Part Six ACTIONS IN THE STEENBEEK

Actions On The Steenbeek

After a short tour in the forward areas the 2nd/7th and the
2nd/8th Battalions Worc’s were relieved on the night of
Monday the 20th of August. The previous three days had
provided some outpost fighting, notably one incident early
in the morning of the 20th when a platoon of the 2nd/8th
Battalion Worc’s surprised and annihilated a German
outpost near the Somme Farm. After relief the two
Battalions marched back to Goldfish Chateau.

The casualties for Friday the 17th till Tuesday the 21st
August were 2nd/7th Worc’s, 6 killed, 2 died of wounds, 40
wounded. 2nd/8th Worc’s, 6 killed, 31 wounded, 2 missing.

Laying Duckboards across the mud.

On the night of Thursday the 23rd of August the 2nd/7th
Battalion Worc’s went back into the front line. Colonel
Dorman established his Headquarters in Pommern
Redoubt. Behind them the 2nd/8th Battalion Worc’s took
over the support trenches. On the previous day the 184th
Brigade had attacked and a fierce struggle had raged, with
alternate attack and counter-attack, round the German
block- houses among the water-logged shell holes and mud.

54

Lt Colonel L.C. Dorman
Commander 2nd/7th Battalion Worc’s.
(Stackes)

The 2nd/7th Battalion Worc’s attacked on the evening of
Friday the 24th of August. A platoon of “B“ Company tried
to move forward over the broken ground, but was stopped
dead in its tracks by a withering fire. The platoon lost 2
killed and 11 wounded.
“A” Company was sent up in relief and prepared to attack
in their turn.
At 11pm the next night Saturday the 25th of August the
attack was made, as part of a general assault. On the right
the Scots twice charged Gallipoli Farm, with wild cheering,
but were beaten back with heavy loss, further to the left a
similar failure took place before Schuler Farm. At Aisne
Farm a platoon of “A” Company led by 2nd/Lt.J. Whale
reached the enemy’s defenses and fought their way in, only
to be driven out again with heavy loss.

2nd/Lt.J.Whale along with 2 men where missing, 3 killed, 1
died of wounds. Wounded, 2nd/Lt.A.N. Hutchinson and 9
men. Lt.G.M. Blackburne was also wounded.

While the fight was in progress a British plane came
hurtling down and crashed near Aisne Farm in the midst of
the German Barrage. 2nd Lieut.W.A. Beaman of the 2nd/7th
Battalion Worc’s coolly went out to the stricken aircraft,
found the pilot and observer still alive, though stunned and
bewildered, and guided them both back through the barrage
to safety behind the British lines.
2nd/Lieut.W.A. Beaman was awarded the M.C.
55
That failure proved the necessity for a more systematic
attack, and Sunday the 26th of August was devoted to
preparation. After dark the 2nd/7th and 2nd/8th Battalion
Worc’s exchanged positions amid heavy rain. Colonel L.L.
Bilton, commanding that 2nd/8th made arrangements for the
attack.
The existing dispositions were far from satisfactory and
during the night they were altered. Two brave young
officers, Captain G. Pritchard and Captain S.A. Godsall, led
their men forward some 200 yards and established new
positions amid the rain drenched shell-holes. Then orders
were issued for the next days battle.
Casualties for Sunday the 26th of August. 2nd/7th Battalion
Worc’s, 1 killed. 2nd/8th Battalion Worc’s, 1 killed and 1
wounded.
Two platoons of “D” Company, led by Captain
G.Pritchard, would attack Gallipoli Farm in conjunction
with the Scotsmen on the right. “A” and “B” and the
remainder of “D” Company would go for the Aisne Farm
and the surrounding defenses.

Similar dispositions for the attack were being made by the
“First Line” Territorial’s a mile to the north. There the line
had changed little since the relief on August the 20th. On
Saturday the 25th of August and Sunday the 26th of August
both the 1st/7th and 1st/8th battalions Worc’s had come back
into the line side by side, holding from Hillock Farm to
beyond the Triangle. The 1st/8th Battalion Worc’s was on
the right. Headquarters of both Battalions were in Alberta.

The attack in preparation was intended to break the
enemy’s main line of defense beyond the Langemarck road,
a strong position defended by the outpost fortresses of
Springfield and Vancouver. The former lay just to the right
of the 1st/8th Battalion Worc’s front. The latter, of which the
defenses had not been exactly located, was near the line of
junction of the two Battalions.
The night of Sunday the 26th of August was one of
extremely heavy rain and an intense darkness, broken only
by the blaze of bursting shells, for the enemy kept up a
heavy and continuous bombardment of the British forward
lines. In that darkness, dispositions were made for the
attack. The platoons felt their way forward into the
56
assembly trenches, and the headquarters of both the
Worcestershire battalions were established in the captured
“Maison du Hibou.” Once explored, it was felt no longer to
be wonderful that it had defied so many attacks. He little
fortress was built of concrete of a thickness sufficient to
defy almost any shell, and in spite of all the hammering it
had received the interior was hardly damaged. It was a two
storied forthwith emplacements for about twelve machineguns
and an all-round field of fire.

Next morning Monday the 27th of August the downpour of
rain continued. The state of the ground, bad enough before,
became much worse. The great bog of shell-holes had
become virtually impassable, a vast wilderness strewn with
corpses and smashed materials including tanks.

Midday of August the 27th passed, and by then at 1.55pm
the British artillery broke forth in an intense barrage fire,
and all along the line the attacking platoons pushed forward
through the mud. The 1st/8th Battalion Worc’s had “A” and
“C” Companies in the front line, “B” and “C” Companies
in support. The 1st/7th Battalion Worc’s had “A” “B” and
“D” Companies in the front line, and “C” Company in
support.
The exact location of the enemy was hardly known. In the
wilderness of shell-holes many German machine-guns
came into action and opened fire. Struggling through the
mud, the platoons of the 1st/7th and 1st/8th Worcestershire
pushed forward.

The ordered line broke up as the platoons proceeded to deal
with one machine-gun post after another, and the attack
disintegrated into a series of fierce little struggles among
the mud and the shell-holes. At one point an attacking
platoon was stopped dead by fire from a strong concrete
fort. The platoon commander, 2nd/Lieut. J.R. Willis,
reorganized his men and led them forward. The blockhouse
was skillfully encircled, rushed and stormed.
2nd/Lt. J.R. Willis was awarded the M.C. Sgt. W.H.
Wheeler received the D.C.M. for gallant conduct in this
attack. He took command of his platoon when his officer
had been killed and bravely led the men forward.
57
Further to the right, fierce bursts of machine-gun fire from
Springfield Farm enfiladed the attack and held it up. In the
center the un-located defenses of Vancouver gave similar
trouble. Between those two points the leading platoons of
the 1st/8th Battalion Worc’s nearly reached the enemy’s
main line of trenches, but the lack of success on the flanks
brought them to a standstill.
To the right the 143rd Brigade had similarly been held up.
Springfield Farm was the principal cause of trouble.
Colonel Carr watched his opportunity as darkness fell and
sent forward “D” Company from his reserve to take the
farm in the flank. Led by Lieut. Ryan Bell, “D” Company
pushed forward, attacked the farm from the north and
captured it after a fierce struggle, in which the brave young
leader was mortally wounded. He died of his wounds three
days later. If he had lived he would have received the
D.S.O.

Lt Colonel H.A. Carr D.S.O
Commander 1st/8th Battalion Worc’s.
(Stackes)

On the left the 1st/7th Battalion Worc’s had gained no
greater success. Knee-deep, and sometimes waist-deep, in
the mud, the troops advanced through the shell-holes, but it
was impossible to keep up with the moving barrage. As the
shells passed, the enemy snipers and machine-gunners
opened fire from every side.
On the right flank of the Battalion, Captain G.R.Wallace
led “A” Company forward most gallantly. The attack had
passed beyond the defenses of Vancouver Farm and was
nearing a concrete fort beyond it when two German snipers
rose from a shell-hole close at hand. They shot Captain
Wallace and a corporal who rushed to his assistance.
58
Sergeant Marchand, endeavoring to assist his officer, was
wounded, but at the same moment Sergeant Cooper
succeeded in shooting both the Germans.
Captain Wallace died within two hours.
Among many brave men of all ranks Captain.A.O. Lloyd
and C.S.M W.P. Shakespeare were especially
distinguished. Both led their men far ahead, held on
unsupported and only retired after dark when it was clear
that the ground gained could not be held. Captain Lloyd
received a second bar to his M.C. C.S.M. Shakespeare
received the M.C. Sergeant G. Cooper received the D.C.M.
and the M.M. was awarded to Private B. Norris, Private A.
Protheroe and Corporal G. Sneyd (bar).

Murderous little fights of that kind were taking place all
along the line, while the ground was swept by machineguns
from the front and also from the left flank where the
defenses of the Vieilles Maisons had repulsed the 11th
Division.
Dusk fell in driving rain, and the floundering troops dug in
the best they could. In the center around Vancouver Farm
the two Battalions had everywhere gained ground, but at
heavy cost. A greater success was not physically possible,
for movement either forward or backward was a matter of
greatest difficulty to the exhausted and overloaded men.

All along the line of battle there was a similar story to tell.
At Aisne Farm the 2nd/8th Battalion Worc’s had attacked at
the same moment as the “First Line” Battalions further
north, but with no greater success.
The attacking platoons had lain out all the morning in shellholes
which the poring rain had converted to slimy ponds.
They had been unable to move from these shell-holes, for
the ground was under direct observation from the enemy`s
position and was swept by fire. It is difficult to conceive
more dispiriting circumstances. Nevertheless at 1.55pm the
Territorial’s advanced with fine spirit. The little groups of
fighting men struggled out of their water-logged pits and
ploughed forward through the mud. So many of them
slipped and fell in that wilderness of shell-holes, many
never to be seen again, and most of the rifles became
clogged with mud and could not be fired, but the attackers
went forward with the bayonet as their only weapon.
59
Try as they might, they could not keep up with the barrage,
which had been set to 100 yards in 20 minutes, and the fire
of the German machine-guns struck them on the front and
flank. Before Aisne Farm could be reached the attack was
brought to a standstill. Captain H.L. Evers was conspicuous
by his contempt of danger. Although wounded early in the
attack he continued to lead his men onward, cheering and
encouraging them throughout the day, but his soldiers were
shot down all around him and soon it was clear that success
was impossible against the machine-guns of Aisne Farm.
Captain Evers was awarded the M.C. He remained in
command for three hours after being hit.
Further to the right, “D” Company’s two platoons nearly
reached Gallipoli Farm. The Scotsmen of the 15th Division
had been held up, and Captain Pritchard tried to help them
by wheeling his line to the right and taking the enemy in
flank, but the attempt failed with heavy loss.
Captain Pritchard was wounded and a very brave subaltern,
Lieut W.E. Turner was killed.
By nightfall it was clear that the attack had failed, and
orders came to dig in. On the northern flank some little
ground had been gained, and Springfield Farm, at least was
in our hands, but further south the line was little further
forward than at the start. The weather and the Flanders mud
had defeated the attack, not the enemy.

Infantry marching through Ieper 1917. (FH).

60

The losses of the three Worcestershire Battalions which
took part in that attack were severe, about a third of the
fighting strength in each case.

1st/7th Battalion Worc’s

6 Officers (Killed, Captain G.R. Wallace, M.C. Wounded,
Captain P. Carter, M.C., Captain A.O. Lloyd, M.C.,
Captain A.H. Butcher, 2nd/Lt R.P. Thomson, 2nd/Lt W.F.
Higgs-Walker) and 99 other ranks killed or wounded.

1st/8th Battalion Worc’s

7 officers (Killed, Captain B.H. Tullidge, 2nd/Lt R.N.
Horsley, 2nd/Lt J.C. Hemming, 2nd/Lt H.R. Ryan Bell (died
of wounds) Wounded, 2nd/Lt S.H.Wilkes, 2nd/Lt J.H.
Myhill, 2nd/Lt J. Clarke) and 101 other ranks killed or
wounded.

2nd/8th Battalion Worc’s

8 officers (Killed, 2nd/Lt C.G.Crick, 2nd/Lt W.E. Turner,
2nd/Lt R.L. Hancock, Wounded, Captain G. Pritchard,
Captain H.L. Evers, Captain C.W. Holcroft, Captain W.H.
Cornelius, (R.A.M.C attached) 2nd/Lt C.J. Hull) and 138
other ranks killed or wounded.
All the officers and sergeants of “A” Company were killed
or wounded. “B” Company came out of action with one
subaltern and one sergeant.

2nd/7th Battalion Worc’s
Had remained in reserve, but lost one officer ( 2nd/Lt C.M.
Cook) and 20 other ranks from shell-fire.

61
Next day was observed an informal truce along the battlefront.
The guns kept up a desultory fire, but on both sides
the forward troops suspended hostilities and stretcherbearers
went out. They searched through the countless
shell-holes, bringing in impartially the wounded of both
sides. The Germans, who’s losses had been naturally
lighter than ours, were seen to rescue many of our wounded
near their lines. Those not engaged in that work of mercy
took as much rest as they could.
Gradually the troops who had fought were relieved. The
two “First-Line” battalions were taken out, one platoon at a
time, and the companies slowly reassembled at Dambre
Camp during the next three days, after which they were
taken back by train and lorry to Schools Camp near St. Jan
ter Biezen.

Stretcher bearers struggling through the mud near Boesinghe,
August 1, 1917, during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge.

62
Further south two companies of the 2nd/7th Battalion Worc`s
exchanged positions with the front-line companies of the
2nd/8th Battalion Worc`s. For some three days the two
Battalions remained intermingled, in front the support
positions, Colonel Bilton remaining in command of the
former and Colonel Dorman of the latter. During those two
days the rain fell steadily, rendering any further attacks out
of the question. Operations were confined to patrol the
outpost encounters and the casualties for August the 28th till
August the 30th were 2nd/7th Battalion 5 killed, 41 wounded.
2nd/8th Battalion, 2 wounded.
At last, on the night of Thursday the 30th of August , the
183rd Brigade was relieved. The two “Second-Line”
Battalions extricated themselves from the mud and moved
back into camps near Vlamertinghe.

After the attack a long pause ensued. The state of the
ground didn’t allow for any advance. The low-lying valley
of the Steenbeek was the worst part of the battle-front, and
it was consequently decided that the main force of the next
attack should be delivered not there but along the higher
ground further south, on both sides of the Menin Road.
That area was transferred to the command of the Second
Army, and preparations were made for a fresh battle.

An essential part of those preparations was the training of
fresh Divisions which had not yet broken their hearts in the
Flanders mud. For those fresh troops a pleasant camp had
been established on the sea coast near Dunkirk.
That camp had originally been intended to serve as a base
for operations along the coasts of Flanders, along with the
attack at Ieper, but the German success at Nieuport in June
had halted that plan, and the sea-shore camp then became
merely a training centre.
The 2nd Battalion Worc`s arrived at Dunkirk on Wednesday
the 1st of August and marched through Teteghem to
crowded billets in Uxem, from where a move was made to
a more satisfactory camp at Ghyvelde. Training continued
in that coastal area throughout the ensuing month.

63
On Friday the 31st of August a move southwards was
begun. The Brigade moved down by train to Watten,
behind St.Omer, from where the 2nd Battalion Worc`s
marched to billets at Ganspette. There training was
continued until the middle of September.

The 3rd Battalion Worc`s had missed al the heavy fighting
after the capture of Westhoek. The Battalion lay in billets at
Steenvoorde training and refitting until Wednesday the 29th
of August, with one short interval of three days (19th to
22nd) in which a forward move was made to Dominion
Camp near Busseboom.
On Thursday the 30th of August orders came to move
forward to the battle-front. The 7th Brigade had now been
lent to the 23rd Division which was holding the front along
the Menin Road. The 3rd battalion Worc`s were carried up
to Ieper in lorries, and then the companies marched forward
to reserve trenches around Halfway House. There they
remained for six days. Many heavy shells struck near the
position, but otherwise that period was uneventful.
The casualties for the period 31st August – 6th September, 3
killed and 17 wounded.
On Thursday the 6th of September the 7th Brigade were
relieved and marched back to Divisional Reserve at
Dickebusch. Then came orders that the 25t Division would
be transferred from the Second to the First Army and
would move back for a period of training. The Brigade
marched back by stages, the 3rd Battalion spent the evening
of Monday the 8th of september in billets near Abeele,
Wednesday the 10th in camp near Caestre, Thursday the
11th September at Thiennes and Friday the 12th September
via Steenbecque to billets at Burbure. There the 3rd
Battalion Worc`s settled down to training.

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