2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 1916
Ten miles to the south-eastward, the 2nd Battalion had a more strenuous time around Bethune. The New Year found the 33rd Division holding the trenches on both banks of the La Bassèe Canal; and the 2nd Worcestershire spent January and February (1916) either in the line in one or other section of that front, or in billets further back. The Battalion went into trenches on New Year's Day at Givenchy just north of the Canal. Three days of shells and bombs cost the Battalion several casualties (4 killed, 4 wounded) and a severe loss in the death of the Regimental Chaplain, the Rev. J. R. Stewart C.F., who was killed by a shell while officiating at a burial service close behind the line.The "Padre" was beloved by all. No trouble was ever too great for him, no risk daunted him. His bravery at the battle of Loos had earned him the admiration of the whole Battalion.
After three days in reserve at Annequin' the Battalion took over the trenches immediately south of the Canal from the 1st Queen's. Those trenches and the ruined houses in close support were held until 14th January (Casualties; Company-Quartermaster-Sergt. J. Wills killed and 7 wounded) when the Battalion was relieved and marched back to billets in Bethune. A more trying period was now at hand. Leaving Bethune on Sunday January 23rd the 2nd Worcestershire relieved the 2nd Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in the right hand section of the 33rd Division's line, the trenches facing Auchy. In that sector the Battalion was in front line January 23rd to 29th and January 31st to February 7th. In the interval the Battalion was billetted in Annequin.There the existence in the muddy trenches was made very unpleasant by constant artillery fire and several mines. On January 28th a heavy bombardment whichfollowed the explosion of a small mine cost the Battalion 4 killed and 20 wounded.
A sharp crater fight near the line of the Battalion on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of February luckily brought the Worcestershire no serious casualties: the bulk of the loss fell on the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers, who attacked with great dash through the line held by the Battalion. On the evening of February 7th (on that day 7th Feb 1916, Major A. Whitty D.S.O. joined the 2nd Battalion as Quartermaster) the Battalion was relieved and marched back to billets in Bethune. The fortnight in the Auchy sector had cost the Battalion 8 killed and 45 wounded. A week later the 100th Brigade moved forward again, and after five days in billets at Annequin (February 13th to 18th) the Battalion took over the Cuinchy trenches just south of the Canal. Two days later a German mine was exploded near our front line and sharp bombing fights followed. Apart from a three days' rest in Annequin (February 22nd to 25th) the Battalion held the Cuinchy trenches until February 28th. Casualties 2nd Worcestershire February 18th to 28th—3 killed, 17 wounded
Lieut.-Colonel L. M. Stevens
After a week of rest (February 29th to March 8th in Annequin and Oblinghem) the Battalion again took over trenches south of the Canal. Fighting in that sector had died down; presumably because the high explosive required for mines was needed at more vital sectors of the battle-front. The Cuinchy trenches were not uncomfortable and the weather had improved. Thenceforward the Spring months of 1916 brought no event of note to the 2nd Worcestershire. The Battalion remained in the area around Bethune, holding trenches at one part or another of the front just south of the La Bassèe Canal. Twice the companies had a definite rest (from 25th March to the 3rd April, from the 17th May to the 8th June.), lying in billets at Annequin or in Bethune itself. At other times, when temporarily out of the line the Battalion was billetted either in close support at Annequin or in reserve at Beuvry. No heavy fighting occurred during that period, nor were casualties heavy. In March the losses totalled 4 killed and 17 wounded, in April 2 killed, 1 officer (Captain F. H. Lawrence) and 24 men wounded, in-May 2 killed and 3 wounded and in June 1 officer (2/Lt. T. H. S. Senior) and 3 men killed and 19 wounded.The Bethune sector had indeed become by this time a quiet sector of the front; the centre of interest had shifted further south. On May 5th Lieut.-Colonel L. M. Stevens took over command of the 2nd Worcestershire, vice Lieut.-Colonel G. C. Lambton D.S.O. who was invalided home.
The long service of the 2nd Worcestershire in the area around Bethune closed with a brilliant little exploit. At the beginning of July demonstrations were made at many points along the British line in Artois and Flanders to assist the great attack on the Somme. Among those demonstrations was a raid carried out by the Battalion.
From June 24th onwards till July 1st the British guns had carried out a series of short bombardments in harmony with the greater bombardment in progress further south. The gunfire tore many gaps in the enemy's wire defences, and those gaps were kept open by systematic firing; day and night. One round every four minutes during each night. Plans for the raid were made carefully, and the raiding force was specially trained.
THE AUCHY RAID
Except for a heavy bombardment by the British artillery, the day of the 1st July passed quietly on the front of the 2nd Worcestershire. After dark the raiding force assembled: two companies of the Battalion, under Captain J. F. Leman. Volunteers crawled forward across "No Man's Land" and laid broad white tapes to mark paths through three selected gaps in the enemy's wire. Eight Stokes mortars were brought up and made ready for action.
At midnight the raiders filed out of the trenches and lay down in front of our wire. For a few minutes they waited in silence. Ten minutes after midnight the silence was rent by the explosion of a mine away to the left, at "Mine Point." The enemy's guns, imagining a raid at that point, opened fire in its direction. No sooner had they given tongue than (12.15 a.m.) the British artillery opened a barrage fire on the enemy's reserve line and a second British mine went up (12.18 a.m.) at the real objective, "Railway Point." As the mine exploded, the eight Stokes mortars began an intense bombardment (the Stokes mortars each fired 30 rounds a minute), a shower of Very lights was sent up from the British trenches and the two companies of the 2nd Worcestershire dashed forward. On the right 'C' Company, led by Captain C. H. Pigg, and on the left 'A' Company, led by Lieut. A. W. Roberts, charged across "No Man's Land" and flung themselves on the dazed Germans. The mine had been most effective; six dead Germans were found in the crater. The enemy's first and second lines were overrun, blocks were quickly established on the outer flanks under the protection of the barrage put down by the mortars, and then systematically the enemy's dugouts and mineshafts were bombed out and destroyed - Big portable charges of H.E. were carried across from the British trenches and thrown down the mine shafts.
Lance-Corporal W. Davis of the Battalion Signallers had accompanied the raiders and installed a telephone in the enemy's trench. Throughout the fight which followed, he kept his instrument in operation, enabling Captain Leman in the British front line to control the operations. L/Cpl. Davis was awarded the D.C.M.
The enemy fought stubbornly and made several attempts to retake the trench, by bombing from either flank. Those bombing attacks were met and repulsed. 2nd Lieutenant T. N. Wilmot, in particular, distinguished himself by great gallantry in that bombing fight. 2/Lieut. Wilmot was awarded the M.C.. For over an hour the Worcestershire lads raged up and down the enemy's defences, inflicting all the damage possible; then the signal for recall was given by a bugle from the British lines. The raiders clambered out of the German trenches and returned, amid flares and bursting shells, bringing with them much booty and eleven prisoners; all that survived of the German garrison. These were found to belong to the 242nd and 244th Reserve Regiments; which curiously enough, were the regiments which the 2nd Battalion had fought in October 1914 at Polygon Wood and at Gheluvelt.
The two companies reassembled in the reserve trenches and counted losses; those proved not to be heavy—2 killed and 15 badly wounded; though many more were slightly injured. Altogether a most successful little affair. Captain C. H. Pigg was awarded the M.C. for his gallant leadership in that raid.
Next night (June 2nd/3rd) the 2nd Worcestershire were relieved and moved back to billets at Beuvry. There the Battalion rested for three days. On July 6th, to the great regret of all ranks, Lieut.-Colonel L. M. Stevens left the Battalion to take over command of the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers.
That evening the Battalion marched eastward from Beuvry to Busnettes where the Battalion lay for the ensuing two days. On July 7th Maior T. K. Pardoe arrived and took over the command.
The Battalion had now seen the last of the Bethune trenches. Orders came for the 33rd Division to move south forthwith. After dark on July 8th the Battalion marched from Busnettes to Lillers Station and entrained. At 10-50 p.m. that night the train moved out of the station and carried the 2nd Worcestershire southwards to the Somme.
After an uncomfortable railway journey by night the 2nd Worcestershire detrained at Saleux Station, south of Amiens, early (6 a.m.) on July 9th, and marched nine miles to St. Sauveur. There dinners were eaten and the troops rested until 3 p.m. when orders were received to march again, this time eastward to Vecquemont, After a tiring march in great heat, the Battalion reached billets after dark (9 p.m.).
That arrival in the Somme area was a landmark in the memories of most of the officers and men of the Battalion. The beautiful countryside of Picardy was a welcome change from the dour and uninteresting levels of Flanders-and the ugly mining villages of Artois. The crowds of troops and all the paraphernalia of the great offensive had an inspiring effect, and morale rose high.
The Battalion lay at Vecquemont all day on July 10th, and then, next morning, marched onwards to Morlancourt, within close sound of the guns. For twenty-four hours the Battalion lay close in crowded billets. Then after dark (10 p.m.) on July 12th moved forward to bivouac at Becordel, close behind the original front line. The Battalion remained in that reserve position during the following day, in readiness for the opening of the great attack.
THE BATTLE OF BAZENTIN RIDGE
As the first glimmer of light showed on July 14th, the British artillery all along the line burst forth in an intense bombardment. The 2nd Worcestershire stood to arms and remained waiting until 10 a.m. Time as given by Brigade. Battalion Diary says about 9 a.m. Then at last orders came and the Battalion moved forward.
In front of them the attack had swept over the German defences. Bazentin-le-Grand had fallen, the ridge east of it had been stormed and the fighting troops had pushed forward into the valley on the further side. Only the German switch-line which ran along the ridge from High Wood to Pozieres prevented the attack from breaking through to Martinpuich and the open country beyond. The orders for the 33rd Division were to push up the slopes between the Bazentin-le-Petit and High Wood, to attack and carry the Switch Line and thus to clear the way for the cavalry who were already moving forward.
Those high hopes, however, were not fulfilled. Delays occurred, strong enemy counterattacks on both flanks hampered progress, and the 33rd Division did not come into action. The 2nd Worcestershire marched at 10 a.m. together with the other battalions of the 100th Brigade up the main road to Fricourt. Then a halt was ordered, and the Worcestershire companies spent most of the day sitting by the roadside in the ruins of that village, watching near-by batteries. Not until 3 p.m. did orders come to move. The Battalion fell in. The Brigade marched forward to Mametz village and thence up the steep valley east of Mametz Wood. There the Brigade halted for the night, and the Battalion took up position close to Flatiron Copse. The platoons dug shelter trenches for cover from the hostile shell-fire, which continued intermittently throughout the hours of darkness: both high explosive and lachrymatory shells were sent over into the valley, and there was but little sleep. Greatcoats had perforce been left behind and all ranks were bitterly cold before the dawn. A field battery close in front fired continuously throughout the night.
Dawn of July 15th brought heavy mist. In the mist the Battalion fell in, and the Brigade moved forward into the battle. Eastward the Brigade marched past Bazentin-le-Grand, across ground littered with debris and wounded men. Eventually the Brigade formed up in the valley due south of High Wood.
The 2nd Worcestershire were in reserve to the Brigade. Immediately in front, the 16th Kings Royal Rifles were in support along a track which we will term "The Lower Road." A mile to the northward, the front line battalions of the Brigade, the 1st Queen's and the Glasgow Highlanders, were deployed for attack along what we will term "The Upper Road," their right flank being close to High Wood. That wood was believed to have been occupied by troops of the 7th
Operations around Bazentin on the 15th July 1916
At 9 a.m. the front battalions of the 100th Brigade advanced to attack the German Switch Line on the Ridge. At once it became obvious that High Wood had not been cleared; from the north-west corner of the Wood an enfilade fire of machine-guns held up the attack. Inside the wood fighting was in progress. To assist our troops there the 16th K.R.R.C. were sent to the wood, followed by 'C' and 'D' Companies of the 2nd Worcestershire.
Orders were then issued for the remainder of the Battalion to renew the attack on the Switch Line. 'A' and 'B' Companies advanced under fire across the open to the original front line of the Brigade; but under the enfilade fire from the Wood it was not possible further to gain ground.
In the Wood a confused struggle was raging. High Wood was, at that date, a dense wood in full leaf, with undergrowth so thick that it was not possible to see more than twenty yards. Many narrow rides ran through the wood at unexpected angles.
Captain C. H. Pigg led 'C' Company into the wood. Ordering his platoons to lie down he went forward to ascertain the situation. There were many troops in the wood, both of the 16th K.R.R's. and of the 7th Division, but all were disorganised and could tell nothing. Captain Pigg went on until stopped by a burst of fire from a German machine-gun at short range. He brought up his company, but the enemy position was too strong for an unsupported assault; so 'C' Company took up position in the wood and began to entrench, while arrangements were made for artillery support. 'D' Company was brought up: but the company commander, Captain L. G. Lawrence, was hit and further progress was impossible.
During the afternoon German batteries from both north and north-west commenced a severe bombardment. Casualties in the wood were numerous, and the mixed troops became even more disorganised. As evening came on the enemy counter-attacked in force from the north. The troops of the 7th Division fell back from the wood, but the two Worcestershire companies held their ground. A message from the C.O. of the Glasgow Highlanders to 100th Brigade Headquarters sent at 6.10 p.m., after reporting that the 7th Division had been driven from the Wood, adds "Worcesters are standing firm." The message is in existence in the official War Diary of the Brigade. The companies of the Battalion altered their positions several times during the evening as the fighting swayed to and fro, but when darkness fell the Worcestershire, much intermixed with other units, were still holding on to the south-western edge of the Wood. Not until 3 a.m. was the Battalion relieved by fresh troops, and ordered back into reserve by Mametz Wood. There the remnants of the 100th Brigade were collected, and rested in Divisional Reserve during the next two days. In that day's fighting the four battalions of the Brigade had lost more than 1,300 officers and men. Casualties of 2nd Worcestershire are only available for the whole period 15th to 22nd July 1916. The losses on the 15th included 4 officers wounded:—(Capt. L. G. Lawrence, Lieut. B. C. C. Tipper, 2/Lieut. A. E. Prosser, 2/Lieut. E. F. W. H. Kevill-Davies).
The 17th of July is now officially regarded as the closing date of the Battle of Bazentin Ridge. By that date the British Headquarters had realised that the impetus of the main attack had spent itself. The German second line had been broken and captured from Longueval to Pozières, many guns and prisoners had been captured and the success was of good augury for future victory. But the unexpected strength of the enemy's switch-line and the strength of the German counter-attacks in High Wood and Delville Wood, had prevented that breakthrough for which the Staff had hoped. The ground gained by the attack formed a sharp salient which invited counter-attack from the east. It was decided that the main strength of the Fourth Army should be used to enlarge the salient on the eastern side, towards Guillemont and Ginchy. At the same time, operations were to be carried out against High Wood and the German Switch Line, with a view to gaining ground, in preparation for a renewed attack in that direction. On the left the troops of the Reserve Army would continue their steady pressure on the enemy, and would endeavour to capture Pozieres.
HIGH WOOD (Second Phase)
Ever since the great attack on July 14th, fighting had surged and eddied along the ridge on which High Wood stands. The Wood was so definite a vantage-point, overlooking, as it does, all ground both to north and south that both sides were resolute, the British to take and the Germans to hold it. The 7th Division had made repeated efforts to take the Wood by attack from the south; but all efforts had failed; and it had now been decided to attack from the south-west. The renewed attack was to be made by the 33rd Division.
So it was that the 2nd Worcestershire came back into the battle line. From the 16th to the 19th of July the Battalion had rested in reserve in Mametz Wood, shelled at intervals but suffering no loss. At evening on July 19th came orders to move forward.
After the fighting on July 16th the British line west of High Wood had been drawn back from the Wood to the spur on which stood the Windmill, east of Bazentin-le-Petit. The new attack was to be made from that spur, across the intervening valley, against the south-western face of the Wood. The attack was to be delivered by the 19th Brigade. To protect the left flank of the attacking troops the 2nd Worcestershire were to be attached to the 19th Brigade and were to hold a line above the "Upper Road," facing the German Switch Line.
At 9.30 p.m. the Battalion left Mametz Wood, and moved forward in the darkness through the ruins of Bazentin-le-Petit to the Cemetery. There Battalion Headquarters were established and 'A' Company was established in reserve trenches. The other companies moved forward to the "Five Cross-roads" north of the cemetery and thence extended into position. No enemy were encountered, and the line desired was taken up: 'B' and 'D' Companies in front line along the road, with 'C' Company in support.
Covered by that disposition of the Battalion, the 19th Brigade formed up on Windmill Spur during the night, and at 2 a.m. advanced across the valley to the south-western face of High Wood. The rustle of their movement was drowned by a heavy bombardment, which rose to intensity shortly before the assault was delivered. At 3.30 a.m. the battalions of the 19th Brigade plunged into the Wood.
Heavy firing then became general all along the line. Dawn broke. The sun rose behind High Wood, and the line of posts held by the 2nd Worcestershire was heavily shelled as daylight disclosed them to the enemy; but no counter-attack was attempted from the Switch Line. All day the Worcestershire companies held their ground under heavy fire, while in High Wood the fighting swayed to and fro. Not until late that night was the issue decided. After dark a German counterattack, delivered in great strength, finally forced the attacking troops out of the northern portion of the Wood. The remnant of the 19th Brigade fell back across the open and at 9.30 p.m. the 2nd Worcestershire received orders to evacuate their positions along the Upper Road and withdrew to the
Windmill Ridge. The night was dark, and the movement was not executed without considerable difficulty. The Battalion was ordered to relieve in the new position some troops of the 7th Division (20th Manchester); at the same time other fresh troops were coming up on the left. The proceedings were complicated by a heavy bombardment and a barrage of gas-shells. Eventually, just before dawn, the new line was satisfactorily established. The 2nd Worcestershire took over the southern end of the spur from the Windmill to the road. On their left flank, the line from the Windmill round the northern end of the village of Bazentin-le-Petit was occupied by a battalion of the 19th Division; which, the 2nd Battalion were surprised to find, was the 10th Battalion of the Regiment.
Orders had now been issued for the withdrawal of the 33rd Division, and at 10 p.m. the 2nd Worcestershire were relieved in the line by the 9th Royal Scots of the 51st Division. Not for many months were the 2nd and the 10th Battalions again to meet in the field. After their relief from the line, the 2nd Worcestershire marched back by companies out of the battle, and in the early hours of July 22nd the Battalion went into bivouac at Becourt. Twenty-four hours later, the march was resumed, and the Battalion tramped onward to a prepared bivouac west of the Ancre, between Albert and Dernancourt. Thenceforward to the end of the month the 2nd Battalion remained in that bivouac camp, resting and training. Casualties, 2nd Worcestershire, 15th to 22nd July:— 26 killed. 8 officers (Capt. L. G. Lawrence, Lieut. B. C. C. Tipper, 2/Lieut. A. E. Prosser, 2,/Lieut. E. F. W. H. Kevill-Davies (on 15th), 2/Lieut. J. C. Miners (on 20th), 2/Lieut. O. V. Arnold, Capt. C. H. Pigg, 2/Lieut. A. W. E. Christie (on 21st) and 141 N.C.O's. and men wounded, 30 missing.
On August 7th the battalions of the 100th Brigade moved forward from their rest camp south of Albert, and the 2nd Worcestershire relieved the 6th Seaforth (of the 51st (Highland) Division) in trenches on the south-east edge of High Wood, facing eastward. On their left the Glasgow Highlanders held trenches which ran through
the shattered stumps of High Wood itself.
The position was unsatisfactory: constant fighting had hitherto prevented any effective consolidation and the trenches were shallow and dangerous. During the following day there were many casualties one officer, 2/Lieut. F. C. Worster, being wounded while directing work on new defences. For the Battalion, dissatisfied with the position, was working hard to construct a new line in advance of that previously held. The new trench was complete by August 9th and was thereafter known as "Worcester Trench" (see plan).
On the evening of August 10th the Battalion was relieved by the 16th K.R.R.C. and moved back into Brigade Reserve in Mametz Wood. Three days later the 100th Brigade went back into Divisional Reserve, and the 2nd Worcestershire marched back to bivouac near Becordel. Casualties 2nd Worcestershire, August 6th to 13th —,3 killed, 2 officers and 37 men wounded, 3 missing. For a week they lay there resting and training. Then the 100th Brigade were ordered to take over a new section of the line and on the evening of August 19th the Worcestershire relieved a Rifle battalion of the 14th Division in trenches on the edge of Delville Wood.
Ever since July 14th Delville Wood had been the scene of heavy and continuous fighting, and by the middle of August, the Wood was a forest of splintered tree stumps, littered with the bodies of the dead. From the position of the Battalion (see plan) patrols were sent into the wood to gain touch with the 14th Division. But in that grim labyrinth the patrols failed to find the position of the flanking battalion holding "Devils Trench."
In front, the enemy were maintaining a stubborn defence, and were constantly improving their positions. Just then they were working busily on a new forward trench (see plan) connecting their strongholds in Delville Wood with "Tea Trench" further to the north. That work could not be allowed to proceed unmolested, and in August 20th orders were issued for an attack that night.
It was intended that the attack should be made by the 2nd Worcestershire and the Glasgow Highlanders: but mistakes and delays occurred, and unfortunately the Worcestershire companies did not reach the assembly positions in time for the attack. The Highlanders attacked alone, very gallantly but without success and with heavy loss. The affair caused considerable feeling. On the evening of August 22nd the 2nd Worcestershire were relieved and were drawn back into the reserve trenches. Casualties 2nd Worcestershire, August 20th to 23rd — 2/Lieut. W. G. Pandfield and 17 men killed, 35 wounded.
That rest was preparatory to a big attack. It had been decided, to; make a great effort to clear Delville Wood; and the Wood could not be secured unless the flanking trenches were also taken. The 100th Brigade would attack from "Orchard Trench" and take both the new German forward position and also "Tea Trench." The attack was to be made by the 2nd Worcestershire on the right, the 16th K.R.R.C. and the 1st Queens on the centre and left of the Brigade's front.
Throughout August 23rd the 2nd Worcestershire rested in the reserve trenches: then before dawn next day the Battalion moved up into the front-line trenches from which the assault was to be delivered. During August 23rd to 25th the 2nd Worcestershire were commanded by Major J. F. Leman, Lieut.-Colonel Pardoe being back in the transport lines. Captains E. Lattey and E. S. Aplin rejoined the Battalion as it moved up for the attack. Both were much distinguished in the battle.
Delville Wood - 20th August 1916
THE BATTLE OF DELVILLE WOOD
The morning of August 24th passed calmly, with some intermittent shelling, but with no notable incident to disturb the troops ; who dozed as best they could, packed close in the narrow trenches. Slowly the hot day wore on towards a beautiful summer's evening.
Shortly before 4 p.m. the casual shell-fire of the British artillery increased to a definite bombardment, which became more intense as it went on. Delville Wood became a volcano with black and yellow smoke spouting up among the stripped stems of the trees. At 5-45 p.m. the guns further to the right lifted their fire, and the troops of the 14th Division in Delville Wood advanced to the attack. The German guns opened in reply and a storm of shells pounded the British trenches. For yet another hour the officers and men of the 2nd Worcestershire crouched under cover; their time was not yet come. At last (6.45 p.m.) the moment fixed for the assault arrived. The company officers blew their whistles and scrambled up "over the top." Like a pack of hounds their men
streamed out after them, shook out into line and advanced up the slope into the smoke and flame in front.
The Worcestershire platoons poured forward unchecked over the first German line—the enemy's new trench—capturing or killing such as survived of its defenders. Close to the curtain of bursting shells (at least one company passed through our barrage, and had to move in front of it) the troops plunged on over heavy ground, officers and men holding themselves in hand for the assault on "Tea Trench," the main enemy position. But that trench had been so shattered by the bombardment that its site was not recognised. The platoons passed right over the trench unawares, and sent back a message (received by Brigade at 7.42 p.m.) when the barrage checked that the shells were holding them up short of their objective. Presently the mistake was realised and the consolidation of the captured position was begun.
The right company of the Battalion had reached the road junction north of Delville Wood. They were on the down slope of the ridge and they could see in front of them the villages of Flers and Gueudecourt with open country beyond. The thrill of victory ran through all—it seemed so easy to break right through.
As darkness fell the enemy counter-attacked in Delville Wood. Presently it became clear that the troops of the 14th Division in the Wood on the right were being driven back. The situation was reported (received by Brigade at 9.31 p.m.), and an urgent message came that on no account was the Battalion to fall back and that a strong defensive flank was to be formed along the Flers—Longueval road. Captain W. Ferguson, the commander of the right flank company, organised his position as a sharp salient with its point at the road junction, and sent detachments into the Wood to assist the 14th Division; but no touch with the latter could, be gained. Captain Ferguson was wounded, but remained in command. He was awarded the M.C. Private H. C. Spencer of the Battalion, attached to the Brigade Trench Mortar Battery, was awarded the D.C.M. for bravery during this battle. During the bombardment he heard the striker of one of his bombs accidently fly off. He instantly seized the bomb and threw it out of the emplacement just before it burst.
All night, amid continuous shell-fire, the Worcestershire companies worked hard to strengthen the position gained. Before dawn the 1st Middlesex came up to take over the line, and company by company the 2nd Worcestershire withdrew, the last platoon left the front line about 7 a.m. In the reserve trenches the companies found food and rested till 5 p.m. Then, their places taken by fresh troops, the companies proceeded independently to Fricourt. There the Battalion assembled and, with drums beating, marched back triumphantly to bivouac west of Becourt. All ranks were in high spirits. They had "done
their job" thoroughly, and had wiped out any possible slur from the previous episode. The Glasgow Highlanders were the first to congratulate.them after the fight. Casualties 2nd Worcestershire, 24th August:— 8 officers (Lieut. F. W. Couran-Smith and 2/Lieut. T. N. Wilmot died of wounds. Wounded—Capt. W. Ferguson, Capt. E. Lattey, 2/Lieut, L. R. Tilling, Lieut. H. G. L. Ward, Lieut. R. F. Dunnett, 2/Lieut. B. G. T. Hawkes) and 141 N.C.O's. and men. Total casualties 2nd Worcestershire, 6th to 26th August — 11 officers, 46 N.C.O's., 302 privates.
The Battalion lay in bivouac till August 29th resting, cleaning up, and receiving congratulatory messages. Then the 33rd Division moved back out of the line and the 2nd Worcestershire marched westwards to billets in Ribemont.
During the early autumn the 2nd Worcestershire had passed a fairly peaceful time. After moving back from the great battlefield, the Battalion had marched eastward six miles on September 1st from Molliens to Talnas and thence on the following day twelve miles by Naours, Havernas, Canaples and Bernaville to billets at Ribeaucourt. There the Battalion rested for two days. Then the 33rd Division moved north, and the 2nd Worcestershire marched on September 4th by St. Acheul across the valley of the River Authie to billets at Noeux. Thence again northwards on the following day to Croisette and then eastwards, by Maisnil and Ternas to Gouy-en-Ternois. After one day's rest there, the 33rd Division moved south and on September 8th the 2nd Worcestershire were carried in motor busses from Monts-en-Ternois, through Prevent back to Doullens, and thence eastward by L'Esperance to billets at Halloy. The "rest period" of the 33rd Division was ended, and on September 10th the Battalion marched eastward from Halloy to Humbercamp towards the sound of the guns.
Next evening the 2nd Worcestershire marched forward from Humbercamp to ruined Fonquevillers. The Battalion took over reserve trenches in that village from the 9th H.L.I, and remained there for over a week, finding big working parties. Casualties September 12th-19th, 2 wounded, one each on the 16th and 16th. During this period the following 2/Lieuts. joined:— 12th— R. B. W. Vinter, J. Pownall. 13th—F. L. Parker. 14th— J. O. Couldridge A FitzHugh, L. T. Flux, H. P. Phillips, P. E. Vidler, R. W. A. Watts, R. Harrison.
On September 20th the Battalion moved up to the front trenches and relieved the 1st Queens. Then for a week the 2nd Worcestershire held the line and were intermittently shelled and bombed. Recent rain had put the trenches into bad condition and all available men were fully employed on their repair. Casualties September 20th to 26th, 1 officer (2/Lieut. A. W. Cale) and two men wounded. On the final night of the tour (26th/27th) 2/Lieut. A. W. E. Christie of the Battalion patrolling in "No Man's Land" between the lines fell down a disused well-shaft in the darkness and was killed.
On the evening of September 27th the Battalion was relieved, and marched back to billets in Souastre. Thence next day the Battalion marched northward through Gaudiempre to Sombrin, and on the following day eastward in pouring rain to Sus-St-Leger. A short march on September 30th brought the Battalion to good billets in Le Souich. At that village the Battalion lay for the ensuing three weeks, resting and training, together with the other battalions of the 100th Brigade.
At the end of October 1916, as the 1st and 4th Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment moved back from the Transloy Ridges, the 2nd Battalion of
the Regiment advanced into the battle area. After their long rest at Le Souich the 2nd Worcestershire had moved south (march to Bouquemaison. French busses to La Neuville. March to Corbie) on October 19th to billets in Corbie. Two days later (October 21st) the 100th Brigade marched forward to Meaulte. The Battalion was now in fine training and the marching was very good - the Battalion Diary notes; "No one fell out and the men marched past the Divisional Commander very well". From Meaulte the Brigade marched eastward next day to "Mansell Camp" south of Mametz. On October 25th a move forward was made to "Briqueterie Camp" near Montauban. There the Battalion lay for a week in the midst of the devastated area, finding big working parties in every direction. The weather, as we have already seen, was atrocious, and the thunder of the guns in front was incessant. At last, on the evening of October 30th, the Battalion moved up to the line.
We have seen how little success had hitherto attended the efforts of the Fourth Army to fight its way forward through the heavy mud of the Transloy Ridges. Now the fresh 33rd Division had been brought up to relieve the weary 4th Division at Les Boeufs.
After dark on October 30th the 2nd Worcestershire marched forward from their camp by Montauban and made their way, through rain and heavy mud past Pommier's Redoubt, where the 4th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment were bivouacked, past Trones Wood, where the straggling platoons of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment were even then assembling, past the ruins of Ginchy, forward to the tangle of trenches around Les Boeufs. There the 2nd Worcestershire took over a section of the front line from the 5th Scottish Rifles (of the 19th Brigade), and settled as best they could into the muddy ditches under pouring rain. Their position was called "Frost" Trench, and on their right in "Slush" Trench were the 9th H.L.I. Beyond that battalion was the point of junction with the left flank of the French Sixth Army, which in the preceding weeks had gained a good deal of ground.
Co-operation between the French and British Armies had not proved easy, and the French, after working forward along the eastern side of a low spur (see plan below) were now considerably in advance of the British line on the spur's western slope. The British advance had been held up by a group of German trenches known as "Hazy" and "Boritzka" Trenches, with "Mirage" Trench in support behind "Boritzka." The gun-fire had beaten the ground into pulp, and though the opposing positions were officially termed "trenches," they were in reality little more than irregular lines of shell-holes, consolidated and more or less connected, but extremely difficult to locate and to observe.
Already several previous attacks against "Hazy" and "Boritzka" Trenches had failed and now the 100th Brigade was to try its luck. The attack was fixed for the following evening (November 1st).
As the dawn of November 1st lit up the battle-field it was seen that "Frost" Trench, held by the 2nd Worcestershire, was separated from the German position in "Hazy Trench" by a low crest-line, which effectively prevented any real knowledge of the dispositions of the enemy.
All day long the front line of the Battalion was heavily shelled: so heavily shelled that it was necessary to withdraw most of the platoons from the trench to a line of shell-holes in rear. During the morning Captain W. Ferguson was shot dead by a German sniper—a most serious loss, for he had proved himself a very gallant leader.
As the afternoon wore on, the fire of the British artillery grew heavier and rose suddenly to intensity at "zero" — 3.30 p.m. Then, as the guns lifted their fire, the 9th H.L.I, and 2nd Worcestershire, 'A' and 'B' Companies with 'C' and 'D' were in reserve, advanced through the mud to attack "Boritzka" and "Hazy" Trenches. Never had the Battalion struggled through a worse morass. The laden soldiers sank up to their knees in the mud, hauling out each foot with the utmost difficulty and in many cases losing their boots and putties. Slowly the attacking line waded forward up the slight slope. As they reached the crest of the little rise which hid the enemy from view they were met by a storm of bullets.
From "Hazy" Trench in front, from another German position on their left flank at the end of the spur (see plan below), and from the Cemetery on the crest of the ridge beyond, groups of German machine-guns opened rapid fire. Under that fire the attack could not gain ground, officers and men fell on every side, and the remainder were driven to such shelter as they could find amid the water-logged shell-holes. When darkness came, the survivors waded back to their original line. The failure had been due to the mud and to the weather conditions as much as to the enemy's fire. Casualties 2nd Worcestershire — 1 officer (2/Lieut. L. T. Flux) and 9 men killed, 67 wounded, 14 missing. The losses of the 9th H.L.I, were rather heavier.
The following day (November 2nd) was uneventful, the Battalion Diary says; "a fairly quiet day, but the men were very exhausted and wet from the effects of the attack and the weather". In the evening the companies were relieved by the 16th K.RJR.C. and moved back into reserve trenches near Les Boeufs. There the Battalion lay for two days, resting, cleaning up, and finding working parties to assist a fresh attack on "Boritzka" Trench, which was made by the 1st Queen's in the evening of November 3rd. That attack, like the preceding one, failed completely. "Boritzka" seemed untakable.
"The state of the trenches," recorded the Brigade Diary, "had now become so bad that the men arrived in the trenches in a state of physical exhaustion and in many cases had to be assisted out of the mud. The difficulties of getting up rations and stores had also now considerably increased, it having rained almost continuously since the Brigade came into the line." Nevertheless it was decided that the advance must go on, and that somehow "Boritzka" must be taken.
A new plan was tried. Instead of another frontal attack, the next attack against "Boritzka" should be made from the flank where the French held the line. Arrangements were made between the staffs of the two Armies, and meanwhile the British guns redoubled their fire. On November 4th the British 6-in. Howitzers fired 2,000 rounds at "Hazy," "Mirage" and "Boritzka" trenches, adding another 2,000 shell-holes to the ground in front.
After dark (6 p.m.) on November 4th the 2nd Worcestershire left their reserve trenches behind Les Boeufs and marched in single file along interminable duck-board tracks into the French lines. Then, led by French guides, the Battalion moved forward into position close behind a sunken lane, which was occupied by the foremost groups of the French battalion. In the darkness the companies deployed and lay down: 'D' Company in front, then in succession 'C', 'B,' and 'A'. The total strength of the four companies was 14 officers and about 300 other ranks, the latter being mostly young soldiers newly arrived from home. All arrangements were concerted with the French officers. French and British runners were stationed together in relay posts, and the French Battalion Commander (The French unit was the 1st Battalion of the 66th Regiment) welcomed Colonel Pardoe of the 2nd Worcestershire in his Headquarters in "Thunder Trench." It was arranged that the attack next day (5th November) should be made at 11 a.m.
A terrific storm of rain beat down, with much lightning. Through the rain came German shells but in that slough many of them failed to explode. Presently the rain passed: the night became quiet and very cold.
The companies set to work to dig themselves in. As they worked, the officers noticed a favourable sign. The wind, which for days had brought rain from the west, was changing; and soon it blew from the east, bitter cold indeed but rapidly drying the mud.
Dawn broke and the troops crouched in the cover they had made. In front of them, beyond the sunken road, a low crest-line, as before, hid the enemy's position.
With the first light a German aeroplane drifted overhead. The enemy machine suddenly dived down to the position of the Battalion, circled close above the crowded companies, rose again amid a splutter of firing and made off to the eastward. Urged by their officers the troops dug feverishly
while there was yet time.
Twenty minutes later German shells came crashing down about the flimsy trenches, mostly not more than 4 foot deep by that time. The troops huddled close in their cover. The bombardment continued fiercely and without intermission. The two leading companies suffered many casualties. Both the company commanders, Captain H. M. Eyles and Captain E. J. L. Warlow were killed, and all the other officers of 'D' Company were hit. Hour after hour the bombardment continued, while the platoons lay close among the shell-holes.
Precisely at 11 a.m. the British artillery suddenly opened an intense fire. Thirteen minutes later the word was given to advance. The four companies of the 2nd Worcestershire scrambled to their feet and pushed forward to the attack. 'D' Company, the leading "wave" had already lost all their officers. Lieutenant Bennett, commanding 'C' Company, went forward to them, started them off, led by their N.C.O's. and then returned to lead his own Company.
2nd Lieut. Jack Oswald Couldridge
The attack was met by a storm of fire. A barrage of heavy shells crashed down along the sunken lane, and through the shell-bursts could be heard the stammer of machine-guns.
Led by a few brave N.C.O's., 'D' Company advanced through the barrage across the sunken road and up the slope. Close behind followed the other three companies. As he reached the sunken road, Lieut. E. P. Bennett, commanding 'C' Company was struck down by a shell-burst. He collapsed half-stunned into the lane, where his wounds were bandaged by a kindly Frenchman. Dazed by the shock, he watched the two rear companies pass forward through the fire. Beside him in the sunken lane he found other wounded men; among them a Sergeant (believed to have been Sergt. Isaac Darby ) and a little 2nd Lieutenant (2/Lieut. Jack Oswald Couldridge). Together they peered forward through the smoke of the German barrage. For a moment the smoke drifted aside, and they could see the situation in front. The attack had stopped. The last few N.C.O's. of 'D' Company had been hit, two German machine-guns from the right flank had raked the line, and the young soldiers, brave enough but utterly bewildered, had halted and lain down. The other companies had closed up to them and had likewise stopped. All four companies were crowded in the open under a fierce fire.
The little group in the trench were horror-struck. "God !" cried the little 2nd Lieutenant "Are we going to fail again?" The wounded Sergeant grasped the situation and tore at the steep bank to make a step. "The boys will go on all right if there's someone to lead them" he said: he clambered up and dashed forward into the fire. Twenty yards from the trench he was struck and fell. Close on his heels followed the little 2nd Lieutenant.
Lieutenant Bennett found a spade and cut himself a step in the embankment. Then he too ran forward through the bursting shells. As he ran, he passed the little 2nd Lieutenant struck dead. Still grasping the spade, he reached the troops, dashed through them and signalled them to advance. The whole Battalion rose behind him and flooded forward in one wave over the crest-line and down on to the flank of the German trenches.
From the front and from the right flank came a hail of bullets from the German machine-guns; but the ground was so broken that the platoons afforded no constant target as they struggled down into and up out of the countless shell-holes . . . . "we were like a swarm of rats in a ploughed field" (Lieut. E. P. Bennett). Before that onslaught the German garrisons of "Mirage" and "Boritzka" trenches gave way. Such as survived of the enemy fell back across the broken ground, and Lieutenant Bennett led the attack forward along the whole length of the objective. Then, in pursuance of their orders, the 2nd Worcestershire faced to their right and pushed forward down the slope for some five hundred yards. Orders were given to dig in, and the remnant of the Battalion consolidated a new line beyond the captured ground.
Battle of Le Transloy - 5th November 1916
The enemy actively disputed the advance, and the new line was entrenched under a hot fire of musketry from close range. Lieut. E. M. Holland, who had shown great gallantry throughout the attack, was shot and killed during the work of entrenchment. At first the new position was dangerously isolated, but presently an officer of the 16th King's Royal Rifles made his way forward to the line. His battalion had captured "Hazy Trench" and had made good their ground. The left flank of the Worcestershire was thereby secured.
The survivors of the Battalion held their ground all the rest of that day, answering shot by shot and digging themselves into cover. They were exposed to a fierce fire all the afternoon and there were many casualties. Great gallantry was shown by 2/Lieut. R. W. A. Watts, who reorganised his men and carried out a dangerous patrol to the front, in which he was wounded. 2/Lieut, Watts was awarded the M.C. After dark came relief. The 5th Scottish Rifles took over the captured line and the Worcestershire moved back. Very few were left of the four companies. Lieutenant Bennett could muster not more than about 60 all told, with one young subaltern besides himself. The little force marched back through the French lines, where they were heartily congratulated, to Battalion Headquarters at Les Boeufs. Thence the Battalion moved back up the communication trenches to Guillemont, which was reached at dawn of November 6th. Casualties, 2nd Worcestershire, November 5th, were given officially as follows:— Killed 3 officers 15 other ranks. Wounded 2 officers, 66 other ranks. Missing one officer (believed killed) and 21 other ranks; but those figures are certainly understated. Besides the two Captains named above, 2/Lieuts. J. O. Couldridge and E. M. Holland were killed. Lieut. E. P. Bennett and 2/Lieut. R. W. A. Watts were wounded, among others. The actual loss was over 200. The Battalion War Diaries at this period are very defective.
There all slept soundly until roused in the afternoon by the arrival of a relieving battalion; which proved to be none other than the 1st Worcestershire. After hearty mutual greetings, the 2nd Worcestershire fell in and tramped back westward past Montauban to a camp "in a very muddy field" near Fricourt. For two days the Battalion rested and cleaned up. On November 9th the Brigadier inspected the Battalion and read a message of congratulation from the Regimental Commander of the French 66th Regiment. Next day the Battalion marched by Meaulte to Buire station and entrained for the back areas to rest and train. Their part in the battle was over; and Lieutenant Bennett's bravery and fine leadership were fitly rewarded with the Victoria Cross.
The 33rd Division moved forward during the first week of December to take over the southern sector of the new front of the XVth Corps. Since November 10th the 2nd Worcestershire had been resting and training at Longpre, the Battalion had detrained at Airaines on November 10th and had marched to billets in Longpre. On December 4th (This is the date given in the Brigade diary. The Battalion diary says 3rd December) the Battalion quitted their billets and entrained at Longpre Station. That evening the Battalion detrained at Mericourt and marched forward to billets at Morlancourt.
Lieut. E. P. Bennett V.C.
Thence on the following day the Battalion moved by slow stages into the new areas, moving forward from camp to camp near Bray on the banks of the Somme until, on December 9th, the 100th Brigade took over from the French their allotted section of the line, and the 2nd Worcestershire relieved the 2nd Battalion of the French 37th Regiment in support trenches near Le Priez Farm. On the night of December llth/12th the Battalion relieved the 9th H.L.I, in the front line. There the trenches held by the Battalion faced the big shattered wood of St. Pierre Vaast, along the edge of which ran the enemy's trench-line. The weather was bad and the trenches were wet and uncomfortable. The troops suffered severely. The enemy, equally unhappy, showed little hostility and there were few actual casualties during four days in the front line; casualties 2nd Worcestershire, December 9th to 14th — 2 killed, 1 officer (Lieut. S. W. Jones, on night 11th/12th) and 2 men wounded. However, "trench foot" and frost bite claimed many victims, with 85 evacuated on December 15th.
After a four days rest (December 14th/18th) the 100th Brigade took over trenches' to the right of those previously held and came into line immediately north of Bouchavesnes. After three days in support position at Petit Bois, the 2nd Worcestershire went into the front line on the night of December 22nd/23rd.
British Front-Line Trenches as at 12th December 1916
2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment positions - 1 to 1 position on the 12th December 1916 and 2 to 2 position on the 22nd December 1916
Between Christmas Day and the New Year many moves took place. On Boxing Day the 2nd Worcestershire were relieved from the front-line trenches (b), and struggled out of the mud and slush to positions in reserve. There the troops had hot tea and changed their boots. Then the companies marched to Maurepas, where busses met the Battalion and carried them to a crowded camp beyond Bray. After twenty-four hours rest the Battalion moved back by
train to Longpre and marched thence to billets at Ailly; where, on December 28th, the 2nd Worcestershire settled down to rest and train.