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”……..

Recent acquisition – a Lovell pattern 1839 musket

The Mercian Regiment Museum Trust has recently acquired a fine 1839 musket recently acquired for the Worcestershire Soldier Gallery

A fine 1839 musket recently acquired for the Worcestershire Soldier Gallery

The Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum have recently acquired an British Pattern 1839, percussion smooth bore musket. 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 VR (Victoria Regina) set over an Enfield stamp. The lock bears a crowned broad arrow Ordnance mark and is dated 1841. The lock is retained by 2 side nails with Lovell cups. The musket has a New Land 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.
percussion musket p.39

The percussion lock of an 1839 pattern musket


It was with this pattern of musket that the 29th Regiment obtained its victories in the Sikh Wars. Although it is equipped with the most up to date percussion ignition system the musket’s smooth bore limited its accuracy and its effective range was between 50 to a hundred yards. The musket fired a lead ball of .75″ calibre (approximately 18mm).

The Black Drummers

1770's Drummer

One of the Black drummers c.1770.

In 1759 ten slaves captured from the French were presented to the 29th (Worcestershire) Regiment of Foot for use as drummers, and started a tradition which would last nearly a century.
Over the next 84 years nearly 50 black men were actively recruited to serve as drummers in the 29th. Each man was a volunteer, and many served for 20 or more years, receiving equal pay, pensions, medals and status as any other soldier. Some sons followed fathers, and fresh recruits joined from Canada, Ireland, the West Indies and India.
The black drummers remained an important and proud part of the Regiment until the last drummer died in 1843.

The Glorious First of June 1794

In June 1794 Britain had been at War with Revolutionary France for 14 months.  France was on the verge of starvation due to a bad harvest and political upheaval. As a result, the French had assembled a convoy of some 117 merchant ships, filled with grain and other stores, in Chesapeake Bay, in America.

The French strategy to ensure the safety of these ships was, an immediate escort of 4 ships of the line, commanded by Admiral Vanstabel, to accompany the convoy – a second squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Neilly, to sail to meet the convoy and escort it back to France while the main French Fleet, commanded by Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse, was to sail from Brest to provide any necessary cover should the convoy be threatened by the Royal Navy.

In April 1794, Admiral Richard Howe had assembled the British Fleet, consisting of 32 ships of the line with attendant frigates, off the Isle of Wight. Owing to a shortage of Marines the 29th Regiment of Foot, along with a number of other line regiments, had to provide drafts for sea-service.  Over four hundred officers and men of the regiment were distributed among five ships; “Brunswick”, “Ramillies”, “Glory”, “Thunderer” and “Alfred”.

The French convoy sailed from America on 11th April and on 2nd May Howe sailed from Spithead with 26 ships of the line. After a reconnaissance of the port of Brest to confirm that the French Fleet had not sailed, Howe placed himself between the convoy and their covering force. On 19th May, Howe’s frigates report that the French Fleet had sailed out of Brest and he immediately set off in pursuit.

Loutherbourg,_The_Glorious_First_of_June

The Glorious First of June

On 28th May, at about 8:10 am a frigate made the signal for “a fleet bearing South West” directly to windward. It was not until 6 pm that action commenced and lasted until 10 pm. British casualties were only twenty-two killed and wounded. On next the morning it was hazy and the action continued from 9 am until nearly 4 pm when the French bore away to support their disabled ships. The 30th was very foggy and there was no action that day. However on the 31st, the fog cleared about 2 pm and the French were sighted far to leeward.

On the 1st of June, at 5:45 am Howe counted 34 sail of the enemy and gave chase.  The general action commenced at 9:15 am.

The “Brunswick”, with 81 men of the 29th aboard was played into battle by the ship’s band and a drummer from the 29th to the tune of ‘Hearts of Oak’. “Brunswick” was in the thick of the fighting and endured a tremendous onslaught, being engaged for a considerable time with three French seventy-fours. One of these “Le Vengeur” she sank. At one stage of the battle another of the seventy-fours seeing that “Brunswick” was much weakened, determined to board and manned her yards and shrouds with a view to running alongside and flinging in all her crew at once. “Brunswick” with great intrepidity and coolness reserved a whole broadside and waited her approach; then in one discharge the “Brunswick” dis-masted her and “scattered her crew like so many mice on the ocean“.

During the fierce fighting, the 29th detachment Commander, a Captain was killed and the Ensign and 20 others were wounded.

The 29th Foot abroad the "the Brunswick" on the Glorious First of June

The 29th Foot abroad the “the Brunswick” on the Glorious First of June

This Battle was fought far out in the Atlantic and so it has always been known by its date “The Glorious First of June”.  For its share in the engagement, the 29th Regiment was awarded a Naval crown to be borne with its Battle Honours.

A new acquisition reminds us of the Indian Mutiny

Pierced with bullet holes and stained with blood from a brutal exchange that should have seen its wearer fatally wounded, the National Army Museum’s latest acquisition is a rare survivor from a bloody conflict.

It is a unique 156-year-old military tunic that belonged to Lieutenant Campbell Clark, who was caught up in one of the many bloody episodes of the Indian Mutiny between 1857 and 1859.

Seeing Lt Clark’s battered redcoat reminded us of the service provided by men of the 29th Regiment of Foot during this period.  Detachments from the 29th were sent to assist the British troops, having already had experience of garrison duty in India during the Sikh Wars of 1845 to 1849.

We have information about all the soldiers whose medals we hold.

We have information about all the soldiers whose medals we hold.

In one of the medal cases in the Worcestershire Soldier exhibition, you will find the medals of Pte John Fudge, who enlisted on 27th September 1844, at the age of 19.  He served in the Punjab, during the Sikh Wars, and then in the Indian Mutiny.  In all he spent 14 years in India.

He was discharged on 17th October 1865 having completed 21 years service.  His Long Service and Good Conduct medals, which you can see in the case, came with a £5 gratuity, surely a welcome gift to augment his soldier’s pension.