THE WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT
1881 - 1914
The Cardwell reforms of 1881 brought together the 29th and 36th Regiments of Foot with the Militia of Worcestershire plus the Volunteer Regiments. The Regiment now consisted of: 1st Battalion (29th), 2nd Battalion (36th) The Worcestershire Regiment; 3rd (Militia) Battalion (late 1st Battalion Worcestershire Militia) and 4th (Militia) Battalion (late 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Militia) The Worcestershire Regiment and the volunteer Battalions became known as the 1st and 2nd (Volunteer) Battalions The Worcestershire Regiment.
At the outbreak of the Boer War both the 1st and 2nd Battalions were mobilized and sailed to South Africa. The 2nd Battalion (including a company of men from the Worcestershire Volunteer Battalions) was the first to arrive and landed at Cape Town on the 10th January 1900, and as a result saw more action and had more casualties. The 1st Battalion arrived in South Africa at the end of March 1900 and during April they concentrated at Edenburg. The 6th (Militia) Battalion also served in South Africa but from the end of December 1901 and were mainly involved in blockhouse duty in Cape Colony.
Although the 4th Battalion were sent to South Africa in February 1901, they were not involved in any fighting. Their duty was to guard prisoners. The 4th Battalion went to Bermuda with the Bermuda-bound POWs and stayed until 1903. When the POWs first arrived in Bermuda en masse in 1901 from South Africa, it had been proposed that they be guarded by black members of the West India Regiment. But the-then Governor of Bermuda, Sir Digby Barker, felt that the South Africans would regard such an arrangement as a deadly and unforgivable insult to them, which would not be in the best interests of later subjugating their people in South Africa under British rule. As a result, he ensured that they were guarded instead by the all-British - and all-white troops of the Worcester Regiment.
WORLD WAR 1 1914 - 1918
When the War broke out there were four Regular Battalions, two Militia and two Territorial Battalions forming the Regiment and from these eight Battalions the Regiment expanded to 22. Throughout its bloody course, the War claimed lives of over 9,000 of the 13,000 officers and men who filled its ranks.
Most of the actions in which the majority of the battalions took part were across the muddy, pock-marked battlefields of France and Flanders. However, some battalions were also engaged in the fighting in the Dardanelles, Salonika, Mesopotamia, Russia and Italy. In all, nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to members of the Regiment. Six of these VC's are on display in the Museum. In addition the Regiment won 82 Distinguished Service Orders, 327 Military Crosses, 238 Distinguished Conduct Medals and over 800 Military Medalds.
31st October 1914. The Germans invaded France and at the first shock came near to defeating the combined French and British Armies. Their objective was the Channel Ports, from which an attack on England could have been launched. The British Army stood to fight at Ypres.
After 10 days hard fighting, the 2nd Battalion, 500 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 advance, 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 weith 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 Ghelevult 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 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".
12th March 1915. In March 1915 the British Army attacked the Germans at Neuve Chapelle. After two days of fighting, although the village had been captured the attack was still a partial failure; for the Germans had repaired the gap in their line and were preparing to re-take the village by counter-attack. Two Bavarian Battalions advanced against the front held by the 1st Battalion, who held their fire. When the enemy was within 70 yards the whole Battalion fired their 'mad minute' (at the rapid rate of fire of 20 rounds per rifleman per minute) and the Germans fell in large numbers. 'A' Company cleared the enemy from the abandoned trenches on the right, while the rest of the Battalion drove them back into their own lines and took part of the enemy trenches. Unfortunately this advance was unsupported and the Battalion was isolated and nearly surrounded. Although several attacks were beaten off, they were forced to withdraw across the open ground and met with heavy loss. On the following morning the Battalion was withdrawn into reserve, however, the situation had been saved by the defeat of the counter-attack and the ground previously won was held.
BETWEEN THE WARS 1919 - 1939
As peace returned to the World, one after another the fighting Battalions of the Regiment were disbanded or reduced to Cadre and the soldiers who had gained the final victory came back in small parties to England. However, at the same time the political situation in Ireland was deteriorating and both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were sent to Dublin in 1919 to help control the outbreak of violence. The temporary ending of the Irish troublesl in 1921 provided the opportunity of reducing the country's military forces and orders were received for all Regiments with four Regular Battalions to disband their 3rd and 4th Battalions. This was a decision which was greeted with great sorrow in the Regiment for along with the Royal Fusiliers, The Middlesex, the 60th Rifles and Rifle Brigade were the only Regiments in the Army to have four Regular Battalions. Between the Wars the 1st Battalion, apart from a period of active operations during the troubles in Palestine, divided its time between India, China and England in a relaxed peacetime way; with, in India, the usual diversions of polo and game shooting for the officers and from 1930 the 2nd Battalion enjoyed spells of duty in Malta, China and India.
WORLD WAR 2 1939 - 1945
When the War was imminent the 1st Battalion was in Palestine and its war service was, therefore, destined initially to be in the middle East. Likewise the 2nd Battalion, who were in India in 1939 were destined to remain there until called to take part in the Burma Campaign. It was in fact the two Territorial Battalions, the 7th and 8th who first saw active service. both went to France in 1940 and both were in the Dunkirk tragedy.
The first Regular Battalion to join battle with the enemy was the 1st Battalion. They moved from Palestine, via Egypt to the Sudan and following the entry of Italy into the War, formed part of the British force which attacked the Italian Colony of Eritrea in 1941. The first Italian resistance came at El Gocni from which, after stiff fighting the enemy was ejected. Barentu was likewise successful and essentially a company battle in which 'A' Company played a prominent part. Ahead lay the fortress of Keren whose steep rocky approaches added to the stiff Italian resistance, however, this was also captured although the battalion suffered heavy losses.
At the end of August 1941 the 1st Battalion moved to the Western Desert, where in the summer of 1942 they took part in the Gazala Battle and in the defence of Tobruk. The Gazala line stretched from Gazala on the coast some fifty miles south to Bir Hachim. It consisted of a series of isolated infantry localities, wired and mined, which were called "Boxes" and between which were large gaps that could neither be held by artillery fire nor plugged by tanks. One such locality was Point 187 near Acroma, midway between Gazala and Tobruk, where the Battalion stood to meet the German onslaught. By 13th June 1942 the Germans had penetrated the surrounding defences and the Battalion Box became isolated. Enemy tanks attacked relentlessly and although some twenty of them were knocked out, all of the Battalions anti-tank guns had become casualties. Throughout the day the Battalion stayed true to its Motto of "FIRM" and as evening fell and with the desert a blazing inferno, orders were received for the Box to be evacuated.
At Tobruk the German attack, which was launched on 20th June 1942 was heralded by a fierce air bombardment after which came well co-ordinated artillery fire from both the Germans and Italians. This in turn led to a massive Panzer attack against which resistance was virtually impossible. Any attempt to break out to the coast was forestalled by the enemy who were too thick on the ground. A general surrender was ordered - unlike at Corunna and Dunkirk where the soldiers of the Regiment had withdrawn to safety; at Tobruk few escaped being made Prisoners of War.
NORMANDY TO THE ELBE
On 1st January 1943 the 1st Battalion was reformed by disbanding the 11th Battalion, a Service Battalion formed in May 1940 and drafting its personnel to the 1st Battalion. Soon after D Day in 1944 the Battalion arrived in France and their first action, which resulted in the capture of Mouen, was described by the Divisional Commander as "one of the slickest attacks of the war". After the break out came the spectacular drive to the Seine - over one hundred miles in three and a half days. This was followed by some intense fighting in which every man in the Battalion - drivers, clerks, orderlies and signallers fought like demons. The fierce fighting gave cover to the armoured drive to Belgium and Holland. After a spell of comparative quiet the Battalion once more went into battle, to try and relieve the gallant men of Arnhem. The battle to keep the corridor open was some of the fiercest the Battalion had experienced and in the fighting round the Nederijn three of its Company Commanders were killed. From then on it was only a matter of time before victory in Europe was assured and when it came the Battalion had reached an area North of Luneberg, thus ending the advance from Normandy to the Elbe.
Two Battalions of the Regiment fought in South East Asia Command, the 2nd and the 7th. Throughout it was a tale of fight and advance - never once was either Battalion forced back. One action among many is memorable; it was at Merema, near Kohima when the 7th Battalion evicted in 36 hours a Japanese force that had been ordered to hold on for ten days. In the last two months of 1944 the two Worcestershire Battalions advanced on the enemy, taking different directions. Leaving behind 350 miles of soil and dust once trodden by the Japanese the 7th Battalion reached and crossed the Chindwin at Kalewa. Plumes of dust marked their progress across the sandy plain of Central Burma as they moved towards Shwebo. Once there, the grateful inhabitants presented the Battalion with a lacquered bowl, now to be seen in the Regimental Museum. Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion had completed one of the greatest of the Burma Campaign's forced marches, covering 400 miles in six weeks; arriving at Shwebo just after the 7th Battalion, who were there waiting for them with a meal laid out in the open on tables covered with parachutes as table cloths. There then remained the Battle for Mandalay; the 7th Battalion moved towards the city from the South West but it was to be the 2nd Battalion that fought the battle and who carried out the follow up.
THE POST WAR YEARS 1945 - 1970
Since the Second World War the changing role of the Army resulted in drastic reductions; the first major change to be felt in the Regiment being the disbandment in 1947 of the 2nd Battalion. Then in 1967 with the reduction in Territorial forces the 7th Battalion was reduced to one company, which became part of the Mercian Volunteers.
During the Post War years the Regiment continued in its usual down to earth way. Not least during the Malayan Emergency in the early 1950s, when it established a fine reputation through its operational successes. A campaign in which the George Cross was awarded to Awang Anak Rawang, a tracker attached to the 1st Battalion.