2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 1917
During the first days of 1917 it was decided that the front held by the British Armies in France should be extended southward. The first action taken was the extension of the front of the British XVth Corps down to the River Somme, and early in January orders were issued that the 33rd Division (including the 2nd Worcestershire) should take over the line immediately north of the River. Later it was decided that the area south of the Somme should be taken over, and at the end of January orders were issued that several British Divisions should move forward from reserve and should relieve French Divisions in that new area. Among the Divisions affected were both the 48th and the 61st Divisions, and thus both the "First-Line" and the "Second-Line" Territorial Battalions of the Regiment found themselves under orders for that new sector of the front.
The first part taken by the Regiment in the occupation of the new front fell, as we have said, to the 2nd Battalion. Leaving their training billets at Ailly-le-Clocher on January 20th the 2nd Worcestershire moved by road and rail, march to Longpré then train to Bray, where the Battalion went into camp. Thence on January 23rd the Battalion marched forward to Suzanne. The 100th Brigade was now in Divisional Reserve: in front, the other Brigades of the 33rd Division had already taken over the line north of the Somme from the French.
British Front-Line Trenches as at January-Feburary 1917
2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment positions - 1 to 1 position on the 30th January 1917 and 2 to 2 position on the 16th Feburary 1917
Four days later the 100th Brigade moved forward and the 2nd Worcestershire, at first in Brigade Reserve, went into dugouts in Howitzer Wood.
On the last day of the month the Battalion moved up to the line, and relieved the 9th H.L.I, in trenches on the crest line of the spur which runs south-westward from Bouchavesnes to Clery.
To their left the village of Bouchavesnes was held by the 4th Division: north of that village the line facing St. Pierre Vaast Wood was held by the 8th Division, and the right flank battalion of that Division was the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.
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. Throughout the first weeks in February the Battalion held trenches just north of the Somme or billets behind that line. Battalion were in the frontline January 31st to February 5th. Casualties; 6 wounded. February 16th to 19th. Casualties, one officer (2/Lieut. W. M. Cooper) killed. Battalion in reserve trenches Frize Bend February 6th to 10th, in billets at Suzanne February 10th to 16th, in reserve trenches at Howitzer Wood February 19th to 24th. In the middle of the month orders were received for an organised raid on the opposing trenches, to discover the identity of the German troops. Volunteers were called for, and those selected were specially trained.
On February 24th the Battalion again moved up to the front line on the Clery Spur. Then followed two days of hard work in preparation for the raid. It was intended to be a somewhat novel operation. Two raids were planned, first a small raid of 50 men shortly after dark, followed by a much larger raid of 150 men five hours later. This procedure was intended both to puzzle the enemy and also to gain information by the first attack which would prove useful to the second raid.
The point selected for the raid was an inviting salient in the German line, known as "Pekly Bulge."
The night of February 27th/28th was selected for the operation. The raiders took up positions of readiness. They were specially accoutred for the operation: neither web equipment nor distinguishing badges were worn, but each man wore his leather jerkin, steel helmet and gas mask.
THE CLERY RAID
The evening of February 27th was fine and calm and the moon had already set when at 8.43 p.m. the first raiding force, 3 officers and 57 men (2 officers and 50 men of the Regiment, 1 officer and 7 sappers of the R.E.) under 2/Lieut. E. L. Hopkins, dashed forward against the German line. The raiders were organised in three parties, each working independently. The attack was covered by a hurricane of fire from Stokes-mortars, rifle-grenades and Lewis-guns, while the scene was lighted by a shower of Very lights fired from the British trenches.
All went well: the attack penetrated the German defences, and after a short, but successful fight up and down the trenches the raiders withdrew, bringing with them 7 prisoners. When they had safely reassembled in our own trenches their losses were found to have been no more than one
officer and 10 men, all wounded.
The German artillery retaliated fiercely for some time; then the firing died down and a comparative quiet ensued, broken by successive bursts of fire from the British Lewis-guns to prevent the enemy from repairing their broken defences.
As silently as possible, the second raiding force assembled, 170 strong under 2/Lieut. E. A. O. Durlacher, 5 officers and 150 men of the Regiment and 1 officer and 16 sappers of the R.E. By midnight all were in position and 2/Lieut. Durlacher had established his headquarters in a saphead facing the "Bulge." At 12.43 a.m. the three parties into which the attackers were organised filed out of the trenches and lay down in front. Just after 1 a.m. the mortars and Lewis-guns again opened their heaviest fire and the raiders dashed forward. They were met by a heavy fire, but the enemy shot wildly and were swiftly overrun. In the glimmering light provided by flares and shell-bursts a wild fight went on in the German salient. As a countersign to prevent confusion "FIRM" had been given, and "FIRM" the raiders shouted as they worked their way up and down with bomb and bayonet. The enemy at once attempted a counter-attack, and fought their way forward along the trench—big men, fighting furiously. For a moment the situation was critical, but Sergeant G. W. Grinnell organised those around him, blocked the trench, and held the enemy back in a desperate bombing fight. The commander of the raiders, 2/Lieut. Durlacher, accompanied by a bugler and a small party of signallers, moved forward from the British saphead to the German trenches. There he established a telephone station and calmly reported operations in the midst of the fighting.
The Clery Raid (27th/28th February 1917)
For another half-hour bombing, bayonetting, and the destruction of dugouts, was continued, while the artillery of both sides kept up an intense fire. Then, at 2 a.m., Lieut. Durlacher's bugler gave the prearranged signal to retire—the "Fire Alarm" bugle call followed by "Come to the Cookhouse Door" and last of all the "Officers Mess" call. The raiders fell back across "No Man's Land" bringing with them much booty and a niimber of prisoners.
When the prisoners were examined it was found that the raided enemy were really "the Prussian Guard"—the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Guard Grenadier Regiment. Sixteen prisoners had been taken and the raiders estimated that at least another fifty of the Prussian Guardsmen had been left dead in their trenches. Our own casualties had been about sixty, nearly all wounded. 2/Lieut. W. Heyes killed. Six missing, believed killed. Wounded two subalterns and 47 other ranks of the Regiment, one subaltern and six men of the Sappers.
That success brought the Battalion many congratulations. "The keenness displayed by all ranks of the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment," wrote the Brigadier, "deserves special mention. The knowledge that it has now successfully raided the lines of a Prussian Guards Regiment twice in one night will of course do much to maintain the splendid morale of the Battalion". For their gallant conduct in the Clery Raid, Lieut. Eric Alexander Ogilvie Durlacher and 2/Lieut. E. L. Hopkins were awarded the M.C. Sergt. G. W. Grinnell was awarded the D.C.M. Subsequently 2/Lieut. Walter B. Edwards of the Battalion, attached to the 100th Brigade Staff was also awarded the M.C.
After the raid the Battalion spent a further twenty-four hours in the Clery trenches and then, relieved by the 9th H.L.I., moved back into the support trenches. After two days more, the 100th Brigade moved back into Divisional reserve and the Battalion marched westwards to billets in Suzanne. The 33rd Division then moved back into reserve; and on March 6th the 2nd Worcestershire tramped back through Bray to Corbie, where the Battalion settled down to training. At Corbie reinforcements joined, including Lieut. H. C. Downes and Lieut. R. F. Barker.
The 2nd Worcestershire marched northwards at the same time. Leaving Corbie on April 2nd the Battalion marched through Querieu, Allonville, and Coisy, to billets in Bertangles, and then on the next day by Villers-Bocage, Talmas, and Vert-Galand, to Beauval. On April 4th the Battalion marched on through Doullens and Bouquemaison to billets in Neuvilette.
On April 5th the 2nd and 4th Worcestershire almost exchanged billets, for the 33rd Division moved westward and the 29th Division moved eastward on their way north. The 2nd Worcestershire marched back by Bouquemaison through Doullens and Pommers to Mondicourt and took over the billets of the 4th Worcestershire, who on the same day marched on a parallel road through Lucheux and Brevillers to Le Souich, at which village they met the rear party of the 2nd Battalion.
Thenceforward the paths of the two Battalions diverged. The 2nd Worcestershire lay at Mondicourt for two days and then marched on April 7th by Pas, Henu and Souastre, to camp at Bayencourt. On the following day the Battalion marched on by way of Sailly-le-sec to Fonquevillers on the old front line. There the troops explored the ruins of the old British and German front lines while the Company commanders rode forward to reconnoitre the enemy's new positions near Croisilles. No further move was made for some days.
While the 4th Worcestershire were moving back through Arras, the 2nd Worcestershire, further south, were moving up to the front line on the extreme right of the battle-area.
During the first days of the Arras offensive the 2nd Worcestershire had remained at Fonquevillers. Not until April 12th did orders come to move forward; then the Battalion paraded and marched through Bienvillers, Monchy-au-Bois and Adinfer, into a reserve position near Mercatel. There the 2nd Worcestershire remained for twenty-four hours, listening to heavy firing in front where a great attack was in progress. Then, on April 14th, the Battalion marched southward to Boisleuxau-Mont, and thence by way of Boyelles to Maison Rouge Farm. There guides met the companies and led them forward through St. Leger and Croisilles into trenches north of the latter village, relieving the 9th Leicestershire (21st Division).
The line allotted to the 100th Brigade was astride the River Sensee, and the 2nd Worcestershire were on that rivet's eastern bank.
In their new position the Worcestershire held a line of outposts facing the Hindenburg Line. That famous fortification had run originally from the Cambrai area in a north-westerly direction past Bullecourt, Croisilles and Heninel to Neuville Vitasse, near which latter village it originally had made a junction with the German second line of defence before Arras; but in the initial stages of the Arras battle the German- second line had been overrun, Neuville Vitasse had been stormed and the right flank of the Hindenburg Line had thereby been turned. Now the advancing British Third Army was fighting its way south-eastward along the Hindenburg Line, eating it up piece by piece.
On April 12th, in the attack to which the 2nd Worcestershire had listened in Mercatel, the 12th and 56th Divisions had stormed the villages of Wancourt and Heninel in the valley of the River Cojeul. During the following two days those Divisions had carried their advance up on to the height which divides the valley of the Cojeul from the valley of the river Sensee. Fresh Divisions had now been brought up to continue the eating-up of the Hindenburg Line. One of these fresh Divisions was the 33rd, which had come into the line at the very point to which the British forces had then attained in their advance along the German fortification. The 100th Brigade faced the unbroken German front in the valley at Croisilles; further to the left, on the higher ground, the other Brigades (19th and 98th Brigades) of the 33rd Division were holding the captured portion of the Hindenburg Line.
After the heavy fighting on April 14th came quiet for a few days while both sides reorganised and prepared for the next clash; and in the valley of the Sensée the outposts of the 2nd Worcestershire were hardly disturbed, save by intermittent shell-fire. The line of outposts held by the Battalion was separated from the enemy's positions by nearly a mile of open country, and the enemy showed no activity in patrolling nor any desire to come to closer quarters. The enemy's trenches were cleverly sited and were not conspicuous from the front. A clamour of gun-fire to the right during the day of April 15th told of a strong German attack against the lines of the Fifth Army; but the front of the 33rd Division was not involved and no casualties were suffered by the 2nd Worcestershire up to the night of April 20th, when the Battalion was relieved and marched back to bivouac behind St. Leger. There the Battalion lay for the next two days in the railway cutting near "Judas Farm."
On the evening of April 21st the 2nd Worcestershire had moved forward from "Judas Farm" amid an intermittent bombardment and had once more taken over the outpost line north of Croisilles. Casualties of the 2nd Worcestershire — Night April 21st/22nd. - 3 killed, 2 wounded.
On the evening of April 22nd preparations were made for the attack in'harmony with the thrust further north. Two separate attacks were to be made by the 33rd Division, a flanking attack by the 98th Brigade to roll up the Hindenburg Line from the heights west of the River Sensée, and a frontal attack down the eastern bank of the River by the 100th Brigade. The 2nd Worcestershire was to be in reserve to the latter attack which was to be delivered by two other battalions of the 100th Brigade, the 1st Queen's and the 16th K.R.R.C.
Those two battalions passed through the outpost line of the 2nd Worcestershire during the night of April 22nd/23rd, a night during which both artilleries kept up a continuous bombardment, and advanced in silence across the open ground along the eastern bank of the river to selected assembly positions.
At dawn under cover of a heavy bombardment, a general attack was delivered against the enemy's position. All day long the 2nd Worcestershire remained in their former position, anxiously awaiting news or orders. In front of them the Queen's and the Rifles were struggling to hold the footing they had gained by their attack. On. the heights to the left a similar fight was in progress. Throughout the day shells burst in.every direction over the Sensee valley ; but the Worcestershire companies were well entrenched and did not suffer very heavily (4 killed, 17 wounded). Gradually, however, it became clear that the enemy's counter-attacks were prevailing, and that the Queen's and the Rifles would not be able to hold their ground. Eventually the remnants of those two brave battalions fell back along the valley, and passed through the line held by the Worcestershire. Very few of the 1st Queen's came-back: over 400 had fallen; and the Rifles had suffered almost as heavily.
The issue of the fight on the heights to the left was unknown to the Battalion when darkness fell: it seemed that there too the attack was likely to fail. Throughout the ensuing night the situation remained doubtful; at dawn, however, it was found that the enemy had abandoned the Hindenburg Line trenches west of the Sensee and had withdrawn to the eastern bank of the river.
Orders came to find out whether the enemy on that bank were still holding their ground, and patrols were at once sent out. Those patrols were greeted with a hot fire from the German trenches in front (1 killed, 6 wounded) and it was clear that the enemy facing the 100th Brigade were still standing fast.
Comparative quiet closed down on the battle-field. Next evening (April 25th) the 2nd Worcestershire were relieved and marched back by way of Boiry St. Martin, Monchy-au-bois, and Bienvillers to billets at Pommier. There the Battalion remained, resting and training, until May 1st.
The Croisilles Valley (15th April to 20th May 1917)
The last great fight of the Regiment in the Arras battles fell to the lot of the 2nd Battalion. On May 1st the Battalion marched forwards from its rest billets at Pommier, first to Ficheux and then on the following day through Boisleux-au-Mont to Hamelincourt. There the Battalion lay in bivouac during the ensuing week, training hard; for instructions had been received that a renewed general attack was to be made in the near future.
On May 11th the Battalion moved forward to the line, and took over their former outpost position in the Sensée valley, north of Croisilles. The companies held that outpost line for four days in comparative quiet. On the night of May 13th/14th the front held by the Battalion was extended across the Sensée river to the crossroads due north of Croisilles (about 500 yards from the river bank).
On May 14th came orders to make a small "silent" raid on the enemy's line in the valley, in order to identify the hostile troops in front by securing a prisoner. That night (2 a.m. May 16th) the raiding party, 25 men under 2/Lt. T. L. Gillespie, worked their way forward down the valley to the enemy's wire but, as they endeavoured to effect an entry, the raiders were observed. A heavy fire was opened and parties of the enemy sallied out from both flanks to cut them off. The Worcestershire detachment fell back, and a running fight ensued across the open, the enemy pressing in from both flanks. Eventually, 2/Lieut. Gillespie, although wounded, succeeded in bringing his party back to our lines. Five of the raiders were missing and five more, besides the subaltern, were wounded; but they had accounted for fourteen of the enemy, whose bodies were found next day on the open ground.
Next evening (May 16th) the Battalion was relieved by the 1st Cameronians and marched back to bivouac behind St. Leger to rest before the attack.
On May 17th the Battalion moved from St. Leger to a camp near Moyenneville. After four days of strenuous rehearsal, the 2nd Worcestershire marched forward on the evening of May 19th, to the allotted position of assembly beyond Croisilles by the Chalk Pit on the eastern bank of the river Sensée. The enemy's guns were bombarding Croisilles, and the advance through the village and beyond was made by individual platoons. Some 20 casualties were suffered from the shells.
The previous attack (April 23rd) had failed for want of weight. That mistake was not repeated, for two whole Brigades were put in on the front where two battalions had previously attacked. The 100th Brigade was to attack between the two roads leading from Croisilles to Hendecourt and Fontaine respectively. Further to the left the 98th Brigade would attack astride the River Sensée.
The attack of the 100th Brigade was to be made with three battalions in front line. The 2nd Worcestershire, were on the right of the Brigade front, with the Glasgow Highlanders on their left. On the right flank of the Worcestershire were the 5th Scottish Rifles of the 19th Brigade, who were to attack an underfeature known as "The Hump."
Croisilles Valley (May 1917)
THE ACTION OF CROISILIES
(In the official list of engagements this action and other subsequent actions nearby are grouped under the heading "Actions on the Hindenburg Line, May 20th—June 16th.").
Dawn of May 20th was shrouded in a thick white mist. At 3.30 a.m. the Battalion deployed into four "waves," one company in each "wave." 'D' Company was in front line, then 'A,' both extended into line, followed at some distance - 200 yards interval between 2nd and 3rd waves, by 'C' and 'B' Companies, in artillery formation (section columns).
At 5.15 a.m. the attacking troops rose to their feet and moved forward through the mist. The successive waves of soldiers passed the front line positions, which were held by the 1st Queen's, and moved forward across the open. Sound was deadened by the mist, and the enemy's wire was reached without the advance being detected. 'D' Company, gallantly led by Captain E. O. Durlacher (Captain Durlacher was hit in the hand during the first charge, but he refused to leave his men and remained in command of the company until shot dead later in the day) dashed through the wire and plunged into the German trenches. Precisely at that minute the British artillery opened a storm of fire against the enemy's second line, that simultaneous opening of fire had been carefully timed and was very successful.
The first line was easily dealt with. The enemy were not in strength, and the defenders were quickly killed or captured. Then, under a heavy fire, the third and fourth waves of the attack came up to the captured trench, passed over it and deployed to attack the German support line. Luck was against them. The smoke of the shells had thickened the enshrouding mist into a dense fog. In that fog the platoons lost touch and blundered forward in different directions against the invisible enemy.
Many brave deeds were done. Captain H. C. Downes led his company on to the attack and stormed part of the enemy's trench. Then, although isolated in the fog, he organised a strong defence and held his ground. At several other points the enemy's support line was seized, and fierce bombing fights took place until bombs ran out and the survivors were forced to fall back. Eventually most of 'C' Company were collected in a sunken road between the first and second lines of trenches. The survivors of 'B' Company withdrew to the captured German front line, where 'A' and 'D' companies were hard at work wiring and digging themselves into safety. That work of consolidation was well done, and when at-length the enemy counter-attacked through the mist the Worcestershire platoons were able to maintain their position.
On the right flank 2nd Lieut. F. J. Hemming defended an improvised, work with great courage and tenacity, beating off repeated bombing attacks. 2nd Lieut. F. J. D. Gunston led his men in two sharp counter-attacks which drove back the German bombers; Lance-Corporal E. Sabin, although badly wounded, remained resolutely at his post, setting a splendid, example of courage. 2nd/Lieut. Hemming and 2nd/Lieut. Gunston were awarded the M.C. L/Cpl. Sabin was awarded the D.C.M.
Further back, the whole river valley as far as Croisilles was subjected to a hail, of shells. Headquarters of the three attacking battalions had been established in the Chalk Pit, together with the Aid Posts for the wounded. Such of the wounded from the front line as could make their way back collected in the Pit, sheltering as best they could under a concentrated bombardment. The Chaplain, the Reverend E. Victor Tanner, did devoted work in assisting and cheering the wounded under the storm of shells.
All that night and all the next day (May 21st) bombing attacks went on up and down the Hindenburg Line, but the captured position was firmly held. On the left the 5th Scottish Rifles had succeeded in capturing "The Hump". The line was reorganised. 'C' Company were withdrawn from the shallow cover of the sunken road to the deep trenches of the captured German front line. During the night Captain Downes brought his men back from their isolated position to rejoin the Battalion. They had held their ground unsupported against all attacks during twenty hours of continuous fighting. Capt. Downes was awarded the M.C.
By nightfall of May 21st the gun-fire had died down and the struggle was at an end. That night the 2nd Worcestershire were relieved by the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers and went back by companies to support trenches west of Croisilles. Thence on the following day the companies marched back independently to camp at Moyenneville. The Drums of the Battalion met the companies at Hamelincourt and played them into billets.
The casualties had been very heavy. Nearly half the fighting strength of the Battalion had fallen. The Battalion had gone into action with a "battle strength" of 530, and came out with but 280. Killed 2 officers (Capt. E. A. O. Durlacher, 2/Lt. P. W. Potter (died of wounds)) and 34 other ranks. Wounded 5 officers (Capt. H. C. Downes, 2/Lt. W. A. Cross, 2/Lt. G. Mason, 2/Lt. F. J. D. Gunston, 2/Lt. H. B. Ludlow Hewitt) and 134 other ranks. Missing 73.
Especially regretted was the death of Captain E. A. O. Durlacher, the hero of the Clery raid. A brilliant young leader, of quick wit and outstanding personality, he was one of the most memorable of the many excellent officers who came to the Regiment from that nursery of brave men, the Artists' Rifles.
After a rest of three days, the Battalion moved forward "again oh the evening of May 26th, through Croisilles to the previous assembly position near the Chalk Pit. There the companies lay in reserve throughout the following day, while the 19th and 98th Brigades made a renewed attack from the positions captured on May 20th against the Hindenburg Support Line. But the attack failed (the attack was made at 1.55p.m.), and in the evening the Battalion moved back west of Croisilles. Casualties of the 2nd Worcestershire on May 27th were 2 killed, 4 wounded.
Next day the Battalion again moved into the same reserve position, and then on May 29th went forward and relieved the Glasgow Highlanders in the front line—the battle-ground of May 20th. By that time the line was well consolidated, and there was little activity save intermittent shelling. Casualties; May 28th— 4 killed, 3 wounded. May 29th, 5 wounded. May 30th— 6 wounded (and 1 officer who remained at duty). May 31st— 1 killed, 3 wounded.
On May 31st the Battalion was relieved, and marched back safely into billets at Moyenneville. The 21st Division were taking over the line, and next day (June 1st) the 2nd Worcestershire marched eastwards through Ayette and Adinfer to billets in Pommier. There the Battalion settled down to three weeks training. On June 20th that training period came to an end. The 33rd Division again took over the line at Croisilles and the 100th Brigade marched to Divisional Reserve billets in Moyenneville.
Orders were issued for a renewed attack on the Hindenburg Support tine (known by then as "Tunnel Trench") and on the evening of June 24th the 2nd Worcestershire and 1st Queens moved up to the trenches, their old battle-ground of May 20th, and prepared to attack: at the last minute, however, the attack was postponed and the two battalions were brought back to camp at Moyenneville. On June 27th the 2nd Worcestershire moved forward to a support position behind Croisilles to support a small attack made by the Queens on June 29th, without success.
Orders then came for the 33rd Division to move right back for rest and' training. On the evening of June 30th the 2nd Worcestershire were relieved and marched back to Moyenneville. Thence on the following day the Battalion once more marched to Pommier.
After one day's rest, the move to the back areas was begun, and during the next three days the Battalion marched southwestward (e) through the pleasant countryside of Picardy to Picquigny.
July 3rd—By St. Amand—Souastre—Bayencourt—Sailly-au-Bois—Bertrancourt—Acheux—Forceville to Hedauville.
July 4th.—By Varonne—Harponville—Toutencourt—Herissart—Rubempre to Pierregot. July 5th.—By Rainneville—Coisy—Bertangles—St. Sauveur— Ailly—Breilly to Picquigny.
There on July 5th the 2nd Worcestershire settled down to rest and training, which continued throughout the rest of the month. While at Picquigny the command of the Battalion changed. Lieut.-Colonel T. K. Pardoe was invalided home. He was succeeded by Lieut.-Colonel H. E. Gogarty. Lieut.-Colonel Pardoe was subsequently awarded the D.S.O.
On the last day of July the 2nd Worcestershire marched to Longpré and there on the 1st of August there entrained for Flanders. The Battalion detrained at Dunkirk and marched through Teteghem to crowded billets in Uxem: whence a move was made on August 3rd to a more satisfactory camp at Ghyvelde. Training continued in that seaside area throughout the ensuing month: then on August 31st a move southwards was begun: the Brigade moved down by train to Watten, behind St. Omer, whence the 2nd Worcestershire marched to billets at Ganspette. There training was continued busily until the middle of September.
Gheluvelt area (25th to 27th August 1917)
The long training period of the 2nd Worcestershire came to an end on September 15th. The Battalion had marched forward from. Ganspette by stages; September 15th march from Ganspette by Watten and Broere to Oosthouck. 16th march by Cassel to Steenvoorde, 17th march to Berthen. 19th march to La Clytte. The Battalion reached "Chippewa Camp" near La Clytte in the evening of September 19th.
Orders for the forthcoming battle were received on September 21st and all ranks were stirred by news that the destined rfile of the Battalion was to attack and capture Gheluvelt. The attack of September 20th had captured Glencorse Wood and Tower Hamlets. Veldhoek also was in our hands. The next attack was intended to carry the British front line forward to the old positions of October 1914.
After four busy days of preparation, the Battalion marched forward on September 23rd through La Clytte and Dickebusch to camp at House Farm, near Bedford House, south of Ypres. That night batteries all around were continuously in action. Early on the following afternoon (September 24th) the 2nd Worcestershire advanced into the battle.
The platoons marched at 100 yards interval between platoons; the leading platoon started at 1.30 p.m. (Route was by Maple Copse, Doring House and Zillebeke) round the outskirts of ruined Ypres and then up the Menin Road, forming part of a stream of troops trudging forward along duck-board tracks into the battle. All around artillery were in action and heavy shells burst continuously in every direction. German aeroplanes swooped low over the marching troops, signalling by flares to their artillery. The intensity of the shell-fire increased as the platoons neared Sanctuary Wood. There a halt was made as dusk came on. Arrangements were made for the relief
The Battalion was to relieve troops of the 23rd Division, which had captured Veldhoek. The relief was very difficult, for the German artillery were clearly aware of the movement along the Menin Road, and were putting down a fierce bombardment.
It was decided to relieve first the troops holding the support positions.
The strength of the Battalion on going into action was:— 'A' Company (Capt. Booth)—123, 'B' Company (Capt. Barker)—117, 'C' Company (Capt. Ripley)—127, 'D' Company (Capt. Smith)—134, H.Q. (2/Lt. Turley)—66; Total—567 with 21 officers.
'A' and 'C' companies moved forward during the evening and took over positions between Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse in trenches, shell-holes and captured block-houses. One of the latter was a notable erection, a concrete two-storied tower ten feet high which had survived the British bombardment. The tower was used as an observation station, and the First Aid Post was also established there: for no better cover was available.
After dark (7 p.m.) 'B' Company was led forward by Captain R. F . Barker to take over the front line. The enemy's barrage had become intense: save for the bursting shells the night was pitch dark. The shelling was terrific. Men were hit at every yard as they struggled along the duck-boards among the shell-holes. Before the support trenches were reached two-thirds of the company had been killed or wounded: all the four guides allotted to lead the platoons had been struck down. No one in the support trenches would volunteer to guide the Worcestershire company, so Captain Barker led his men forward as best he could through the bursting shells. Eventually he reached the front line with three platoons—37 in all with but one other officer. The fourth platoon, under 2/Lieut. A. C. Pointon, had been misdirected, and the survivors of that platoon (10 men) did not rejoin the company till the following afternoon.
It was dawn (4.30 a.m. according to Capt. Barker. The 2nd Worcestershire relieved three intermingled battalions, the 9th Green Howards, 11th West Yorks, and 11th Sherwood Foresters) before the relief was complete and Captain Barker's company had settled into positions among the shell-holes north of the Menin Road and east of Veldhoek. The 9th H.L.I, came up on the right flank of the Worcestershire, and beyond them the 1st Queen's held the line of the Menin Road. On the left of the Worcestershire the 4th King's, temporarily lent to the 100th Brigade, continued the line down to the banks of the Reutelbeek. North of that stream the line was continued by the 98th Brigade up the slope to Polygon Wood.
The forward platoons of the 2nd Worcestershire were on historic ground. Close in front of their line a few shattered tree stumps marked the position of the little copse behind which the Battalion had deployed on October 31st, 1914. The ruins of Gheluvelt village were just hidden from view by the crest of the Ridge over which the Battalion had rushed at the beginning of that memorable counter-attack.
But the aspect of the scene at dawn was very different from what it had been three years before. The open fields had been beaten into a desolate expanse of boggy shell-holes. Such trees as still stood had been stripped and broken. On the skyline to the left a mere stubble of bare treetrunks marked the site of Polygon Wood.
The British plan was to attack at dawn on September 26th, leaving the attacking troops all the day of September 25th in which to reconnoitre the ground in front: but the plan was upset by a German counter-stroke. At 5.15 a.m. the enemy's artillery suddenly opened an intense bombardment (The German bombardment preceded by some five minutes a "practice barrage" by the British artillery) over the whole area from Veldhoek to Stirling Castle. For half-an-hour shells struck all over the open ground: then the German infantry advanced to the attack. Captured German orders showed that the artillery engaged, on a front of 2 German Divisions were:—27 Field Batteries, 17 Field howitzer batteries, 15 batteries of 5.9" howitzers. The bombardment was arranged as a triple barrage on (1) The British front line (2) The line Glencorse Wood—Inverness Copse (3) Stirling Castle.
On the front of the 2nd Worcestershire the attack was repulsed without difficulty, and many of the enemy (The German 230th Regiment) were shot down as they advanced from the bare Polderhoek Ridge or struggled up from the bogs of the Reutelbeek. But on the right the bombardment had achieved more destruction and there the British front line was overwhelmed. The forward platoons of the Queen's were annihilated and many of the Highlanders were captured by the enemy (The attack along the Menin Road was made by a picked unit, the "Storm-Battalion" of the German Fourth Army). Nevertheless 'B' Company held firm. Captain Barker sent back a message for help. 'A' Company was ordered forward. Led by Captain F. H. F . Booth, the company advanced very steadily across the shell-holes through the bursting shells. Captain Booth and two of his subalterns were hit, but the
surviving officer, 2/Lieut. H. J . Roden, led his men forward and took up position in rear of 'B' Company's right flank. That assistance came just in time to prevent the enemy from surrounding 'B' Company. A fierce fire-fight ensued among the shell-holes, while further back the whole ground was obscured by the fumes of bursting shells. About 9 a.m. a big shell struck Battalion Headquarters killing the Adjutant, Capt. C. A. N. Fox, severely wounding the Regimental-Sergeant-Major and also wounding the Commanding Officer, Colonel Gogarty. But the Colonel refused to leave his post and remained in command. Colonel Gogarty was wounded in four places. For his able and gallant leadership in that battle, he was awarded the D.S.O.
The Regimental Aid Post, in the same concrete tower as Battalion headquarters, was packed with wounded men, and it became urgently necessary to carry some of them back. The barrage around the tower was so fierce that it seemed impossible for stretcher-bearers to pass. The devoted Chaplain, the Rev. E. Victor Tanner, volunteered to join the stretcher-bearers. Inspired by his example, the stretcher-bearers succeeded in carrying their'charges back through, the barrage to safety. Miraculously none were hit, though the shell-fire was intense. "The tower received direct hits certainly every fifteen minutes, probably much oftener." (Colonel Gogarty's report).
The situation in front remained critical, and Captain W. L. Smith led 'D' Company forward, on his own initiative, to assist the defence. The state of the ground made it difficult for the enemy to close, the German attack came to a standstill and about midday the fighting died down.
Ammunition ran short, and urgent messages for more were sent back. A platoon of 'C' Company was sent up about midday with a fresh supply. 2/Lieut. A. Johnson led the platoon forward to the front line. He was ordered by Captain Barker to form his men as a defensive flank on the right of 'B' Company. Posting his men skilfully among the shell-holes, he beat back all attacks during the rest of the day. 2/Lieut. Johnson was awarded the M.C.
The enemy were not yet defeated. About 2 p.m. the German gun-fire again rose to intensity and small bodies of infantry were seen advancing among the tree stumps along the Reutelbeek. Messages were sent back and all made ready to meet the attack.
Two hours later the attack came in earnest. Strong forces of the enemy advanced past the site of Polderhoek Chateau. At 4.30 p.m. the "S.O.S." signal was sent up by Captain Barker from the front line. In answer the British artillery put down an intense barrage. The German infantry were obliterated by a rain of shells and the danger passed.
Night closed down, a night of heavy firing and great anxiety. The Worcestershire companies were far in advance of the troops on their right flank: but the enemy made no attempt to advance and at dawn the situation was unchanged.
While the enemy counter-attacks above Gheluvelt were being fought to a standstill, final preparations were being made for a renewed advance. Fresh Australian Divisions had been brought up to the line in Polygon Wood. It was planned that the Australians should attack through the Wood on September 26th. It had been intended that the 33rd Division should prolong the front of attack southwards, but at the last hour the plan was modified. The 33rd Division had suffered so severely from the German counter-attacks that the projected attack was countermanded. The left-flank of the Division, the 98th Brigade and the 4th King's, would wheel forward in concert with the Australians: the 1st Queen's and the 9th H.L.I, would endeavour to recover the ground they had lost. Other battalions would. stand fast.
Heavy gun-fire started with the dawn (September 26th) and continued all day (Officially that attack on September 26th has been set down as a separate "battle" — the Battle of Polygon Wood — and the honour "Polygon Wood" granted to the Regiment is due to the fighting of the 2nd Battalion on September 26th—27th).
Away to the left, the Australians fought their way forward through Polygon Wood. Between the Wood and the Reutelbeek, troops of the 98th Brigade stormed "Cameron House" after fierce fighting. On the front of the 100th Brigade a counter-attack was organised to retake the ground lost on the previous day. The 9th H.L.I, were reinforced by a company of the 16th K.R.R.C..and attacked about 10 a.m. (Times given for that attack vary from 10 a.m. [Brigade Diary] to 2 p.m. [Battalion account]). The enemy gave way and fell back, raked by fire from the Worcestershire platoons on their flank. Notably by a Lewis-gun worked single-handed by L/Cpl. A. Davis. The Lewis-gun had previously been buried by a bursting shell, but L/Cpl. Davis, the only survivor of the team, dug out the gun and held his post alone shooting down many of the enemy. He was awarded the D.C.M.
Enemy aeroplanes joined in the fight, flying low and firing their machine-guns at the attacking troops. Lewis-guns and rifles blazed at them from the shell-holes, and two of them came hurtling down close to the front of the 2nd Worcestershire.
The battle raged throughout the day, and by nightfall.the line of the 100th Brigade. Was restored except for a small pocket along the Menin Road itself: but the Brigade had been reduced to a thin line of desperately weary men scattered in groups among the shell-holes. It was decided that the 33rd Division must be relieved, and that night came orders for the relief.
The bombardment continued incessantly throughout that night: then as dawn broke (5 a.m.) the artillery of both sides suddenly ceased their fire. For some minutes all remained under cover: then, as the guns did not recommence, men ventured cautiously from their defences and gazed around in wonder. The intense bombardment of two days and nights had beaten the whole area into a different appearance. Such landmarks as had existed beforehand had disappeared. The surface of the ground from Stirling Castle to Gheluvelt had been churned up afresh: the whole landscape was even more desolate and repulsive then before.
For the time, the battle was over. Intermittent sniping alone continued throughout the day of September 27th. Wounded were brought in and dispositions were rearranged. In spite of the forty-eight hours of heavy fighting, without sleep and without any food beyond their "iron rations" the soldiers of the 2nd Worcestershire were in good heart. The day passed quietly, apart from heavy shelling on the left around Polygon Wood.
Extract from the diary of the Chaplain (Rev. E. Victor Tanner): September 27th (6 a.m.): "As the shelling had ceased the only danger was from sniping or machine-gun fire . . . . The idea occurred to me that it would be a grand opportunity to collect the rest of our wounded . . . . so I got two stretcher-bearers . . . . and started off . . . . It was heavy walking all the way as . . . . there was, of course, no attempt at a trench or even duck-boards. It was just one big stretch of shell-craters . . . . At last I reached the front line and our lads' were amazed to see me drop down in to their trench . . . . However I found them all in excellent, spirits, sitting quietly in the trench, either cleaning their rifles or making a "bubble-up." They had got water from the shell-holes . . . I . . walked the whole length of the trench . . . . The cheeriness of the men was wonderful . . . ."
Darkness closed in, and then at 7 p.m. the enemy's guns suddenly opened a terrific fire. Under that storm of shells the remnant of the 2nd Worcestershire took what shelter they could find. After an hour the shell-fire died down and through hour after hour of darkness men waited for the relieving troops. Most of the night was quiet, but in the small hours of the morning, the enemy's guns again broke out in fury and lashed the open ground with an intense fire for three hours (3.30 to 6.45 a.m.): Through that fire the relieving troops of the 23rd Division came up and took over the line. Not until the dawn (7 a.m.) did the last Worcestershire platoon get clear and tramp back down the Menin Road to rest. Captain Barker was one of the last to leave the front line. His gallantry and skill in those three days of heavy fighting were recognised by the award of the M.C.
During the morning of September 28th the Battalion gradually reassembled in camp at Dickebusch. When the losses were counted it was found they totalled 9 (Killed—Capt. & Adjt. C. A. N. Fox [North Staffords—attached]. Wounded— Lieut.-Colonel H. E. Gogarty D.S.O. (remaining at duty), Capt. F. H. F. Booth, 2/Lieuts. R. F. High, C. R. Child, D. V. Monks, G. S. Ashcroft, G. V. W. Carter and A. Brittain. Missing— 2/Lieut. D. P. Morgan [afterwards presumed killed]) officers and 208 (Brigade diary gives, 36 killed, 145 wounded, 29 missing) N.C.O's. and men; roughly half the fighting strength of the Battalion. The other battalions of the 33rd Divisionhad suffered almost as severely, and it had now been decided to move the whole Division out of the line to refit.
Before leaving the Salient, the officers and men of the 2nd Worcestershire paid an impressive tribute to their comrades who had fallen in the battle. It had been decided to bring down the body of the Adjutant (Captain C. A. N. Fox) for burial in the cemetery at Dickebusch, and the funeral was made a commemorative ceremony for the others who had fallen. The whole Battalion attended the burial: then, headed by the Drums, the 2nd Worcestershire marched off to Reninghelst. There the Battalion entrained and moved back by rail and road, train to Ebblinghem, thence march, to billets at Sercus, south of Cassel, where the weary troops settled down to a short period of quiet.
The 2nd Battalion came into the Lys area in the middle of October. After the battle of the Menin Road the Battalion had rested for a week at Sercus, south of Cassel. On October 2nd the 100th Brigade was inspected by the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, who was pleased with the appearance of the Battalion and complimented Colonel Gogarty on the handling of arms.
Three days later the 100th Brigade moved to a training area west of St. Omer. The 2nd Worcestershire marched through Renescure and the outskirts of St. Omer to billets at Salperwick, but hardly had they settled in when news came that the 33rd Division was to move at once to the line beyond Messines in relief of tired troops. The 100th Brigade turned back in their tracks. The 2nd Worcestershire marched to Wizernes Station and were carried by train to Bailleul, whence the Battalion marched to camp just south of Neuve Eglise. There the companies lay quiet for a few days in Divisional reserve: then-the 100th Brigade moved forward. The 2nd Worcestershire, marched eastwards on October I4th through Wulverghem over the Messines Ridge and relieved
the 1st Middlesex in the front line.
The right flank of the trenches taken over by the Battalion was on the little river Douve, within half a mile of the sector which the 1st Battalion had been holding. Save for intermittent shell-fire all was quiet, and little of note occurred before October 18th, when the Battalion was relieved by the 1st Queen's and moved back into support at Bristol Castle - two companies ('A' and 'B') were left in the forward area to support the 1st Queen's who were weak in numbers.. On October 22nd the Battalion moved back to Bulford Camp near Neuve Eglise. Two days later came orders for the Battalion again to move up to the Ypres Salient.
In the Salient the great series of battles was still in progress. The Battle of Poelcappelle on October 9th had been followed by two days of comparative quiet; but the end was not yet: both tactical and political considerations were urging the British commanders to continue the offensive until the higher ground further east had been secured. That high ground commanded both the Ypres Salient and also the level plain of Flanders further east. It was considered essential that, before winter finally stopped all possibility of movement, the 2nd Worcestershire attack should have gained the ridge on which stands the village of Passchendaele.
Orders for the 2nd Worcestershire to move up into the Salient for duty as working parties had reached the Battalion on October 24th. Next day the companies were carried by lorries from Neuve Eglise to Ypres, and were quartered in a so-called "camp" outside the Menin Gate. That "camp," which in reality was a collection of temporary shelters dug in water-logged ground, was not capable of protecting the troops from a rain-storm on October 26th; and after much misery two of the companies were moved into the ruins of the old cavalry barracks inside the city walls. The 2nd Worcestershire found themselves joining the 14th Worcestershire who had arrived at the Ypres Salient a day earlier.
That same day, October 26th, witnessed the opening of the final attack on the Passchendaele Ridge. To the working parties of the 2nd and the 14th Worcestershire the commencement of the battle meant simply that the enemy's shell-fire grew even heavier than before. The camps near
Ypres were easily spotted, and were shelled daily by long-range high-velocity guns. Captain H. G. Roberts and several of his men were hit by shells bursting actually in the camp.
The enemy aeroplanes also made great efforts to hamper the British advance by nightly bombing of railways and dumps. The full moon of the night of October 29th gave the airmen an aid of which they took full advantage, and Ypres and its surroundings were heavily bombed. The 2nd Worcestershire fortunately suffered no loss, but a big bomb wrecked a hut in the camp of the 14th Worcestershire just north of the city, killing 5 men and wounding 14. Another bomb struck an ammunition dump, and disaster was only averted by the prompt action of Lieutenant G. A. Porterfield. The dump was burning, and shells were exploding in all directions, but the subaltern, heedless of his own peril, threw water on to the fire until at last it was extinguished . Lieut. Porterfield was awarded the M.C.
Passchendaele (November-December 1917)
The battle was still in progress on November 1st, when orders came that the 2nd Worcestershire would be replaced by the 4th Suffolk. On the following day that relief took place, and the 2nd Worcestershire returned by bus to Neuve Eglise. Complete figures of the casualties suffered by the working parties of the 2nd Worcestershire during the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele are not available, but in the last two days of their work in the Salient (November 1st and 2nd) they lost 1 killed and 1 wounded.
The fighting on the Passchendaele Ridge dragged on for a fortnight, with alternate attack and counter-attack through the heavy mud. At last, on November 6th, Passchendaele village was captured by the Canadians. During the next three days a little ground was gained beyond it and the enemy's counter-attacks were beaten off. Then at last the long struggle at Ypres came to an end. The end was not at once apparent to the troops, for the gun-fire did not cease and orders were issued again and again for a fresh attack; but those orders were successively postponed and countermanded, and November 10th is now accepted as the closing date of "Ypres 1917."
After returning to Neuve Eglise the 2nd Battalion remained there in camp until November 7th. Then the Battalion moved forward to support trenches on Vimy Ridge, and then on the evening of November 11th took over from the 1st Queen's the front line trenches north of the river
The Battalion held those trenches for three quiet days: then the 5th Australian Division relieved the, 33rd Division. After dark on November 15th Australian infantry came filing up to the trenches to relieve the 2nd Worcestershire. The Worcestershire platoons marched back to Bulford Camp. Casualties of the 2nd Worcestershire, November 11th to 14th - Killed 1, wounded 1 officer (2/Lt. A. T. Williams) and 3 men.
On November 16th the Battalion marched westwards to Locre and two days later moved north by buses to camp near Brandhoek. There the command of the Battalion was taken over by Lieut.-Colonel L. C. Dorman, M.C. - Colonel Gogarty having been selected for the new Staff in Italy.
On November 24th the 100th Brigade moved forward into the Ypres Salient. The 2nd Worcestershire, marched through Ypres and out at the Menin Gate, to camp at Lancer Farm, near Potijze, close to the camp of the 1st Worcestershire at St. Jean.
Lieut.-Colonel L. C. Dorman, M.C.
At that camp the companies remained for four days, finding working parties for various tasks in the neighbourhood. On November 29th the Battalion moved forward across the battle-field to a support position at Seine Farm. Thence on the last day of the month the 2nd Worcestershire moved forward up the slope to Passchendaele and over the crest line to the front line immediately east of the ruins of the village, a short way south of the position which the 1st Worcestershire had just left.
The 2nd Battalion held those trenches for four days, in slightly less discomfort than the 1st Battalion had previously experienced. The weather was a little better and the enemy's fire was not so heavy; although a fierce outburst was provoked on December 2nd by a minor operation attempted by the troops to the left. On the night of December 3rd the 2nd Worcestershire were relieved and moved back into a support position near Seine Farm. On December 5th the 100th Brigade was withdrawn into reserve and the 2nd Worcestershire marched back across the battlefield to camp at St. Jean. Casualties of the 2nd Worcestershire, December 1st to 5th included 3 officers wounded (2/Lieuts. W. B. J. Hill, C. W. Rogers and H. J. Roden).
Next day the Battalion was carried back by train to Brandhoek. The Battalion lay there in camp for a few days before moving further back by march route through Poperinghe and Watou to billets near Winmzeele.