3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 1914
First World War
On the evening of the 4th August 1914, the order for mobilisation was received, at Tidworth, and during the ensuing week all ranks of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire were busily employed in completing their preparations for War. The Battalion had to be filled up to war strength by reservists, weapons had to be made ready, equipment and ammunition received and issued, stores of all kinds taken into use. Officers and men had to be medically inspected and passed fit for service, additional horses had to be received and taken over, regimental property had to be placed in safe keeping.
Most precious of all, the Colours of the 3rd Battalion, the symbols of their history and of their loyalty, had to be laid away. They were taken to Worcester by special escorts and handed to the care of the Dean and Chapter to be preserved in the Cathedral until the Battalions should need them.
Worcester, when the Colour Parties came, was seething with activity. The Depot at Norton Barracks was crowded out with reservists and with volunteers for service, who were sleeping all over the cricket ground and the adjoining fields.
During the second week in August the mobilisation was completed. Then for some days the 3rd Battalion stood fast awaiting orders. Days of tense excitement and speculation while the Reservists were settling down and while everything were in the state of general disorder and discomfort which always precedes a move.
The Concentration In France
The movement of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F) to France began on the 9th August 1914 and was conducted with such secrecy and efficiency that for several days the move remained unknown to the enemy.
The 3rd Worcestershire received their orders on the 12th August 1914. Early on the morning of the 13th August, about 5 a.m., the 3rd Battalion left Tidsworth for Southampton. Although they arrived at Southampton Docks at 7 a.m. the same day, it was not till early on the following day that the S.S. “Bosnian” sailed.
The officers who embarked for France with the 3rd Battalion were :—
Lieut.-Colonel B. F. B. Stuart,
Major W. R. Chichester, Major H. D. Milward,
Captain E. A. A. deSalis D.S.O., Captain L. C. Dorman. Captain H. R. Eliott, Captain C. C. Messervy,
Captain C. V. Beresford (Adjutant), Captain T. H. Hughes, Captain E. L. D. Brownell, Lieut. R. F. Traill,
Lieut. H. J. G. Gilmour, Lieut. J. T. Goff, Lieut. C. Henry, Lieut. W. A. Underhill, Lieut. S. A. Gabb,
Lieut. M. E. L. H. Clarke, 2/Lieut. C. C. Harrison, 2/Lieut. S. A. Goldsmid, 2/Lieut. P. D. Harding,
2/Lieut. R. H. M. Lee, 2/Lieut. F. B. Harvey, 2/Lieut. I. T. Pritchard (S.R.), 2/Lieut. L. F. Urwick, (S.R.),
2/Lieut. C. S. Morice (S.R.), 2/Lieut. C. Tyson (S.R.).
Captain and Quartermaster A. Whitty, and R.S.M. C. Hodgkinson. Captain P. S. Stewart (R.A.M.C. attached).Other ranks 987, and 61 horses.
Lieut.-Colonel B. F. B. Stuart
In addition, Lieut. A. C. Johnston of the Battalion embarked with 7th Brigade Headquarters, as Brigade Signalling Officer, and Lieut. C. Deakin also went out with Headquarters of the 9th Brigade.
Before dawn on August 15th the “Bosnian” cast anchor off Havre. The great roadstead was filled with crowded transports; and owing to the state of the tide it was not until the following day that it was possible for the troopship to go on to its eventual destination, Rouen. At 1.30 p.m. on August 16th the “Bosnian” stood on her way up the Seine.
Few river voyages are more impressive than that up the Seine, with its vistas of rolling forests and picturesque Norman villages. The inhabitants on the banks cheered the troops, and excitement on board ran high. At 9 p.m. the Battalion disembarked on the broad quays of Rouen, where they passed the night billeted in a long shed next to the ship. Early next morning the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire marched through the streets of Rouen to the station and entrained for the front.
The five days which followed were very trying for Battalion. The weather was hot. Officers and men became accustomed to long periods of travelling in sluggish jolting troop trains, to sleeping anywhere they could lay their heads, and to apparently needless marching and counter-marching, which tired the men and wore out both their tempers and the soles of their boots.
From Aulnoye, where they detrained on August 16th, and were billeted in some cement works, the 3rd Battalion marched on the next day seven miles to Marbaix. Thence on August 20th, the Battalion tramped some seven miles to Dompierre, from there to Avesnes, where they were received by an enthusiastic populace, and then back to Dompierre. Next day eighteen miles were covered, through Maubeuge to Feignies, and then on August 22nd eleven miles more to Ciply.
The 3rd Battalion arrived at their billets at Ciply in the early hours of the morning of August 23rd. There the Battalion waited all morning. By the usual fatality which seems always to attend the provision of comforts on service, dinners were cooked and were ready to be eaten when sudden orders came to advance. As the troops moved off the first shell seen by the Battalion shrieked overhead and burst behind them. Rested indeed but still footsore and now hungry, the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire advanced towards Mons.
The Battle of Mons
While the British Expeditionary Force had been concentrating in the area around Mons, the oncoming German armies had been advancing rapidly westward through Belgium towards the French frontier. Already the defending Belgian army had been forced to withdraw northwards upon the fortifications of Antwerp. The original ‘intention had been that the British force, together with the French Fifth Army, should co-operate with the Belgians; hut the German advance had dislocated the plans of the Allies, and, as a temporary measure, orders had been issued for the British Expeditionary Force to take up a defensive position along the line of the canal which runs eastward from Condé to Mons. Little was known as to the strength or plans of the enemy; so the British position was organised in depth, with strong supporting positions on which the front line could fall back if hard pressed.
That precaution soon proved to have been wisely taken; for it became evident that the enemy were about to attack in force. German cavalry had come in contact with the British outposts on August 22nd. Early on the morning of Sunday, August 23rd, German artillery opened fire and, by the time that the Worcestershire battalion came up, the British front line was hotly engaged.
On the right of the British, the French Fifth Army in its position about Charleroi was already sustaining the attacks of the German forces. Between the French left and the right of the British was a gap of some seven miles. Then the British Army was aligned, the 1st Division on the right and then in succession the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Divisions. The areas allotted to the 2nd and 3rd Divisions had overlapped, the latter being in front.
While the 5th Brigade had been digging trenches near Bougnies, the 7th Brigade had been taking up position near Ciply, some two miles nearer to Mons. The 3rd Battalion Worcestershire, after more than one change of position (Previously a position further forward had been taken up, including the Station. Local inhabitants had assisted in the work until German shells came over, when they disappeared), entrenched during the afternoon in the broken ground southwest of Ciply Railway Station. The other battalions of the 7th Brigade likewise entrenched, the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles on the right, the 1st Wiltshire further back in reserve, and the 2nd South Lancashire on the left holding the forward slope of the low ridge between Ciply and Frameries.
The entrenchments of the 7th Brigade formed the second line of the defences held by the 3rd Division. The 8th and 9th Brigades, deployed along the canal from Mons to Mariette, held the front line of the Division. Further to the left the 5th Division and other troops prolonged the line to Condé.
That long front line was but thinly held. Orders were that in case of attack by superior numbers the British troops defending the canal were to fall back upon the defences of the second line.
It was nearly dusk before the companies of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire were securely entrenched. Their digging had been carried out amid gunfire from every side; for British artillery were in action to their right, to their left and behind them. Close in front a field battery was firing from the rearward slopes of Mount Erebus. Few German shells as yet came near to Ciply, but shell-bursts could be seen over and among the houses and slag heaps of Cuesmes. Fires started in all directions and crowds of terrified inhabitants came thronging southward along every road and track.
Mingled with the hurrying civilians came straggling wounded soldiers. Rumours of every description were passed down the lines. To the right front of the Battalion the fighting grew intense during the afternoon round the wooded height of Bois la Haut. Presently came word that our troops there were falling back. Germans were reported in Mons and in Hyon. But the ridge of Mount Erebus hid them from view and no good target came within range of the rifles of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire.
As darkness fell the British front line was withdrawn. The field guns on Mount Erebus limbered up and moved back to a new position in rear, through the lines of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire. To the right of the Battalion the 8th Brigade withdrew from Bois la Haut to Nouvelles. Away to the left the 9th Brigade had already been drawn back from the canal into line with the South Lancashire on the ridge between Ciply and Frameries. That ridge was shelled by the enemy as dusk came on and the South Lancashire opened fire at long range on German scouts near Cuesmes.
By 9 p.m. there were no British troops in advance of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire; and all that night the Battalion remained on the alert, ready to meet the attack of the enemy.
The retirement of the British front line troops on to their supporting second line had been previously planned. In the confusion of battle, however, the brigades on the inner flanks of the 3rd and the 5th Divisions retired in rather divergent directions, leaving between them a gap in the line about the villages of Paturages and Frameries. The enemy had been hard hit and did not closely follow the British withdrawal. Nevertheless the existence of that gap in the line was dangerous, and an urgent message was sent for reinforcements to close the breach.
Away on the right at Charleroi the French Fifth Army had been driven from its position. That information had been communicated to British General Headquarters about midnight together with the news that the attacking enemy were stronger than had been supposed. Actually against the four British Divisions eight German Divisions were engaged, of which six were concentrated against the two Divisions of the British 2nd Corps. Such odds could not indefinitely be withstood. To avoid destruction the British force must withdraw, and in the early hours of the morning of August 24th orders for that withdrawal were issued.
Situation at dawn on the 24th August 1914
The retirement of the 3rd Division, to which the 5th Brigade was now attached, was to be carried out in two stages. First the 5th and 9th Brigades were to fall back to a position in more open country clear of the villages, then the 7th and 8th Brigades were to conform by falling back in their turn.
The withdrawal of the 5th Brigade from Frameries was followed by the withdrawal of the 7th Brigade from Ciply. There also the dawn had brought a heavy bombardment; but the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire were well entrenched and losses were not heavy. About 6 a.m. German infantry advanced to the attack. Large numbers of the enemy swarmed forward over the crest of Mount Erebus. The right flank platoons of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire opened fire. Their musketry was very effective, and the attack came to a standstill some five hundred yards from the British lines. The enemy took cover and opened fire with rifles and machine-guns.
Further to the left the South Lancashire were even more hotly engaged. The advancing enemy worked forward up the deep-cut lanes and railway lines. German machine-guns were brought into action near the left flank of the South Lancashire and raked the defences.
Hot fighting was in progress all along the line when orders reached Colonel Stuart that the 7th Brigade was to retire. The order was sent forward to the companies, and platoon after platoon the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire fell back through the reserve position held by the 1st Wiltshire. “D” Company, under Captain B. A. A. de Salis, D.S.O., was ordered to cover the withdrawal, and that company held their ground until the rest of the Battalion was out of sight. The German shellfire became more severe, and eventually “D” Company had to withdraw by single sections or half platoons to dodge the shell-bursts. The South Lancashire had been ordered to act as rearguard to the Brigade, and the Lancashire men held their ground for some minutes longer, suffering heavy loss. The 3rd Battalion Worcestershire were more fortunate, and the whole Battalion got clear with little more than fifty casualties. South of Ciply the companies reassembled, and about midday the Battalion marched off through Noirchain to Genly.
Behind them heavy firing continued for some time; but the enemy made no attempt at immediate pursuit. All ranks of the Battalion were tired after the sleepless night and the nerve strain of their baptism of fire; but all were in good heart and the troops were annoyed rather than depressed at the withdrawal.
At Genly the 7th Brigade reassembled and fresh orders were received. The 3rd Division was withdrawing to a new defensive line, running east and west through Bavai, whither the Brigade was to march forthwith. The march was resumed. On arrival at Bavai a meal was found waiting and it was possible to give the troops a short rest.
Early in the afternoon came more orders. The enemy had not pursued from the northward, but from the troops further west came news that strong forces were closing in round the outer flank towards the British line of retreat. Already the flank guard of the 5th Division was hotly engaged near Elouges. To support the threatened flank, the 3rd Division was ordered to move westward. The 7th Brigade marched through St. Waast to Wargnies. Then the Brigade deployed and took up an outpost line facing north-west. The piquet line of the 3rd Worcestershire was along the line of the road from St. Waast to Wargnies (east of Le Plat de Bois) with sentry groups pushed forward to the railway line in front. The outpost line was taken over from a cavalry brigade, which moved off to the westward. No enemy came in sight. Gunfire to the northward continued until after dark. The night was quiet.
Dawn of August 25th broke in thick mist, through which the outposts of the 3rd Worcestershire strained their eyes for sight of the advancing enemy. In the mist a patrol of Uhlans rode up to the outposts of ”D” Company, and two of the German lancers were shot down before they could escape.
The mist lifted. No further sign appeared of the enemy. The troops lit small fires and brewed tea. Orders came that the 7th Brigade would act as rearguard to the 3rd Division in the retreat southwards.
For a short time the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire held their ground, preparing for defence. About 8 a.m. orders came to retire, and the Battalion moved back across country to a fresh position. “D” Company under Captain de Salis acted as rear party and did not move until about 10 a.m. By that time German advanced troops were in sight, but did not attack.
Then followed a long and trying day of marching. The Brigade moved back from position to position, each of which was prepared for defence, held for a short time and then abandoned. The companies moved sometimes by roads and sometimes across country. Behind them the enemy did not press the pursuit. Away to the westward intermittent gunfire indicated the advance of the enemy’s flanking columns, but nothing, except hostile aircraft, flying high, was actually seen until Le Quesnoy had been passed. Then, from the high ground above the River Ecaillon, cavalry could be seen manoeuvring in the far distance beneath a sky flecked with the smoke puffs of bursting shells. Elsewhere the blue sky was clear, the sun blazed down and the troops marched in dust and stifling heat.
The heat lasted until 5 p.m. Then the sky clouded over and a thunderstorm broke over the marching troops. Rain fell in sheets as the Brigade neared Solesmes.
That little town lies in a hollow to which four roads converge. Its narrow streets were blocked with country carts and with the guns and transport of retreating troops, both British and French. For example, the Battalion transport of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire, which had retreated by way of Le Quesnoy and Romaries, became jammed in the streets of Solesmes by the transport of the 19th Infantry Brigade retreating from St. Python. To gain time for the clearance of that jam of traffic, the 7th Brigade was ordered to take up position. Two battalions, the 2nd/South Lancashire and 1st/Wiltshire, halted north of the town. The 2nd/Royal Irish Rifles had acted as rearguard to the Brigade and did not get near Solesmes till after dark. The 3rd Battalion Worcestershire were sent on to occupy a second line on the heights to the southward. Those heights were already occupied by troops of the 4th Division. There the Battalion halted and the companies took what cover they could find under the pouring rain.
Presently a rattle of distant musketry told that the battalions north of Solesmes were engaged with the enemy’s vanguard. As the daylight faded away, German guns came into action and shells burst over the town; but the attack was not pressed, and after dark the firing ceased.
The traffic jam in the streets of Solesmes continued to be serious, and in the darkness many of the retreating troops lost direction. Part of the 7th Brigade, the Royal Irish Rifles, some of the Wiltshire, and most of the transport of the Brigade, followed the road, which leads thence to Le Cateau. The remainder held their ground till about 10 p.m. Then the two battalions north of the town were withdrawn. They marched off southwards through Viesly. After they had passed the 3rd Worcestershire were ordered to follow. Chilled and soaked to the skin the platoons assembled in the darkness. The rain was still falling heavily as the Battalion marched off southwards along the road which leads through Viesly and Bethencourt to Caudry.
It was nearly midnight when the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire entered Caudry. When the troops marched in they were somewhat astonished to see shops still lighted and people sitting at the little tables of the cafés; but all ranks were too tired for much wonderment. The Battalion came to a halt in an open space at the northern end of the town. There the Battalion transport was parked. The companies were told off to billets, in the Rue de Bruxelles, and the inhabitants hospitably received the troops.
Outposts were established along the line of the main road north of the town, and it was learned that preparations had been made for defence. Positions had been selected in the vicinity and had been entrenched by local labour. It was not possible to reconnoitre those positions in the darkness, but the Company commanders were informed, and arrangements were made for local guides to lead the companies from their billets to the prepared trenches. As yet nothing was known as to the general plan. It was uncertain whether the Brigade was to fight next day or was to continue the retreat.
Dispersed in their billets the tired troops slept heavily for some two hours. Then came a sudden alarm; an outpost on the main road had observed suspicious movement in front. The platoons were roused; boots and putties were donned. Still half asleep the troops struggled out of their billets and the companies assembled in the darkened streets.
The Battle of Le Cateau
The first three days of the fighting had inflicted a severe physical strain on the British troops. That strain had told most on the battalions of the 2nd Corps, which had borne the brunt of the battle of Mons; and after dark on August 25th the Corps Commander, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, decided that his troops were too exhausted to continue the retreat on the next morning. The only alternative was to stand fast and give battle to the pursuing enemy.
That decision was approved by the British Commander-in-Chief, and in the small hours of August 26th orders were given for the 2nd Corps to take up a defensive position, extending from Le Cateau north-west to the outskirts of Cambrai, which was held by French troops, and prepare to fight.
Those orders were issued between 4 and 5 a.m.; but before those orders reached Caudry the troops of the 7th Brigade were already in action.
The 3rd Battalion Worcestershire had been roused, by an alarm about 2.30 a.m. From their billets at the northern end of the town the companies were led by guides through the darkness to their allotted trenches. “D” Company was held back as Battalion Reserve. The other three companies were disposed on the north and north-western outskirts of the town. It proved difficult to find the trenches in the dark, but eventually the several platoons reached their destination.
The trenches already dug were found to be shallow and weak. The platoons filed into them and then set to work to improve their defences.
The soil was muddy after the recent thunderstorm. The troops worked for some time with their entrenching tools. No attack had as yet taken place. Presently their digging slackened off and the tired soldiers dozed over their rifles.
With the first grey light of dawn came a sudden bark of field-guns close at hand to the northwest. Shells hurtled overhead and burst over the houses.
Caudry, positions as at 26th August 1914
The trenches held by “B” Company, under Captain L. C. Dorman, had been sited to face southwest, apparently in order to command the little valley, which runs up to Caudry from Beauvoisen-Cambresis. Consequently the enemy’s guns took the company in enfilade. The position was puzzling at first, but when the situation was realized “B” Company wheeled back into a new position, facing the fire (B1). There again the company was enfiladed, for German machine-guns opened fire from Guizette Farm. To avoid that fire “B” Company withdrew a few hundred yards and found good cover in a sunken road on the outskirts of the houses (B2).
The spreading daylight revealed German cavalry and guns in the wooded valley north of Beauvois. The Battalion machine-gun section, under Lieut. J. Goff, was ordered up to engage them. But before the machine-gunners could come into action, a section of Royal Horse Artillery (two guns of “I” Battery R.H.A.) unlimbered at the no them end of the town and opened fire. The enemy’s guns stopped firing and shifted position and the German cavalry withdrew to a safer distance.
By that time the other two battalions of the 7th Brigade had turned out and had occupied positions on the right of the Worcestershire; but all units were intermingled and one company of the Wiltshire, under Captain Studdart of that regiment, took up position between “C” and “A” Companies of the 3rd Worcestershire. “D” Company,
hitherto in Battalion reserve, was then sent forward by Colonel Stuart, and took up a position close to the Wiltshire company. Small parties of the enemy were seen moving at different points along the front and several German machine-guns opened fire. The British platoons answered with sharp bursts of musketry and presently the enemy’s fire died down.
A lull in the fighting ensued, and the Battalion transport (under the orders of the Quartermaster Capt. A. Whitty and the Transport Officer Lieut W. A. Underhill), still parked at the northern end of the town, set about preparing breakfast for the troops. No food supplies had been received from the Divisional Train; but the foresight and energy of the 2nd-in-Command (Major W. R. Chichester) and the Quartermaster (Capt. Whitty) had provided food locally. As yet no special orders had been received and it was assumed that the retreat would be continued. But before further orders had been received a fresh and heavier bombardment began. The enemy had brought up additional artillery, and shells burst in rapid succession all over the northern end of the town.
The line of the main road north of the town afforded an easy ranging mark, and the shelling along the road became so severe that presently Captain H. D. E. Elliott, commanding “C” Company, ordered his platoons back to new positions on the edge of the town close to the positions occupied by “B” Company. Further to the right the two forward platoons of “A” Company likewise fell back from the line of the road to the position of the remainder of that company, then commanded by Major H. D. Milward, on the northern outskirts of the town. “D” Company and Captain Studdart’s company of the Wiltshire for a short time remained isolated, and then by mutual arrangement fell back in succession along the western side of Caudry to new positions north of the railway.
The German artillery was not unopposed. Three batteries of British field artillery (XXXth Howitzer Brigade) had taken up position behind the ridge southeast of Caudry, and were engaging every available target. In order to provide an escort for those guns the Brigadier ordered one company of the Worcestershire to be sent back. “A” Company was selected and marched back about 8 a.m. through the streets. Their progress was much impeded by the terror-stricken inhabitants crowding southwards out of the town, but eventually the company got clear of the houses and took up position on the high ground. There “A” company lay for some time, watching the shellfire but seeing no good target for musketry.
“B” and “C” Companies were more hotly engaged. From 6 a.m. onwards strong forces of the enemy came in view beyond Jeune Bois. German machine-guns were again brought into action as the enemy advanced. By 8 a.m. firing was general in every direction.
The spirit of the Battalion was splendid. Private W. T. Malone was wounded in the head; but he refused to leave the firing line and remained in action with his platoon, inspiring all by his coolness and courage. Private Malone was awarded the D.C.M.
The shooting of the Worcestershire platoons was rapid and accurate, and such of the enemy as came south of the main road were severely punished. Most of the German bullets went high, and the enemy made no great attempt to come to close quarters (the enemy were cavalry — the German 13th and 14th Cavalry Brigades, fighting dismounted). The two companies had not suffered heavy losses when, about 9.30 a.m., orders came for them to fall back to a fresh position.
Those orders were the result of enemy pressure against the 4th Division further to the left. The 11th Brigade, in position on the high ground south of Fontaine-au-Pire, were being attacked in force. Their battalions were holding firm, but a dangerous gap existed between their right flank and the left flank of the 7th Brigade at Caudry. To lessen that gap” B” and” C” Companies were ordered to fall back to the high ground west of the town.
The withdrawal of the two companies was accompanied by a retirement of other troops from the northern end of Caudry. No very definite orders as to the length of their resistance seem to have reached the front line. All ranks knew vaguely that a general retreat was in progress. Moved by that knowledge rather than by the pressure of the enemy, various units of the defending troops fell back from the northern to the southern side of the town. In so doing several units became disordered and there were many stragglers. Lieutenant A. C. Johnston of the Regiment, attached to the 7th Brigade Staff (Brigade Signal Officer), rallied stragglers of all units in the main square of the town, organised them hastily as a fighting force and led them out to a new position on a spur to the westward.
Battalion Headquarters of the 3rd Worcestershire moved from the north of the town to a new location in a building near the railway embankment. There came disaster. A big shell hit the bui1ding and burst, killing or wounding many of the Headquarters personnel. Colonel Stuart himself was uninjured, but the Second-in-Command, Major W. R. Chichester, and the Adjutant, Captain C. V. Beresford, were both severely wounded. Many of the signallers were killed, and for a time communication with the companies broke down. Lieutenant W. A. Underhill showed great bravery in rescuing the wounded from the burning ruins. Major Chichester and Captain Beresford were sent to a temporary hospital, which later fell into the hands of the enemy.
The movement back became more definite. The field batteries southeast of the town limbered up and moved off. “A” Company guarding the ridge above them was told of their movement. No further orders had been received, but Major Milward saw the other troops marching south and assumed that his company ought to conform to the general movement; so “A” Company formed up, marched in fours down the hill to the road and then turned southwards.
“A” Company tramped through the arch of the railway embankment, halted on the further side and lay down on rising ground to await further orders. The Divisional Commander, General Hubert Hamilton, rode up. Major Milward explained the situation and was directed to take his company back into Caudry; it was not intended that the town should yet be abandoned. The Company fell in again and marched back under the railway arch.
Captain C. V. Beresford
By that time Caudry was empty of troops. It had been heavily shelled, and the retreating British units had fallen back to the high ground southeast and southwest of the town. “B” and “C” Companies of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire were by then south-west of the town, shooting at such of the enemy as showed themselves in the open on their front. “D” Company had been ordered back to the southern side of the embankment and then had been directed to move to the eastward to protect two batteries in action near the Station. The battalion was therefore much scattered, and when orders reached Colonel Stuart to deliver a counter-attack and retake Caudry it was not easy to assemble the necessary force. Eventually Colonel Stuart organised details from “B” and “C” Companies and part of “A” Company into a temporary command (Colonel Stuart’s force also included many miscellaneous details of other units) and led them himself back into the town. Such few of the enemy’s advanced troops as had followed up the retirement were driven out with the bayonet. The southern half of the town was reoccupied, as far as the main square. Advanced posts were pushed further forward, but the shelling was severe and further advance was countermanded.
On the right flank the remainder of “A” Company, led by Major Milward, had co-operated in the advance and had reached the station, which was occupied and held without difficulty.
That vigorous counter-stroke had the effect of paralysing the enemy around Caudry; but further to the west the position was not so favourable. The 11th Brigade had at last withdrawn from the ridge south of Fontaine-au-Pire. The enemy there had been reinforced and were attacking with fresh energy; soon afterwards came definite orders that Caudry was to be abandoned.
Between 3 and 4 p.m. the troops of the 7th Brigade fell back from Caudry, first to the line of the railway and then to the height above Derriere le Tronquoy. There the companies (“A,” “B” and “C” Companies and one platoon of “D” Company. The remainder of " D” Company were commandeered by a gunner colonel to assist in getting away the artillery, became separated from the 7th Brigade, and did not rejoin the Battalion until many hours later) of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire were sorted out and reorganised. Field-guns were still in action, and on the left flank the enemy made vigorous but unsuccessful attacks against the 11th Brigade at Ligny. But at Caudry the enemy had been hard hit, and the German cavalry made no attempt to cross the railway line. Musketry fire died down and presently came orders to resume the retreat. The battalions of the 7th Brigade assembled and marched off in fours down the road to Montigny. The enemy did not pursue, and as darkness fell the sound of the firing in rear died away.
The troops were very tired, many in the ranks were wounded, and that night march was most trying. Men slept as they marched or staggered on half-awake. Company and platoon commanders did their best to reckon losses. Those losses were at first exaggerated, for the course of the fight, with the alternate retirements and advances, had resulted in many becoming separated from their platoons. Furthermore the administrative personnel of Battalion Headquarters had suffered heavily: many of the orderly-room staff had been killed or wounded at the same time as the Second in-Command and Adjutant. Consequently it was not until the next day that any definite knowledge was gained, and even then it was not possible to give an exact figure; but the losses of the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire on August 26th were set down as about 100 of all ranks including three officers (Lieut. M. F. L. H. Clarke killed, Major W. R. Chichester and Captain and Adjutant C. V. Beresford wounded); and those losses were reckoned as light when compared with several other battalions of the little British force which that day had held its ground so bravely against heavy odds.
The day’s fighting had resulted in very heavy losses to the British 2nd Corps; but the pursuing enemy had also been hard hit, so hard hit that thenceforward the British army was not again seriously menaced in its retirement. Nevertheless the retreat had to be continued. The whole French line was wheeling back and the little British force had to conform. There could be no rest for the exhausted troops.