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!