1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment (1917)
The 1st Worcestershire after their short period of fatigue work near Bray (December 29th—January 9th) had moved into billets at Vaux (January 9th—11th) and then had moved back by rail and road, train from Mericourt to Airaines, then march to billets at Vergies. There the Battalion had lain, resting and training, until 22nd January 1917, when orders were received for the line, and the Battalion moved by train from Oisemont to Bray. After four days in camps near Bray the 24th Brigade moved forward and on the evening of the 26th the 1st Worcestershire relieved the 14th Argyle and Sutherlands (of the 40th Division) in trenches due north of Bouchavesnes and facing the wood of St. Pierre Vaast: the very same trenches which the 2nd Worcestershire had held in December. The week which followed (January 27th-February 2nd) was marked by no especial incident.
Thus at the beginning of February both the old Regular Battalions of the Regiment were in the line within a mile of each other, north and south respectively of the ruins of Bouchavesnes. The weather was still keenly cold, but it chilled effectively the ardour of the enemy, and casualties were few.
On February 2nd the 1st Worcestershire were relieved from the line, by the 2nd East Lancashire, and moved back, first into Brigade reserve at Asquith Flats, and then by bus from Maurepas to camp near Sailly-le-Sec. There the Battalion settled down to train for a special operation on secret orders which had been received.
Casualties: February 1st—2nd. 9 wounded.
South and east of the wood of St. Pierre Vaast, the little river Tortille runs down along a steep valley through the villages of Moislains and Haut Allaines to join the Somme below Peronne. Command of that valley was as yet denied to the British forces by the German positions which crowned its western heights; notably those immediately east of Bouchavesnes. Those German positions on the crest line effectively commanded the Bouchavesnes ravine. If those positions could be captured that observation would be denied to the enemy, while at the same time command would be secured over the whole Moislains valley, and the chance of forcing withdrawal upon the enemy would be greatly increased.
That the attack would prove a serious operation was not doubted. The tactical importance of that position to the enemy was such that every effort would certainly be made to hold it: and in consequence all ranks of the Battalion worked their hardest to prepare fully for the coming struggle. The preparations for the attack were most careful. Near the camp an exact reproduction of the enemy's trench system was made and repeatedly attacked.
While the 1st Worcestershire, in reserve, were training for the forthcoming attack at Bouchavesnes, the 2nd Worcestershire, closer to the line, were rehearsing for a smaller operation.
As the 2nd Worcestershire drew back the 1st Worcestershire moved up to the heights above the Somme. After many weeks of preparation, the attack for which the Battalion had been training was at hand. The companies spent a few nights in reserve in billets at Vaux and Bray (February 22nd—24th at Bray, February 25th—27th at Vaux and February 28th at Bray again) and then marched forward on the first day in March to dugouts at Asquith Flats. Thence on the following evening the 1st Worcestershire moved forward to the line and relieved the 2nd Devons in trenches due east of Bouchavesnes; the trenches from which the attack was to be delivered.
One fairly quiet day in the trenches followed. Then throughout the night of March 3rd/4th the British trenches were alive with quiet workers, eagerly preparing for the next morning's assault.
THE ACTION OF BOUCHAVESNES
This action was unaccountably omitted from the despatches of the C.-in-C. and hence is not to be found in the official list of battles: nor has a battle-honour for it been allowed, in spite of a petition from the Regiment.
As dawn broke (5.30 a.m.) on March 4th the British artillery opened a barrage fire. The opening crash of the bombardment served as signal (This was a variant on the usual method of synchronised watches) to the battalions detailed for the attack, and all along the front of the British trenches troops swarmed out and poured forward in a series of waves. The 1st Worcestershire were in the centre of the attacking line, with the 2nd Northamptonshire on the left. The right flank of the Worcestershire was on the road from Bouchavesnes to Moislains; south of the road the 2nd Royal Berkshire continued the front of attack.
Lieut.-Colonel George William St. George Grogan
The attack was immediately successful. The German front line,"Pallas Trench," was easily overrun and the attackers swept onward to their further objective, "Fritz Trench," the German second line. Led by Captain N. H. Stone, Lieutenant R. A. O'Donovan and 2/Lieut. J. A. Smithin the Worcestershire platoons charged "Fritz Trench." These three officers were awarded the M.C. There was a short but desperate struggle. The enemy resisted to the last, but the attackers were not to be denied. For a few minutes a German machine-gun held up the onslaught, but the gun was rushed and captured by a party headed by Sergeant T. Guest. Sergeant Guest was awarded the D.C.M. for his actions. Within a quarter of an hour from the start "Fritz Trench" had been secured. In many places the trench had been so battered as to be unrecognisable; the attackers passed over it and pushed on down the slope to "Bremen Trench," the enemy's third line. There they bombed dugouts and roped in prisoners until it was realised that our own shells were falling closely around. Recognising from this that they had gone too far, those foremost of the victors fell back and rejoined the main body of the Battalion, who were busily working to prepare the captured positions for defence, under the personal direction of Colonel Grogan. The Colonel was everywhere, controlling the dispositions and the entrenchment, inspiring all by his own cheerfulness and courage. Colonel Grogan was awarded the D.S.O. for his gallant leadership.
From "Fritz Trench" good observation could be obtained over the whole of the Moislains Valley. The captured position was in fact very important, and the whole weight of the enemy's artillery and infantry was at once thrown in to regain it. The work of consolidation was continued under an ever increasing bombardment from all directions, and soon the enemy commenced a series of violent counter-attacks. Most of those counter-attacks were made against the flanking Battalions and a fierce bombing struggle raged all the morning around "Fritz Cut," immediately to the left of the Worcestershire line; but presently the enemy began to dash forward in increasing numbers up the open slopes. The Worcestershire platoons opened a hot fire. Lance-Corporal F. H. S. Harley, in particular, did notable execution with his Lewis-gun, and the remnant of the attacking enemy were driven to cover. L/Cpl. Harley was awarded the D.C.M.
All day the enemy's shells beat against their lost trenches, but by nightfall "Fritz Trench" was securely in our hands and the firing died away. Later the 2nd West Yorkshire came up to take over the captured ground, and the 1st Worcestershire, weary but triumphant, tramped back to "Asquith Flats."
The casualties, nearly all due to the enemy's shell-fire, had been very heavy—over 200, including ten officers. Killed, 6 officers (Capt. R. P. Birtles, Lieut. R. M. Ross, 2/Lts. W. E. Deakin, F. M. Marrs, A. P. Rosling and W. Ward) and 44 men. Wounded 4 officers and 358 other ranks. Missing 11.
Actions at Bouchavesnes (4th March 1917)
[Key = British Trenches German Trenches Line gained on the 4th March 1917]
After the action the 1st Worcestershire remained for three wintry days in Asquith Flats resting and cleaning up. The day after the battle was marked by a heavy snowstorm.
On March 6th the Corps Commander (Lieut.-General Sir John Du Cane) inspected the 1st Worcestershire and 2nd Northamptonshire and congratulated them on the success and the gallantry they had shown. Two days later the Battalion moved up to the battlefield again and relieved the 2nd Devons, in the left hand sector of the captured ground, from Fritz Cut to Fritz Alley. Bickering fighting had gone on there in the intervening days, but it was now dying down, and a heavy snowstorm on March 9th virtually brought operations to an end.
The Battalion held the trenches on the heights until March 12th, suffering some slight loss from shell-fire (Casualties March 8th—12th. 1 killed, 7 wounded) and much misery from bitter cold; then the 1st Sherwood Foresters took over the trenches. The Worcestershire marched back to Asquith Flats, and thence, on March 15th, to camp near Curlu.
There the Battalion had been working on railway construction when the news of the German retreat thrilled the British Armies; but the 24th Brigade did not move forward until March 24th. Then the 1st Worcestershire marched, first to Bouchavesnes, and thence, on the following day, over the old German trenches to billets in ruined Moislains. The 24th Brigade formed the reserve of the 8th Division, which was slowly advancing across country, side by side with the 48th Division whose operations we have just described. The operations of the 8th Division did not at first make any demands on the Divisional Reserve, and the 1st Worcestershire remained labouring around Moislains until the last day of March. Then came orders for the 24th Brigade to take over the right sector of the Divisional front. The 1st Worcestershire left Moislains early on April 1st and marched forward by way of Templeux-la-Fosse and Lieramont to Guyencourt. There guides from the 2nd Devons met the Battalion at dusk and led the companies forward down the slopes. The outpost line had been advanced as a result of the capture of the Epéhy ridge. The night was dark and stormy, and the relief was consequently slow and difficult, but eventually the Worcestershire companies succeeded in taking over from the Devons the newly-gained positions on the further slope of the valley which runs westward from the Peizieres ridge.
The captured village of Epéhy stands on a hill-top from which long ridges radiate north and east. The enemy's main position, "The Hindenburg Line," here swept in a great curve from Bellenglise in the south past Vendhuile and Banteux to Havrincourt. Within that curve the enemy had established outpost positions on the high ground, and for the next five weeks the 8th and 48th Divisions were engaged in a continuous series of skirmishes and small attacks with the object of driving the enemy from those advanced posts back on to their main defended line. Those skirmishes took place in bitter weather, for the most part in snow or driving sleet, and the weather tried to the utmost the endurance of the troops engaged.
On April 2nd, the day following the capture of Epéhy, there was some scattered skirmishing between the opposing outposts in sleet and falling snow; and on the following night patrols of the 1st Worcestershire pushed over the crest line and seized Vaucelette Farm. During the next twentyfour hours a good deal of skirmishing went on between that Farm and "Chapel Crossing." But the weather on the heights was too wild and the whole situation too vague for any serious fighting, and the casualties of the Battalion totalled no more than three wounded. On the night of April 3rd/4th the 2nd East Lancashire took over the outposts and the 1st Worcestershire marched back to billets at Lieramont.
On the evening of April 5th the 1st Worcestershire moved forward from Lieramont and again went into front line on the heights by Vaucelette Farm, relieving the 2nd East Lancashire who again took over the line on April 8th. In front of the Battalion the Beet Factory on the ridge running north-east was yet untaken, but on the left Chapel Crossing had been secured. A redistribution of the line took place on the following night, and the left flank of the Battalion was extended to include that latter point.
The weather on the heights was still bleak with constant storms of snow, and at intervals the enemy's guns bombarded the British-positions. The Battalion suffered a few casualties and much frost-bite. Casualties; April 5—9th—3 killed.
Two short days of rest in Heudecourt (April 8th-10th) were followed by a return to the line at Vaucelette Farm. Next day (April 11th) orders were issued for the 24th Brigade to "side-slip" to the left, and the 1st Worcestershire shifted to a new position on the spur above Gouzeaucourt, the left flank of the Battalion being on the road which runs to that village from Fins.
THE CONCENTRATION AT YPRES
The capture of the Messines Ridge, in June/July 1917, by the 3rd Worcestershire and the 10th Worcestershire had cleared the way for the projected offensive at Ypres, and the final preparations for the new attack were taken in hand.
Northward into the Salient poured the main strength of the British Armies in France; great guns, stores of all kinds, and over a hundred marching battalions—Guards, Highlanders, Welshmen, and the best of the stubborn old regiments of the English Line; one after another all the Battalions
of the Regiment came in succession up into the Salient.
The 1st Battalion led the way. On the 1st of June the Battalion had commenced its move northward from the Somme area. The journey was broken at Godewaersvelde, whence on June 2nd the 8th Division marched to billets near Merris in readiness to support the attack at Messines. For a week the companies lay billetted, listening on June 7th to the thunder of the battle in front at Messines; but the completeness of that victory rendered reinforcement unnecessary, and on June 11th the journey north was resumed. The 24th Brigade marched to Caestre and the 1st Worcestershire found billets nearby at Hazewinde. Next day (Those dates are as given in the Brigade diary. The Battalion diary puts those moves a day later.) the Brigade marched onward and that night the Worcestershire slept at a camping ground north of Reninghelst, in crowded bivouacs under pouring rain. The 8th Division had now joined the IInd Corps, commanded by Lieut.-General Sir Claud Jacob.
As a preliminary to taking over the line two battalions of the Brigade were ordered forward to Ypres. On June 13th the Worcestershire marched forward independently into the ruined city, where the companies found good quarters in the old barracks.
Next night the 1st Worcestershire went up to the front line. After dark the platoons marched forward in succession through the Menin Gate and along the Menin Road to "Hell-fire Corner," and then by covered ways to the front trenches astride the road at Hooge. The line taken over by the Battalion, from the 2nd R. Scots Fusiliers, included the trenches in Sanctuary Wood immediately south of the road.
The 1st Worcestershire held those trenches for four days under constant bombardment: for the obvious preparations for the offensive had roused the German artillery to continuous action. Casualties; June 14th—18th :—3 killed, 12 wounded. Then the Battalion was relieved, by the 2nd Scottish Rifles, and marched back through Ypres to Vancouver Camp, south of Vlamertinghe. There the companies were employed on working parties until June 28th, when the 24th Brigade again went into the line and the 1st Worcestershire, temporarily in reserve, marched to quarters in Ypres. Headquarters were billetted at the Lille Gate and the companies were separated in various billets in the ruined city. The enemy bombarded the city without a break. Twelve of the Battalion were killed or wounded by shell-fire within a week, and when on the night of July 5th the Worcestershire marched out of the city westwards to camp near Vlamertinghe the movement unfortunately coincided with a heavy "strafe." Over forty of the Worcestershire were killed or wounded before the companies were clear of the city: the casualties included one officer (2/Lt. F. C. Kent) killed and the Regimental-Sergeant-Major (R.S.M. G. Grover M.C.) wounded. Of the rank and file 8 were killed, and 38 were wounded.
The 1st Worcestershire, after ten days of training at Cuhem, had been brought back by bus to Reninghelst. On July 23rd the Battalion moved up with the rest of the 24th Brigade and took over the billets at the Lille Gate. There two unpleasant days and nights were spent under an intermittent bombardment by gas shells which inflicted a few casualties (July 24th 1 killed, 1 wounded).
On July 26th the 1st Worcestershire moved forward from their billets in Ypres to dugouts at "Halfway House." Thence on the next evening the Battalion moved up along the Meriin Road to the line, and took over the trenches immediately south of the Road at Hooge. The British artillery had steadily increased their fire during the weeks preceding the attack, and in face of that fire the German front-line trenches had been almost evacuated. Patrols sent out by the 1st Worcestershire on the next two nights reported very few of the enemy in the trenches in front.
THE BATTLES OF YPRES 1917
This is the official title for the whole series of battles from July 31st till November 10th, 1917. The first phase—July 31st—August 2nd—is officially termed the "Battle of Pilckem Ridge."
During the night of July 30th/31st the British guns redoubled their fire, and as the first light of dawn broke the sky (3.50 a.m.) the gun-fire rose to intensity and along the whole front of the Salient the British infantry went "over the top." The great attack had begun.
Following close behind the creeping barrage,"C" and "D" Companies of the 1st Worcestershire swept forward over the enemy's front and support lines. Little opposition was met. The organisation of the attack had been careful, and "mopping up" parties dealt with the enemy dugouts in quick succession. The existence of a tunnel under the road, behind the enemy's lines, had long been known, and it had been anticipated that it would give much trouble; but in the event it was captured easily enough, and forty cowering prisoners were extracted.
Hooge and Bellewaerde Ridge area trench map
The ground over which the platoons advanced was a wilderness of shell-holes, and intermittent rain during the previous days had begun to soak the soil. At the German support trench ("Ignorance Support") the two leading companies called a- halt and started to dig in, while "A" and "B" Companies, hitherto in second line, passed through, advanced through the tree stumps of Chateau Wood and captured James Trench. Then came the first definite opposition, a hail of machine-gun fire, and a heavy barrage of shells from the enemy guns. Fortunately the German shells fell upon Chateau Wood, behind the advancing companies; but the machine-guns were a serious problem. The objective of the two companies was a small spur which projects southward from the Bellewaerde Ridge. On the spur were several concrete block-houses. Several had been smashed by our shells, but one was still intact. From that cover the enemy used a machine-gun with great effect, and the advance was checked.
Lieutenant Edward Cecil Barton, M.C.
Lieutenant E. C. Barton led forward a small party, Sergeant W. Moore and nine men.Working their way from shell-hole to shell-hole they advanced some five hundred yards under heavy fire, closed in on the block-house and rushed it, killing or capturing all its garrison. Lieut. Barton was awarded the M.C. Sergt Moore was awarded the D.C.M.
Further along the line the advance was held up by a light machine-gun firing from a shell-hole. Two Lewis-gunners, Lance-Corporal C. Richards and Private S. Fudger, brought their weapon into action. The German machine-gun ceased fire, but reopened as soon as the advance was resumed. The two Lewis-gunners promptly attacked. The Lance-Corporal shot down the German gun-team with his revolver and captured the machine-gun. L/Cpl. Richards and Pte. Fudger were awarded the D.C.M.
Those brave deeds enabled the advance to continue. The attacking platoons breasted the slope, crossed the sky line, and dug in on their objective, the forward crest of the spur, facing the Westhoek Ridge.
On the left the 2nd Northamptonshire had stormed the ruins of Hooge and Bellewaerde Farm and had gained the highest ground of the Bellewaerde Ridge. The first phase of the attack had been triumphantly accomplished.
Then, according to the plan, the two supporting battalions of the 24th Brigade were to come through and take the next objective. Tanks were to assist in that second phase, and soon the tanks were seen approaching, lumbering forward over the captured trenches; but the boggy ground rendered their movements slow and clumsy, most of them were "ditched" or broke down, and the only one which came past the Battalion was hit and destroyed by shell-fire.
The enemy's gun-fire increased. Under a rain of bursting shells the 2nd East Lancashire advanced through the lines of the 1st Worcestershire and pressed on to attack Westhoek. The fire was too fierce to permit of final success, and presently the East Lancashire, after losing heavily, were forced to halt and dig in short of their objective.
The reserve of the 8th Division, the 25th Brigade, came up in their turn. The 2nd Lincolns passed forward through the lines of the Worcestershire, but the enemy's resistance had stiffened, and the Lincolns suffered severely during their advance from machine-guns in Glencorse Wood. Eventually the Lincolns and East Lancashire consolidated a line which ran in a shallow semi-circle facing Westhoek.
On the right flank the position was exceedingly dangerous. The 30th Division had not succeeded in advancing beyond "Stirling Castle" and from the high ground about "Glencorse Wood," several machine-guns were firing. Those machine-guns could take the 8th Division front in enfilade, and counter-attacks were also threatened. To protect the right flank Colonel Davidge led forward two companies of the 1st Worcestershire. He formed them as a defensive flank facing Inverness Copse, with the object of linking the line of the 8th Division with that of the 30th Division at Stirling Castle. For his brilliant leadership on that occasion Colonel Davidge was awarded the D.S.O. His Adjutant, 2/Lt. W. C. Stevens, was awarded the M.C.
Intense gun-fire continued throughout the day. The morning had been dull and cloudy. Towards the evening heavy rain came on and continued into the night, obscuring the view and soaking both the troops and the ground beneath them. Casualties were counted—well over 200, including 9 officers. Killed 4 officers (Capt. F. J. O'Brien, 2/Lt. E. S. Collins, 2/Lt. H. C. Stephens, 2/Lt. R. A. Budden) and 22 other ranks. Wounded 5 officers (Lt. E. C. Barton, 2/Lts. R. A. Hart, G. N. Perham, G. B. Harrison and T. Comoys) and 157 other ranks. Missing 49. The Battalion had captured 70 prisoners as well as a machine-gun.
That night and the following day were miserable. Under pouring rain the officers and men of the 1st Worcestershire held firm on the ground they had won, digging in as best they could, while the enemy's fire swept the ridge. Late in the day word came of relief, and presently the relieving Battalion came splashing their way up through the mud; and proved to be none other than the 3rd Battalion of the Regiment. The relief took some time, but eventually the 1st Battalion got clear and marched back down the Menin Road, while the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire settled down to take their places.
After their relief on the Bellewaerde Ridge the 1st Worcestershire had marched through Ypres to Devonshire Camp (near Halifax Camp) and thence, after an issue of dry clothes and a night's rest, had moved to Steehvoorde on August 3rd. Now they were due for the line again, and on August 14th, after a cheery farewell from the 3rd Battalion, the 1st Battalion marched off, forward, to Halifax Gamp. Two companies were sent on ahead in lorries to lay duck-board tracks in the battle-area (Those two companies came under shell-fire next day and lost 1 killed and 3 wounded.). The remainder of the Battalion spent a night at Halifax Camp and then marched on into Ypres, in preparation for the next battle.
The nest phase came for the 1st Worcestershire when the 8th Division had been ordered to attack from the captured Westhoek Ridge across the valley of the Hannebeek against the "Anzac" Ridge, which runs north from Polygon Wood to where the Hannebeek joins the Steenbeek east of Frezenberg. That attack was to be made by the 23rd and 25th Brigades. The 24th Brigade was in reserve, and thus the 1st Worcestershire spent the morning of August 16th at their billets in the Esplanade at Ypres, listening to the thunder of battle in front and awaiting the order to advance.
That order came soon after midday, and the Battalion marched off up the Menin Road to the old front line at Birr Cross-Roads. There a long halt was made while streams of wounded came past. Presently came definite news. The battle in front was not going well. The first onslaught had been successful and the defences of the "Anzac" Ridge had been carried; but a sharp fire from the woods on the right had enfiladed the captured position and strong counter-attacks had forced the attackers back into the valley. The enemy were pressing their advantage, and help was needed.
So (at 5 p.m.) the 1st Worcestershire were placed under the orders of the 23rd Brigade and moved off through Railway Wood and along the northern slope of the Bellewaarde Ridge to a position in support just behind the crest of the northern end of the Westhoek Ridge. The 23rd Brigade in front were holding the forward slope, and there was much heavy firing. Shells struck everywhere across the desolate battle-field, but no fresh cotinter-attack developed, and with the daylight the firing died down.
All next day (August 17th) the Battalion remained in waiting, suffering a few casualties from the enemy's intermittent fire. That evening the Worcestershire moved forward over the crest of the Westhoek Ridge and relieved the 2nd Scottish Rifles on the forward slope. The left flank of the Battalion rested on the railway embankment and the front ran thence to the right along a sunken road. In front was the little farm of "Sans-Souci" and the swampy valley of the
Hannebeek; beyond rose the "Anzac Ridge." There the 1st Worcestershire remained for twentyfour hours under a galling fire ; but the struggle there was over; no move was made by either side, and on the following night (August 18th/19th) the 47th (London) Division came up to take over the line. The 1st Worcestershire were relieved, by the 17th London, and tramped back down the Menin Road to Ypres, where quarters were found in the ruined Cavalry Barracks. Next evening (August 19th) the Battalion marched eastward from Ypres to Halifax Camp. Casualties; August 18th—19th, 13 killed, 39 wounded.
The 8th Division was being withdrawn to rest and next day busses carried the 1st Worcestershire to rejoin the 24th Brigade at Caestre. There the Battalion found billets at La Brearde and a big draft of reinforcements; "317 other ranks from our Territorial and Reserve Battalions: on the whole a very good draft." It was indeed unusual at that stage of the war for so big a draft to be composed wholly of'men of the Regiment.
While the heavy fighting had been in progress in the Ypres Salient, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Regiment had been resting and recuperating in the quiet area of the valley of the Lys. East of the captured Messines Ridge, the British front line ran close in front of the ruins of Warneton. That sector of the front was comparatively peaceful, save for shell-fire and occasional small enterprises.
The 1st Battalion came into that area after the battle of Langemarck — After moving out of the Salient on August 20th, the Battalion spent five days in camp at Caestre and then moved south by bus to "Regina Camp" near Ploegsteert. The Battalion spent the ensuing three months either in the front line facing Warneton (Battalion in front line, August 26th—September 3rd, Casualties—1 officer [2/Lt. J. C. Forsyth] and 4 men killed. 1 officer [2/Lt. C. J. Masterson] and 8 men wounded. September 27th—October 5th, 4 killed, 1 officer [2/Lt. C. H. Pritchard] and 8 men wounded. October 29th—November 2nd, 3 wounded. November 6th—10th, 2 wounded.) or in billets and camps further back (September 4th—8th, Romarin Camp. September 11th— 18th, Bulford Camp. September 18th—27th, Deseule Camp. October 5th—12th, Red Lodge. October 12th—28th, Deseule Camp. November 3rd—5th, Red Lodge. November 11th—13th, Romarin Camp.).
No operation of any note was undertaken by the Battalion during that period, nor were the casualties heavy.
On November 13th the 3rd Australian Division took over the line in front of Warneton and the 1st Worcestershire marched back to De Seule Camp before proceeding north. On November 15th the march to the Salient was begun; the 1st Worcestershire marched to billets near Vieux Berquin and thence on the 17th to Caestre. There the companies entrained and were carried through Poperinghe to Ypres. Thence the 1st Worcestershire marched northwards across the devastated ground of the Salient to a camp near St. Jean. Two days later (19th) the Battalion moved forward to the line. Leaving camp at 2 p.m. the companies trudged forwards along duckboards across the mud over the old front lines, on over the Hannebeek and the Gravenstafel Ridge, and up the swampy hollow of the Broembeek. Long after dark (The relief was complete by 10 p.m. On the previous day 2/Lt. F. C. Perrett had been wounded) the platoons of the 1st Worcestershire struggled through heavy mud past the ruins of Passchendaele, and relieved on the further slopes the Regiment's old comrades of the 2nd Lincolnshire.
Dawn showed the devastated areain all its repulsiveness. The troops in the front line crouched in a series of muddy shell-holes roughly entrenched and partially connected. The enemy's gun-fire was heavy and unceasing, and casualties were frequent. Casualties: November 20th—Killed 1 officer (2/Lt. Ben Harry Steele) and 3 men, wounded 2 officers (Capt. I. T. Pritchard, Lieut. Leonard Graham Mepstead) and 13 men. November 21st—Killed 6, wounded 2 officers (Capt. N. H. Stone, 2/Lt. F. H. Hudson) and 26 men. November 22nd—Killed 12, wounded 1 officer (2/Lt. G. Lambert) and 5 other ranks, missing 5.
Orders were to advance the line when opportunity occurred, and. in accordance with these orders the posts in the front line were pushed forward every night from shell-hole to shell-hole. In the course of those operations several encounters with enemy parties took place, and on the night of November 20th a sharp little fight in mud and rain resulted in the capture of a brace of prisoners.
On the night of November 22nd the Battalion was relieved on the forward slope by the 1st Sherwood Foresters, and moved back into a support position in dugouts and captured block-houses behind the ridge. Next night the 24th Brigade was relieved and the Worcestershire marched back to camp by St. Jean. On November 29th the Battalion marched back through Ypres and Vlamertinghe to camp east of Poperinghe. On the following day the Brigade moved to the back areas for training. The 1st Worcestershire moved by train from Brandhoek to Wizernes and marched to billets at Longuenesse. There training was carried on during the next three weeks.
In the meantime the 33rd Division had taken over the line immediately to the right of the 8th Division, and as the 1st Battalion of the Regiment moved back from the Passchendaele Ridge the 2nd Battalion moved forward to the same area.
Northward, in Flanders, Christmas Day marked the end of the 1st Battalion's rest at Longuenesse. At 6.0 a.m. that morning the companies left their billets of the previous month, marched to Wizernes and entrained for the Ypres Salient, The train carried the Battalion forward to.St. Jean. There the Battalion was cheered by a visit from the Corps Commander, Lieut-General Sir Claud Jacob, who gave greetings to all. Then the companies marched forward to quarters in the battle area, two companies in camp by Spree Farm, and two in California Camp. That night all made ready for the next day's move to the front line.
On December 26th the 1st Battalion of the Regiment once more came under fire. That evening the 24th Brigade took over the Passchendaele trenches, and the 1st Worcestershire marched north-eastward from Spree Farm, along a duck-board track over a desolate land covered with snow. The snow veiled the worst horrors of the battle ground, but mile after mile, of shattered ground, marked only by broken tree stumps or wrecked block-houses and trenches, bore witness clearly enough to the destructive power of modern war. A brilliant moonlight lit up the snow, which betrayed the moving files to the enemy; and the German guns opened a heavy fire as the platoons struggled over the Passchendaele Ridge. In spite of that shell-tire (Casualties during that relief were 6 killed, 28 wounded, 4 missing.) the relief was duly carried out up to time; the 1st Worcestershire took over trenches from the 7th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and settled down in the extreme north-east angle of the Ypres Salient, the line of the Battalion forming a semi-circle round the cross-roads north of Passchendaele village.
Four days the Battalion held those trenches, four days of bitter frost and snow. In spite of all the measures which experience had taught, officers and men suffered severely, especially from frozen feet. The enemy's shell-fire was continuous. Casualties; December 26th—30th. 1 killed, & officers (Capt. C. S. Rippingham, 2/Lt. J. W. Demaine, 2/Lt. H. H. Mugford, 2/Lt. H. L. Cooper) and 7 men wounded.
At last on December 30th the 1st Worcestershire were relieved by the 2nd Lincolnshire. That evening the enemy's guns were quiet. The Worcestershire marched back without casualties from Passchendaele to Wieltje, entrained there and were carried back by rail to Brandhoek. The Battalion settled down in Brake Camp near Vlamertinghe, where next day an enjoyable New Year's Concert was held.