The Worcestershire Regiment’s and the Berlin Blockade 24 June 1948–12 May 1949

As the Second World War came to a close and the Allied Powers took control of the previous Nazi occupied territories, conferences, such as at Yalta and Potsdam, were held to determine how to best divide the region. It was decided that the west of the previously occupied territories would be controlled by the United States, France and Great Britain and the east by the USSR. However, the Western Allies demanded part of Berlin resulting in the City being divided.  As Berlin was located within Soviet occupied Germany Great Britain, the US and France were very much isolated within the Soviet occupied sector.

The sectors of Berlin

On 24th June 1948 the Soviets began an all-out blockade of Berlin while demanding the Western Allies withdraw the newly introduced Deutsche mark from West Berlin. In response, the Western Allies organised an airlift to provided supplies to their sector.

Berlin Airlift

The Worcestershire Regiment had arrived in Berlin on the 31st January 1948 and immediately occupied the Montgomery Barracks a mere eight miles from the Soviet occupied zone. Tensions were notably high an account from the July 1948 edition of “Firm” (the Regimental Magazine) states that: “the past few months in Berlin have been as arduous as any spent by the Battalion since the end of the war” clearly showing the tremulous state of affairs within Berlin. The Worcestershire Regiment were primarily tasked to guard the British sector of Berlin and to prevent Soviet involvement in the region. Their role often would not go without incident, barely a month after the Regiment had occupied the Montgomery Barracks the Soviets had moved their check post into the Western Sector claiming it to be the correct border.  Two companies of the Worcestershire Regiment swiftly encircled them and after twenty-four hours, the Russians left. This incident exemplifies the military and political chess match of the East and the West within Berlin and what the Worcestershire Regiment had to deal this during their time in garrison.

However largely daily life would also go without incident resulting in the majority of the Regiment assigned to guard roles. This was not an overly popular role and can be seen by another extract of Firm where it states: “we have quickly settled down in Kladow to the standard Berlin routine which consists primarily of the art of manufacturing excuses to avoid guards”.  However, tensions were still very much at breaking point, HQ Company are recorded as saying “Berlin has become a beleaguered city and the only means of transport in and out is by air, quite like the war years except there are no bombs”.

Gatow Airport
The C.I.G.S., Viscount Montgomery, inspecting the Band prior to his departure to U.K. He is talking TO B/Sjt. Morgan, M.M., accompanied by B/M. Lt.-Col. R.E.L. Tuckey and Major- General E. O. Herbert, Commandant Berlin Garrison

The Regiment remained in Montgomery Barracks until May 16th 1949 having quashed any Soviet attempts on their sector and moved to Gottingen three days after the Berlin Blockade had been lifted. They were relieved by the 1st Battalion Gorgon Highlanders and it mark the end of the Regiment’s direct involvement in Berlin.

The Storming of Bangalore 21st March 1791

In spring 1791 Lord Cornwallis with a mixed force of British and native troops attempted to capture the fortress of Bangalore from Tippoo Sultan the ruler of Mysore, India.   Arriving before the town on 5 February, Cornwallis found he had insufficient troops to invest the fortress and town so he encamped on the north-eastern side.  Bangalore consisted of a fort proper and a pettah, or fortified town, adjoining to it. It possessed two gates, the Mysore (or southern) and the Delhi (or northern) gate. Tippoo had thrown eight thousand men into the fort, nine thousand into the town, and then had retired with the remainder of his force to a position some six miles to westward. Cornwallis decided that the town should first be carried, in the hope that its position and the supplies hoarded within it would facilitate the siege of the fortress.

Soldiers of 36th Foot at Bangalore

Accordingly at dawn of the 7th March, the 36th Foot and a battalion of Bengal Sepoys moved off to the attack of a gateway on the northern face of the town, four heavy guns following them in support. A flèche which covered the gate was speedily carried with the bayonet.  The storming party then pushed on across the ditch and through the belt of thorn to the inner gate. Here the advance was checked, for the gateway had been built up with masonry upon which field-guns could make no impression; and the party perforce remained halted for some time under a galling fire until the heavy guns could be brought forward. A small breech was made at length; and Lieutenant Ayre being hoisted up by the grenadiers, contrived to creep through it. General Medows, then turned to the grenadiers of the 36th with the words, “Well done. Now, whiskers ! Support the little gentleman.” A few more men managed to crawl after Ayre, and opened a sally-port for the entry of the rest. The garrison was then quickly beaten back under the guns of the fort, and within two hours two-thirds of the town were in possession of the British.

Meanwhile, Tippoo set his whole army in motion as if to turn Cornwallis’s left, at the same detaching six thousand men to reinforce the garrison, which had rallied under the cannon of the fort, and with them to re-take the town. Cornwallis, divining his intention, manoeuvred to foil the turning movement, but lost no time in strengthening his force within the walls. The attack of the Mysoreans upon the town was delivered with unusual spirit and resolution; but after a short exchange of volleys the 36th and 76th, with two Sepoy battalions, cut matters short by clearing the streets with the bayonet. Gathering impetus from success, they swept the enemy out of the town, with a loss of over two thousand killed and wounded. The casualties on the British side amounted to one hundred and thirty, of which no fewer than one hundred occurred among the Europeans. Among the fallen was Lieutenant-Colonel Moorhouse, who was killed while bringing up the heavy guns to the first attack on the gate.

The Orders issued by Lord Cornwallis on the day after the fall of the fortress are preserved in the records of the 36th Foot, and are as follows:

“LORD CORNWALLIS feels the most sensible gratification in congratulating, the officers and soldiers of the army on the honour able issue of the fatigues and dangers they have undergone during the late arduous siege. Their alacrity and firmness in the execution of their various duties, has, perhaps, never been exceeded, and he shall not only think it incumbent on him to represent their “meritorious conduct in the strongest colours, but he shall ever remember it with the sincerest esteem and admiration.”

“The conduct of all the regiments which happened, in their tour, to be on duty that evening, did credit in every respect to their spirit and discipline; but his Lordship desires to offer the tribute of his particular and warmest praise to the European grenadiers and light infantry of the army, and to the THIRTY-SIXTH, Seventy-second, and Seventy-sixth regiments, who led the attack and carried the fortress, and who, by their behaviour on that occasion, furnished a conspicuous proof, that discipline and valour in soldiers, when directed by zeal and capacity in officers, are irresistible.”

The fortress was to fall three weeks later on the 21st March.

 

 

Recent Acquisition

With the generous assistance of the The ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Mercian Regiment Museum we have recently acquired an Officer shoulder belt plate of the 36th Herefordshire Regiment.  This belt plate succeeded the 1800 pattern and was prompted by the plethora of battle honours awarded for the Peninsular War, and the authorisation of the motto “FIRM”, both events occurring in 1816.  The introduction of this plate must therefore be after 1816 when the last four battle honours were granted yet before 1825 when “PYRENEES” and “NIVE” were granted.  This plate shows clear signs that the star has been moved upwards to accommodate the “FIRM” scroll.  Bennet, who originally acquired the badge of Captain Bayley, (Bennet R.W. 1994 “Badges of the Worcestershire Regiment”) mentions only one other example of this type of shoulder belt plate, whose current location is unknown.

Charles Andrew Bayley was first commissioned on the 25th November 1804, as an Ensign of the 41st Regiment of Foot.  On the 26th January 1806 he was a gazetted Lieutenant and Adjutant of the 31st Foot and it was in this capacity that he served in the Peninsular.  He was present at the siege of Badajoz and the Battle of Albuehera and at the action of Arroyo del Molinos for which he received a promotion.  He was gazetted Captain and joined the 36th Foot (the Herefordshire Regiment) on the 15th January 1812.  He joined the 2nd Battalion of the 36th in May and went recruiting in Borrisokane, Ireland.  He was back in Spain in March 1813, but was sick and on leave from October 1813 to May 1814.   He was then appointed Officer in charge of the 36th Depot in Cork. Following the disbandment of the 2nd battalion in 1815 he joined the first battalion in Portsmouth. In 1817 he was posted to Malta.  He became DAQMG Malta in August 1821 and then Military Secretary Corfu in February 1822.  He was appointed military secretary in Malta from May 1824 and then deputy Judge Advocate in Malta in April 1825.   In 1826, he went on half pay until 1841.  On the 23rd November 1841 he was appointed Lt. Colonel Mediterranean and from 1846 to 1850 he was Commander Forces Gozo, Malta.  He died in 1852.

Officer's shoulder belt plate of the 36th Regiment

Officer’s shoulder belt plate of the 36th Regiment

Neuve Chapelle 10th to 13th March 1915

 This was the first major British offensive of the war on the Western front.  The initial assault on 10th March broke through the German line.  During that night elements of the 1st Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment went forward to hold the gap.  They were reinforced by the remainder of the Battalion the next afternoon.

At dawn on the 12th March the German artillery opened up and shortly afterwards attacking infantry loomed through the mist.  “There was a most extra-ordinary hush for a few seconds as we held our fire” said an officer “While they closed in on us.”  Then the Battalion opened a rapid fire.  As the Germans reeled, the Battalion broke from their trenches and charged with the bayonet, pursuing the enemy back beyond their own trenches which the Battalion then occupied and held against several counter-attacks.

Mantania

This painting by Matania of the 1st Battalion at Neuve Chapelle graphically portrays the savage nature of the hand-to-hand fighting

By 10 am it was clear that the position of the Battalion, far in advance of any support, encircled on three sides, and shelled by both enemy and friendly artillery, was not tenable.  As they withdrew in good order, they were decimated by the enemy’s cross-fire, losing amongst others the Commanding Officer and the Adjutant.

wodehouse

Lt. Colonel Wodehouse

 

 

The losses had been severe; 9 officers and 92 men killed, 10 officers and 226 men wounded, and 27 men missing. 

 

 

 

Ever thought about volunteering in a museum?

Volunteers and the Curator discussing drawings from  the collection

Volunteers and the Curator discussing drawings from the collection

The Mercian Regiment Museum, whose public galleries are inside the City Museum on Foregate Street, is seeking volunteers to help at the museum offices and store. The museum is the home of medals, weapons, uniforms, equipment and archives all of which tell the story of The Worcestershire Regiment since its formation in the late seventeenth century. If you are computer literate, help is needed to input data into the digital catalogue of the collection and also to research questions from the public who are seeking information about ancestors who served with the regiment. Naturally, training is available and research follows a set pattern for each enquiry.

This is a fundamental role for the museum as the boom in family history as a hobby in recent years has meant an increase in enquiries and the approaching centenary of The First World War is expected to result in many more people wanting to find out about those who ‘took the King’s shilling’ in that conflict.

If you would like further information, please telephone the curator, John Paddock (01905 721982 Monday to Thursday).

No previous experience in museums is necessary, just a familiarity with basic computer skills and an interest in Worcestershire’s historic heritage. If you are not at home with computers but think that volunteering in a museum would be fun, contact John as there other roles that need willing helpers.

The Battle of Gheluvelt October 31st 1914 "The Worcesters save the Empire"

 The first shock of the German invasion came near to defeating the combined French and British Armies.  The British Army stood to fight at Ypres.  After ten days’ hard fighting, the 2nd Battalion, 350 strong, was the only reserve for the Gheluvelt sector.  The Battalion was then resting in Polygon Wood.  The line at Gheluvelt, attacked by overwhelming numbers, gave way, and the enemy took the Chateau and village.  The situation was very serious, and preparations for a general retirement were made; unless the gap was closed, the Army would be lost, so, more or less as a forlorn hope, the Battalion was ordered to counter-attack.

‘A’ Company advanced to a railway embankment overlooking the village, to prevent the enemy advancing up the Menin Road.  Meanwhile, with lightened kit and extra ammunition, the rest of the Battalion made ready for the attack.  The village was hidden by a ridge, and their aiming mark was the Chateau.  As they advanced, signs of retreat were everywhere; they alone went forward.

The crest of the ridge was covered by the enemy guns, and could be crossed only by a quick rush.  Though over a hundred fell to the storm of shelling  which met their advance, the rest dashed down the slope, forced their way through the hedges and fences and into the Chateau grounds, where they closed with the Germans.

Surprised by the impetuous speed of the attack, the enemy, though far superior in numbers, gave way, and the attackers linked up with the remnants of the South Wales Borderers, who were still holding out.

As a result of the capture of Gheluvelt against terrific odds, and the consequent closing of the gap in the British line, Ypres was held and the Channel ports were saved.  In his despatch describing this action of the 31st October, 1914, the Commander in Chief, Sir John French, said:-

“the rally of the 1st Division and the capture of the village of Gheluvelt at such a time was fraught with momentous consequences.  If any one Unit can be singled out for special praise, it is the Worcestershires.”

The casualties of the Worcestershire Regiment in carrying out this counter attack were 3 officers and 189 other ranks, or 50 percent. of their fighting strength on the day!

The Worcestershire Regiment retake Gheluvelt

The Worcestershire Regiment retake Gheluvelt

 

The Museum acquires a "Brown Bess"

Brown Bess Musket (Accession No. 2013-6)

Brown Bess Musket (Accession No. 2013-6)

The astonishing generosity of one of our Friends has enabled  the Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum to purchase an British India Pattern “Brown Bess” flintlock  musket.   It was armed with this pattern of musket that the 29th and 36th Regiments covered themselves in glory during the Peninsular War and in doing so earned the Peninsular battle honours of  Rolica,Vimiero, Corunna, Talavera Albuera, Salamanca, Nivelle, Nive, Orthez, Pyrennes and Toulouse.

Detail of the lock

Detail of the lock

The musket’s effective range was between 50 to a hundred yards. The musket fired a lead ball of .75″ calibre (approximately 18mm).  It is 55 ½” long with a 39″ barrel marked with ordnance proof marks. The barrel is equipped with a standing foresight and a plain rear sight. It is equipped with a side action lock which is engraved with a Crown over GR (Georgius Rex) the tail of the lock is stamped “TOWER”.  The lock also bears a crowned broad arrow Board of Ordnance mark.  The musket has a India pattern style full stock, with brass furniture including a plain brass fore-end cap for socket bayonet, three ramrod pipes retaining the original ramrod. The musket has two sling swivels, one mounted from trigger guard, the other above front ramrod tube.

 

Proof marks

Proof marks

Markings on the butt plate

Markings on the butt plate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see how a Brown Bess was fired click on the link below

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho-QCmnNMl8

 

The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810

In May 1810 Marshal Massena took command of the Army of Portugal, with orders from the Emperor Napoleon to capture Lisbon and drive Wellington and his British army out of the Peninsular.

During the winter of 1809/10 Wellington’s engineers had built fortifications across the Lisbon isthmus, known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. As Massena began his advance into Portugal the British and Portuguese Army fell back towards the capital.

Massena captured the Spanish town of Ciudad Rodrigo on the border and on 26th August 1810 he took the Portuguese fortress of Almeida. On 15th September 1810 Massena resumed his advance through Portugal towards Lisbon, harassed by Brigadier General Robert Craufurd’s Light Division.

Wellington, intending to fight a delaying battle, positioned his army at the convent of Busaco. The convent lay on a long high ridge that stretched from the Mondego River for some ten miles to the North. The road to Coimbra and Lisbon climbed up the ridge and passed the convent, while a second lesser road crossed the ridge further south. The ridge rose steeply to 300 metres from the valley in places. A rough track meandered along the top.

The British and Portuguese regiments, including the 29th (Worcestershire) and the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiments, were positioned along the ridge with the main concentration at the northern end and the reserves further south.

The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810
The Battle of Busaco 29th September 1810

Marshal Ney led the French advanced guard towards Busaco on the evening of 25th September 1810. His assessment was that only a British rear-guard held the ridge and that it could be easily driven off by a frontal assault. Massena came forward and agreed with him, ordering the assault for the next morning.

The first attack was carried out by Reynier’s corps, advancing up the lesser southern road, Massena’s assumption being that this would take the French behind the British right flank.  Once Reynier was established on the crest Ney’s corps would advance up the main road to the Busaco convent at the northern end of the ridge. Far from being held by a rearguard, on the ridge were all 50,000 British and Portuguese infantry supported by 60 guns.

Early morning mist hampered the first movements and observations. Heudelet’s division, setting off at 6am, followed the southern road up to the crest of the ridge where they were engaged by the 74th Foot, two Portuguese battalions and 12 guns. The fire fight continued for the whole of the battle, Heudelet’s division refusing to give ground.

Merle’s division reached the crest to the north of Heudelet’s. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Wallace of the 88th Connaught Rangers had seen the French column climbing the hill and hurried his regiment to the threatened point with several companies of the 45th Foot. Wallace led his men in a fierce attack on the French and drove them back down the hill.  Wellington wrote in his dispatches: “I can assure you I never witnessed a more gallant charge”

The final element of Reynier’s attack was carried out by Brigadier Foy who took his brigade to the top of the ridge and remained there until he was driven out by Leith’s British Brigade of the 5th Division, the counter attack being headed by the 9th Foot.  Reynier’s corps suffered 2,000 casualties in its abortive assault.

Ney, from his position further north, thought that Reynier had taken the crest and ordered his corps to begin the assault up the main road to the convent.  Loison’s division advanced up the hill with its left on the road. As it reached the crest, the 43rd and 52nd Foot of Craufurd’s Light Division rose from their positions in the sunken section of the road and poured a volley into the French column at 25 yards. The two light infantry regiments then attacked with the bayonet driving the French back down the hillside. A watching artillery officer described the fight as “carnage”.    Mermet’s division attacking alongside was halted by a Portuguese brigade.

Seeing the failure of all the attacks Massena called off the assault and began a reconnaissance to the north, discovering a road that circumvented the ridge. As the French marched away to the flank, Wellington’s army withdrew south towards Lisbon, having inflicted a serious reverse on Massena’s Army of Portugal.  The French suffered 522 dead, 3,612 wounded, and 364 captured. The Allied losses numbered 200 dead, 1,001 wounded, and 51 missing. The British and Portuguese each lost exactly 626 men.

Masséna then moved off to the right to flank the position, and Wellington, after spending the night in the convent, resumed the retreat of his army into the previously fortified Lines of Torres Vedras. He reached these by 10 October.  After probing the Lines in the Battle of Sobral on 14 October, Masséna found them too strong to attack and withdrew into winter quarters. Deprived of food for his men and harried by Anglo-Portuguese hit-and-run tactics, he lost a further 25,000 men captured or dead from starvation or sickness before he retreated into Spain early in 1811.

The 29th Foot heroes of Talavera

 

A grenadier and a private of the light company of the 29th Foot

A grenadier and a private of the light company of the 29th Foot

Having driven Marshal Soult’s French army from Portugal, General Sir Arthur Wellesley’s 20,000 British troops advanced into Spain to join forces with 33,000 Spanish troops under General Cuesta. They marched up the Tagus valley to Talavera de la Reina, about 120 km southwest of Madrid. There they encountered 46,000 French under Marshals Jourdan and Victor with the French king of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte in nominal command. On the 23rd July the combined Allied force lost an opportunity to defeat the French corps of Victor at Talavera, because Cuesta insisted that the Spanish wouldn’t fight on a Sunday!

Battle-of-talavera-28th-july-1809-william-heathThe French crossed the River Alberche in the middle of the afternoon on 27 July. A couple of hours later, the French attacked the right of the Spanish and the British left. The dominant feature of this battlefield was a hill about a mile distant from Talavera, upon which Wellesley’s left flank rested.  The hill was taken and lost, until, finally, the British held it firmly. At daybreak on 28 July, the French attacked the British left again to retake the hill and were repulsed when the 29th Foot (the Worcestershire Regiment) who had been lying behind the crest stood up and charged up the slope at the double with bayonets fixed and forced the French off the hill. A French cannonade lasted until noon when a negotiated armistice of two hours began. That afternoon, a heavy exchange of cannon fire started ahead of various infantry and cavalry skirmishes. Early in the evening, a general engagement resulted in the French being held off. A cannon duel continued until dark. At daylight, the British and Spanish discovered that the bulk of the French force had retired, leaving their wounded and two batteries of artillery in the field.

The 29th Foot at Talavera

The 29th Foot at Talavera

The French lost 7,389: 944 killed, 6,294 wounded, 156 prisoners. The Allies lost : 7,468. The Spanish casualties were about 1,200 and British lost 6,268, including 800 killed, over the two days of fighting.  Many of the wounded on both sides were burnt to death when the dry grass of the battlefield caught fire.

After the action Wellesley wrote to Viscount Castlereagh:  … “I wish very much that some measure could be adopted to get more recruits for the 29th Regiment.  It is the best regiment in this Army”……..

Malayan Gift Tin

The 1st Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, fought in the Malayan Emergency of 1950-53. Many National Servicemen and volunteers spent weeks and months in patrolling the dense jungle, tracking down Communist-led bandits.

Malayan Gift Box

Malayan Gift Box

These tins were sent out to the members of the Battalion at Christmas 1952. They were paid for by the Sergeant’s Mess Reunion, and contained a card, cigarettes and other small presents. They follow the tradition started by Queen Victoria in giving her soldiers a gift box for Christmas in 1900, as did Princess Mary in 1914. They also show the strong bond which exists between past and present members of the Regiment