The Transloy Ridges (October 1916)
During September 1916 the British Fourth Army had gained the crest of the big ridge which runs from the Albert-Bapaume Road on the left past High Wood to Morval on the right. In October that year the troops of the Fourth Army were fighting their way forward down the slopes towards the enemy’s last prepared defences around Le Transloy and Bapaume. On the right flank Gueudecourt had been stormed on the 26th September 1916. Beyond Gueudecourt a low ridge lies between that village and Le Transloy; and that ridge was the principal objective of the fighting in the ensuing three weeks. Further to the west, on the left flank of the Fourth Army, a conspicuous mound, the Butte de Warlencourt, was the most noticeable tactical feature in front of the British line.
During October and November 1916, The 1st, 2nd, 4th, 1/7th and 1/8th would all be involved in action on the Transloy Ridges.
The last days of September 1916 were marked by heavy rain, which became even heavier and more continuous during the first days of October. The countless shell-holes became slimy pools; the churned soil of the Somme ridges melted into knee-deep mud, which made movement more and more difficult.
Up into that most depressing of battlefields came the 4th Battalion of the Regiment; later the 1st Battalion, then the 1/7th and 1/8th Battalions and finally the 2nd Battalion also came into the struggle for the Transloy Ridges.
The 4th Worcestershire (temporarily commanded by Major J. P. S. Maitland), after moving down from Flanders, detrained at Longueau Station near Amiens at dawn on the 8th October 1916. The troops had breakfast and then marched through soaking rain to Corbie, where the 88th Brigade found excellent billets.
A quiet day followed in Brigade reserve: then on the 10th October 1916, the Battalion marched forward to the sound of the guns and after a toilsome journey reached camp near Pommiers Redoubt before dark. All around them the British batteries kept up a continuous fire throughout the night.
Location map showing positions and attacks of the 4th Battalion Worcestershire
The next morning (11th October 1916) the Battalion moved on and advanced into the reserve trenches on the crest of the main ridge north of Delville Wood (the old German Switch-Line). From that reserve position on the following afternoon (October 12th) the Battalion watched a great attack delivered along the whole front of the Fourth Army. From Morval on their right round to Le Sars on their left, the whole front line was obscured by the smoke and fumes of bursting shells; and all along the line the laden infantry struggled forward through the mud. But at nightfall there was little good to report. Ground had been gained in places but no definite success had been achieved. That night the Battalion found several parties to take up ammunition to the front line, and while supervising that duty 2/Lieut. L. A. Gray was killed by a shell and 12 of his men were wounded.
The 4th Battalion remained in position until the following evening (October 13th); then in misty weather and amid continuous gun-fire, the 4th Worcestershire ploughed forward through the mud and relieved the 1st Essex Battalion on the ground over which they had fought on the previous day.
One company of the Battalion, with six Lewis-guns, was in the firing line on the outskirts of Gueudecourt (see map). Close behind them another company held the Sunken Road running west from the village. The other two companies were in reserve in “Goat Trench.” Battalion Headquarters was in “Pilgrim’s Way.”
Dawn of 14th October 1916 brought a heavy bombardment, which continued throughout that day, while all ranks worked hard to improve the position. That night an officer’s patrol discovered a group of abandoned German gunpits close in front of the line. The patrol was fired upon and had to withdraw before definite information about them could be ascertained.
Another day of heavy shelling followed, during which the Brigade on the right made an unsuccessful local attack. Orders were received that the Battalion was to take part in a renewed attack to break the German line.
Lt.-Col. D. E. Cayley (Temp Brig.-Gen.)
The Brigadier (General Cayley) came up to the Battalion and discussed the forthcoming attack. When darkness fell on 15th October 1916, a storming party crept forward from our trenches, rushed the gunpits, drove out a few enemy snipers who had been holding them, and hastily prepared the captured positions for defence. In one of the gunpits a deep dugout was discovered, and in it were found four helpless wounded men, three British and one German. They had lain there since the previous attack, five days before.
Meanwhile arrangements were being made for the impending battle. To permit a preliminary rest, the two front companies of the Worcestershire were relieved by platoons of the Essex and were withdrawn to join the other two companies in “Gird Trench” and “Goat Trench.”
October 17th was bitterly cold. Final details for the attack were settled; then all took as much rest as was possible amid the continuous gun-fire. At 8 p.m. heavy rain came down and through the rain the Worcestershire companies moved forward to the front line.
In the attack on October 12th, part of a German trench known as” Hilt Trench” had been captured and linked up with our line. The remainder of “Hilt Trench” was still in the enemy’s hands, as also was “Bayonet Trench” which continued the enemy’s line to the west. Behind “Hilt Trench,” “Grease Trench” constituted the next enemy line in front of the 88th Brigade.
The task allotted to the Brigade was two-fold. On the left flank one company of the 4th Worcestershire was to secure the yet uncaptured portion of” Hilt Trench” and to co-operate with the 35th Brigade which, further to the left, was to attack “Bayonet Trench.” On the rest of the Brigade front the remainder of the 4th Worcestershire, together with the 2nd Hampshire, were to attack and capture “Grease Trench.” On their right the 71st Brigade would continue the line of the attack by capturing “Mild Trench.”
At 3.40 a.m. on October 18th the British artillery opened a devastating fire. All along the line the British battalions, soaked to the skin but still eager, clambered out of their trenches and advanced through mud and rain against the enemy.
On the front of the 4th Worcestershire, the attack on the uncaptured portion of “Hilt Trench” was made by “X” Company, three platoons attacking from the gunpits and one platoon from the end of the portion of the trench already captured. That attack, though gallantly made, failed at first before unbroken wire, but Captain D’A. G. St. C. Roberts at once reorganised his company and again attacked. Eventually “X” Company were successful, and the enemy were driven out of the remainder of “Hilt Trench.” The attack of the 35th Brigade against “Bayonet Trench” had failed: but “X” Company established a block at their end of “Bayonet Trench” and held it stubbornly against all counter-attacks. Capt. D’A. Roberts was awarded the M.C. for his actions.
Meanwhile the other three companies of the 4th Worcestershire, with the 2nd Hampshire on their right, had pushed forward, following the creeping barrage from” Hilt Trench” to” Grease Trench.” As the barrage lifted off the trench the attacking platoons charged in and made short work of the defenders. Then parties previously detailed (one of those parties was led by Sergt. (Acting C.S.M.) C. Hackett, who pushed on with great courage and captured several prisoners. He was awarded the D.C.M. and subsequently was selected for a commission) advanced, headed by Captain T. F. V. Matthews to the sunken road behind the trench. As had been expected, the sunken road was found to be full of enemy dugouts, which were swiftly bombed into surrender and demolished: after which Captain Matthews (later awarded the M.C.) and his men returned with their prisoners, to “Grease Trench.” At the western end of “Grease Trench” a German strongpoint at the Five Cross Roads resisted successfully, but with that exception the whole of the trench had been captured by the Worcestershire and Hampshire. More than two hundred prisoners had been taken.
Further to the right the left flank of the 71st Brigade had been successful in securing a portion of “Mild Trench” and in linking up with the Hampshire. On the remainder of the front of that Brigade no success had been gained.
The attack was over before it was really light. The Worcestershire platoons made such cover as was possible and held their gains throughout the day under a very heavy bombardment. Twice the enemy were seen forming up for a counter-attack, but each time they were stopped dead by rapid fire. The rain beat down steadily, and the condition of the trenches grew hourly worse and worse; men sank to their hips in the mud, and only with great difficulty could they be lugged out. Night fell and it became possible to reckon losses: about 140 in all, including 13 officers.
Details of losses
3 officers (2/Lieut. C. G. Durant, 2/Lieut. G. C. Scott and Capt. F. P. Daw) and 16 other ranks killed.
9 officers (Captains L. A. W. Knight, Lieut. H. L. Grogan, Lieut. A. Ramsden, 2/Lients. D. S. Milward, R. E. Wilson, D. N. Monks, J. L. Hull, H. F. C. Colman, H. F. C. Donnell) and 80 other ranks wounded.
1 officer (2/Lieut. J. Overbury) and 30 other ranks missing.
The night of October 18th/19th was a most anxious one. The position of the Battalion, with its left flank in the air, was very dangerous. But no German counter-attack developed and the position gained was safely held.
Dawn of October 19th broke through driving rain. Expecting a counter-attack, the officers and men of the 4th Worcestershire crouched in their waterlogged defences, soaked, worn-out, but still full of fight. Corporal H. Masters had taken command of his platoon in the initial attack when his officer was hit. Although wounded himself, Corporal Masters refused to leave his men and remained at his post showing great courage until the Battalion was relieved. He was awarded the D.C.M. for his actions. The enemy however were in equally bad plight and made no effort to regain their lost ground.
During the day arrangements were made for the relief of the attacking troops. The 4th Worcestershire and 2nd Hampshire were to be relieved by the South Wales Borderers and Inniskillings of the 87th Brigade, while on their right the positions of the front-line battalions of the 71st Brigade were to be taken over by the 1st Worcestershire and 1st Sherwood Foresters of the 8th Division.
The 8th Division, returning to the Somme front from the area around Betbune, had detrained at Longpré on October 14th, and the 1st Worcestershire had marched to billets at Citernes (near Hocquincourt). Thence on October 16th the 24th Brigade had been carried in French motor busses to Ville-sous-Corbie, and had then marched onwards to camp at the sandpits near Meaulte. There the Brigade lay for two days, preparing for battle, and listening to the thunder of the bombardment during the attack on October 18th. Then came orders to move forward and relieve the attacking troops in the line.
Early on the morning of October 19th the 24th Brigade advanced into the battle zone. Rain, as we have told, was falling heavily, the tracks everywhere were deep in mud, and through that mud the heavily laden troops found it difficult to make their way. About 1 p.m. a halt was made for dinner near Trones Wood. Then the advance was continued through the incessant rain, past Delville Wood, over the crest line of the main ridge, and down the slope to Gueudecourt. Darkness closed in, the enemy were shelling heavily, the rain and the deep mud made progress very difficult. Not until after midnight did the platoons finally struggle into the front line and relieve the 9th Norfolks in “Rainbow” and “Shine” trenches and in the captured portion of “Mild Trench.” There the line of the 1st Worcestershire linked up with that of the 2nd Hampshire who, together with the 4th Worcestershire on their flank, were still awaiting relief by the 87th Brigade.
Hours passed but the relief was not completed. Rain and the enemy’s shells had almost obliterated the main communication trench, “Cocoa Alley,” and the South Wales Borderers and Inniskillings were finding the greatest difficulty in making their way down to the firing line. Not till 1.30 a.m. did their first platoons arrive; then came a long delay. By that time the enemy were pounding” Cocoa Alley” with an intense fire of heavy shells, and the Borderers losses were serious. Not one of their companies was actually in its allotted position before daylight, and as the light spread the withdrawal of the 4th Worcestershire became an increasingly dangerous operation. The men had to be sent back in driblets, four or five at a time, making their way as best they could across the mud. At Battalion Headquarters in “ Pilgrims Way” they were collected into larger bodies and given directions as to their way to a camp near Bernafay Wood, five miles back. At that rendezvous the Battalion was gradually collected, and the weary sodden men were cheered by hot tea and rum. Not till 1.30 a.m. in the following night (October 20th/21st) did the last party reach camp. During the relief the Battalion suffered some 60 casualties including 2/Lt. J. M. Aldana wounded.
October 21st was spent in cleaning up. The weather was bitterly cold and the men had but little shelter: but a certain amount of dry clothing was obtained and issued, and the troops faced the misery of the cold with that same splendid courage as they had shown under the enemy’s fire.
Meanwhile the 1st Battalion were holding the front line, and had been suffering severely from cold and wet in the water-logged trenches. October 20th was a comparatively quiet day, but on the 21st — a day of bitter cold — the enemy’s artillery woke to renewed activity and heavily bombarded the British positions round Gueudecourt. The British artillery fiercely replied; a fresh attack had been planned for October 23rd and by way of preparation the guns indulged in a concentrated bombardment of “ Mild Trench.” Before that bombardment the front-line platoons in “Shine Trench” were temporarily withdrawn. The trench was reoccupied after the bombardment and in it were found the fresh bodies of several Germans — presumably patrols which had followed up the withdrawal and had been caught by the ensuing shell-fire. The shelling on that day cost the Battalion over fifty casualties (11 killed, 2 officers (Capt. K. W. Wilkins and 2/Lt. M. C. C. James) and 38 other ranks wounded and 3 missing, believed killed). Casualties on 20th October were, 1 killed, 6 wounded and 1 missing, believed killed. On the 22nd October 2/Lt. H. G. Hill was wounded.
The next day (October 22nd) passed without notable incident. That evening the Battalion was relieved and moved back into reserve positions along Needle Trench.
The morning of October 23rd was damp and very foggy. At 11.30 a.m. the British artillery opened a barrage fire. The attacking battalions advanced and after a fluctuating fight, captured and secured “Mild Trench.”
The 1st Worcestershire were in reserve throughout the day, but presently sent forward a company to support the East Lancashire. That company eventually found a position in Shine Trench. Though under continuous heavy shell-fire, their losses were not serious (8 wounded).
During October 24th, another day of thick mist, the position remained unchanged, and not until the evening of the next day did the 1st Worcestershire move forward. Then the Battalion relieved the East Lancashire in “Shine Trench” and in the captured “Mild Trench” and settled down to the work of consolidation.
On the evening of October 27th the 4th Battalion again came into the line. After five days “rest” on the reverse slope of the main ridge. On the 22nd and 23rd October the 4th Battalion had been employed in working parties on the Longueval—Flers Road.
The 4th Battalion again moved up to the line after dark on the 27th October, and took over from the South Wales Borderers the portion of “Grease Trench” which they had captured on the 18th (one company in “Grease Trench”, one company in “Sunken Road” and one company in “Goat Trench”).
Thus both the 1st and the 4th Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment were in the line together, barely a thousand yards apart, during the next two days. It was a very trying time, with much hard labour in deep mud under heavy shell-fire.
Casualties during this period for the 1st Battalion were:
25th October - 1 killed, 2 wounded.
26th October - 2 killed, 9 wounded.
27th October - 1 killed, 6 wounded.
28th October - 3 killed, 9 wounded.
29th October - 1 killed, 6 wounded.
During the night of October 29th/30th the 4th Battalion was relieved by newly-arrived Australian troops, and returned to Bernafay Camp during the early hours of morning. By 8.30 a.m. the last platoon had arrived, and two hours later, in pouring rain, the Battalion set out for a camp further back, near Pommiers Redoubt. The distance was only two miles, but so bad was the going that the last platoon did not reach the new camp till 2.30 p.m.
From Pommiers Camp the Battalion marched back on October 31st by Mametz, Fricourt and Meaulte to billets at Ville-sous-Corbie. There, together with the other battalions of the 88th Brigade, the 4th Worcestershire rested and trained during the ensuing fortnight. During that period, Major J. P. S. Maitland, one of the outstanding figures of the Battalion, was invalided home, thus closing his service with the Regiment in the field. In spite of his advanced years, Major Maitland had endured all privations with fine spirit, and his loss was greatly regretted by all ranks.
On the evening of October 30th the 1st Battalion were also withdrawn. The 17th Division relieved the 8th Division and the 1st Worcestershire (the Battalion was relieved by the 9th Duke of Wellington’s) struggled back through mud and drizzle to camp by Trones Wood. Thence about noon next day the Battalion marched onwards to camp at the Sandpits, where the units of the 24th Brigade gradually assembled. There the Brigade rested for three days.
As the 1st and 4th Battalions moved back from the Transloy Ridges, the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment advanced into the battle area. After their long rest at Le Souich the 2nd Worcestershire had moved south by march to Bouquemaison then by French busses to La Neuville and finally by march to Corbie arriving at their billets in Corbie on October 19th. Two days later (October 21st) the 100th Brigade marched forward to Meaulte. The Battalion was now in fine training and the marching was very good. From Meaulte the Brigade marched eastward next day to “Mansell Camp” south of Mametz. On October 25th a move forward was made to “Briqueterie Camp” near Montauban. There the Battalion lay for a week in the midst of the devastated area, finding big working parties in every direction. The weather, as we have already seen, was atrocious, and the thunder of the guns in front was incessant. At last, on the evening of October 30th, the Battalion moved up to the line.
We have seen how little success had hitherto attended the efforts of the Fourth Army to fight its way forward through the heavy mud of the Transloy Ridges. Now the fresh 33rd Division had been brought up to relieve the weary 4th Division at Les Boeufs.
After dark on October 30th the 2nd Worcestershire marched forward from their camp by Montauban and made their way, through rain and heavy mud past Pommier’s Redoubt, where the 4th Battalion were bivouacked, past Trones Wood, where the straggling platoons of the 1st Battalion were even then assembling, past the ruins of Ginchy, forward to the tangle of trenches around Les Boeufs. There the 2nd Worcestershire took over a section of the front line from the 5th Scottish Rifles (of the 19th Brigade), and settled as best they could into the muddy ditches under pouring rain. Their position was called “Frost” Trench, and on their right in “Slush” Trench were the 9th H.L.I. Beyond that battalion was the point of junction with the left flank of the French Sixth Army, which in the preceding weeks had gained a good deal of ground.
Location map showing positions and attacks of the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire
Co-operation between the French and British Armies. had not proved easy, and the French, after working forward along the eastern side of a low spur (see plan) were now considerably in advance of the British line on the spur’s western slope. The British advance had been held up by a group of German trenches known as” Hazy” and “ Boritzka” Trenches, with” Mirage” Trench in support behind “Boritzka.” The gun-fire had beaten the ground into pulp, and though the opposing positions were officially termed “trenches,” they were in reality little more than irregular lines of shell-holes, consolidated and more or less connected, but extremely difficult to locate and to observe.
Already several previous attacks against “Hazy” and “Boritzka” Trenches had failed and now the 100th Brigade was to try its luck. The attack was fixed for the following evening (November 1st).
As the dawn of November 1st lit up the battlefield it was seen that “Frost” Trench, held by the 2nd Worcestershire, was separated from the German position in “Hazy Trench” by a low crest-line, which effectively prevented any real knowledge of the dispositions of the enemy.
All day long the front line of the Battalion was heavily shelled: so heavily shelled that it was necessary to withdraw most of the platoons from the trench to a line of shell-holes in rear. During the morning Captain W. Ferguson was shot dead by a German sniper—a most serious loss, for be had proved himself a very gallant leader.
As the afternoon wore on, the fire of the British artillery grew heavier and rose suddenly to intensity at” zero “—3.30 p.m. Then, as the guns lifted their fire, the 9th H.L.I. and 2nd Worcestershire ( “A” and “B” Companies. “C” and “D” were in reserve) advanced through the mud to attack “Bontzka” and “Hazy” Trenches.
Never had the Battalion struggled through a worse morass. The laden soldiers sank up to their knees in the mud, hauling out each foot with the utmost difficulty and in many cases losing their boots and putties. Slowly the attacking line waded forward up the slight slope. As they reached the crest of the little rise, which hid the enemy from view, they were met by a storm of bullets.
From “Hazy” Trench in front, from another German position on their left flank at the end of the spur (see map above), and from the Cemetery on the crest of the ridge beyond, groups of German machine-guns opened rapid fire. Under that fire the attack could not gain ground, officers and men fell on every side, and the remainder were driven to such shelter as they could find amid the water-logged shell-holes. When darkness came, the survivors waded back to their original line. The failure had been due to the mud and to the weather conditions as much as to the enemy’s fire. Casualties suffered by the 2nd Worcestershire—1 officer (2/Lieut. L. T. Flux) and 9 men killed, 67 wounded, 14 missing. The losses of the 9th H.L.I. were rather heavier.
The following day (November 2nd) was uneventful (“a fairly quiet day, but the men were very exhausted and wet from the effects of the attack and the weather ” (Battalion Diary)). In the evening the companies were relieved by the 16th K.R.R.C. and moved back into reserve trenches near Les Boeufs. There the Battalion lay for two days, resting, cleaning up, and finding working parties to assist a fresh attack on” Boritzka” Trench, which was made by the 1st Queen’s in the evening of November 3rd. That attack, like the preceding one, failed completely. “Boritzka” seemed untakable.
“The state of the trenches,” recorded the Brigade Diary, “had now become so bad that the men arrived in the trenches in a state of physical exhaustion and in many cases had to be assisted out of the mud. The difficulties of getting up rations and stores had also now considerably increased, it having rained almost continuously since the Brigade came into the line.” Nevertheless it was decided that the advance must go on, and that somehow” Boritzka” must be taken.
A new plan was tried. Instead of another frontal attack, the next attack against” Boritzka” should be made from the flank where the French held the line. Arrangements were made between the staffs of the two Armies, and meanwhile the British guns redoubled their fire. On November 4th the British 6-in. Howitzers fired 2,000 rounds at “Hazy”, “Mirage” and “Boritzka” trenches, adding another 2,000 shell-holes to the ground in front.
Lieut.-Colonel T. K. Pardoe
After dark (6 p.m.) on November 4th the 2nd Worcestershire left their reserve trenches behind Les Boeufs and marched in single file along interminable duck-board tracks into the French lines. Then, led by French guides, the Battalion moved forward into position close behind a sunken lane, which was occupied by the foremost groups of the French battalion. In the darkness the companies deployed and lay down: “D” Company in front, then in succession” C,”” B,” and “ A “. The total strength of the four companies was 14 officers and about 300 other ranks, the latter being mostly young soldiers newly arrived from home. All arrangements were concerted with the French officers. French and British runners were stationed together in relay posts, and the French Battalion Commander (the French unit was the 1st Battalion of the 66th Regiment) welcomed Colonel Pardoe of the 2nd Worcestershire in his Headquarters in “Thunder Trench.” It was arranged that the attack next day should be made at 11 a.m.
A terrific storm of rain beat down, with much lightning. Through the rain came German shells but in that slough many of them failed to explode. Presently the rain passed: the night became quiet and very cold.
The companies set to work to dig themselves in. As they worked, the officers noticed a favourable sign. The wind, which for days had brought rain from the west, was changing; and soon it blew from the east, bitter cold indeed but rapidly drying the mud.
Dawn broke and the troops crouched in the cover they had made. In front of them, beyond the sunken road, a low crest-line, as before, hid the enemy’s position.
With the first light a German aeroplane drifted overhead. The enemy machine suddenly dived down to the position of the Battalion, circled close above the crowded companies, rose again amid a splutter of firing and made off to the eastward. Urged by their officers the troops dug feverishly while there was yet time.
Twenty minutes later German shells came crashing down about the flimsy trenches, mostly not more than 4 foot deep by that time. The troops huddled close in their cover. The bombardment continued fiercely and without intermission. The two leading companies suffered many casualties. Both the company commanders, Captain H. M. Eyles and Captain E. J. L. Warlow were killed, and all the other officers of “D” Company were hit. Hour after hour the bombardment continued, while the platoons lay close among the shell-holes.
Precisely at 11 a.m. the British artillery suddenly opened an intense fire. Thirteen minutes later the word was given to advance. The four companies of the 2nd Worcestershire scrambled to their feet and pushed forward to the attack. “D” Company, the leading “wave” had already lost all their officers. Lieutenant Bennett, commanding “C” Company, went forward to them, started them off, led by their N.C.O’s. and then returned to lead his own Company.
The attack was met by a storm of fire. A barrage of heavy shells crashed down along the sunken lane, and through the shell-bursts could be heard the stammer of machine-guns.
Led by a few brave N.C.O’s., “D” Company advanced through the barrage across the sunken road and up the slope. Close behind followed the other three companies. As he reached the sunken road, Lieut. E. P. Bennett, commanding “C” Company was struck down by a shell-burst. He collapsed half-stunned into the lane, where his wounds were bandaged by a kindly Frenchman. Dazed by the shock, he watched the two rear companies pass forward through the fire. Beside him in the sunken lane he found other wounded men ; among them a Sergeant (whose name, unfortunately, is now unknown) and a little 2nd Lieutenant, believed to have been 2/Lieut. J. O. Couldridge. Together they peered forward through the smoke of the German barrage. For a moment the smoke drifted aside, and they could see the situation in front. The attack had stopped. The last few N.C.O’s. of “D” Company had been hit, two German machine-guns from the right flank had raked the line, and the young soldiers, brave enough but utterly bewildered, had halted and lain down. The other companies had closed up to them and had likewise stopped. All four companies were crowded in the open under a fierce fire.
The little group in the trench were horror-struck. “God! ” cried the little 2nd Lieutenant Are we going to fail again?” The wounded Sergeant grasped the situation and tore at the steep bank to make a step. “The boys will go on all right if there’s someone to lead them” he said: he clambered up and dashed forward into the fire. Twenty yards from the trench he was struck and fell. Close on his heels followed the little 2nd Lieutenant.
Lieutenant Bennett found a spade and cut himself a step in the embankment. Then he too ran forward through the bursting shells. As he ran, he passed the little 2nd Lieutenant struck dead. Still grasping the spade, he reached the troops, dashed through them and signalled them to advance. The whole Battalion rose behind him and flooded forward in one wave over the crest-line and down on to the flank of the German trenches.
Lieut. E. P. Bennett V.C., M.C.
From the front and from the right flank came a hail of bullets from the German machine-guns; but the ground was so broken that the platoons afforded no constant target as they struggled down into and up out of the countless shell-holes . . . . “we were like a swarm of rats in a ploughed field” (E. P. Bennett). Before that onslaught the German garrisons of “Mirage” and “Boritzka” trenches gave way. Such as survived of the enemy fell back across the broken ground, and Lieutenant Bennett led the attack forward along the whole length of the objective. Then, in pursuance of their orders, the 2nd Worcestershire faced to their right and pushed forward down the slope for some five hundred yards. Orders were given to dig in, and the remnant of the Battalion consolidated a new line beyond the captured ground.
The enemy actively disputed the advance, and the new line was entrenched under a hot fire of musketry from close range. Lieut. E. M. Holland, who had shown great gallantry throughout the attack, was shot and killed during the work of entrenchment. At first the new position was dangerously isolated, but presently an officer of the 16th King’s Royal Rifles made his way forward to the line. His battalion had captured “Hazy Trench” and had made good their ground. The left flank of the Worcestershire was thereby secured.
The survivors of the Battalion held their ground all the rest of that day, answering shot by shot and digging themselves into cover, great gallantry was shown by 2/Lieut. R. W. A. Watts, who reorganised his men and carried out a dangerous patrol to the front, in which he was wounded (2/Lieut. Watts was awarded the M.C.). They were exposed to a fierce fire all the afternoon and there were many casualties. After dark came relief. The 5th Scottish Rifles took over the captured line and the Worcestershire moved back. Very few were left of the four companies. Lieutenant Bennett could muster not more than about 60 all told, with one young subaltern besides himself. The little force marched back through the French lines, where they were heartily congratulated, to Battalion Headquarters at Les Boeufs.
Casualties for the 2nd Worcestershire on the 5th November 1916, were given officially as follows :—Killed 3 officers 15 other ranks. Wounded 2 officers, 66 other ranks. Missing one officer (believed killed) and 21 other ranks; but those figures are certainly understated. Besides the two Captains named above, 2/Lieuts. J. O. Couldridge and E. M. Holland were killed. Lieut. E. P. Bennett and 2/Lt. R. W. A. Watts were wounded, among others. The actual loss was over 200. The Battalion War Diaries at this period are very defective.
The 2nd Battalion now moved back up the communication trenches to Guillemont, which was reached at dawn of November 6th. There all slept soundly until roused in the afternoon by the arrival of a relieving battalion; which proved to be none other than the 1st Worcestershire. After hearty mutual greetings, the 2nd Worcestershire fell in and tramped back westward past Montauban to a camp “in a very muddy field” near Fricourt. For two days the Battalion rested and cleaned up. On November 9th the Brigadier inspected the Battalion and read a message of congratulation from the Regimental Commander of the French 66th Regiment. Next day the Battalion marched by Meaulte to Buire station and entrained for the back areas to rest and train. Their part in the battle was over; and Lieutenant Bennett’s bravery and fine leadership were fitly rewarded with the Victoria Cross.
The 1st Worcestershire after a four days rest in camp at the Sandpits near Meaulte had moved forward on November 5th to huts at Carnoy. Thence, on the following day, the Battalion moved up to Guillemont and, as we have seen, relieved the 2nd Worcestershire. The 8th Division was now relieving the 33rd Division in the line, and the 24th Brigade was taking over the ground captured by the 100th Brigade. During November 7th the 1st Worcestershire remained in Brigade Reserve: then, on the evening of November 8th the Battalion moved forward and relieved the 2nd East Lancashire in “ Bennett Trench,” as the position captured by the 2nd Worcestershire was now named. The Battalion held that half-dug trench for two days in great discomfort, they were finally relieved by the 2nd Royal Berkshire on the evening of 9th. Then after four days (November 10th - 13th) rest in camp (La Briquetterie) south of Bernafay Wood the 24th Brigade again went into the line on November 13th a little further to the left (in a new trench linking up Fall and Bennett Trenches), between Les Boeufs and Gueudecourt. There they were heavily shelled, the 1st Worcestershire losing one day (15th) from shell-fire alone, 12 killed and as many wounded. On October 16th the Battalion moved back into support at Flers.
The weather was bitterly cold, and all ranks were glad when news came of relief; the 29th Division would take over the Divisional Line. On the evening of November 17th the 88th Brigade came up to relieve the 24th Brigade, and once more two Battalions of the Regiment met in the trenches by Gueudecourt; for the newly-arrived Brigade included the 4th Worcestershire.
After handing over their positions to the 2nd Hampshire, the 1st Worcestershire marched westward to camp at Carnoy. Thence next day the Battalion moved into billets in Meaulte. On November 20th the 1st Worcestershire bade farewell to the Somme battle-fields and entrained at Edge-Hill Siding for the back areas.
After their fortnight of rest and training at Ville-sous-Corbie the 4th Worcestershire, with the other battalions of the 88th Brigade had marched northwards on November 15th, back into the battle area again. After resting the night of November 15th/16th at Sandpits Camp and the following night at La Briqueterie, the 4th Worcestershire moved forward to the line, passed the 1st Worcestershire at Flers and relieved the 2nd East Lancashire in “ Fall,” “Autumn” and” Winter” trenches. Thenceforward until the middle of December the 4th Worcestershire remained either in those trenches (4th Battalion in front line November 17th - 22nd, November 27th - 30th, December 5th—7th, December 9th—l0th) or in shelters or camps (Huts at Carnoy or canvas camp at Bernafay Wood) close behind on the devastated battlefield. The fighting died down and no event of great importance occurred, but the hardships suffered were severe. Casualties of the 4th Worcestershire between November 16th—December 11th was 3 wounded. At last on December 11th the 88th Brigade was relieved and moved right back to rest at Molliens Vidame.
The training of the Territorial battalions of the 48th Division in the back areas was completed during the first week in October, and the 1/7th and 1/8th Worcestershire moved forward once more. On October 1st, 144th Brigade marched from Beaudricourt to Halloy and Mondicourt. On October 7th, 1/7th Battalion moved to Fonquevillers and Souastre and the 1/8th Battalion moved to Warlencourt on October 10th and Souastre on October 16th. Both Battalions went into front-line trenches at Hebuteme again for a few days (1/7th Battalion October 8th—12th, casualties nil. 1/8th Battalion October 16th - 20th casualties 2 died of wounds, 2 wounded).
Then the Division was again pulled back into reserve. The 1/7th Battalion on October 12th to billets at St. Amand and then on October 13th to billets in Humbercourt. The 1/8th Battalion on October 20th to billets in Souastre. October 20th, 144th Brigade moved back to Beaudricourt area, 1/7th Battalion at Iverguy, 1/8th Battalion at Beaudricourt. On October 25th Brigade moved by bus through Doullens and Amiens to Bresle. The struggle on the Transloy Ridges was exhausting the strength of the Divisions engaged there, and fresh reinforcements were needed. The 1/7th Worcestershire were detached from their Brigade on October 26th and sent forward into the devastated area near Contalmaison (near the site of “Quadrangle Trench”) to supply carrying parties for the troops in the front line. Four days later the remainder of the 144th Brigade, including the 1/8th Worcestershire also moved forward into the battle area and likewise came to Contalmaison.
On the 31st October 1916, the Brigade marched through Henencourt and Millencourt to Albert. November 1st move forward from Albert to Contalmaison. On October 31st, Lieut. G. R. Wallace, hitherto Adjutant of the 1/7th Battalion took over “A” Company, and Lieut. D. Wingate became Acting-Adjutant.
The 1/8th Worcestcrshire lay for one night (November 1st/2nd) in the ruins of that village: then on the following afternoon the Battalion moved forward through Martinpuich to the line at Le Sars, and took over the front-line trenches astride the main Bapaume road, the Brigade War Diary read “The trenches were in a very bad state as all communication trenches were impassable, the relief was carried out entirely across the open.
The night was dark, and a heavy drizzle obscured the view. Dawn of November 3rd showed the position more clearly. In front of the trenches held by the 1/8th Worcestershire, the ground sloped downward to the village of Warlencourt, while immediately on the right of the Battalion’s line rose a high mound, the Butte de Warlencourt. “The famous tumulus towered above us like Cruckbarrow above the Depot and, being situated on the edge of a steep scarp, looked even more imposing,” while in every direction the ground was smashed and pitted with water-logged shell-holes. For several weeks attack after attack had been made in vain against the Butte, but hope of gaining it had not been abandoned, and preparations had been made for yet another attack.
That fresh attack was made early on November 5th, in the teeth of a gale of wind, by the 50th Division immediately to the right of the position of the 1/8th Worcestershire. A long day of desperate fighting ensued. The Butte was captured and lost again, while from their trench-line the Worcestershire companies did their best to co-operate by rapid fire under a storm of shells. Under that bombardment great bravery was shown by two young subalterns, 2/Lieutenants R. T. Keen and A. F. Raikes. Both were severely wounded, but both refused to leave their companies, and remained at their posts for twelve hours, cheering and inspiring their men. Both were awarded the M.C. The wild weather and the incessant shelling made it very difficult for anyone to know the exact position of the troops around the Butte, and shortly before darkness fell orders came for the Battalion to send out a patrol to discover the position of the left flank of the attack. Lieut. A. Plajstowe and Sergeant G. Crump went out. They worked their way forward across the shattered ground under a heavy fire from rifles and machine-guns, passed through the German barrage and eventually found the survivors of the attack (for this and other acts of bravery Sergt. Crump was afterwards awarded the D.C.M.) holding on to a quarry immediately below the Butte. Lient. A. R. Swallow was sent out later on the same errand and also was successful in his mission.
Darkness fell, but the fighting round the Butte went on, and at last, a little before midnight, a strong German counter-attack regained their original line. But by that time the 1/6th Gloucester-shire had come up to relieve the 1/8th Worcestershire in the line, and the Worcestershire platoons, disentangling themselves with difficulty, made their way back across the water-logged battle-field amid a terrific bombardment. Casualties for the 1/8th Worcestershire, on November 5th were —12 killed, 3 officers (2/Lieut. A. F. Raikes, 2/Lieut. R. T. Keen and 2/Lieut. W. H. Griffiths) and 61 other ranks wounded.
The Battalion assembled in reserve close to the headquarters of the 1/7th Worcestershire behind Contalmaison (“Scotts Redoubt “which place had been the Headquarters of the 1/7th Battalion during the preceding three days) and slept throughout the next day, a day of sleet and driving rain in which the companies of the 1/7th Worcestershire laboured, as during the preceding week, in carrying stores and rations forward from the high ground above Bazentin down the slopes northward to the firing line.
That attack on November 5th marked the end of the heavy fighting on the front of the Fourth Army. It was realised that the ground was impassable and that there was little chance of any further attack being able to gain ground sufficient to achieve any strategic advantage. Attacks ceased and the energies of all were devoted to maintaining the position gained. That problem was sufficiently formidable. The slow advance had carried the British front line forward across some three miles of ground. That ground was so shattered and soaked with rain that enormous efforts and huge carrying parties were necessary to supply the troops in the front line with the necessary munitions and food.
From November 6th till November 22nd the two Territorial Battalions remained in the battle area, either labouring on new defences, struggling up and down the greasy slopes as carrying parties, or else holding front-line or support trenches near the Butte de Warlencourt. Working and carrying parties, 1/7th Worcestershire, October 27th—November 9th and the 1/8th Worcestershire, November 7th—November 10th. From November 10th - 18th both Battalions were resting at Contalmaison. From November 18th - 20th, 1/7th Worcestershire were in the front line and the 1/8th Worcestershire in support trenches. From November 20th - 22nd, 1/8th Worcestershire were in front line and the 1/7th Worcestershire in reserve at Eaucourt l’Abbé. The weather was abominable and all ranks suffered severely. On November 23rd the 144th Brigade was concentrated at Contalmaison, and for a week the two Battalions lay quiet, resting and training.
Early in November, preparations were made for the final act in the great Somme drama; an attack by the British Fifth Army (during October the name of General Gough’s command had been changed from “The Reserve Army” to “The Fifth Army”) astride the River Ancre.
The deep mud on the Transloy Ridges had stopped the operations of the Fourth Army: but on the steep slopes of the Ancre Valley it was hoped that the ground would be more favourable to movement. The ground gained during September and October 1916 had made the German positions at Beaucourt and Beaumont Hamel into a sharp salient. It was anticipated that the enemy would withdraw from that unfavourable position, and it was desirable to strike before such withdrawal could be made.
Note: This is an extract from the Worcestershire Regiment WW1 history by Captain H. FitzM. Stacke, M.C.