The military presence with the longest history with the city and county, is the Worcestershire Militia. A common law tradition dating from Anglo Saxon times, the men of the militia were county residents who could be called upon by the county’s Lord Lieutenant to arrest lawbreakers, preserve internal order or defend the locality against an invader.
The Worcestershire Militia was called upon at the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and again during the English Civil War, 1642–1651. It was formally re-established in 1770 and, with only one short break, was embodied from 1793 – 1816, seeing service in Ireland in 1798. In 1878 its Depot was moved from St. George’s Square in the city to Norton Barracks.
Soldier of the 29th Regiment of Foot in 1742
The 29th Regiment of Foot was officially linked with the county of Worcestershire in 1782 to help recruit men to the British Army. Although it drew its recruits from the county, they were often ordered to serve elsewhere. As the Regiment was often abroad and rarely had its Depot in the county, there was little more than a formal connection for nearly a century. Then, in 1877, the 29th and 36th (Herefordshire) Regiments established their depots in the new Norton Barracks and began a far closer association with the City.
A third infantry element of the country’s defence was the Worcestershire Volunteer Force. Part-time Volunteer Infantry units were formed in the county in 1798, disbanded during the brief peace of 1802 then reformed in 1803. Later, most were grouped into six battalions, one being based in Worcester and becoming Local Militia in 1808 and serving till 1816. In 1859-60, Volunteers were again raised and the city became HQ of the 2nd Battalion of Worcestershire Rifle Volunteers, the 1st Battalion WRV being based in Kidderminster.
1881: Creation of the Worcestershire Regiment
In 1881, as a result of the Childers Reforms which restructured the infantry regiments of the British Army, the 29th Regiment of Foot and the 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment became the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment and adopted the 36th’s motto ‘FIRM’.
The two county Militia battalions became the 3rd and 4th Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment, from which most of the Regular battalion’s recruits were drawn. Two years later, in 1883, both battalions of the Worcestershire Rifle Volunteers became Volunteer Battalions of the county Regiment.
The regiment expanded in 1900, when two more Regular battalions were raised, and the Militia became the 5th and 6th Battalions; and again in 1908, when the Volunteers became the 7th and 8th Territorial Battalions of the Regiment, the 8th with its HQ in the Silver Street premises bought a few years previously by the Volunteers.
1914: World War 1
During WWI the Worcestershire Regiment expanded to 25 battalions, including three Volunteers, one of which was based in the city; the two Territorial units became six, of which four were on active service across many theatres of war including Mesopotamia, Turkey, Belgium, France and Italy.
The Regiment saw action in the retreat from Mons, The Battle of the Marne and at Langemark, Aisne, Gheluvelt and Ypres in 1914. Nonne Bosschen, Festubert and Gallipoli in 1915, and Loos and the Somme in 1916. In 1917 it saw involvement in actions at Bagentin, Delville Wood, Le Transloy, Arras, Ypres Menin Road, Polygon Wood, and Passchendale. The regiment then fought at Cambrai, Lys, Bailleul, Kemmel, Hindenburg Line, St. Quentin Canal and Selle in 1918.
Members of the Worcestershire Regiment won nine Victoria Crosses, 70 Distinguished Service Orders (and 12 bars), 288 Military Crosses (and 36 bars), and 227 Distinguished Conduct Medals (and 8 bars).
1939: World War 2
In the Second World War battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment were in service across the globe. In the western hemisphere they fought in Eritrea, the Western Desert (Tobruk) in North Africa and in North West Europe. Soldiers of the 1st Battalion were the first Allied troops to fight on German soil at Geilenkirchen on the 18th November 1944. In the East, soldiers of the 2nd and 7th battalions fought in the Burma Campaign, at the battle of Kohima and the capture of Mandalay.
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1970: Merger with the Sherwood Foresters
The Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters Regiment (29th/45th Foot) was formed in 1970 as an infantry regiment of the British Army, part of the Prince of Wales’ Division. It was created through the amalgamation of:
- The Worcestershire Regiment (29th Regiment of Foot / 36th Regiment of Foot)
- The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment)
2007: Creation of the Mercian Regiment
On 1 September 2007, the Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters Regiment were amalgamated into the Mercian Regiment along with the Cheshire and Staffordshire Regiments.
The Mercian Regiment’s formation had been announced on 16 December 2004 as part of the restructuring of the British Army Infantry . It consists of three regular battalions, plus a territorial battalion, and was created through the merger of three single battalion regiments:
- The 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment became 1st Battalion, Mercian Regiment
- The 1st Battalion, Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters Regiment became the 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment (Worcesters & Foresters)
- The 1st Battalion, Staffordshire Regiment became the 3rd Battalion, Mercian Regiment
The reserve West Midlands Regiment, with elements of the King’s & Cheshire and the East of England (territorial) Regiments formed the 4th Battalion, Mercian Regiment.
Presence in the City
Until Norton Barracks was built, Militia and Volunteer battalions were frequently billeted in the city during their training periods and for over two centuries the city’s streets have witnessed innumerable parades. In recent years the Regiment has regularly exercised its Freedom of Entry rights, granted in 1950, by marching through the city with ‘drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed’. Most recently, a contingent of the 2nd Bn Mercian Regiment marched through the city in June 2012 following their return from service in Afghanistan, and 7 men of the city recieved freedom of the City.
Today, few tangible reminders of the long-standing bond between City and The Worcestershire Regiment remain: the Star Hotel that took its name from the badge of the Worcestershire Regiment is now the White House, and the site of Norton Barracks is now a housing estate.
However, the men of the regiment are not forgotten: their names are on the city War Memorial, honoured every year along with the other servicemen named. Perhaps it is in St George’s Chapel in the Cathedral, where the ghostly remains of the many Regimental Colours hang, that the associations of the Faithful City with its county Regiment can be most strongly felt.