2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 1918
The 1st, 2nd and 4th Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment each in turn journeyed up to the Passchendaele Ridge and, back again to camps around Ypres as their respective Divisions exchanged positions in regular succession throughout January and February 1918. Each of the three Battalions passed short periods among the shell-holes in the front line, followed and preceded by periods of heavy work at labour camps in the Salient and periods of rest and reorganisation in other camps west of Ypres.
On the 1st January 1918 the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment played in a football match with the 9th Battalion H. L. I. Also that day Captain G. J. S. Stoney rejoined the battalion and took over as 2nd-in-command. Major (Brevet Lieut.-Colonel) J. O. Nelson joined the battalion.
The first weeks of 1918 were marked by some of the most severe weather that the British forces in France and Flanders had as yet endured. Along the whole battle-front snow fell heavily, covering alike the bleak uplands around Cambrai and the desolate wastes of the Ypres Salient, where the Passchendaele Ridge was at last in our hands.
After the close of the heavy fighting at Passchendaele fresh Divisions had been brought up to secure the captured ground and, by coincidence, three of those Divisions each included a Regular Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. So it was that the 1st, 2nd and 4th Worcestershire all endured much
hardship during January and February, as the 8th, 33rd and 29th Divisions moved to and fro across the Ypres battlefield.
The 2nd Battalion move from Winnezeele to "St. Lawrence Camp" at Brandhoek on the 3rd January 1918. On the 5th January they march through Ypres to "Alnwick Camp," at Potijze. The battalion provided 250 men for working parties at the camp. The nest few days were spent orgainsing and cleaning the camp.
On the 8th January Private Thomas Edwards (13071) was tried by General Court Martial.
On the 9th January, Major G. J. L. Stoney, M.C. took over command of the 2nd Battalion from Lieut.-Colonel H. Weldon (Leinster Regiment) who had previously taken temporary command on the 28th December. Lieut.-Colonel H. Weldon left to take over command of the 2nd Battalion Leinster Regiment.
WINTER AT PASSCHENDAELE
Lieut.-Col. G. J. L. Stoney
It is hard to conceive a more depressing form of warfare than that waged by those three Battalions at Passchendaele during the first two months of the year. The normal hardships and dangers of trench-warfare were intensified by the bitterness of the winter weather and the desolation of the battle-field. The fierce fighting of the preceding autumn had devastated the whole area of the Ypres Salient. Neither trees nor houses had survived. The surface of the ground had been beaten into a vast expanse of shell-holes, which stretched wide on every side, impeding all movement. That crater-field could only be crossed by following a succession of duck-board tracks which ran precariously across miles of open ground to the crest-line at Passchendaele.
On, the captured, ridge there was no definite position, no strong defences. Friend and foe alike crouched in shell-holes, only partially protected against bullets and wholly exposed to the bitterness of cold and rain. The opposing troops were equal in misery; but the enemy had only a short distance to go back to unbroken country; whereas the British battalions had on each relief to-traverse the'desolate battle-field of the Salient. It needed great fortitude to keep up a good heart amid that wilderness of snow and broken ground.
The 1st, 2nd and 4th Battalions of the Regiment each in turn journeyed up to the Passchenda'ele Ridge and back again to camps around Ypres as their respective Divisions exchanged positions in regular succession throughout January and February. Each of the three Battalions passed short periods among the shell-holes in the front line, followed and preceded by periods of heavy work at labour camps in the Salient and periods of rest and reorganisation in other camps west of Ypres.
The 2nd Battalion move from Winnezeele to Brandhoek, on the 3rd January 1918. On January 5th they march through Ypres to "Alnwick Camp," Potijze. Working parties sent out during the period January 6th to 16th. Support positions where maintained at "Hamburg Farm" from January 17th to 19th.
During the first fortnight of January the weather was very cold with much snow, but on January 15th came a change. Rain and bitter sleet with a driving wind brought an extreme of misery. The frozen ground melted into slush, the duck-boards were obliterated and tracks were lost' in the swamps. Hostilities almost ceased, and for a week there was but little fighting on the Passchendaele Ridge, Then gradually the weather improved, sniping and shelling were resumed and both sides attempted minor trench-raids.
On the 17th January the 2nd Battalion relieved the 5th Scottish Rifles in support positions at "Hamburg Farm" and on the 19th January relieved the 4th Battalion Suffolk Regiment in the frontline. Casualties—2/Lieut. J. L. Bond, wounded.
On the 21st January the 2nd Battalion moved to Brandhoek for 4 days of rest, baths and anti-trench foot treatment. On the 22nd January 2/Lieut. A. Rudd and 2/Lieut. A. Hurley joined the battalion.
From January 25th to 26th the Battalion was once again in the front line. (casualties—Nil).
On the 25th January the battalion once again relieved the 5th Scottish Rifles in the frontline. On the 27th January the battalion was relieved by the 4th Kings Own Regt. and on completion moved back to Brandhoek for rest.
On the 28th January the 2nd Battalion entrained at Brandhoek and later detrained at Wizernes, they then marched to billets in the Leulines area.
The 2nd Battalion moved by rail from Setques to Brandhoek on the 20th February 1918 and marched next day to billets in Ypres. On the 25th February they marched to reserve position at Seine Farm.
During the next few weeks of March the 2nd Battalion bore their part in the intermittent warfare which went on around the Passchendaele Ridge, while every day came fresh indications of the approaching onslaught.
It was urgently necessary to glean all possible information of the enemy's dispositions; and the efforts to secure "identifications" of the hostile troops in front led to many minor fights. The 2nd Worcestershire, cn the eastern slope of the Passchendaele Ridge, were frequently engaged. On
The 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment had remained in the Salient throughout the first weeks of March holding trenches, either in front line or in support, on the ridge south of Passchendaele. The situation was uncertain, constant patrols were necessary, and during a daring little enterprise on the night of March 28th/29th Lieut. L. R. Tilling was severely wounded.
The 2nd Battalion was in the frontline, March 1st to 6th, March 14th to 18th, March 24th to 30th.The Battalion was in support positions, March 10th to 13th and March 22nd to 24th. The Battalion was in reserve in Ypres, March 6th to 10th, March 18th to 22nd and March 30th. No exact figures are available as to losses during this period, but the figures given for the Brigade while the Battalion was holding the Brigade frontline are, March 1st to 6th — 1 killed, 11 wounded, March 14th to 18th — 2 killed, 9 wounded and March 24th to 30th — 7 killed, 19 wounded, besides Lieut. L. R. Tilling.
Besides that activity of patrols there were several changes of front. Troops were being withdrawn from the south of the Salient to meet the German offensive, and the other Divisions in the Salient had to extend their line to cover the gaps. The front of the 2nd Battalion was twice extended, until by the end of the month the right flank of the Battalion was south of Zonnebeke and within a few hundred yards of that position north of Polygon Wood which the Battalion had held in the week after Gheluvelt.
The 2nd Battalion remained in that area, either in front line or in support, until the 5th April 1918; by that date orders had been received for the 33rd Division to be relieved from the line, and to move back for a short period of training before proceeding south to reinforce the Third Army.
So on the 5th April 1918 the 2nd Battalion left Ypres, and marched westwards through drizzling rain to Brandhoek. After dark on the following night (April 6th/7th) the Battalion marched onwards to Peselhoek and thence moved by train to Tincques. From that station the 2nd Battalion marched to billets at Izel-les-Hameau near Penin, and settled down to training.
The 2nd Battalion training period in the Penin area ended on the 9th April 1918, and next morning the 100th Brigade had started (9 a.m. April 10th) on its march southward from Izel-lez-Hameau to join the Third Army on the Somme front. The 2nd Battalion marched at the head of the Brigade and had reached Manin when a sudden halt was called. Urgent orders had come, suspending the move and ordering a return to the former billets. The Battalion turned about and marched back in their tracks to Izel, where during the remainder of the day the troops lay waiting, while rumour of the new German offensive ran round.
After dark (7.20 p.m.) came orders. The fighting troops of the Brigade would march at once to Aubigny and entrain. The transport would move separately next day to a destination as yet unknown.
The train carrying the 2nd Battalion moved out of Aubigny Station about midnight. In the early morning (7 a.m.) of April 11th the train reached Caestre. Lorries were waiting which carried the companies of the 2nd Battalion forward to Meteren. There they were joined by the remainder of the 100th Brigade.
The scene at Meteren was similar to that which had confronted the 4th Battalion at Bailleul the day before. On every hand crowds of homeless refugees were streaming past; for the enemy's guns had been bombarding Bailleul and its population was in flight. British heavy artillery near by kept up a deafening fire, but there was little information as to the position in front.
At 10.0 a.m; came orders that the 2nd Battalion and the 16th K.R.R.C. would advance. The two battalions marched off along the road to Bailleul. The stream of refugees grew thinner and more hurried as the troops neared the town, and long-range shells burst close at hand. Bailleul, when reached, was empty. The two.battalions tramped through the town, along deserted streets. Many houses and shops were already in ruins, and others were collapsing every minute under a continuous bombardment. Bailleul was no place in which to linger, and the two battalions did not
check their pace until clear of the town.
East of Bailleul the two battalions marched forward in open country to the rising ground of the Ravelsberg. There a halt was called and a conference was held while the troops got ready for battle. Packs were discarded and extra ammunition was issued. The usual "Battle Reserve" were withdrawn from the companies and were assembled under the 2nd-in-Command, Major E. J. Donaldson.
The 100th Brigade had been placed temporarily under the command of the 25th Division and had been given orders to occupy the reserve trenches of the "Army Line" from Le Romarin to Neuve Eglise. The Brigadier decided to hold that position with the 16th K.R.R.C. on the right, the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment on the left, covering Neuve Eglise itself, and the Glasgow Highlanders in support near the Trois Rois Cabaret. The three battalions remained under cover until darkness fell, and then moved forward into their new positions. The "Battle Reserve" of the three battalions remained behind at a farm on the Ravelsberg.
In darkness the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment took over their allotted front from the 1/4th K.O.Y.L.I. (The 1/4th K.O.Y.L.I. of the 49th Division had previously been sent up from reserve to assist the 25th Division; as yet they had not been engaged). The Yorkshiremen then moved to the left and prolonged the defensive line.
It was difficult to ascertain the exact situation in the darkness. It was understood that the 75th Brigade (of the 25th Division) was in position by the houses of Le Romarin; but patrols were fired on from those houses, which were discovered to have been seized by the enemy. Efforts were made by the 16th K.R.R.C. to organise a counter-attack against Le Romarin in conjunction with the 2nd South Lancashire of the 75th Brigade; but that latter battalion was in no condition to attack, and the attempt was abandoned. The line was readjusted, the 16th K.R.R.C. holding the "Army Line" trenches down to the junction of "Leinster" and "Connaught" Roads. Thence the 75th Brigade held a line across country to Rue-du-Sac, joining up there with the Newfoundlanders
of the 88th Brigade, whose left flank had been drawn back to Papot.
THE BATTLE OF BAILLEUL
Dawn of April 12th was ushered in by gun-fire from every side. Along the whole Lys battlefront the German forces advanced with determination and in great strength. The German Sixth Army struck up the valley of the Lys direct for Hazebrouck: the German Fourth Army attacked to gain the range of heights which rise behind Bailleul.
From the high ground held by the 2nd Worcestershire at Neuve Eglise the enemy could Own plainly be seen advancing over the southern shoulder of the Messines Ridge. Field-glasses showed the German forces coming on past Ploegsteert Wood in irregular formation, their companies and platoons working forward along the folds of the ground and up the hedges and ditches. Mounted men—officers or despatch riders—could be seen moving about, and batteries of artillery could be seen on the roads. The whole countryside seemed full of the moving enemy.
The enemy though visible were nevertheless too far distant for musketry to be effective; and premature firing would disclose the position of the defence. So the Worcestershire companies remained quiet in their trenches under an intermittent bombardment.
Close in front of the "Army Line" trenches the hillside was much enclosed with hedges and obscured by trees. Two "fighting patrols" were sent out (It was not known whether any of our own troops were still east of the "Army Line."), led by 2/Lieuts. H. J. Nicklin and F. G. Parry with orders to engage the enemy's advanced troops and deceive them as to the real position. Those two patrols (each 25 strong with a Lewis-gun) did admirable work. Working cautiously from hedge to hedge they made their way past Petit Pont and encountered the advancing enemy south of L'Alouette. Both subalterns handled their men with great ability and held back the enemy for some hours. Eventually the German advanced troops were heavily reinforced and pressed round the flanks of the two patrols, forcing them to fall back. Still fighting, they withdrew safely to the trenches held by the Battalion. Casualties of the two patrols were slight, 2/Lieut. Nicklin's party losing only one man. 2/Lieut. Nicklin was awarded the M.C. The other party lost three, but reckoned to have accounted for forty of the enemy.
So successful had been the delaying action of the two patrols that the enemy's advanced troops did not come close to the "Army Line" trenches until the afternoon: then there was a sharp interchange of fire, which continued until nightfall. Batteries of field artillery came trotting forward in full view, unlimbered and bombarded Neuve Eglise over open sights, causing a stampede of the last remaining inhabitants. At nightfall Battalion H.Q. of the 2nd Worcestershire was shifted from a dugout where it had first been located back to the Brewery on the Leinster Road.
Between the positions of the 2nd and the 4th Worcestershire a desperate struggle took place that day around Papot and Le Romarin. There the worn-out troops of the 34th Division were attacked before midday by strong forces. For a time they held their ground, but they sent back word that they were too weak in numbers to maintain a long resistance.
That message reached the 100th Brigade, and General Baird decided to send reinforcements. No formed body of troops could be spared, so the General decided to employ the "Battle Reserve" of the 2nd Worcestershire. That little detachment were given their orders and marched off—130 in all with six officers (Major E. J. Donaldson, Capts. R. F. Barker,W. L. Smith, F. J. D. Guriston, and C. D. Bishop, Lieut. H, O. Treadwell), commanded by Major E. J. Donaldson. They marched, as ordered, from the Ravelsberg to De Broeken and reported to the staff of the 88th Brigade.
Little was known as to the situation in front, save that the line at Papot had given way, so Major Donaldson was ordered to advance and take up a defensive line east of De Seule. He led his little command forward through a heavy bombardment, crossed the light railway near Organ Farm and deployed his men for defence, between the Newfoundlanders on the right and a mixed force of Tyneside Scottish and South Wales Borderers on the left. The Worcestershire detachment scraped hasty cover for themselves with their entrenching tools; and before dusk they were fairly well protected, their front line concealed behind a hedge. The night was dark; but continuous firing and constant activity of German patrols allowed no rest.
At dawn next morning (April 13th) the Germans attacked in force, Behind an intense barrage a dense wave of the enemy advanced from Le Romarin and Rue du Sac. On the southern flank of the attack, near Organ Farm, Major Donaldson's little force, concealed behind their hedgerow, held their fire till the enemy were within close range and then opened with deadly effect. The attack there was withered, and the survivors of the enemy fell back.
On the right flank of Major Donaldson's detachment, the trenches of the Monmouthshire Pioneers were rushed by the enemy; but a counter-attack by the Newfoundlanders restored the situation. Around the Connaught Road, however, the tired troops of the 34th Division were unable to withstand the onslaught. A large force of the enemy broke through them and advanced up the slope towards Neuve Eglise.
Other forces of the enemy at the same time assailed the trenches of the "Army Line," and the companies of the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire were engaged so busily to their front that they did not observe the advance of a force of the enemy up Leinster Road past their rear. The Germans were already close to the Brewery occupied by Battalion Headquarters when the alarm was given. At once 2/Lieut. A. C. Pointon led out every available man to the cross-roads west of the Church and with a Lewis-gun (The Lewis-gun was-fired by Corpl. S. Wilkinson, who used it with great effect. Although wounded he refused to leave the fight until the enemy had been routed and the situation restored: he was awarded the D.C.M.) held back the advancing enemy. Colonel Stoney sent an urgent message to "C" Company, and that company moved at once to counter-attack. Ably led by Captain C. W. V. Peake "C" Company advanced from the east and closed in on the rear of the enemy in Leinster Road. Penned in the sunken road between two fires (2/Lieut. Pointon's detachment was reinforced by some platoons of the Hallamshire Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment) the enemy resisted desperately, some sixty being killed before the twenty survivors surrendered. The sunken road was heaped with German dead, and among them were found six light machine-guns. 2/Lieut. Vernon showed great courage in that counter-attack. He was wounded but remained in command till the enemy were overpowered: he was awarded the M.C.
During that fight another force of the enemy entered the western end of the village, but were driven out by the Glasgow Highlanders. Fierce and confused fighting lasted all the morning on the slopes south of Neuve Eglise.
Two companies of the Glasgow Highlanders established and held a position north of Kortepyp Cabaret. Two other platoons of the Highland battalion reported to Colonel Stoney and aided in the defence of the village. But a wide gap existed between Kortepyp Cabaret and the front line of the 2nd Worcestershire; for the 16th K.R.R.C. had almost ceased to exist. A remnant of that battalion, three officers and forty men, fell back about midday to a position astride Leinster Road at Buston Farm, and "B" Company wheeled back from its trenches into line with them; but it was clear that the original position could not be held much longer, and about 2.0 p.m. Colonel Stoney determined to draw back the frontline companies from the "Army Line" trenches to the outskirts of Neuve Eglise.
That withdrawal could not be effected at once, for by that time all the companies were fighting hard, repulsing successive attacks against their trenches by rapid bursts of fire. Attack after attack continued throughout the afternoon, and definite orders to retire were not sent to the companies until 6.0 p.m. Then Colonel Stoney moved Battalion Headquarters back from the Brewery to the Mairie, which he began to prepare for defence. "C" Company were sent forward to assist the withdrawal of the front line and to relieve "B" Company, which was ordered to come back and form a reserve to the Battalion. Very gallant work was done that day by the Battalion Signalling Officer, Lieut. F. S. Orford, who maintained communication with the companies throughout the day despite the bombardment and the fire of the enemy's machine-guns: he was awarded the M.C.
During that time desperate fighting had been in progress among the trees and hedges of the lower ground to the southward. At La Crêche the 3rd and the 4th Worcestershire held their ground stubbornly, beating off successive attacks: but on their left between De Seule and Connaught Road the line gave way.
After their repulse by Major Donaldson's detachment the attacking enemy had fallen back to Papot; but they sent back information of the British position, and the German guns pounded the flimsy defences from 9 a.m. until the early afternoon. Then the enemy advanced in strength, establishing machine-guns on either flank to cover their movement, filtering their men forward along the hedges and then corning on boldly in great numbers across the open ground. Major Donaldson's officers and men were hit in rapid succession. Captain C. D. Bishop was killed, and Captain R. F. Barker was severely wounded. The losses were so heavy and the left flank so much exposed that Major Donaldson decided to withdraw and hold the railway embankment in rear. He sent his men back one group at a time, covered by the fire of the remainder. During that withdrawal Captain W. L. Smith was mortally wounded, and only about 40 survivors reached the embankment. Major Donaldson was still in command, with two other officers, Captain Gunston and Lieut. Treadwell. The little party lined the embankment and sold their lives dearly, firing as fast as possible into the oncoming enemy; but the Germans lapped round their left flank, brought machine-guns into action from the road behind, and swept the embankment with a hail of bullets from flank and rear. Major Donaldson and Lieut. Treadwell were hit and disabled, Capt. Gunston was mortally wounded and most of his men were killed. The "Battle Reserve" of the 2nd Worcestershire had ceased to exist. The prisoners taken by the enemy on the embankment were Major Donaldson, Lieut. Treadwell and Sergt.-Major Paton, all severely wounded, four men of the Regiment and an officer and some men of the Tyneside Scottish. A few badly wounded men of Major Donaldson's detachment had previously been sent back, including Capt. R. F. Barker: the rest all gave their lives. Their sacrifice had not been in vain. They had given time for a fresh line to be organised by the Newfoundlanders and the 2nd Hampshire at De Seule; and there the enemy's advance was checked. Further up the slope a strong enemy attack struck the Glasgow Highlanders and at last drove them back past the Trois Rois Cabaret, and down the slope beyond. The Scotsmen rallied once again and gallantly held the high ground near Crucifix Corner throughout that night and until the next morning (April 14th). Their resistance had given time for a half-dug reserve line of defences, from Crucifix Corner along the valley of the Douve, to be manned by fresh troops brought up by bus—the 71st Brigade. The enemy reached the western outskirts of Neuve Eglise during the night but did not advance further; for the village was still untaken.
That German advance had laid open the right flank of the 2nd Worcestershire, and the enemy closed in upon the Battalion in the gathering darkness. Orders, as we have seen, were sent at 6 p.m. by Colonel Stoney to recall "B" Company into the village to act as a reserve. Eventually two platoons of "B" company came back and joined Battalion Headquarters at the Mairie. The other two platoons had been sent to help "A" and "D" companies to withdraw.
With the two available platoons of "B" Company and the personnel of Battalion Headquarters,mColonel Stoney organised the Mairie for defence. Half of one platoon was placed as an advanced post in a house forty yards in advance (Marked "A" on plan) with a large supply of bombs, to break up the enemy's advance. The remainder manned the barricaded windows and improvised loopholesin the walls. A lucky find was made of a large supply of bombs stored in one of the cellars. One machinegun and the Lewis-guns of the two platoons completed the armament of the defences. An aid-post was established in a cellar by the Chaplain, the Reverend E. Victor Tanner.
Captain Crowe's exploits on the 14th April 1918 (letters mark position)
There was no knowledge as to the fortunes of the three companies in front. Heavy firing all around had lasted throughout the evening. Runners sent forward through the darkness to gain touch with the companies did not return.
When darkness fell the enemy's advanced troops pushed into the village. A racket of firing was going on all around. The defenders of the Mairie saw. the enemy's flares shooting upwards among the ruined houses, coming nearer and ever nearer. Presently one of those lights disclosed a party of the enemy creeping towards the building: they were driven off by a burst of fire from the one machine-gun of the defence; but several enemy machine-guns opened fire out of the darkness. Soon the British machine-gun was struck by the hail of bullets and was put out of action.
Undismayed, the defenders fired rifle-grenades from the garden in front of the Mairie at the nearest enemy machine-gun, which had been boldly posted in the road in front, and forced it to move further back. The rifle-grenade bombardment was directed by 2/Lieut. J. Turley, who throughout showed great courage and coolness: he was awarded thp M.C.
Heavy firing lasted all night. The night was very dark, and it was impossible to see far, but it was clear that the enemy's troops were occupying the whole village and were closing round the Mairie. The detachment in the. advanced post (Point "A" on plan) after enduring a heavy fire of bombs for many hours, exhausted their ammunition. They ran the gauntlet of the enemy's machinegun fire and rejoined the garrison of the Mairie.
Dawn of April 14th showed the enemy surrounding the Mairie on every side, moving among the houses and across the open crest line on the western side. Trench mortars had been brought up, and their big bombs fell around the house. Several bombs actually hit the building, and two crashed through the roof, causing many casualties as they burst. The little garrison continued the defence, encouraged by their leaders and inspired by the cool bravery of the devoted Chaplain, who calmly tended the wounded in the building; but the situation was serious. German machine-guns were tiring at the house from three sides, from the Church, from the cross-roads at the end of the street and from the open high ground to the west. From all sides the bullets of the enemy's snipers struck continually against the barricaded windows and doors; and many bullets penetrated the thin
There was a further danger. Seeing the village in the hands of the enemy, the British artillery might bombard it. No telephone was available, nor were signals possible.
2/Lieut. A. Johnson begged permission to try to get through with a message. Reluctantly Colonel Stoney consented. The subaltern, a very brave young officer ( 2/Lieut. Johnson had done splendid work during the two preceding days in carrying messages between Battalion Headquarters and the companies and in organising the defence of the Mairie: he was awarded a bar to his M.C.), set out from the Mairie and made his way out of sight: but before he could pass through the German lines he was hit and mortally wounded.
The little garrison answered the enemy's fire with steady musketry, and presently their good marksmanship, assisted by a Lewis-gun in an upper window (Fired by Pte. F. R. Bough, who inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy) and by a well-directed fire of rifle grenades, proved too much for the enemy's snipers. The sniping fire ceased, and the enemy temporarily
It was clear, however, that the defence could not be indefinitely prolonged. The enemy machine-guns were still firing from three sides, and it was dangerous to attempt to venture beyond the building. About 11 a.m. the Adjutant, Captain J. Crowe volunteered to lead a sortie and attempt to clear a path for retreat. He called for volunteers: Company-Quartermaster-Sergeant A. Trotman was the first to volunteer (C.Q.M.S. Trotman did splendid work in the fight which followed, and was subsequently awarded the D.C.M.), and a party of picked men assembled.
Captain Crowe decided to attempt to drive the enemy from the open high ground west of the beleaguered house. As a preliminary move a cowshed just outside the Mairie was occupied by a quick rush. Then Captain Crowe led a party of ten men who rushed across the road and threw themselves down in the hedge on the far side and opened fire. It had been his intention to attack the German machine-guns by a direct advance up the slope; that however proved to be impossible, so he decided to approach them from the flank.
Taking two picked men with him, he crawled down the side of the road and round the bend until he was beyond risk of observation. Then (at Point Z on the plan) the little party turned and worked inwards to the angle of two hedges (Point P). Some of the enemy were lining the hedge facing east. "They were taken by surprise in enfilade and were shot down.
German machine-guns could be heard firing close in front, but a slight rise in the ground (The dotted lines on the plan are not exact contours but are "form lines" intended to indicate the slope of the ground) prevented their position being seen. Captain Crowe and his men crawled forward until (at Point Q) they could see the machine-guns—two of them (at Point R) firing busily at the Mairie. Apparently
they had not noticed his shooting on their flank.
Captain Crowe decided to rush them before they could swing round. He and his two men rose to their feet and ran in on them, firing as they ran. That bold attack took the enemy completely by surprise. After a few wild shots the Germans left their weapons and fled. Captain Crowe and one man (The second of his two brave men had been shot dead; unfortunately the other was killed soon afterwards and their names have not been recorded.) flung themselves down, panting, beside the abandoned machine-guns, and signalled the party near the cowshed to advance. 2/Lieut. A. C. Pointon led forward the party and helped to secure the captured machine-guns. 2/Lieut. A. C. Pointon, who had shown great bravery throughout the defence, received the M.C.
The high ground was secured and was held during the next hour, while communication was established with the 71st Brigade in rear. There was hope of a counter-attack. But soon after midday fresh forces of the enemy came crowding into the village. Ammunition was almost exhausted and further defence was hopeless. About 1.30 p.m. Colonel Stoney gave orders for retirement. Covered by fire both from the high ground and from the windows of the Mairie, the little garrison extricated themselves from the ruined building, taking with them their wounded (Except three men too seriously wounded to be moved, who were bandaged and left in the cellar. About thirty), and made their way back from cover to cover along the road to Dranoutre.
The retirement from the Maine was covered to the last by the indomitable Private F. R. Bough, who remained at a window, firing his Lewis-gun while the party got clear, although the enemy's trench mortar brought the roof behind him crashing down (Pte. Bough was awarded the D.C.M.). The little column of exhausted and wounded men staggered off down the road, their retreat protected by Captain Crowe's detachment on the hill, who were the last to retire.
The enemy did not attempt to pursue (To such an extent had the vigorous defence impressed the enemy, that two runners seeking Battalion Headquarters at the Mairie, some time after it had been evacuated, found the building empty and were able to withdraw in safety; the enemy apparently being unaware of the evacuation) and without further loss that remnant of the Battalion passed through the line of the troops in rear (71st Brigade reinforced by 175th Brigade). Marching back through Dranoutre they were directed on to Locre, where information as to the whereabouts of the rest of their Brigade was discovered. At 6.30 p.m. the survivors of the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire, 6 officers and 100 men, rejoined the rest of the 100th Brigade (After the 2nd Worcestershire rejoined,the strength of the 100th Brigade totalled 40 officers and 814 N.C.O's. and men) behind "Hill 70" near Hille.
That stubborn defence brought great credit to the Battalion. Lieut.-Colonel Stoney was awarded the D.S.O. It was specially mentioned in Divisional orders' and in the Despatches of the Commander-in-Chief. Captain Crowe's brave enterprise earned him a well-deserved Victoria Cross.
While Battalion Headquarters had been defending the Mairie.the remnants of the three forward companies had been making their last stand.
After dark on April 13th the companies had fallen back as ordered from the "Army Line" to positions nearer the village. There they organised their defence in shell-holes or half-made trenches. They had been under fire for forty-eight hours, all were exhausted and ammunition was running short.
Captain J. J. Crowe
Dawn of April 14th brought heavy fire from all sides. The enemy, as we have seen, had occupied the village behind the Worcestershire companies, and other German forces closed in against their front and on the open right flank. Desperate fighting followed; officers and men were hit in rapid succession until the survivors of the companies and platoons were only little isolated groups, under fire from three sides.
The companies and platoons lost touch. Captain T. F. V. Matthews, commanding "A" Company, made efforts to communicate with the platoons on his right; but no messengers returned, the enemy closed in and he decided to fall back towards the left flank. To cover that retirement a party of about fifteen men under 2/Lieut. R. J. Burton made a gallant attempt a at counter-attack; but the subaltern and most of his men were shot down. Still firing, the survivors of "A" Company fell back some 200 yards and took position in two empty gun-pits. Twenty-three in all reached the gun-pits, and of that remnant seven were hit in the first few minutes. The survivors continued the defence, although from a range of less than 200 yards four German machine-guns swept the
ground and forced all to keep their heads behind cover. Covered by that fire, a large party of the enemy charged the position. The Worcestershire party waited until the charging enemy were within fifty yards and then opened rapid fire. The charging enemy were all shot down, but that last effort exhausted the ammunition of the defence. Escape was as impossible as further resistance and eventually the survivors of Captain Matthews' party were compelled to surrender.
Other parties were more fortunate. Sergeants R. V. Clare and Sergeant E. Edwards took command of those around them after their officers had fallen) and led their men back from cover to cover until they were clear of the village. Sergeants Clare and Edwards, who had shown great gallantry throughout the battle, both received the D.C.M. Sergt. F. W. Day, who had led his platoon with great bravery until disabled, also was awarded the D.C.M. On the left flank Lieut. C. S. Jagger wheeled the remnants of "D" Company to face the houses, held up the advancing enemy for some time and maintained his position until ammunition began to run out. Then he withdrew his men by small parties from cover to cover to the buildings of La Trompe Cabaret. Scarcely fifty of his own men were still unwounded, but details of other regiments closed in on the Worcestershire detachment and Lieutenant Jagger organised the defence of the buildings with men of four or five different units.
He held La Trompe Cabaret until reinforcements arrived: some platoons of the Hallamshire Battalion and of the 1/4th K.O.Y.L.L These were comparatively fresh, and it was arranged that they should take over the front line, while the exhausted soldiers of Lieutenant Jagger's detachment should be withdrawn to a supporting position behind a hedge some 200 yards in rear. There that last detachment of "D" Company lay down to rest. They were still under heavy fire, and presently Lieutenant Jagger was severely wounded and disabled. Lieut. Jagger was awarded the M.C. He survived the war to become a distinguished sculptor, the creator of the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner. His men made their way back, and eventually they rejoined the Battalion.
By midday on 15th April 1918, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment were all in reserve positions within a mile of each other, taking what rest they could snatch after their long fight, amid incessant shell-fire.
Their rest was brief. The front line south of Bailleul had now been taken over by the 49th (West Riding) Division. During the day of April 15th the enemy attacked that Division in great strength, broke through their front line, captured Bailleul and stormed the Ravelsberg Ridge. Urgent orders were sent back for all troops behind the line to take up supporting positions to cover the retreat of the Yorkshiremen. The Battalions were roused and deployed for action, the 2nd Worcestershire on the forward slope of that "Hill 70" near which they had passed the night, the 3rd Worcestershire north-east of Haegedoorne, while the 4th Worcestershire marched forward with their Brigade from Croix de Poperinghe to Hoogenacker ready, if necessary, to deliver a counterattack. Throughout the day heavy shell-fire continued, all three Battalions suffering many casualties; but despite the bombardment the exhausted soldiers slept insensible.
The Yorkshire Territorials passed back through the supporting positions during the afternoon, and the 2nd and 3rd Worcestershire again found themselves in front line. Before it was dark (7.15 p.m.) the leading troops of the enemy could be seen pushing down the slopes of the Ravelsberg, and in the dusk the enemy came up against the new defensive line. The night which ensued was very cold with a drizzling rain, and throughout the hours of & darkness all three Battalions were hard at work improving their defences.
The 2nd Battalion it will be remembered, had been drawn out of the fighting line after the defence of Neuve Eglise. The Battalion, reduced to a little party of five officers and about a hundred men, marched back into reserve on April 18th and rested two nights at the Monastery of the Mont des Cats. There reinforcements and stragglers came in, and on April 20th when the Battalion marched onwards to Noordpeene, there were nearly three hundred in the ranks. At Noordpeene a strong draft arrived (338 of all ranks joined the Battalion on April 21st—23rd, including the following officers:—Captain F. de Zulueta, Captain S, J. Somers Cox, Lieuts. P. T. Brickwell, C. W. R. Francis, H. G. Hill, L. E; Ranson, 2/Lieuts. H. E. Boswell, J. R. Starkey, G. Lambert, E. Morton Hicks, R. G. Coombe, J. A. Sudbury and H. Croydon Fowler). On April 22nd, Lieut.-Colonel T. K. Pardoe returned to the Battalion and again took over the command.
By the end of the month the 2nd Worcestershire could muster over six hundred all told; but a heterogeneous collection of officers and men does not suffice to make a fighting Battalion and many weeks of training were needed before the companies were again fit to take the field. That training started at Ste. Marie Cappel, whither the Battalion marched on April 26th, and was continued busily for a fortnight, first at Ste. Marie Cappel and then at Hevringhem, from the 1st till the 3rd May.
Lieut.-Colonel T. K. Pardoe
The training of the newly constituted companies and platoons was still in little more than the elementary stage when orders came to move back to the forward area. Half-trained though they were, the troops of the 33rd Division were in better trim than some of the troops still in the front line; so on May 3rd the 2nd Worcestershire were carried by bus eastward to Steenvoorde. Three days later (May 6th) the Battalion shifted position to a bivouac camp nearer to Poperinghe. That camp was in a little coppice where the troops had to lie close under elaborate camouflage screens, for the enemy's observers could overlook the whole countryside from Kemmel Hill. The weather was cold and wet, and influenza ran riot through the unseasoned troops.
On May 8th a German attack near Dickebusch brought the 2nd Worcestershire forward from their camp to a position in Divisional support close to Busseboom; where the Battalion remained for four days. Then French troops took over the line in front, and the 2nd Worcestershire moved back to a new camp near Brandhoek.
Rt. Rev. Bishop H. L. Gwynne, C.M.G.
Gradually the Flanders front grew quiet, and as it did so the troops in reserve were shifted further back to areas in which training could be carried out unmolested, On May 24th the 100th Brigade marched westward through Poperinghe to a camp beyond Watou. While training at that camp the Battalion received two notable visitors. On Sunday, May 26th the Right Reverend Bishop Henry Llewellyn Gwynne, C.M.G., who as a simple Chaplain had been with the Battalion in the early stages of the war, conducted Divine Service at Church Parade. On May 29th the Corps Commander, Lieut. General Sir. Claud Jacob, K.C.B., inspected the Battalion, and wished them every success in the future operations.
On May 30th the 100th Brigade changed over positions with the 19th Brigade in the forward area and marched eastwards to "Dirty Bucket Camp" north-east of Poperinghe. There the Battalion remained for a week, finding numerous working parties.
A week later the 33rd Division moved up to the front and relieved the 6th Division in the line by the Ypres-Commines Canal. The 100th Brigade relieved the 71st Brigade; the 2nd Worcestershire taking over reserve trenches near Belgian Chateau from the 9th Norfolk. There the Battalion remained for three days, mostly occupied with working parties on the various defences. Lieut. Colonel Pardoe left for the command of a Garrison Battalion in England, and Lieut. Colonel Stoney again took over command. Two noteworthy additions to the Battalion at this period were 2/Lieut. C. E.Lively, D.C.M. and Regimental-Sergeant-Major Farley (the latter from the 10th Battalion).
During the German offensive in April the British defensive line had been drawn back from the hard-won ridge of Passchendaele to the very gates of Ypres; and the famous Salient had thereby been reduced to a shallow curve. But that withdrawal had not rendered the positions around Ypres less dangerous to the troops occupying the trenches, even during periods of comparative quiet. From the Messines Ridge and from Kemmel Hill the German observers could look down upon the British defences and could accurately direct the fire of their guns ; and even in the reserve trenches the casualties from that intermittent bombardment were so numerous as to impose a sense of constant danger. Casualties, 2nd Worcestershire. 8th June, 1 wounded. 9th June, 2 wounded. 10th June, 10 wounded, 1 killed. 13th June, 3 wounded. 14th June, 1 killed. 8th—14th June, 2 killed, 16 wounded.
On the night of 15th/16th June the 2nd Worcestershire relieved the 1st Queen's (of the 19th Brigade) in the front line south-east of Ypres along the shores of Zillebeke Lake. For some days the Battalion remained quiet, while the platoons worked busily on improving the defences; then arrangements were made for a raid to discover the identity of the enemy in front, who held the ruins of "Manor Farm" as a defended post. Plans were laid, and in the night of June 19th/20ththe attack was delivered.
The raiders, five officers (2/Lt. H. E. Boswell (commanding), 2/Lieuts. H. G. Hill, F. D. Barnard and C.E. Lively, also 2/Lieut. Greene of the R.G.A.) and 138 N.C.O's. and men, moved out from the front trenches fifteen minutes after midnight. Creeping along the bank of the lake they reached a German outpost in front of the Farm. That outpost was rushed with the bayonet and the defenders were killed or captured. The raiders pushed on to "Manor Farm," attacked it with bomb and bayonet and dropped a large explosive charge down a dugout nearby. Then they came back, bringing five prisoners (of the 457th Regiment. 2/Lieut. Boswell was awarded the M.C.), and regained our lines with no heavier casualties than two men wounded.
That same night the Battalion was relieved and went back into reserve (Casualties; 2nd Worcestershire. 15th—20th June, 3 killed, 20 wounded. 20th—30th June—7 wounded), first in trenches behind the line and then in Divisional Reserve at Brandhoek. On the last day of June the Battalion moved forward again and relieved the 5th Scottish Rifles in the trenches south of the canal previously held.
Nothing of importance took place until July 6th. Then the 33rd Division "side-slipped" to the left, giving up (To the 49th Division) the trenches near Zillebeke Lake, and talcing over on the right (From the 6th Division) the trenches down to Dickebusch Lake. The 2nd Worcestershire shifted their line to the right till the flank of the Battalion rested on "Scottish Wood."
Before dawn on July 9th a daring patrol led by 2/Lieut. E. Morton-Hicks reconnoitred a German post in "No Man's Land." To their amazement they found that all the enemy holding the post had left it. They entered the trench and brought away a German light machine-gun together with the overcoats of the enemy (of the 118th Regiment).
A week later another minor raid was carried out. The raiders, ten in number, led by Lieut. I. G. Scott, moved out during the night of July 17th/18th to attack two German outposts—a small concrete dugout and a rather larger machine-gun post. Private F. J. S. Hutchings crawled round the dugout and suddenly bombed it from the far side. Simultaneously the other raiders charged, headed by the subaltern, who killed one German sentry outside the dugout and wounded another. The wounded German rushed for shelter closely followed by the subaltern, who plunged into the dugout on the heels of the fugitive and received the surrender of its occupants. Then the raiders proceeded to attack the machine-gun post, but by then the enemy were on the alert and opened a sharp fire. Lieutenant Scott was wounded and the attempt had to be abandoned. The raiders fell back; but Private A. Sheffield, finding that several of his comrades were missing, turned back and searched the open ground until dawn in spite of the enemy's fire.The missing men, including Private F. J. S. Hutchings, had taken cover in shell-holes and rejoined next night after eighteen hours in "No Man's Land." Privates Hutchings and Sheffield were both awarded the D.C.M. Lieut. Scott received the M.C.
Thenceforward until the middle of August the 2nd Worcestershire remained in the area south of Ypres holding alternately the right (Casualties 2nd Worcestershire. July 6—10th, 1 killed, 4 -wounded) and left (July 16— 19th, 2/Lieut. I. G. Scott wounded. July 30th—August 9th, 2 killed, 14 wounded) sectors of the Brigade front varied by short periods in support (July 19th—23rd) or reserve (July 10th-l5th at Knollys Farm. July 26th—31st at Knollys Farm. August 10th—15th at Knollys Farm. July 23rd—25th Reserve Trenches). Little of note occurred nor were casualties severe.
The principal work of the Battalion during that period (On August 6th at Blendecques, the Headquarters of the Second Array, His Majesty the King presented the Victoria Cross to Captain J. J. Crowe for his gallantry at Neuve Eglise. Subsequently His Majesty inspected a representative party of the 100th Brigade commanded by Captain E. O. Underhill M.C., and on Sunday 11th August a second representative party under Captain C. C. Tough M.C. paraded at a Divine Service attended by His Majesty. On this occasion the Rev. E. V. Tanner M.C., the Chaplain of the Battalion, was presented to the King.) was the training in war of American troops (Mostly of the U.S. 119th Regiment), which were attached to the Battalion. First came individual officers and N.C.O's., then later came complete platoons and companies.
In the middle of August the Americans were deemed to be sufficiently experienced to take over the line, and the American 30th Division relieved the British 33rd Division. The 2nd Worcestershire were relieved by a battalion of the American 120th Regiment, and marched back from "Knollys Farm" to "Tunnellers Camp" beyond Poperinghe.
After a week's rest the 33rd Division moved further back for training. The 2nd Worcestershire moved by train from Proven to Watten on August 21st and marched to billets at Serques. After a week of training the Battalion marched to Arques on August 28th and entrained for the south.
The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment entered the battle-area in September. During the first fortnight of that month the Battalion (On moving down from Flanders, the Battalion had detrained on August 29th at Bouquemaison, and had then marched to billets at Sus-St. Leger) had been training busily around Sus-St. Leger. On September I5th that training came to an end; and the 2nd Worcestershire, together with the other battalions of the 100th Brigade, were carried forward in busses across the old Somme battlefield to Longueval. The Worcestershire companies were quartered in dugouts among the tree stumps of Delville Wood, hard by the very ground which the Battalion had captured in August 1916.
Lieut. (acting Captain) John James Crowe
receiving his Victoria Cross from H.M. King George V
After two more days of practising the attack, the 100th Brigade marched forward on September 18th in heavy rain through Les Boeufs, Le Transloy, Rocquigny and Bus to Lechelle. In front of them a thunder of gun-fire told of the battle in which other troops of the Third Army were even then fighting their way up the ridge of Epehy.
Taught by their experience of the previous year, the enemy had reorganised their defence in greater depth. The Hindenburg Line had been strengthened by the creation of a fortified "forward zone" on the heights around Epehy and Gouzeaucourt. Before the attack on the main line could be launched those forward positions had to be taken; and the attack on those forward positions was to be carried out in successive stages. After the capture of Epehy the 33rd Division was to pass through the victorious troops, and was to clear the long spurs which run down from Epehy by Ossus and Villers Guislain to the St. Quentin Canal.
ACTIONS EAST OF EPEHY
The actions east of Epehy, form part of the great series of "Battles of the Hindenburg Line"; which is the official covering title for all the fighting from September 12th to October 9th, including the individual battles of the Canal du Nord, etc., which we are about to describe.
On September 19th the 2nd Worcestershire marched forward from Lechelle to Equancourt. There the troops bivouacked in the open, constructing rough shelters from corrugated iron and timbers fetched from the ruined village of Fins. In front of them the 19th Brigade had taken over the front line at Epehy, and the Battalion was to be attached to that Brigade to assist them in their forthcoming attack. After dark on the following evening (September 20th) the 2nd Worcestershire marched up the slope to Epehy, passed through that ruined village and settled down into reserve trenches behind the front of attack.
Between the crest line at Epehy and the St. Quentin Canal the enemy's forward positions included two main lines of trenches, the second line being the stronger and the more definite. That second trench line passed over the eastern ends of both "Seventeen Spur" and "Lark Spur." The strong field works on those two heights were linked up by "Pigeon Trench," which ran like a long scar across the Targelle Valley between the two spurs. Nearly a mile west of the site of "Pigeon Trench" a deep sunken road called "Gloster Road," furrowed the valley. Some two hundred yards west of "Gloster Road" was sited the enemy's first line of defence: a straggling trench line, strengthened at intervals by elaborate redoubts — "Limerick Post" on the crest of Lark Spur, "Meath Post" half-a-mile further north.
At dawn on September 21st the supporting British artillery opened fire, and two battalions of the 19th Brigade, the 1st Queen's and the 1st Cameronians, attacked Limerick and Meath Posts. The defences of those two redoubts were strong, and both attacks failed. That evening a renewed attack by the supporting battalion, the 5th Scottish Rifles, succeeded in taking Meath Post.
So far the 2nd Worcestershire had not been actively engaged. Orders were now given that the Battalion would relieve the 1st Queen's in the front line and would renew the attack on Limerick Post. After a day of heavy rain, the Worcestershire platoons filed forward after dark on September 22nd and took over the front line. At dawn (5 a.m.) next morning (September 23rd) the British artillery again opened fire. "A" and "B" Companies of the 2nd Worcestershire advanced with difficulty across the slippery ground and made a converging attack on Limerick Post. In spite of a storm of German shells the redoubt was reached and was rushed with the bayonet; but no opposition was met. Save for the dead and a few wounded men the defences were empty; the enemy had fallen back. Casualties 2nd Worcestershire in this attack, 3 killed, 19 wounded.
The rest of the 100th Brigade were brought up, and preparations were made for further attacks to gain possession of the whole crest of Lark Spur. From Limerick Post broken trenches ran eastward along that spur to the end of the crest-line, where a complicated group of trenches was known as "Dados Loop." Those trenches were to the right of the frontage held by the 2nd Worcestershire. Straight in front the enemy were strongly posted in the sunken "Gloster Road."
During the next four days fighting went on intermittently across the spurs and valleys east of Epehy. On the right of the 2nd Worcestershire the 12th Division made several attacks to gain "Dados Loop," but those attacks were not successful; nor was any better result gained by bombing parties of the 2nd Worcestershire who endeavoured to seize the Cross-Roads on their right front. The Cross-Roads were strongly held, and German machine-guns drove back every advance. The only casualties recorded in the Battalion Diary for the period September 23rd—28th, is 1 officer wounded (Lieut. H. C. Hill, on September 25th), but there are known to have been many other casualties. Total losses of the 100th Brigade from 24th to 28th were 1 officer and 27 men killed, 7 officers and 180 wounded, 15 missing.
The 12th and 18th Divisions were to attack Vendhuille, while further north the IVth and Vth Corps of the Third Army made a subsidiary attack from Epehy to Marcoing. On the right of that latter attack the 33rd Division was to advance from the height of Epehy to gain the German forward positions west of the Canal. On the left flank of the 33rd Division the 98th Brigade were to storm Villers Guislain: on the Division's right flank the 100th Brigade, including the 2nd Worcestershire, were to attack down the Targelle valley towards Ossus.
That attack, as we have said, was subsidiary to the main operation, and could not be expected by itself to achieve any great success: consequently, since there were not enough tanks and artillery to assist adequately the whole front of attack, all the tanks and most of the available guns had to be concentrated behind the main attack further south, leaving only inadequate support on the front of the 33rd Division. The attack of the 33rd Division was supported only by the 33rd Divisional Field Artillery—two Field Brigades, without any addition of heavier pieces. In contrast, the decisive attack on the right was supported by 44 Field Brigades and 21 Brigades of medium or heavy artillery, and was assisted by a strong force of tanks. Also the subsidiary attack was to be started earlier than the main attack in order to deceive the enemy and to engage the fire of the German guns. That latter provision entailed an especial disadvantage for the 2nd Worcestershire; for the Battalion formed the extreme right flank of the subsidiary attack, and consequently the Worcestershire companies would have to advance with their right exposed to enfilade fire from Lark Spur until the subsequent movement of the 12th Division further to the right.
The task thus set to the 33rd Division was so formidable that the Brigadier of the 100th Brigade, Brigadier-General A. W. F. Baird, reported (To the B.G.G.S. Vth Corps on the afternoon of September 28th) officially that in his opinion success could not be expected unless the attack was assisted either by tanks or by more artillery, or unless the enemy's machine-guns were effectively blinded by a heavy curtain of smoke. But his remonstrance was unavailing. It was essential to secure the success of the decisive attack further south; and neither guns nor tanks were sufficiently numerous to be spared. The orders must stand.
Through the night the support companies of the 2nd Worcestershire filed forward to the front, and before dawn the Battalion was deployed for attack. In the front line, "Limerick Trench," from right to left were ‘D’ and ‘C’ Companies; in the second line behind them were ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies. The two leading companies were to capture the sunken "Gloster Road"; then the two supporting companies would pass through and take "Pigeon Trench" beyond.
BATTLE OF THE ST. QUENTIN CANAL
At 5.30 a.m. the guns behind the 33rd Division (The main attack on the right opened twenty minutes later) opened fire and the battle began. Scrambling out of their trenches the Worcestershire platoons (The two leading companies advanced in deep formation; two platoons in front line, one in support, one in reserve. The front line platoons were in extended order) advanced as rapidly as possible through a storm of German shells; but the rain of the previous days had converted the shattered ground into deep mud, and the laden troops could not keep up with the barrage. The British shrapnel burst for a few minutes along the line of the sunken " Gloster Road " and then moved on down the valley. As soon as the shells ceased to burst over the road the German machine-guns came into action one after another (In all, 7 machine-guns appear to have opened fire from the sunken road and from, the Cross-Roads). From the cutting in front and from the Cross-Roads to the right came the hard stammer of their firing, and under the hail of their bullets the attack withered away. Through the smoke of the shell-bursts the platoons in rear saw their comrades in front collapse, but they pushed on in their turn only to meet a like fate. All the platoons of the two leading companies had been shot down and the majority of the two support companies had fallen before the survivors came to a halt half-way to the road and took cover as best they could.
It was not possible to send a message back across that open ground swept by machine-gun fire, and it was not until after 10.0 a.m. that it could definitely be reported that the attack had failed. About that time a merciful mist drifted down and veiled the battle-field. Under cover of that mist the survivors of the attack regained Limerick Trench. German shells were still raining down all around, and a tremendous thunder of gunfire on the right flank told them that the main attack had been opened along the whole front of the Fourth Army.
Throughout the rest of that day shells and bullets struck around the trenches which the survivors of the Battalion were holding. Orders for a further attack were followed by counter orders; and the position was unchanged when darkness fell.
That night came cheering news. The great attack on the right had been successful. The Bellicourt defences had been stormed, the St. Quentin Canal had been crossed, and the Hindenburg Line was broken.
The fall of the main defences further south entailed the retreat of the enemy in front. Patrols were sent forward before the dawn. They found the sunken road empty save for a few dead.
Cautiously they made their way down the valley, reconnoitred "Pigeon Trench" and found it deserted, then pushed on to the bank of the canal beyond. Machine-guns spat at them from the eastern bank; but Ossus and all the ground west of the canal had been evacuated.
Unopposed, Colonel Stoney and the remnants of the Battalion advanced over the battle ground. Between "Limerick Trench" and "Gloster Road" were lying the bodies of the brave officers and men who had made the attack. They lay in little groups of crumpled forms, platoon after platoon struck down by the hail of bullets. None had crossed the sunken road.
On the left and closest to the road lay Lieutenant R. K. Wright's platoon of ‘C’ Company.
In front lay the subaltern, a bomb grasped tightly in his hand: behind him lay his men, all struck down in the moment of charging. "His leading," recorded the Battalion War Diary, "must have been magnificent."
To the right and but little further from the enemy position were found 2/Lieutenant G. Lambert's platoon. They too had all been killed; and they lay, riddled with bullets but still in line facing forward, their dead subaltern a few yards in front.
Further to the right the two leading platoons of ‘D’ Company had closed towards the Cross-Roads, and they lay strewn in a semi-circle as the machine-guns had caught them. "Their position" says the War Diary, "bore witness to the splendid effort they had made to reach their objectives."
Of the four platoons which had led the attack every officer and man had been killed by the storm of bullets at close range. The ground behind was littered with the dead and wounded of the other platoons who had followed them. In all 8 officers (Lt. L. E. Ransom, 2/Lts. M. Glynn, J. A. Sudbury, C. E. Neale, G. Lambert, G. E. Woodward, S. Benbow, and Lt. R. K.Wright [Bedfords, attached]) and 80 N.C.O's. and men had been killed, 3 officers (Lieuts. F. D. Barnard, H. J. Walford and one attached officer) and 150 men wounded.
That sacrifice of brave men must at first have seemed useless to the survivors of the Battalion —who indeed wrote bitterly of the weakness and ineffectiveness of the supporting artillery fire; but the sacrifice had not been useless. The attack had diverted much of the enemy's artillery, and had drawn to the defences in front a fresh GermanDivision, the 30th Division,from the enemy's reserves (The enemy who actually met the attack were Jager battalions of the Alpine Corps, a formation which had gained a high reputation). Thus weakened, the enemy's line further south had given way before the attack of the Fourth Army; and the strongest bulwark of Germany was broken. The officers and men of the 2nd Worcestershire who lay dead in the valley of the Targelle were part of the price, an inevitable part of the price of the decisive victory of the War, the greatest battle ever won by British arms. By midday of September 30th the advancing troops of the 33rd Division had reached the line of the St. Quentin Canal along the whole Divisional front and had begun to consolidate the ground gained. Under intermittent shell-fire the 2nd Worcestershire, now mustering only some 200 bayonets, established outposts and reconnoitred the enemy's deserted- trenches (A German trench-howitzer found abandoned in "Pigeon Trench" on the morning of September 30th, was taken and after the war was on display at the Depot of the Regiment). Patrols explored the river bank, searching for possible crossing places. Throughout the day good news came in; the enemy's front further south was shattered; further north the Divisions of the First Army were fighting, as we have seen, on the very outskirts of Cambrai.
By dawn of October 1st the .position along the canal bank was fairly secure. Parties were
then sent back to bury the dead; who were laid to rest in the ground over which they had fought, the eight subalterns of the leading platoons being buried together at the Cross-Roads which the attack had tried to gain.
After dark patrols were sent forward, who ranged up and down the banks of the canal seeking a practicable crossing. But from the far bank the enemy sent up flares and the German machine-guns fired repeatedly. No crossing could as yet be effected; and during the next two days the position on the front of the 100th Brigade remained unchanged. Then the 19th Brigade took over the line along the canal, and the platoons of the 2nd Worcestershire (The Battalion, was relieved by the 1st Queens and 1st Cameronians) filed back along the communication trenches up the Targelle Valley and over the ridge by Vaucelette Farm to a bivouac camp on the reverse slope behind Epehy. There the Battalion rested and reorganised during the next four days. During that period, on October 6th, the “Battle Reserve" of the Battalion rejoined to replace, in some measure, the casualties. That reinforcement included five officers:— Capt. C. C. Tough, M.C., Lts. Croydon-Fowler, Williams, Laughton and Dudley.
The great attack of September 29th had achieved its principal object; the enemy's strongest defences, the main Hindenburg Line along the St. Quentin Canal, had been broken. If those elaborate defences could not withstand the attack of the Allied Armies it was clear that no less formidable line could maintain a long resistance. But though the main Hindenburg Line had been broken, the Reserve Line of defence, the "Beaurevoir Line," some two to three miles in rear of the Canal, still barred the path of the British forces. To break that last line of resistance a fresh attack was planned and fresh forces were brought forward. Among those fresh forces was the reconstituted 25th Division.
The 25th Division had moved on September 29th from billets west of Albert to hutment camps near Montauban in the old Somme battle-ground. On October 1st, when the success of the great attack was assured, the Division was ordered to move still closer up, to Combles. Then came orders for the Division to move right forward to the front line near Le Catelet.
After the battle of the St. Quentin Canal the 2nd Worcestershire, it will be remembered; had rested for some days in reserve behind Epehy. The collapse of the German defence under the great attack of October 8th brought orders that the 100th Brigade must be prepared to advance. That evening the 2nd Worcestershire moved eastwards over the crest-line into the Targelle Valleynonce again, bivouacking for the night in that valley's northern slopes. In front of them the leading Brigades of the 33rd Division had advanced across the canal and far beyond.
At dawn of October 9th the 100th Brigade moved forward. Crossing the canal and river by temporary bridges south of Honnecourt, the 2nd Worcestershire and the other two battalions formed up in a little valley on the Canal's eastern bank. The transport of the Brigade moved round by road through Honnecourt and joined the Battalions. Reconnaissance showed the ground in front to be clear, and-at 11.0 a.m. the Brigade marched forward, in high spirits, across ground scarred by broken trenches and littered with debris, through Aubencheul, Villers Outreaux and Malincourt, to Deheries. "Men marched exceptionally well," records the laconic War Diary.
The Brigade was-still in Divisional Reserve, well behind the fighting line; but a few shells struck nearby, and consequently it was in artillery formation' that the advance was resumed next day (October 10th) across country past Clary and Bertry. In front of them the 98th Brigade had taken Trois Villes and had reached the line of the River Selle north of Montay. There the advance had been checked.
For the night of October lOth/llth the 100th Brigade halted in reserve on the old battlefield of Le Cateau at Trois Villes, the 2nd Worcestershire finding shelter in the ruins of Le Fayt. Next morning came orders for the Brigade to advance to the front line and attack across the River.
The enemy were holding the slopes east of the River Selle in some strength, and it was considered necessary to wait for artillery support. That involved delay, and the attack could not be staged earlier than the morning of October 12th. So throughout the day of October 11th the 100th Brigade remained stationary, busy, however, on preparations and reconnaissance.
In spite of that delay, the difficulties of the artillery in getting forward guns and ammunition across the broken ground behind were so great that eventually it was decided that the attack could not be supported by any preliminary bombardment. Such gun-ammunition as was available had perforce to be kept in hand in order to meet possible counter-attacks. The Brigade must attack unsupported. Obviously only a surprise attack in darkness offered any chance of success, and it was decided to make the attempt before dawn of October 12th.
The first problem was the passage of the river. That was to be effected by means of light footbridges, which were to be constructed during the night under protection of a covering party.
It was decided that the 2nd Worcestershire should find that covering party, and that the other two battalions of the Brigade should make the subsequent assault.
After dark on October 11th the bridging materials were brought up to the front line by two companies of Sappers. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies of the 2nd Worcestershire (Commanded respectively by Lieuts.N. J. Waltho and H. E. Boswell) escorted them down the slopes to the river. The two Worcestershire companies then deployed into position along the river bank, and the Sappers set to work.
It was a most anxious night. The enemy were not actually holding the river bank, but they were known to be in pooition along the line of the railway, little more than a quarter-of-a-mile away, and a hail of fire was expected at every moment; but unaccountably the enemy gave no sign, and eleven out of the twelve intended bridges were satisfactorily completed.
In the small hours of the morning the two attacking battalions, Glasgow Highlanders on the right, and 16th K.R.R.C. on the left, came down to the river bank, filed across the bridges and deployed on the further bank. The remainder of the 2nd Worcestershire—Headquarters and two companies—were being held back in Brigade Reserve.
At the first faint light of dawn the Highlanders and Rifles rapidly advanced up the slope and attacked the enemy's positions along the railway embankment. The Highlanders were checked at the outset by concentrated fire, but on the left the Rifles succeeded in surprising the enemy and gained the crest of the ridge beyond. Their Battalion Commander moved forward across the river and established his Headquarters in a quarry on the further bank.
On the left flank the 17th Division should likewise have pushed forward, but they had failed to do so, and the left company of the Rifles on the ridge were consequently exposed. To help them, some of the Worcestershire covering parties pushed across to the eastern bank; but before a satisfactory defensive flank to the left could be formed, a strong German counter-attack struck in behind the left flank of the Rifles, overwhelming their Battalion Headquarters in the quarry. The Riflemen fell back to the line of the railway. There the Worcestershire reinforcements enabled them to hold on for a while; but the enemy came on in force, and eventually the Rifles had to fall back to the line of the river.
It was now broad daylight; and it was clear that the enemy were strong in numbers and determined to hold the river line. A properly organised and supported attack would be necessary, and such an attack would take days to prepare. So orders were issued to attempt no further advance (These orders were finally issued in the evening, after orders for a renewed attack had been first issued and then cancelled). The troops would hold the line of the river with outposts on the eastern bank to protect the crossings already established.
Apart from the two companies on the river bank, the 2nd Worcestershire had not been definitely engaged in that fight; but the half-battalion in rear had-moved up during the action to support the left flank and the enemy's shell-fire had caused many casualties. The total loss during the day was 4 officers (Lieut. H. Croydon-Fowler lulled, 2/Lieuts. B, W. Dudley, H. Garrett and Watkin-Jones wounded) and 45 N.C.O's. and men (2 killed, 38 wounded, 5 missing), a sufficiently serious loss from a fighting strength which at the beginning of the day had only been 314 all told (15 officers, 299 other ranks). The other two battalions of the 100th Brigade could muster no more than 400 between them when the day was out (9th H.L.I, lost over 160, 16tb K.R.R.C. lost about 140).
For one more day the 100th Brigade remained in the front line ; then Welsh troops of the 38th Division came up to take over the line. The 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers took over the positions along the river bank from the 2nd Worcestershire, and the Battalion marched back to billets, first at Le Fayt and then, on October 14th, to Clary.
In the centre of the line of attack the 2nd Worcestershire were moving into position. During the preceding week the Battalion had remained in billets at Clary, resting and refitting after the heavy fighting earlier in the month. On October 21st a move forward had been made from Clary to Bertry. Now the 100th Brigade, of which the Battalion formed part, was marching forward to avenge the loss of so many brave officers and men ten days before; for the position from which the attack of the Brigade was to start was that very position from which, on October 12th, the Germans had repulsed the gallant efforts of the Rifles and Highlanders to win a foothold on the eastern bank of the Selle.
During the first days of the battle that position on the further bank had been won at heavy cost by the 38th (Welsh) Division. The 33rd Division was now to take over the ground gained from that Division, and thence was to join in the general attack.
The 100th Brigade was at first to be in Divisional Reserve. The other two Brigades of the 33rd Division relieved the Welshmen along the crest line east of the River. Behind them the 100th Brigade filed over light bridges across the river and settled into cover on the slope, in that very railway cutting which the enemy had held in the previous fight.
North of Le Cateau the British artillery had opened fire at 2.0 a.m. and the attack then began. Pushing forward in the misty moonlight, the leading Brigades of the 33rd Division fought their way up the line of the straight Roman road which runs north-eastward from Montay to Englefontaine and the Mormal Forest. The villages of Richempnt and Forest were taken after sharp fighting. Then as the day dawned, Croix and Vert Baudet also were stormed. The enemy's machine gunners kept up an obstinate resistance, and midday was past before the attacking troops had cleared Vendegies Wood. Beyond that wood the attack was finally held up; though all that afternoon fighting continued, with heavy shelling and sharp bursts of machine-gun fire among the hedgerows.
In that attack the 2nd Worcestershire had borne no active part. The 100th Brigade had followed close behind the attacking troops, ready to go through. But the opportunity had not arisen; and at dark the Brigade halted in Vendegies Wood. There the 2nd Worcestershire entrenched for safety under cover during the night.
In the centre of the British battle line the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment had sharp fighting during the three days which followed the great attack of October 23rd. That advance had carried the troops of the 33rd Division some six miles forward, from the line of the Selle to the outskirts of Mormal Forest. There the advance had reached the prepared reserve positions of the enemy around Englefontaine.
On the following morning (October 24th) at 4.0 o'clock the attack was renewed. The two leading Brigades of the 33rd Division attacked Englefontaine; but no permanent success was gained; and orders came at 10.0 a.m. for the 100th Brigade to be brought up into the battle.
Passing through the troops in front, the 2nd Worcestershire advanced to the cross-roads south of Englefontaine, and occupied the knoll known as "Hill 150" south of that point. On that knoll the Battalion dug in, orders being that the Worcestershire should hold the enemy in front by fire while the 16th K.R.R.C. attacked on the flank. But the orders had been issued too hastily; co-operation between the different units proved difficult to arrange; and the day ended with Englefontaine still in the hands of the enemy. The defences of the village had proved to be very formidable; that fortified village was in fact one of the strongest points of the enemy's reserve line of defence.
Throughout the ensuing day (October 25th) the 33rd Division stood fast, while the Divisions on right and left fought their way forward into line. Preparations were made and plans amended for a fresh attack.
At 1.0 a.m. on October 26th the new attack was launched. All three Brigades of the 33rd Division attacked. On the left the 19th Brigade led by the 1st Queen's attacked the western side of the village; on the right the 98th Brigade attacked it from the east; and in the centre the 2nd Worcestershire and the Glasgow Highlanders of the 100th Brigade attacked the village from the south.
The enemy were strongly posted on the outskirts of the ruined village with machine-guns skilfully disposed to sweep the open ground. In spite of the crashing barrage the German machine-gunners opened fire as soon as the advancing platoons appeared out of the darkness. One machinegun was shooting straight down the Landrecies road; but 2nd Lieutenant B. Kelly charged the machine-gun at the head of a small party, plunged in among the machine-gunners, killed two with the bayonet and captured the rest (2/Lt. Kelly was awarded the M.C.). Further along the line Sergeant H. Yates boldly attacked a second machine-gun, killed the machine-gunners and cleared the way (Sergt. Yates was awarded the D.CM.). Nevertheless there were many casualties; and both the officers of one company were hit. Sergeant F. Field took command of the company and led his men forward into the village. Another Company was led very gallantly by Capt. E. L. Hopkins, who was later awarded a bar to his M.C.
The British attack had been launched at the very hour at which the German troops in Englefontaine were being relieved (The German 58th Division was being relieved by the German 14th Division); and the inevitable confusion among the enemy greatly helped the attackers. The German battalions which had stood the strain of the previous three days of battle were at the end of their strength, and the fresh troops, ignorant of the situation, were easily demoralised. The attackers fought their way into the wrecked village and for a time a wild struggle raged around the ruins of the houses.
In the darkness individual German leaders reorganised their men and made fierce counter attacks. One such counter-attack struck against the company commanded by Sergeant F. Field (Sergt. Field was awarded the D.C.M. ). The sergeant and his men opened rapid fire and the enemy fell back. Another counter-attack surged round both front and rear of an isolated Worcestershire platoon led by Sergeant J. Darwood (Sergt. Darwood was awarded the D.C.M.); but the platoon held firm, shooting down all the enemy in their rear and then charging the enemy in front with the bayonet. The German infantry gave way, and the Worcestershire platoons fought their way forward through the village. 2/Lieut. H. E. Boswell led his Company with great bravery, and personally captured a party of the enemy. He was awarded the D.S.O.
The Chaplain of the Battalion, the Reverend E. Victor Tanner M.C., had gone forward alone into that wild fight, following the advancing companies. In the pitch darkness, lit onlybythe momentary blaze of flares and bursting shells, he stumbled into a group of soldiers sheltering in a door-way; and found them to be Germans. At sight of his British uniform they shrank back into the house. Risking his life, the padre followed them into the building; which was crowded with men of the enemy, taking shelter from the fight. He promised them that their lives should be spared; and the brave Chaplain walked back to Battalion Headquarters followed by twenty-two prisoners, their hands raised in surrender.
Before dawn the German resistance was broken; and in the first light (October 26th) the last enemy in the village gave themselves up. By sunrise Englefontaine was entirely in our hands, with more than five hundred prisoners and many machine-guns. 25 machine-guns altogether were captured in Englefontaine, but is was not easy to apportion them among the different battalions, which had been intermingled in the fighting, and whose claims overlapped.
Entrenchment was quickly begun; for a counter-attack was expected. But no counterattack developed. The troops of the 33rd Division held the ground they had gained until nightfall; then the Welsh troops of the 38th Division came up in relief. Once again the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers relieved the 2nd Worcestershire. After dark on October 26th the Battalion marched back to billets at Forest. The casualties in that hazardous fight proved unexpectedly light; less than forty in all (Casualties, 2nd Worcestershire October 22nd-26th. Killed one officer [2/Lieut. A. E. Bullock] and 4 men. Wounded one officer [2/Lieut. Laughton] and 33 other ranks); and the Battalion was warmly congratulated.
While the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment had thus been heavily engaged in the centre of the battle line, the 2/8th Battalion Worcestershire had also seen sharp fighting on the left flank of the great battle.
A few miles to the northward, the 2nd Worcestershire had remained in reserve during the great battle on November 4th. Since the close of the Battle of the Selle the Battalion had remained billetted in Forest. There the 2nd Worcestershire remained during the first hours of the battle, listening to the gun-fire in front and awaiting orders to advance; for the 33rd Division had been detailed as supports to the 38th Division in case of need.
Presently word came that the 38th Division had gained their objectives; and that the 33rd Division would advance. The 100th Brigade marched up the main road to Hecq, past troops of prisoners and all the evidences of victory. In Hecq, which had been taken that morning by the 38th Division, the Brigade halted for some three hours, while the ground in front was reconnoitred. Then the advance was resumed to the edge of the Mormal Forest, where the troops settled down for the night.
An attack was planned for the next morning; but before dawn it was found that the enemy had retired. The advance was resumed, the direction this time being eastward through the Forest. The 2nd Worcestershire marched at the rear of the Brigade. The march was uneventful, though a sharp watch was kept for any possible ambush in that great wood.
At Sartbaras, on the western edge of the Forest, the 100th Brigade debouched into the open.
In front some parties of the enemy were still west of the River Sambre, and a little manoeuvring and shooting was necessary to drive them away. In the course of those operations ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies of the Battalion occupied the village of Sassegnies, without loss. After dark the Battalion took over position along the banks of the River Sambre. In front the German rearguards were holding Aulnoye and Leval. Orders were received for an attack across the river next day.
During that night the indefatigable sappers put a light bridge across the river. At 5.30 a.m. (November 6th) such guns as were available opened fire. The leading Worcestershire platoons rushed across the bridge, formed up on the rising ground beyond and advanced to the attack.
Several machine-guns fired at them from the outskirts of Petit Maubeuge; but 2nd Lieutenant J. E. Morrison led his men forward with speed and skill, outflanked a large party of the enemy and drove them off in flight. Sergeant. H. Yates led his platoon in a swift rush which captured a machine-gun and its crew. The enemy gave way on all sides. A German field-gun opened fire at point blank range in a vain effort to hold back the pursuit; but 2nd Lieutenant Morrison outflanked the gun and captured it without loss. Three more machine-guns were rushed and captured, and the German rear-guard was scattered. In less than an hour the villages of Leval and Petit Maubeuge had been cleared at trifling cost. 2/Lieut. Morrison was awarded the M.C. and Sergt. Yates the D.C.M. 2/Lieut. B. Kelly, who also behaved with great bravery, was awarded a bar to his M.C.
Then the enemy's artillery further north woke to activity; and shells crashed down around the captured villages. The Worcestershire companies took cover and stayed in the captured positions during the rest of that day. In the afternoon the 19th Brigade came up, passed through the line of the 100th Brigade and continued the advance.
The 2nd Worcestershire was now on historic ground. On August 25th 1914 the Battalion had marched through Leval from Aulnoye during the retreat from Mons. Now the British Army was fighting its way back across the ground over which it had then retreated. Next day the Battalion advanced. Back along the tracks of 1914, the 2nd Worcestershire marched to Aulnoye. There the Battalion halted for some four hours. The 19th Brigade in front was held up by German resistance. The 98th Brigade was going up to assist, and the 100th Brigade would follow in rear.
The 100th Brigade moved forward in the afternoon and again came within range of the enemy's guns. The three battalions dug in for safety near Le Pot de Vin and waited for orders to advance. But the situation in front was obscure; no orders came back and the Brigade did not advance further.
That night was quiet. Presently came orders that the Welshmen of the 38th Division would pass through the line and would carry on the advance; the 33rd Division would move back into reserve. About midnight (10 p.m. November 7th according to Brigade. 1.0 a.m. November 8th according to Battalion) the 2nd Worcestershire left their shelter trenches, fell in on the road near Le Pot de Vin and marched back to Petit Maubeuge. There the Battalion remained until the 12th of November.
The Final Advance had taken the Battalion to the very line of the Retreat in 1914, along the banks of the River Sambre. The Battalion re-crossed that river on November 11th and went into billets in Berlaimont. Four days later the 33rd Division concentrated further back, and the 2nd Worcestershire marched back on their tracks through the forest of Mormal to that same village of Englefontaine where they had fought so gallantly three weeks beforehand. Next day the march was continued back along the line of the previous advance, down the main road through Forest across the River Selle to billets in Clary; where the Battalion remained during the ensuing three weeks.
During the winter several moves took place. Early in December the 33rd Division was ordered back out of the battle-zone to the area west of Doullens. The move was made by march route; and the 2nd Worcestershire marched once more past many scenes which the Battalion had known well. The first day's march (9th December) took the 100th Brigade back through the debris of the Beaurevoir Line south of Cambrai to billets in Masnieres. (Stages of march: December 9th. Clary—Ligny—Haucourt—Esnes—Crevecoeur—Masnieres; December 10th. Marcoing—Ribecourt—Havrincourt—Hermies; December 11th. Doignies—Beaumetz—Velu—Favreuil; December 12th. Favreuil—Bapaume—Albert. December 13th. Albert—Pont Noyelles; December 14th. AmiensLongpré—St. Sauveur. December 15th. Brailly—Foudrinoy—Bougainville—St. Aubin. December 16th. St. Aubin—Hornoy—Fresneville—St. Maulvis)
Thence next day the Brigade marched in drizzling rain across the Cambrai battlefield, through the ruins of Marcoing and the shattered defences of the Hindenburg Line, over the Canal du Nord at Havrincourt to camp at Hermies.
Rain was still falling next day when the 2nd Worcestershire marched on through Beaumetz to billets at Favreuil; and dismal weather still prevailed on the following day, when the 100th Brigade marched through the ruins of Bapaume and thence south-westward along the main road to Albert across the old Somme battlefield. The column tramped past the Butte de Warlencourt, through Le Sars, and then saw dimly through the rain to the southward the ragged skyline of High Wood. By Courcelette, Pozieres and La Boisselle the Brigade marched back across the desolate battle-field down the main road to camp among the ruins of Albert.
Thenceforward the Battalion was clear of the War Zone, and marched onwards on December 13th, in fine weather and good spirits, down the Amiens Road to billets at Pont Noyelles. Next day the troops marched cheerily through Amiens and on out to the westward. Two days more of marching brought the Brigade to its destined rest area; and the 2nd Worcestershire settled into billets at St. Maulvis.
Few of the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment Officers - France 25th December 1918
Standing L to R: Major E. L. Hopkins M.C.,
2nd Lieut. R. D. Holland, Captain A. C. Pointon M.C.
Seated L to R: Lieut. L. G. H. Bryant, Lieut. Coombes, Captain C. F. Baldwyn