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. 

 

 

 

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

 

Yeoman, 1916

Mounted Worcestershire Yeomanry Trooper at Huj

This Yeoman is stopping to check his compass while on patrol in the Sinai Desert.

During the First World War the Worcestershire Yeomanry fought in Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine. Roving across wide open desert in the blistering heat for days on end, the Yeomanry led the British Army all the way from the Suez Canal to Damascus in one of the most successful British campaigns of the war. It was a tough life in a very harsh environment. Water was always short and disease common.

The Yeomen also carried out raids on enemy positions, and could act as storm troops in battle. At Huj, in November 1917, less than 200 Yeomen charged eleven Austrian field guns and over 2000 Turkish infantry with swords drawn – and won. It was the last great charge of the British cavalry .

First World War Body Armour

WWI body armour

WWI body armour worn in Flanders

 This is a set of First World War body armour, used by the British Army. It has curved metal plates for the chest and the back, and was supposed to protect snipers and other vulnerable soldiers by stopping or deflecting bullets. Unfortunately, the metal is very thin, and probably would not have stopped a direct hit. Also, the metal curves in to the middle, so any bullet hitting in the centre of the armour would have been deflected inwards!

This set belonged to Private A. W. Tunkiss of the 1/8th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. He used it in France in 1916. He was wounded in action on the 5th November 1916, and discharged from the Army the following March .

Jack Parsons: soldier and man of peace

The Jack Parsons collection takes pride of place in our museum

The Jack Parsons collection takes pride of place in our museum

Jack Parsons, from Birmingham, served through the First World War in both the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanrys.  He won the Military Cross for leading part of the charge at Huj, 8th November 1917, the last recorded cavalry charge carried out by the British Military.

The charge was successful in that the British troops captured the position from the Turks, taking seventy prisoners, eleven pieces of artillery and four machine guns. However British casualties were heavy; of the 170 men taking part, twenty-six were killed and forty wounded, and 100 horses were also killed.

Jack Parsons was one of only two men from his Squadron still on their feet afterward. He carried and used the revolver shown above at the charge.

After the war Jack Parsons became a vicar, and for the 1946 Remembrance Day sermon he decided to follow the Bible’s advice ‘and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares’ (Isaiah 2:3-4).  He took his old sword, plus a captured Turkish one, and asked a blacksmith to forge them together to form a ploughshare (the part of the plough that makes the groove in thh soil). He then used the ploughshare to sow wheat, which he grew for Communion bread.

The ploughshare and sword hilts were later given to the museum by Canon Parsons, and take pride of place in our displays