Over 130,00 men served in the Worcestershire Regiment during World War 1, 1914-18. Between them they won 9 Victoria Crosses and over 1,500 other decorations. 9,463 of these troops were killed and countless more were wounded.
In July and August 1914, Europe went to war. Britain joined France and Russia in fighting Austria, Germany and Turkey.
The Regiment already had 8 Battalions – 4 Regular (with one in Burma, one in Egypt and two at home), 2 Special Reserve (Militia) and 2 Territorial Army. During the war another 14 Battalions were raised, mainly from volunteers, a total of 22.
The other ten Battalions were usually made up of men too old or unfit (due to wounds) to serve overseas. Some were used to train recruits and others for transporting ammunition and supplies from factories and stores to the ports. Some were also on Home Defence – protecting Britain from air or sea raids and preventing spies from landing.
Front-line trenches could be cold, dirty and cramped in Europe. Even in summer they tended to collect water, and in winter become mud-choked. In the Middle East they tended to be hot, stuffy and dusty instead.
Trenches were never meant to be lived in, and were very basic in design. They zig-zagged so that if a shell or grenade landed in it then the men either side would be protected from the blast. Small ‘dug-outs’, excavated out of the sides of the trench, provided a little shelter and sleeping space for the men.
Most work in the trenches would be done at night and the men would get little rest or sleep. Trenches were always being strengthened or extended and new listening posts in No Man’s Land, latrines, or machine gun posts being dug. The barbed wire in front of the trenches was also added to and repaired.
Sometimes at night each side would carry out raids on the enemy trenches. Because of this, sentries were trebled at night. The first organised trench raid by a British Army unit was carried out by Lieutenant F. C. Roberts and 25 men of the 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, on the night of the 3rd January 1915.
At 8.45pm they were sent over the top to clear out a new German trench which had been dug only about 50 metres from their own lines. Trench raids were usually terrifying affairs for both sides, involving hand-to-hand fighting in cramped spaces and the pitch dark. This time, however, the Germans were caught by surprise and the trench cleared after a short fight. Two of the Worcesters were killed, and Lt. Roberts was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Three men – Sergeant H. Edwards, Lance-Corporal G. Darby and Private H. Evans – all won the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The DSO was only awarded to officers, but the DCM was its equivalent for the other ranks and the two medals were second only to the Victoria Cross.
Rations varied in the front line. At times it was often ‘bully’ beef, beans or stews, with large hard biscuits or bread, and tea or water. At quiet times though, and while in the rear area, the food was very good and varied – curries, stews, soups and even steaks, all with lots of vegetables.
A typical First World War recipe: Rissoles for 150 men.
Ingredients: 28lbs of meat, 14 lbs of bread, 5 lbs of onions, 5 lbs of flour, 6 oz of pepper, 4 oz of salt, 2 packets of mixed herbs.
Method: Remove the meat from the bones. Cut up into small pieces. Clean and cut up the onions. Soak the bread in cold water. Place the meat through the mincer. Squeeze the water out of the bread and crumble up. Place the whole of the ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix well together. Then pass the whole through the mincer. Sufficient flour being added to bind the rissoles, make into sausage shape weighing about 5 ounces. You put about 24 into an Aldershot baking tin, and allow to cook for 40 minutes. Well grease the tins first.
The strain of front-line life meant that only 3-4 days was spent there at a time. Early in the war, when the Army was still small, the men spent three days in the trenches, three days out, and then back in again. The strain from this was terrible.
Later, as the Army grew, each spell at the front was followed by 3-4 days in the support trenches, and then a period of rest in the rear.
While in the rear the troops would work by night bringing up supplies or repairing trenches and barbed wire, and by day train and rest. About once a year each man would get ten days leave in England, although travelling there could take 3-4 days each way.
As there were so many Battalions in service during the war it is impossible to say what they all did here. However, the list on this page shows where each battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment served and the major battles in which they were involved.
1st Battalion – France and Belgium 1914-18.
2nd Battalion -France and Belgium 1914-18.
Mons, August 1914. Gheluvelt, October 1914. Festubert, May 1915. Somme, July-November 1916. Lys, April 1918. St. Quentin Canal, September-October 1918.
3rd Battalion – France and Belgium 1914-18.
Mons, August 1914. Le Cateau, August 1914. Ypres, June 1915. Somme, July-October 1916. Messines, June 1917. Somme, March 1918.
4th Battalion – Gallipoli 1915-16. France and Belgium 1916-18. Suvla Bay, 1915-6. Somme, July-November 1916. Ypres, August 1917. Cambrai, November 1917. Courtrai, October 1918.
1/7th Battalion – France and Belgium, 1915-17. Italy, 1917-8. Somme, July-November 1916. Ypres, August 1917. Piave, June 1918. Vittorio Vento, October 1918.
2/7th Battalion – France and Belgium, 1916-18.
Somme, July-November 1916. Ypres, August 1917. Cambrai, November 1917.
1/8th Battalion – France and Belgium 1915-17 & 1918. Italy 1917-18. Somme, July-November 1916. Piave, June 1918. Hindenburg Line, September-October 1918.
2/8th Battalion – France and Belgium 1916-18.
Somme, July-November 1916. Cambrai, November 1917. St. Quentin, March 1918.
9th Battalion – Gallipoli, 1915-16. Mesopotamia, 1916. Suvla Bay, 1915. Kut-al-Amara, January 1917. Baghdad, February 1917.
10th Battalion – France and Belgium 1915-18. La Boiselle, July 1916. Bapume, March 1918. Messines, April 1918. Aisne, May 1918.
14th Battalion – France and Belgium Main actions: Somme, July-November 1916. Arras, April 1917. Hindenburg Line, September-October 1918.
5th, 6th, 3/7th, 3/8th, 12th and 13th Battalions were all training and reinforcement battalions, based in Britain.
15th and 16th Battalions were transport battalions. Made up of unfit men, they were used to move supplies and munitions.
17th Battalion was formed in France in 1918 however ultimately became a pioneer battalion.
The Garrison and Volunteer Battalions were also made up of unfit men, and were used for home defence duties.
Areas of service
France and Flanders – Most Battalions spent at least a little time on the Western Front. This was a war of mud and trenches, and futile, bloody battles. From 1915 to early 1918 there was a total stalemate, with massive battles gaining little ground but costing huge numbers of dead and wounded.
The Worcestershire Regiment was present in nearly every major battle, and countless smaller ones, and often took a prominent role.
Gallipoli – British and Imperial troops landed in Gallipoli, in the straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, in April 1915, and stayed until the winter. Their attack was supposed to knock Turkey, Germany’s ally, out of the war. However, bad planning, poor logistics and unrealistic strategic objectives rapidly led to a stalemate, the task in hand being too formidable.
The landings never achieved more than a tiny foot hold, and everything (including food and water) was in constant short supply. Troops lived in sweltering and diseased trenches, with constant attacks and counter-attacks which achieved nothing at great cost.
Mesopotamia (now Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq) The troops in this theatre fought the Turks across vast stretches of desert. Marching and fighting in the heat and dust it was an exhausting war but largely a successful one. Despite setbacks at Kut in 1916, the British Army forced the Turks right back through Arabia, taking Baghdad in 1917. Their actions secured the Red Sea and Britain’s supply lines to India, Australia and New Zealand.
The Balkans – The Regiment also sent men to fight in Macedonia in the Balkans. Here they helped the Serbs to fight the Austrians. They fought mainly in the cold and inhospitable mountains, but played a major part in aiding one of Britain’s smallest allies.
Italy – In Italy the Regiment again fought against the Austrians. This time they were helping the Italians, and again the war was mainly fought high up in the mountains.