4th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 1918
During the early months of 1918 the 4th Battalion were active in the Lys and remained in that area until September. Their next main action was to be at Ypres were they were involved in the retaking of Gheluvelt. In October 1918 they saw action at the Battle of Courtrai and by November were marching to the Rhine. At this time the battalion was commanded by Lieut.-Colonel T. FitzJohn.
THE ADVANCE IN THE LYS VALLEY (Second Phase) - 1st September to 6th September 1918
The 4th Battalion with the other battalions of the 88th Brigade moved up by bus on September 1st from La Kreule to beyond Meteren, and thence marched forward through the ruins of recaptured Bailleul to the Ravelsberg.
Neuve Eglise was clearly the key of the position, and orders were issued for an attack on that height next day by the 36th Division. The 29th Division would also advance, the 88th Brigade being brought up on the left flank to keep touch with the Ulstermen.
The 88th Brigade, as we have already told, moved up by bus, leaving La Kreule at 6.0 a.m. (Sept. 1st) and reaching the outskirts of Bailleul about an hour later. The 4th Worcestershire debussed and marched forward by platoons through the ruined town. Bailleul was a melancholy expanse of smashed masonry. The troops tramped through the debris and out on the far side to a selected assembly position at the western end of the Ravelsberg ridge. The platoons arrived in succession, and following them came the other two battalions of the Brigade, the 2nd Hampshire and 2nd Leinster. Around them the whole landscape was marked by columns of smoke, for the retreating enemy had fired every building and every haystack.
By noon the Brigade was assembled. Orders were issued to the 4th Worcestershire that one company of the Battalion was to advance and fill a gap, which was then widening between the right flank of the 36th Division and the left flank of the 87th Brigade. "W" Company of the Battalion accordingly advanced, and soon afterwards "X" Company was sent up in support.
Pushing into the front line between the Inniskillings of the 109th Brigade and the Borders of the 87th Brigade, "W" Company reached the ruins of Gough House ("Gough House" had been the H.Q. of the 88th Brigade during the defence of La Creche in April.
The building was still standing, but orders were given not to enter it, for fear of a mine). Beyond that point the machine-guns of the enemy forbade any movement.Artillery support was asked for and arranged. Presently the remainder of the Battalion moved up to position west of "Gough House," behind "W" Company, practically on the very ground where the companies had first deployed on April 10th. Before them lay the lines on which they had held up the enemy during the three days and nights of that gallant defence (During the subsequent advance many dead of the Battalion who had fallen in April were found still unburied).
To left and right the battle was general, and. at 5.30 p.m. the noise of artillery and machine-guns were both drowned by the thunderous explosion of a great German mine close in front at one of the cross-roads: fortunately the Battalion had halted short of the danger point and suffered no casualties, although stones and earth were rained all around. As dusk came on, a general forward movement began. On the left the Ulstermen captured Neuve Eglise, on the right the 87th Brigade entered Steenwerck and La Creche. In front of the 4th Worcestershire the enemy machine-gunners retired, and by nightfall the Battalion was able to gain the line of the Westhof Road (Casualties during the day included Lt. J. Cowherd and 2/Lt. T. Bruton killed; Captain C. Hackett M.C., D.C.M., Captain G. P. O'Donovan, and C.S.M. G. C. Key wounded).
Into the new line there stumbled three escaped prisoners, two Frenchmen and one Italian. These told that the enemy's front was held only by machine-guns at wide intervals: orders were given to push on, and shortly after midnight the advance was resumed.
The night was clear and bitterly cold. The sky was brilliant with stars. Under the stars the platoons ("W" and "X" Companies of the 4th Worcestershire were leading, with "Y" and "Z" in support) made their way forward across country past the ruined cottages of De Broecken, meeting at intervals a quick hail of bullets from the retiring enemy. In face of that opposition it was not possible to advance very rapidly, but before dawn the Battalion had gained the line of the road, which runs northwards from De Seule to Neuve Eglise.
At dawn (September 2nd) the platoons attempted a further advance, but were at once stopped dead. After a personal reconnaissance, the Brigadier secured artillery support and, when the necessary arrangements had been completed, "Y" and "Z" Companies of the 4th Worcestershire attacked at 3.0 p.m. under a covering barrage.
The attack was successful. Gallantly led by 2/Lieutenant E. L. Booth and Lieutenant H. S. Smith (4th Northants, attached 4th Worcestershire) the two leading platoons of "Z" Company advanced from hedge to hedge past the ruined cottages around Boyd Farm, using their Lewis-guns with great effect and rushing the enemy posts in quick succession. 2/Lieutenant Booth headed the charge which captured one of the German machine-guns, killing five of the enemy. Before dusk the advance had gained more than 1,000 yards and seven of the enemy's light machine-guns had been captured (2/Lieut. Booth and Lieut. H. S. Smith were awarded the M.C. The M.C. was also awarded to 2/Lieut. T. L. Gillespie who had likewise done conspicuously gallant work during the advance). The reserve companies of the Battalion then passed through to the front and advanced another three hundred yards without opposition before they halted for the night.
The immediate object of the advance was to reoccupy the old reserve system of defence east and south-east of Neuve Eglise known as "The Army Line," the very trenches which the 2nd Worcestershire had defended so stubbornly in April. The 4th Worcestershire were now within half-a-mile of that objective, and orders were issued for an attack next morning.
At 3.0 a.m. on September 3rd the attack was delivered. Supported by a heavy fire of artillery the 4th Worcestershire advanced with the bayonet. Contrary to expectation, there was little opposition, and the old "Army Line" of trenches was seized without difficulty. The Battalion set to work at once to make the position secure. The left flank of the 4th Worcestershire was now on the very ground which had been held by the right flank of the 2nd Worcestershire on April 12th. In front of them the enemy were strongly established on Hill 63, and the trenches of the Worcestershire companies were intermittently bombarded throughout the rest of the day.
Till then the other two battalions of the 88th Brigade had been respectively in support and reserve and, the 4th Worcestershire had borne the brunt of the fighting. That afternoon the 2nd Hampshire came up from support, passed through the 4th Worcestershire, and advanced down into the valley and forward towards Hill 63. By nightfall they had gained the line of the Ploegsteertbeek, halfway to that hill. During the night the 2nd Leinster, hitherto in reserve to the Brigade, came up, passed through the trench line and formed up just in front. During the night Colonel Freyberg shifted his Headquarters forward into the trenches held by the 4th Worcestershire, who now formed the Brigade reserve.
At 8.0 a.m. next morning (4th September 1918) the attack on Hill 63 began. From their reserve position on the Neuve Eglise height the 4th Worcestershire had a wonderful view of the action. Precisely to time the British guns put down an intense barrage on the hill, and in a few minutes Hill 63 was blotted out by dense clouds of smoke and fumes. The enemy's reply was fierce, but was not so intense and was mainly concentrated on the troops in the valley. Three observation balloons of the enemy were brought down, falling in three great pillars of fire and black smoke.
The walking wounded who presently came back across the valley were jubilant despite their pain. The barrage, they said, was splendid and all was going well. The 4th Worcestershire awaited their turn to advance.
As they waited there occurred a dramatic incident. A British aeroplane driven down by six enemy machines came falling like a wounded bird, and crashed, to earth close to the trenches of the Battalion. Officers and men rushed out to rescue the pilot who, although hit in four places, was found in the wreckage of his aeroplane still firing his machine-gun at the enemy overhead.
The fight in front was fierce, and early in the afternoon came orders for reinforcements to be sent up from the 4th Worcestershire. Two companies (Thus says the Battalion diary. The Brigade diary, which is very detailed, only mentions "W" Company as being sent up) went forward into the fight. Captain R. H. Marryatt, commanding "W" Company, reported to the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Leinster and was ordered to take up position on the north side of the hill, between "Le Rossignol" and "The Cellars," thus filling a gap between the inner flanks of the Leinster and the Hampshire.
"W" Company had only just gained their allotted position when, at 2.30, p.m. a strong counter-attack was made by the enemy from the right front. That counter-attack was beaten off without difficulty, and "W" Company held their ground until dark. At 6.0 p.m. "Y" Company of the 4th Worcestershire was sent up as additional support to the 2nd Leinster. The captured hill was held safely through the night. Next day the activity of the enemy was restricted to a heavy bombardment of their lost position.
That night (September 5th) the 31st Division relieved the 29th Division; and the 4th Worcestershire handed over their reserve trenches to the incoming troops. The relief was rendered difficult and unpleasant by a tremendous bombardment with gas-shells, which the enemy kept up during most of the night (It was officially estimated that 30,000-gas shells struck the area occupied by the 29th Division between 11.30 p.m. and 3.15 a.m. on the night of September 5th/6th). When at last the companies got clear of the danger zone they marched back to Comet Camp, not far from La Creche. There the troops enjoyed a hot meal and a welcome rest (See Note 1 below).
Note 1. - Unfortunately complete figures are not available as to the casualties of the 4th Worcestershire in the. Lys fighting. Besides the officers hit on September 1st (see above) the only other casualties recorded in the Battalion diary are:
September 2nd. Wounded 2/Lt. V. C. Cornish.
September 3rd. Wounded 2/Lt. D. L. Downes.
The 88th Brigade diary records a total loss for September 1st, 2nd and 3rd of: killed 1 officer and 7 other ranks; wounded 2 officers and 36 other ranks. During that period the other two battalions were behind the front line, so it is probable that this loss was that of the 4th Worcestershire. The Brigade further gives total casualties for September 4th as 1 officer and 27 other ranks killed, 5 officers and 137 wounded, 17 missing. What proportion of that loss occurred in the Worcestershire companies is not stated.
THE ADVANCE IN FLANDERS (28th September to 3rd October 1918)
The great series of attacks by which the British First, Third and Fourth Armies had broken the Hindenburg Line had been arranged to coincide with other simultaneous attacks on the enemy's defensive line. All along the front the Allied Armies were in motion. Far to the southward the French and American armies were attacking in Champagne and in the Argonne; to the northward a fresh battle had been opened by the Allied forces in Flanders. That battle began on September 28th, the day after the opening of the Battle of the Canal du Nord; and in that battle a great part was played by the 4th Battalion of the Regiment.
The 4th Worcestershire had remained in the Lys Valley for some little time after the action at Hill 63. That fight, and the strenuous operations by which it had been preceded, had costithe 29th Division a loss severe enough to entail a period of reorganisation. For a week the Battalion lay in camp near Bailleul; then on September 11th the 88th Brigade marched back, through a countryside soaked with rain, to billets in Hazebrouck. There the troops were quartered in an empty hospital; and training went forward busily, while reinforcements came in to make up the depleted ranks of the platoons.
Then came orders for the 29th Division to move once again into the Ypres Salient. The 88th Brigade moved on September 21st, marching from Hazebrouck to Hondeghem, entraining there, detraining at St. Jan ter Biezen and marching to quarters in "Road Camp" nearby.
The meaning of that move was soon made known (Preliminary orders for the forthcoming attack reached the 88th Brigade on September 21st.). The 29th Division had been brought up into the Salient to take part in a great attack, which was to be delivered along the whole front of the Ypres Salient, by the British Second Army together with French and Belgian forces, under the general command of the King of the Belgians.
The 29th Division now formed part of the IInd Corps, commanded by Lieut.-General Sir Claud Jacob. As we know, Sir Claud Jacob had served in the Regiment at the outset of his career; and on September 22nd he personally welcomed the 4th Battalion to his command.
Two days later the Battalion moved up to the front line. The companies paraded at dusk on September 24th and were carried forward by light railway to Ypres. Battalion Headquarters took over good shelters in the battered Eastern Ramparts while the platoons marched through the ruined city and relieved the 1st K.O.S.B. (And two companies of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers) in the front line between Zillebeke Lake and the Menin Road.
The front taken over proved to be a wide extent for one Battalion to hold, and might have proved dangerous had the enemy been in good fettle; but incessant shell-fire and news of defeat further south had taken the spirit out of the German troops in the Salient. After a night and a morning of heavy rain (September 25th) a little patrol, a sergeant and two scouts, worked their way forward during the afternoon (3.30 p.m.) along the northern shore of the Zillebeke Lake towards the ruins of Zillebeke village. Near the northern end of the lake was a concrete blockhouse, damaged but probably occupied. Creeping up to the blockhouse, Sergeant J. Jones fired a revolver into it. A shot came back in reply. The sergeant fired again. Out at the back of the blockhouse scrambled six of the enemy, who put their hands up at once when faced by the rifles of the patrol. They were taken back as prisoners (Sergt. Jones was afterwards awarded the M.M.).
The front line near Zillebeke Lake (September 1918)
2/Lt. R. H. Warren M.M. then decided to explore the blockhouse thoroughly: With two of his men he went forward, still in broad daylight, entered the blockhouse and found more of the enemy huddled inside. They also were shepherded to the rear—fifteen men of the 28th Bavarians with a light machine-gun. The troops were elated at the news: Bavarians had not hitherto been wont to surrender so easily: the morale of the enemy must be giving way.
During the next two days the British shells howled overhead incessantly, plunging and bursting all along the front; but the enemy's reply was feeble, and two days in the trenches brought the 4th Worcestershire no casualties. On the night of September 26th/27th the 2nd South Wales Borderers came up to take over the line, and the 4th Worcestershire moved back through Ypres to reserve trenches about a mile west of the city. There all ranks rested as much as possible throughout the day of September 27th, while battle stores were issued and final preparations were made. The great attack was at hand.
At 7.0 p.m. the troops were roused and hot soup was issued. At 9.0 p.m. the Battalion fell in and marched forward. In cold bright moonlight the 4th Worcestershire marched through the silent ruined city, past the wreck of the Cloth Hall and out by the Menin Gate. Outside the ramparts the companies filed into newly-made assembly trenches.
In front of them, line beyond line of similar trenches were crowded with troops—the 86th and 87th Brigades. Those Brigades were to make the attack on the enemy's forward positions. The 88th Brigade would follow close behind and would eventually go through them to carry the attack further still.
By midnight all were in position. The hours of waiting which followed were marked by an exultant feeling such as had hardly been known to British troops since that last night of June 1916 when hope had run so high, only to be so cruelly disappointed on the following morning. Since that day there had been an underlying uncertainty before every attack, a knowledge that success could only be gained after bitter trial. Now once again there was full confidence of victory—a confidence which was no longer the valour of ignorance but was inspired by a grim certainty of power. All ranks felt it— "everyone in very high spirits," recorded the Brigade Diary, "and all looking forward to a great success."
THE BATTLE OF YPRES, 1918
At 2.30 a.m. came a thunder of gun-fire from the north: the Belgian Army had opened the battle. The hour appointed for the British attack was not yet, and the troops waited for some time longer, listening to the guns on their left and making final preparations. At 4.0 a.m. came carrying-parties from the rear, bringing up cans full of tea, that each man might have a hot drink before the advance.
The first streak of light had showed over the ridges in front when with one crash the British artillery broke into furious action. Bursting shells veiled the enemy's positions from view. The front lines of the 29th Division went forward to the attack, and behind them the 88th Brigade followed eagerly, with the 4th Worcestershire leading.
The success of the attack was complete. Up the line of the Menin Road the waves of fighting men advanced as the daylight grew, up the slope to Bellewaerde and Hooge and then on further to "Stirling Castle." There was hardly a check; the enemy's infantry were easily overwhelmed and the German artillery replied but feebly to the overwhelming fire of our guns. On the high ground by "Stirling Castle" the leading Brigades halted, according to their orders, and commenced to entrench (Some few of the 1st K.O.S.B. pushed on to "Tower Hamlets.").
Behind the attacking line the 4th Worcestershire had advanced up the Menin Road, which in the past four years the Regiment had known so well. On past Hooge and Bellewaerde the Worcestershire companies tramped, over the old battleground of the 1st Battalion in 1917 and still onward up the rising ground to the tree-stumps of Inverness Copse. Thence the road slopes gently downward to the east. In response to the clamour of the guns the weather had broken, and it was in drenching rain that the 4th Worcestershire deployed, passed through the line gained by the leading Brigades (About 9.30 a.m.) and advanced along the line of the road across the wilderness of shell-holes, which covered the site of Veldhoek.
There was little opposition and the wave of bayonets swept on through the rain. A battery of field-guns was overrun and passed (The capture of that battery is also claimed by the 1st K.O.S.B., who appear to have occupied it after the 4th Worcestershire passed on), and many prisoners had already been taken when through the falling rain came a quick hail of bullets from machine-guns in front, the low ruins of buildings loomed up along the roadside, and down the line ran the word that this was Gheluvelt.
The pace increased; the platoons charged through the village, shooting down or rounding up such of the enemy as were to be found. After the first burst of firing the defenders made but a poor show of resistance. Private A. E. Hughes, one of the first to enter the village, found a large party of the enemy cowering behind cover, and single-handed he compelled the surrender of the whole party, thirty-two in all (For his two exploits, Pte. Hughes was awarded the D.C.M.). Other captures were effected as easily. Within ten minutes the ruins had been cleared, and the platoons were reassembling and reforming in the drenching rain on the open slope beyond the village. All alike were soaked to the skin but all were exultant. Gheluvelt had been retaken (The hour at which Gheluvelt was retaken is variously given. The Brigade Diary says 10.15 a.m., the Division 11.0 a.m. The Battalion Diary gives no definite time. In the storming of the village, Captain A. H. Bowman was conspicuous, leading his company with great dash and courage).
The barrage of our shells had moved on through the rain, and as soon as the platoons had reformed the advance was resumed. The pouring rain provided an effective screen for the advance and the leading platoons of Captain Hackett's ("X") company were within a few yards of a second battery before they were seen by the enemy. Such of the German gunners as were near the guns hastily surrendered, and the battery was rushed without loss (The guns were 8-inch howitzers. "When Captain Hackett and his men arrived within a few yards of the guns, one of them loosed off a final round. No harm was done, but this so annoyed Hackett that he rushed " forward and beat the Bosche gunner over the head with his stick, asking him, What the — — he meant " by loosing off his — gun at him ?' " [Story of the 29th Division] ). The attack pressed on down the gentle slope and then up the slight rise to Kruiseecke cross-roads. There shells from our own heavy guns were bursting in rapid succession, and the attackers had perforce to halt.
The impetus, which had urged the Worcestershire on through Gheluvelt, had quickened their advance beyond that of the troops on their flanks. No supports were as yet in sight. Discovering the isolated position of the Battalion, some reinforcements of the enemy took heart of grace and were sighted forming up for attack. A rapid fire of musketry was opened, and the enemy's movement was withered before it had time to develop.
Gheluvelt after the battle
Although the German infantry did not attempt a further counter-attack, several bold machine-guns came into action and unpleasantly raked the ground. The intrepid Private A. E. Hughes crawled out alone to the attack, worked round from cover to cover till he was behind one of those machine-guns, closed in on the German post unexpectedly from the rear and compelled the surrender of its garrison, fourteen all told (For his two exploits, Pte. Hughes was awarded the D.C.M).
Colonel Freyberg came up through Gheluvelt and established his Brigade Headquarters on the eastern side of the village. The 2nd Hampshire took up position in close support, doing excellent work in shooting down two hostile aeroplanes, which attempted a plucky low-flying attack. Presently other troops came up on the flanks.
Towards dusk the 2nd Leinster came forward to the line of the 4th Worcestershire, passed through and endeavoured to advance. But the enemy had brought up additional machine-guns whose bullets swept the open ground in front, and after a very short advance the Leinsters were brought to a standstill. Darkness closed down and the firing died away (On this day, 2/Lt. W. Hamer [A.S.C., attached] was wounded. The other casualties suffered are not recorded).
Throughout the night, which followed rain, fell continuously. The battlefield was quiet and the weary troops took such rest as was possible. They had advanced in light " fighting order," without packs or greatcoats; and the transport vehicles had not been able to get forward across the battlefield. There was no food save what they carried in their haversacks, and the soldiers slept as best they could, too tired to worry about anything but the cold and the driving rain.
At dawn next morning (September 29th) the British guns opened fire; and at 7.0 a.m. the 4th Worcestershire rose to their feet, soaked to the skin, stiff with the cold, but still full of fight. The companies opened out into "artillery formation" advanced through the line of the 2nd Leinster, and pushed on to the attack. The rain had ceased, the nearest enemy were falling back, and the troops went forward splendidly up the slope past Oude Kruiseecke and then forward along the high ground under a galling fire from machine-guns in front. Rossignol Cabaret was taken, and the leading platoons advanced up the slope of the ridge on which stands the little village of Koelenberg. There, for the first time that day, the advance met definite opposition. The ridge was strongly held and the open slopes were swept by the fire of several machine-guns.
Advance of the 4th Battalion (27th-30th September 1918)
The platoons worked forward from cover to cover to attack the machine-gun posts. Captain A. H. Bowman brought his leading platoons into action against one concrete blockhouse: then, discovering a way of approach he made his way forward, accompanied only by one runner, surprised the garrison of the blockhouse and forced them to surrender, twelve in all (Capt. Bowman was awarded the M.C.). Further to the left Sergeant W. J. Smith single-handed attacked another blockhouse, creeping round the flank of the building under very heavy fire and capturing the six occupants (Sergt. Smith was awarded the D.C.M.).- Thanks to those brave efforts the advancing platoons were able to gain some ground; but the machine-guns on the upper slopes were so posted as to sweep all the intervening ground, and by 4 p.m. the attack was definitely held up.
Word was sent back to the artillery, and a bombardment was arranged. At 7 p.m. the guns opened fire, and as their shells struck along the ridge the platoons again pressed forward to the attack; but the bombardment was not heavy enough to beat down the German machine-gunners, and although one or two of the nearer posts were rushed, the hail of bullets from the higher ground soon forced the attackers to seek cover. A few prisoners had been taken (Twenty-five in all, including those taken by Capt. Bowman and Sergt. Smith) but the enemy's defence was not broken, and the attempt had cost the Battalion dear. The casualties included two of the company commanders, Captain G. P. O'Donovan and Captain C. E. Hackett, with several of their subalterns (Killed, 2/Lt. J. Cowherd, M.C. Wounded, Capt. G. P. O. Donovan, M.C., Capt. C. Hackett, D.C.M., Lt. H. N. Newey, 2/Lt. D. L. Downes, 2/Lt. J. C. Marriott.), and the loss of those two fine fighting leaders had a dispiriting effect on their men.
Another night closed down, with rain once more and bitter cold. By that time the officers and men of the 4th Worcestershire were physically at the limit of their powers. Since nightfall on September 27th they had been continuously under arms and in action, advancing against the enemy's fire. Their only food had been such biscuits and bully as they had carried with them; for no other rations had yet arrived. All were in the last extreme of misery from the wet and the cold; and all lay huddled on the open hillside, numb and exhausted. There was little firing that night, and through the hours of darkness the battlefront was quiet.
Col. B. C. Freyberg, V.C., D.S.O
That night (September 29th/30th) the Brigadier, Colonel Freyberg V.C., considered the situation of his own men and of the enemy. Throughout the advance he had been in the forefront of the attacking troops, and he knew, none better, their plight and their physical exhaustion; but the enemy, he reasoned, must be in even worse case. The Germans, like his own men, had been fighting continuously for forty-eight hours; but their battle had been a despairing struggle against a crushing barrage and against attacks by a greatly superior enemy. He remembered the exhaustion of his own Brigade after the defence of La Creche in April: the enemy must now be equally played out. He decided on an immediate attack. In the darkness before the dawn he came to the lines of the 4th Worcestershire, and ordered the Battalion to fall in.
No order could have been more unwelcome ("I was the most unpopular man in France at that moment," said Colonel Freyberg afterwards, "but they thanked me later."); for officers and men were in a state of physical collapse; but their discipline held. The platoons shook out into line, the numbed soldiers moving almost in their sleep, and as the first glimmer of grey light showed over the crest-line in front the Battalion advanced up the slope through the darkness in one dim wave of steel helmets and fixed bayonets.
The Brigadier had reasoned rightly. Brave though they were, the German machine-gunners had been in no condition to meet that assault. The enemy surrendered or hastily decamped; and in a few minutes the bayonets were flooding over the crest-line of the ridge. Hardly a shot had been fired, and the position had been gained without the loss of another man.
As the daylight grew the advance went forward down the slope. The collapse of the enemy's resistance had roused all ranks to cheerfulness once more, and the troops pushed onwards with a will. The country was broken and difficult, machine-guns fired from the flanks and field artillery from in front; but the companies advanced along the line of the Menin Road till they were close to the outskirts of Gheluwé. There the leading platoons were held up by a concentrated fire of artillery and machine-guns (One of the companies led by 2/Lt. R. H. Warren, M.M., made gallant efforts to gain ground, reaching the outskirts of the village in spite of concentrated machine-gun fire. 2/Lt. Warren behaved with great gallantry, and was awarded the M.G.). The enemy had brought up fresh troops.
When the check in front was realised, Colonel FitzJohn (For his fine leadership throughout that long battle Colonel FitzJohn was awarded a bar to his D.S.O.) sent forward the two reserve companies of the Battalion to prolong the left flank and to endeavour to turn the enemy's position. Those two companies advanced gallantly, directed by the Adjutant, Captain J. E. Thorneloe, who conducted their deployment and established them in good positions despite a heavy fire from the enemy's machine-guns (Captain Thorneloe, who was conspicuous for his gallantry and devotion throughout the day, was awarded a bar to his M.C. One of the two companies had lost all its officers in the previous fighting, and was led by C.S.M. T. W. Russon, who gave an example of fine leadership and contempt of danger. He was awarded the D.C.M.). But the German defences were too strong to be stormed out of hand and too extensive to be turned; and the most the Worcestershire companies could accomplish was to establish a satisfactory front and to endeavour to beat down the enemy's fire. Presently the 2nd Leinster came up to reinforce the line, putting in one company on the right of the 4th Worcestershire and sending two more companies to extend the flank to the left, north of the Menin Road; but that reinforcement could not gain any further ground in face of the enemy's fire, and the position remained unaltered until darkness fell
After dark carrying-parties came stumbling up to the fighting line, bringing ammunition and welcome food—the first rations to reach the companies since the beginning of the battle. The transport wagons had been unable to move beyond Gheluvelt, for the Menin Road was an impassable morass, broken by shell-craters, sodden by the heavy rain, choked with streams of wounded and under continuous bombardment.
Lieut.-Col. Tudor FitzJohn, D.S.O.
Thanks to the energy of the Brigade Staff Captain, Captain L. J. A. Will of the Regiment (Captain Will, it is recorded, "worked indefatigably, practically without a rest throughout the operations." He was awarded a bar to his M.C.), and his assistants, most of the supplies were loaded on to pack ponies and were thus sent forward to the troops. The laden ponies could not pass beyond Koelenberg; but Company-Quartermaster-Sergeant C. Adams organised carrying parties and personally brought the rations up to the front line through the enemy's fire. But for his devotion the forward companies would have been left without food (C.Q.M.S. Adams was awarded the D.C.M.).
During that night the 4th Worcestershire were relieved by the 2nd Hampshire. The companies reassembled in the darkness and marched back into reserve. All ranks were exhausted, soaked and chilled; but all realised that the victory they had gained was a sure presage of the end. As they trudged back through the rain westwards along the Menin Road the troops glanced over their shoulders to where behind them the wavering glow of great fires lit the sky behind the enemy's positions. Southward, Werwicq was burning, south-eastward was a dull glow from Menin, and away to the north-east over their right shoulders a fierce glare was seen from the direction of Roulers. The enemy was burning the towns before evacuation.
On the western slope of the Koelenberg Ridge the Battalion halted and bedded down for the night in such shelter as could be found in the shelters and blockhouses of the enemy's abandoned defences. Neither greatcoats nor packs had yet arrived, and it was impossible for the troops to dry their sodden clothes. Consequently the night was anything but comfortable, while platoons were reorganised and losses were counted. Casualties had been heavy in the three days, over 170 in all (Killed, 1 officer and 31 other ranks. Wounded, 6 officers, 117 other ranks, Missing 19), leaving but 400 of all ranks (13 officers, 391 other ranks) available for battle.
That night all were cheered by a message from their old Divisional Commander, Sir Beauvoir de Lisle. "Well done the 29th," he wired, "I knew you would do great things"; and indeed he had good reason to be proud of the Division which for so long he had commanded and trained.
Menin Road (September 1918)
Early next morning (October 1st) General Cayley came up to the front line and examined the position before Gheluwé. The troops were badly in need of relief; but relief could not yet be arranged: one last attempt had to be made to gain the village in front.
The day was spent in making preparations; and on the following morning (October 2nd) the 2nd Hampshire attacked Gheluwé. The Hampshire men gamely fought their way into the village, but the enemy's defences were strong, and sharp counter-attacks eventually drove back the attack. One company of the 4th Worcestershire was sent forward to help the 2nd Hampshire. That company was brought up on the left flank of the Hampshire and did good work in covering the eventual withdrawal.
It was now clear that for the time the enemy's retreat was at an end. Fresh German forces had established a strong defensive position and the advance of the Allied forces was barred until artillery could be brought into position to overcome the enemy's resistance. A pause in the operations ensued. The 88th Brigade was relieved, and the 4th Worcestershire marched back under cover of darkness to a temporary camp at Oude Kruiseecke. There at last the soldiers found dry garments and a hot meal.
Next day (October 3rd) the 88th Brigade marched back along the Menin Road, through Gheluvelt and over the high ground of Stirling Castle, past Hooge to Birr Cross-Roads.
The great battle-field was littered with wreckage of all sorts, and the line of the Menin Road was crowded along its whole length with fresh troops moving up, tired troops moving back, guns, wagons and lorries, sappers and pioneers labouring to fill up the shell-holes, and a whole Division of French Cavalry in bivouac at Veldhoek. The march was wearisome, but eventually Birr Cross-Roads was reached. A light railway had been laid forward to that point, which carried the troops back to camp beyond Vlamertinghe ("Dirty Bucket Camp"). There the 88th Brigade remained for two days, resting and refitting.