
The forces which had been massed for the attack were indeed such as to justify confidence. From south to north, from the River Sonrme to Gommecourt, six Army Corps faced the enemy, with thirteen Divisions—150,000 fighting men (Reckoning each Division at about 11,000 fighting strength—twelve battalions and three field brigades of artillery.)—deployed along a front of some twelve miles.
THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME
The general plan of the great attack was to break through the enemy's positions in the valley of the Ancre between La Boisselle and Serre, and then to roll up the German defences to the northward by a rapid turning movement carried out by fresh troops brought up from reserve. The main attack was to be made by the IIIrd, Xth and VIIIth Corps of the Fourth Army. To assist the main attacks, subsidiary attacks were to be made, on the southern flank by the XIIIth and XVth Corps of the Fourth Army, on the northern flank by the VIIth Corps of the Third Army. When the enemy's lines had been broken the turning movement to the northward was to be made under the direction of a fresh staff ready for the purpose, designated, for the time being, "The Reserve
Army" under General Sir Hubert Gough.
On June 24th the preliminary bombardment was commenced. All along the line the British batteries opened a heavy fire, carefully directed on successive points of the German line. In order to increase the demoralizing effects of the bombardment, and to identify the German units holding the line, a number of raids were carried out during the last days of June.
The first days of the bombardment were fine and hot, although occasional small thunderstorms competed with the crash of the guns: then the weather broke, and rain fell heavily, causing the date of the attack to be postponed at the last minute from June 28th to July 1st. The postponement brought no better weather, and dawn of the 30th found the rolling country of Picardy still shrouded in drizzling rain. In the afternoon the sky cleared and, as dusk fell, the move forward to the assembly positions was begun. All along the twenty mile front from Hannescamps to the River Somme long columns of British troops were on the move; and that night four Battalions of the Regiment were marching forward from their billets through darkness lit by continuous gun-flashes towards the soaring flares and bursting shells which marked the battle line.
The 1st Battalion left their billets at St. Sauveur at 5 p.m. After marching forward through Longpré, Poulainville and Coisy, the Battalion settled into close billets in reserve at Raineville. The move was completed by 10 p.m.
1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment route 24th June to 6th July 1916
In the opening attack on July 1st, the 34th Division had stormed several lines of German defences between La Boisselle and Fricourt and had reached Horseshoe Trench, within a mile of Contalmaison itself. Fresh troops were needed to relieve the 34th Division and to carry on their work. Orders were given to send forward the 23rd Division.
The 23rd Division, had originally been in General Reserve, and the 1st Worcestershire, together with the other battalions of the 24th Brigade, had spent the day of July 1st in close billets at Molliens-au-Bois, listening to the distant gun-fire. After dark the Brigade marched forward to huts and bivouac in Henencourt Wood some four miles west of Albert. There the Battalion lay during the ensuing two days and nights.
At midnight of July 2nd/3rd the 23rd Division was transferred from General Reserve and was placed under the orders of the IIIrd Corps. One Brigade (69th Brigade) was sent forward during July 3rd to assist the 34th Division. Late that evening orders were issued for the 24th Brigade to move forward.
Early next morning they marched south-eastward in drizzling rain to Dernancourt. There the 1st Worcestershire were packed into cottages and lay close-billetted for two days, until the evening of July 6th.
On the afternoon of July 4th the 23rd Division had relieved the 34th Division, and preparations for the attack on Contalmaison were taken in hand. For three days the fighting in front of the village had swayed backwards and forwards, with successive attack and counter-attack between "Horseshoe Trench" on the left and Mametz Wood on the right. In the maze of broken trenches the fighting battalions had established many isolated posts, but several of those positions had been retaken by the enemy. The whole situation was far from clear; and it was necessary for the operations of the 23rd Division to be co-ordinated with those of the 17th Division which was making a converging advance from the south.
The details of the attack required careful adjustment between the two Divisions. Eventually it was settled that the left Brigade (52nd Brigade) of the 17th Division should attack first, and should secure "Quadrangle Alley" and "Pearl Alley." They should then hand over the latter trench to the 24th Brigade, which should be waiting in readiness and which should then attack from "Pearl Alley," and capture Contalmaison.
THE ATTACK ON CONTALMAISON
At 4 p.m. on July 6th the battalions' of the 24th Brigade marched forward from Dernancourt. After a halt for teas at Meaulte the companies filed into communication trenches and made their way forward in the gathering darkness to the positions from which they were to attack. Progress was difficult and it was not till after 10 p.m. that the 1st Worcestershire reached their allotted position. "B" and "C" Companies were in front, crowded along a captured trench known as "Shelter Alley," as far forward as its junction with "Quadrangle Trench," where a post held by Lancashire Fusiliers marked the limit of the British advance. Behind them "D" Company lay in "Shelter Wood." "A" Company in "Crucifix Trench" formed the reserve. Battalion Headquarters were in "Lozenge Wood." To the left, the 2nd East Lancashire were posted in "Birch Tree Trench" and "Peake Wood." The Worcestershire and East Lancashire were to lead the attack of the Brigade. The Northamptonshire and Sherwood Foresters were in support further back.
On the right front, deployed along "Quadrangle Trench," were two battalions of the 52nd Brigade—the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers.
Unknown to the British, the Germans also were preparing to attack and regain the ground they had lost. During that same night the three battalions of the German 9th (Pomeranian) Grenadier Regiment, fresh from reserve, were filing into position at Contalmaison; and the enemy's artillery were making ready to devastate the British lines.
At about 1-30 a.m. of July 7th the British artillery opened a heavy bombardment. For half-an-hour the dark hillside was lit by the bursting shells: then, at 2 a.m. the two Fusilier battalions attacked. Their main attack, against "Quadrangle Support," was withered by an intense machinegun fire, but on the left some parties of the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers fought their way into "Pearl Alley" and even reached the outskirts of the village beyond.
While the issue of that fight still hung in the balance, "B" Company of the 1st Worcestershire, led by Lieut. H. James, V.C., began to make their way forward to the trench junction (Pt. 68) at the western end of "Pearl Alley," in preparation for their attack on the village. They reached the trench junction at the first light of dawn; and with the dawn came the German counter-attack. Flooding down from Contalmaison across the open, the Pomeranians forced back the Lancashire Fusiliers. The remnants of the Lancashire battalion fell back to the trench junction. There a desperate fight ensued. Intermingled in the trench the Worcestershire and the Fusiliers held their ground stubbornly, and before their rapid fire the Pomeranian Grenadiers could make no headway. After half-an-hour of fierce fighting the enemy fell back, and Lieut. James organised bombing attacks up the two trenches to his right and left front. Those attacks regained about a hundred yards in each direction and satisfactory defences were established.
As the light grew it became clear that until "Quadrangle Support" had been taken no direct attack on Contalmaison was feasible, and a second attack on the untaken trench was organised by the two remaining battalions of the 52nd Brigade, the 9th Duke of Wellington's and the 12th Manchester.
The former battalion took over from Lieut. James' detachment the trenches they were holding. To support them, a Worcestershire bombing detachment was left at the trench junction under Lieut. F. B. Denham. The remainder of the forward companies of the Worcestershire were now withdrawn to the southern end of "Shelter Alley" to await their turn. That move was made necessary by the fact that our own. artillery were then, in error, bombarding the northern end of Shelter Alley.
At 8 a.m. the second attack of the 52nd Brigade was delivered. On-the right the 12th Manchester failed with, heavy loss, but on the left the Duke of Wellington's gained the whole of "Pearl Alley." They were not allowed to stay there long. The enemy counter-attacked, bombing furiously down the trench, and drove the Yorkshiremen before them. The Worcestershire bombers at the trench junction were called upon for help. Lieut. Denham led his men to the front and held the enemy at bay until support arrived.
To the British commanders in rear the whole situation was most obscure. The artillery of both sides were keeping up an intense fire, which prevented any real communication; and much inaccurate information came back. On the strength of reports that Bailiff Wood and the northern part of Contalmaison were in our hands, orders were issued for the 24th Brigade to attack the southern end of the village.
That order reached Battalion Headquarters about 9 a.m. and was sent on to the companies. "B" and "C" Companies made their way forward up "Shelter Alley" through very heavy shellfire and deployed for attack, "B" Company in front line, "C" Company in support.
At about 10 a.m. "B" Company attacked from "Pearl Alley" across the open against the southern end of the village. In spite of a withering fire from German machine-guns, the Worcestershire platoons reached the houses and fought their way in among the ruins. Fierce fighting followed with bomb and bayonet, but in half-an-hour the village had been cleared as far as the church and some 70 prisoners had been captured. About 11 a.m. "C" Company also dashed across the open and came up on the right of "B" Company. Again and again the enemy counter-attacked into the village, and hand-to-hand fighting continued almost without a break.
Sergeant O. C. Bonner led a party of bombers most gallantly. In the fight at close quarters he killed, a German officer with his last bomb. Seizing the officer's pistol, he shot down several of the enemy, and the rest gave way.
Bombs ran short. Private T. James rushed back across the shell-swept open ground to "Pearl Alley" and returned with a supply. Twice he repeated the journey, and for a time the situation was restored.
Meanwhile the attack of the East Lancashire from Peake Wood had failed. Between them and the village stretched a strong line of defences (from Pt. 24 to P60.), and the enemy's machine-guns had withered any attempt to advance.
About midday the enemy's guns put down a very heavy barrage across the southern end of the village, and the Pomeranians again came crowding down to retake their lost ground. An urgent message for help was written. Private T. James again volunteered, and dashed back. A shell burst beside him, hurled him to the ground and half-buried him. Dazed and shaken he extricated himself, made his way onwards to the trench and delivered the message. Pte. James was awarded the D.C.M. "D" Company, led by Captain K. W. Wilkins, advanced most gallantly through the barrage to the help of their comrades in the village. Their losses in crossing the open were very heavy, but the survivors reached the houses and reinforced the other two companies, just in time to meet the German counterattack. For the moment the enemy were checked, but it was clear that without further help the defence could not last much longer.
All day a drizzling rain had fallen, and at that critical hour the weather broke in good earnest. Rain fell in sheets, converting the trenches, already difficult, into troughs of knee-deep mud. Through that slime "A" Company and Battalion Headquarters struggled to get forward; but the heavilyladen soldiers could make little headway and, in spite of great efforts, "A" Company only reached "Pearl Alley" at 5 p.m.
By that time the end had come. At about 2 p.m. the enemy were heavily reinforced and commenced a powerful attack. The German artillery pounded the ruins held by the Worcestershire, a fierce machine-gun fire was directed on to the village from the untaken trenches on both flanks, and strong bombing parties of the enemy worked down from the higher ground. Fighting stubbornly from house to house, the survivors of the three companies were forced back. The position was clearly untenable but there was no thought of surrender. A desperate struggle raged round the ruins of the Church, where a party of the Worcestershire, inspired by two brave subalterns, 2nd Lieut. A. W. Isaac and 2nd Lieut. W. B. Burns, fought on till all were overwhelmed. The resistance
was continued until ammunition was exhausted; then the survivors of the three companies fell back through the barrage to "Pearl Alley."
One small party remained in the ruins. Sergeant Bonner and his bombers had become isolated. After disposing of the enemy close at hand, they clung to their ground till darkness fell, hoping for a renewed attack. After dark they made their way back from the village and rejoined the Battalion. Sergt. Bonner was awarded the D.C.M. The D.C.M. was also awarded to Sergt. H. Beniams and to Corpl. A. E. Baker (attached 24th Trench Mortar Battery) for gallantry during the day.
During the evening, all that remained of the Battalion were collected in "Pearl Alley." Gradually the enemy's fire died down. When darkness fell, "A" and "D" Companies were left to hold the position, while the survivors of "B" and "C" Companies moved back down "Shelter Alley" to rest in "Crucifix Trench."
The failure was bitterly disappointing to the Battalion; it had been due to an overwhelming combination of adverse circumstances; not least to the rain which had made reinforcement impossible. "Had the weather not broken," wrote the Adjutant, "I firmly believe that, with the help of 'A' Company and some scattered portions of the 52nd Brigade who were near by, we might have snatched an eleventh-hour success and made good our footing in Contalmaison."
Under continual shell-fire the Battalion reorganised, so far as was possible, in preparation for another attack; and meanwhile the 17th Division made a third attempt to gain "Quadrangle Support." The shattered 52nd Brigade was replaced by the 51st Brigade, and at 8 p.m. that Brigade attacked from "Quadrangle Trench." Once again the attack failed with heavy loss and for the time nothing more could be attempted.
After a night of intermittent shell-fire, the battle was renewed at dawn. All attacks over the open having failed, the 51st Brigade now tried to win "Quadrangle Support" by a bombing attack from "Pearl Alley"; but though the bombers fought their way forward past the Cemetery, an enfilading fire from higher ground made further progress impossible. A similar fight raged at the other flank of the forward position (Point 60). In the midst of that fighting Captain T. H. Little of the Worcestershire worked his way forward towards Contalmaison with a reconnoitring patrol; but the houses were strongly held and the patrol had to fall back.
Confused fighting lasted most of the day: in the evening the 24th Brigade made preparations for another attack. The 2nd Northamptonshire had taken the place of the East Lancashire on the left, and orders came that with their help the Worcestershire should again try to capture the village. The order to attack was passed on to the front line companies at 5 p.m. and at once Battalion Headquarters together with the two little parties which represented "B" and "C" Companies began to wade up Shelter Alley in support; but the enemy's guns, warned of the attack, opened a barrage fire even heavier than before, and through that fire it was impossible to pass. "D" Company advanced bravely from "Pearl Alley" and gained a little ground; but on the left the attack of the
Northamptonshire was seen to break down before the terrific artillery fire. Enemy machine-guns from "Acid Drop Copse" enfiladed the attack, and Contalmaison itself was strongly held. In the circumstances Major J. M. Monk (2nd-in-command of the Battalion), who then controlled the front companies, decided that success was not possible without support; and no support could come up through the barrage. He decided to stand fast, and his decision was justified by orders which came at 7 p.m. not to continue the attack. After dark the firing died down. "A" and "C" Companies were left to hold the forward position, and the remainder of the Battalion made their way back to "Crucifix Trench."
Another night and day of heavy shell-fire followed. No further attack was attempted, on the front of the 24th Brigade, but fighting raged to right and left, around "Quadrangle Support" and "Bailiff Wood." Such officers and men of the 1st Worcestershire as still remained unhit were utterly exhausted, and after dark on July 9th the Battalion was relieved. The 10th Duke of Wellington's took over the front and the Worcestershire moved back into reserve in Lozenge Wood.
There the companies lay in reserve during July 10th, somewhat cheered during the evening by news, that their efforts had not been in vain, and that the enemy they had fought so stubbornly had at last been driven out of Contalmaison. Not by an attack from the south but by a turning movement from the west through "Bailiff Wood." The village was taken by the 8th Green Howards, commanded by Lieut.-Col. P. E. Vaughan of the Regiment, who there gained the D.S.O.
That evening the Battalion was relieved and marched back out of the battle to billets at Bresle. There the other battalions of the 24th Brigade also assembled. All day of July 11th the Brigade lay in billets resting and cleaning up.
The casualties had been terribly heavy. The 1st Worcestershire had lost nearly 350 of all ranks, including 13 officers.
Killed 5 officers (Lt. M. Stevens, Lt. F. B. Denham, 2/Lt. H. F. G. Brooksbank, 2/Lt. A. W. Isaac, and 2/Lt. W. B. Burns) and 32 other ranks.
Wounded 8 officers (Capt. J. R. L. Evans, Capt. A. B. Pratt, Capt. K. W. Wilkins, Lt. H. James, V.C., 2/Lt. S. B. Simpson, 2/Lt. J. C. Wilson, 2/Lt. F. S. Spackman, 2/Lt. C. F. Wightwick) and 213 N.C.O's. and men.
Wounded at Casualty Clearing Station, south of Albert (July 1916)
On the evening of July 11th the 24th Brigade marched westwards, through Baisieux and Montigny, to billets once more at Molliens-au-Bois. Next day the Worcestershire shifted billets a little to the north to Pierregot. Then "came welcome news: the 24th Brigade was to return at last to the 8th Division.
The 8th Division had suffered very severely on the first day of the battle and had since been sent north out of the battle to recuperate in the area around Bethune.
Damage after the fighting in Contalmaison (July 1916) - (Photo IWM)
On July 14th the 24th Brigade marched southwards to Poulainville and on the following day onwards by Amiens to Longueau Station; where, about midday, the 1st Worcestershire entrained for the north.
The 1st Worcestershire, had withdrawn from the Somme front, after the fighting at Contalmaison, to rest and refit. The Battalion detrained at Bethune about midnight of July 14th/15th and the companies marched to billets in the little village of Fouquereuil, gladly rejoining their old comrades of the 8th Division. There the Battalion remained, resting and cleaning up, till July 23rd (On July 20th the 24th Brigade was inspected by General Monro Commanding First Army.); and then moved forward to Beuvry.
The Battalion was still very weak in numbers after the losses at Contalmaison, but the skeleton platoons were filled up again on July 24th by the arrival of 350 men. Those men, alas, were not from the County but from other regiments (Gloucestershire, Royal Berkshire and Oxford and Bucks. L.I.), for the pernicious methods of drafting instituted at the base were afflicting the Regular Battalions as much as the more newly formed units. More fortunate, however, than the 10th Battalion, the 1st Worcestershire had time to assimilate those unwilling reinforcements before again being engaged in heavy fighting.
On July 30th the Battalion moved forward to the line and took over trenches at Cuinchy fron the 2nd Middlesex. The 8th Division (6th/7th July) had taken over (14th/15th July) the line immediately south of the La Bassee Canal—the line in which the 2nd Worcestershire had held their place during the earlier part of the year. Now the 1st Battalion came into the area which the 2nd Battalion had quitted, and for the next two months and more the 1st Worcestershire were engaged in different parts of the line, between the canal on the left and the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the right. When out of the trenches the Battalion was billetted in Bethune or in the neighbouring villages of Fouquereuil and Labourse. On August 7th, while the Battalion was billetted in Bethune, the town was heavily shelled and the troops suffered several casualties (1st Worc.: 1 killed, 3 wounded). Shortly afterwards, while in the front-line trenches north of the Hohenzollern, an enemy raid on August 12th against the battalion to the left (2nd West Yorks.) brought on a heavy bombardment (Casualties, 1st Worc.—3 killed, 2 officers [2/Lieut. C. E. Fisher and 2/Lieut. H. D. Baker] and 16 men wounded.). After that, not much of note occurred. Except for those mentioned above the total casualties of the 1st Worcestershire from July 30th to October 14th were 1 officer (2/Lieut. C. W. A. Muller on October 5th) and 19 men killed, 53 wounded.Sniping, bombing, and steady work, in weather which became increasingly wet and stormy, continued with little interruption until well into October. Then, on October 11th came news that the 8th Division was to move back to the main battle front. That evening the 2nd Green Howards of the 21st Division relieved the 1st Worcestershire. After a short rest and clean-up at Labourse, the Battalion marched after dark on October 14th to Fouquereuil and entrained. At 3 a.m. the train moved out of the station, carrying the Battalion once more to the,battlefields of the Somme.
The 8th Division, returning to the Somme front from the area around Bethune, had detrained at Longpré on October 14th, and the 1st Worcestershire had marched to billets at Citernes (near Hocquincourt). Thence on October 16th the 24th Brigade had been carried in French motor busses to Ville-sous-Corbie, and had then marched onwards to camp at the sandpits near Meaulte. There the Brigade lay. for two days, preparing for battle, and listening to the thunder of the bombardment during the attack on October 18th. Then came orders to move forward and relieve the attacking troops in the line.
Early on the morning of October 19th the 24th Brigade advanced into the battle.zone. Rain, as we have told, was falling heavily, the tracks everywhere were deep in mud, and through that mud the heavily laden troops found it difficult to make their way.
Gueudecourt area map and trenches (1916)
About 1 p.m. a halt was made for dinner near Trones Wood. Then the advance was continued through the incessant rain, past Delville Wood, over the crest line of the main ridge, and down the slope to Gueudecourt. Darkness closed in, the enemy were shelling heavily, the rain and the deep mud made progress very difficult. Not until after midnight did the platoons finally struggle into the front line and relieve the 9th Norfolks in "Rainbow" and "Shine" trenches and in the captured portion of "Mild Trench." There the line of the 1st Worcestershire linked up with that of the 2nd Hampshire who, together with the 4th Worcestershire on their flank, were still awaiting relief by the 87th Brigade.
Corporal Louis Henry Sparrow (20750)
killed by shell falling on his dug-out at Gueudecourt)
The 1st Battalion were now holding the front line, and had been suffering severely from cold and wet in the water-logged trenches. October 20th was a comparatively quiet day, but on the 21st—a day of bitter cold—the enemy's artillery woke to renewed activity and heavily bombarded the British positions round Gueudecourt. The British artillery fiercely replied; a fresh attack had been planned for October 23rd and by way of preparation the guns indulged in a concentrated bombardment of "Mild Trench." Before that bombardment the front-line platoons in "Shine Trench" were temporarily withdrawn. The trench was reoccupied after the bombardment and in it were found the fresh bodies of several Germans—presumably patrols which had followed up the withdrawal and had been caught by the ensuing shell-fire. The shelling on that day cost the Battalion over fifty casualties (11 killed. 2 officers (Capt. K. W. Wilkins and 2/Lt. M. C. C. James) and 38 other ranks wounded. 3 missing, believed killed). Casualties on 20th—1 killed, 6 wounded, 1 missing, believed killed. On the 22nd 2/Lt. H. G. Hill was wounded.
The next day (October 22nd) passed without notable incident. That evening the Battalion was relieved and moved back into reserve positions along Needle Trench.
The morning of October 23rd was damp and very foggy. At 11.30 a.m. the British artillery opened a barrage fire. The attacking battalions advanced and after a fluctuating fight, captured and secured "Mild Trench."
The 1st Worcestershire were in reserve throughout the day, but presently sent forward a company to support the East Lancashire. That company eventually found a position in Shine Trench. Though under continuous heavy shell-fire, their losses were not serious (8 wounde).
During October 24th, another day of thick mist, the position remained unchanged, and not until the evening of the next day did the 1st Worcestershire move forward. Then the Battalion relieved the East Lancashire in "Shine Trench" and in the captured " Mild Trench" and settled down to the work of consolidation.
On the evening of October 27th the 4th Battalion again came into the line. After five days "rest" on the reverse slope of the main ridge the Battalion again moved up to the line after dark on the 27th, and took over from the South Wales Borderers the portion of "Grease Trench" which they had captured on the 18th (One company in Grease Trench. One company in Sunken Road. One company in Goat Trench).
Sunken Road leading to Contalmaison (July 1916) - (Photo IWM Q859)
Thus both the 1st and the 4th Battalions of the Regiment were in the line together, barely a thousand yards apart, during the next two days. It was a very trying time, with much hard labour in deep mud. under heavy shell-fire.
On the evening of October 30th the 1st Battalion were withdrawn. The 17th Division relieved the 8th Division and the 1st Worcestershire (relieved by the 9th Duke of Wellington's) struggled back through mud and drizzle to camp by Trones Wood. Thence about noon next day the Battalion marched onwards to camp at the Sandpits, where the units of the 24th Brigade gradually assembled. There the Brigade rested for three days.
The 1st Worcestershire after a four days rest in camp at the Sandpits near Meaulte moved forward on November 5th to huts at Carnoy. Thence, on the following day, the Battalion moved up to Guillemont and, relieved the 2nd Worcestershire. The 8th Division was now relieving the 33rd Division in the line, and the 24th Brigade was taking over the ground captured by the 100th Brigade. During November 7th the 1st Worcestershire remained in Brigade Reserve: then, on the evening of November 8th the Battalion moved forward and relieved the 2nd East Lancashire in "Bennett Trench," as the position captured by the 2nd Worcestershire was now named. The Battalion held that half-dug trench for two days in great discomfort. Relieved on the evening of 9th by 2nd Royal Berkshire. Then after four days (November 10th-13th) rest in camp (La Briquetterie) south of Bernafay Wood the 24th Brigade again went into the line on November 13th a little further to the left (in a new trench linking up Fall and Bennett Trenches), between Les Boeufs and Gueudecourt. There they were heavily shelled, the 1st Worcestershire losing one day (15th) from shell-fire alone, 12 killed and as many wounded. On October 16th the Battalion moved back into support at Flers.
The weather was bitterly cold, and all ranks were glad when news came of relief; the 29th Division would take over the Divisional Line. On the evening of November 17th the 88th Brigade came up to relieve the 24th Brigade, and once more two Battalions of the Regiment met in the trenches by Gueudecourt; for the newly-arrived Brigade included the 4th Worcestershire.
After handing over their positions to the 2nd Hampshire, the 1st Worcestershire marched westward to camp at Carnoy. Thence next day the Battalion moved into billets in Meaulte. On November 20th the 1st Worcestershire bade farewell to the Somme battle-fields and entrained at Edge-Hill Siding for the back areas.
After the close of the heavy fighting on the Somme, it was decided that the British Fourth Army should extend its front further to the right, and orders were issued early in December that the British XIVth Corps should relieve the French in the line from Les Boeufs to Saillisel. Later in the month the British XVth Corps was to extend the front further to the southward by taking over from our Allies the line from Saillisel to the River Somme.
The XVth Corps now included the two old regular Battalions of the Regiment, the 1st Battalion in the 8th Division, and the 2nd Battalion in the 33rd Division.
At first the 8th Division remained as Corps Reserve in the back areas, and consequently until December 29th the 1st Worcestershire remained resting and training at Aumont (The Battalion had detrained at Airaines on November 20th and had marched to ballets at Aumont). No particular event marked that period except some very unpleasant days of training in rain and snow.
On December 29th the 1st Worcestershire moved forward into the area which the 2nd Worcestershire had left (St. Pierre Vaast Wood). The 8th Division was moving up to take the place of the 33rd Division in the XVth Corps Line. The Battalion entrained at Airaines and reached camp near Bray before nightfall of the same day.