10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment - 1916

The 10th Battalion spent New Year's Day in billets at La Croix Marmuse. Two days later the Battalion was inspected in marching order by the new commander of the 19th Division, Major-General Tom Bridges.

On the following night (4th/5th January 1916) the 10th Worcestershire marched forward to the line and relieved the 9th Cheshire in the trenches at Neuve Chapelle facing the Bois du Biez. On their right the 8th Gloucestershire took over the trenches astride the La Bassee road, including "Port Arthur." Two tours were done in these trenches between the 4th and the 22nd of January, the Battalion changing over with the 10th Royal Warwickshire and resting, when out of the line, in billets at Croix Barbee. Then the 19th Division was relieved by the 38th (Welsh) Division. Welsh battalions (10th and 16th Welch Regiments) took over the Neuve Chapelle positions, and the 10th Worcestershire made their way back to billets at Robecq for a short period of rest and training. The bitter weather caused much sickness and, to the great regret of all ranks, Colonel A. G. Chesney was obliged by ill health to relinquish the command of the Battalion which he had raised and trained. On the 12th February 1916, he was succeeded by Colonel G. A. Royston Pigott D.S.O.

On February 19th the Battalion moved forward from Robecq to billets at La Gorgue and five days later again took over the trenches at Neuve Chapelle. The 19th Division had extended its front, and the Battalion now took over the trench-line by the Moated Grange. These trenches varied by billets at Pont du Hem and Robermetz were held by the Battalion alternately with the 10th Royal Warwickshire until April 18th without important incident save for much firing on March 20th in support of a successful little raid carried out by the 8th North Staffordshire.

Colonel A. G. Chesney

Colonel A. G. Chesney

Colonel G. A. Royston Pigott D.S.O.

Col.l G. A. Royston Pigott D.S.O.

Total casualties of the 10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment from the 4th January 1916 to 17th April 1916 were 5 killed and 10 wounded.

On the 12th April 1916 orders were received that the 19th Division would be withdrawn into General Reserve for training. The Welshmen of the 38th Division again took over the line and on April 17th the 10th Worcestershire marched back to billets at La Gorgue; whence on the following day the march was continued to Robecq. From Robecq the 57th Brigade marched on April 20th in bitterly cold weather through La Perriere, Guarbecque, Molinghem and Lambres to Witternesse, whence the battalions marched individually to billets. The 10th Worcestershire proceeded through Blessy to quarters in the village of Marthes. There the Battalion settled down to platoon and company training, which continued until well on into May.

On May 7th the 10th Worcestershire marched from their billets at Marthes to Aire; there the Battalion entrained at 10.30 p.m. and, after travelling all night, reached Longueau Station, near Amiens, at 8 a.m. next morning. There they detrained and marched through Amiens northwards in windy weather to Vignacourt. In that area strenuous training was continued until the end of May; then the 57th Brigade moved further west for brigade training, and the 10th Worcestershire marched on May 30th through St. Ouen and Gorenflos to billets in St. Riquier. Half the Battalion was quartered in the historic farm where Joan of Arc was kept a prisoner before her trial at Rouen.

The 57th Brigade completed its training programme on June 10th, and the Battalion marched back on its tracks to Vignacourt. Then the Brigade moved towards the Line. The 10th Worcestershire marched on June 11th through Flesselles, Villers Bocace, Molliens-au-Bois and St. Gratien to Frechencourt and then on again next day by Behencourt, Franvillers and the main Albert road towards the sound of the guns as far as Dernancourt on the River Ancre. There, the 57th Brigade was employed for the next fortnight on working parties behind the line, while parties of officers and N.C.O's. visited the trenches facing Fricourt and Mametz.



The general plan of the great attack was to break through the enemy's positions in the valley of the Ancre between La Boisselle and Serre, and then to roll up the German defences to the northward by a rapid turning movement carried out by fresh troops brought up from reserve. The main attack was to be made by the IIIrd, Xth and VIIIth Corps of the Fourth Army. To assist the main attacks, subsidiary attacks were to be made, on the southern flank by the XIIIth and XVth Corps of the Fourth Army, on the northern flank by the VIIth Corps of the Third Army. When the enemy's lines had been broken the turning movement to the northward was to be made under the direction of a fresh staff ready for the purpose, designated, for the time being, "The Reserve Army" under General Sir Hubert Gough.

On June 24th the preliminary bombardment was commenced. All along the line the British batteries opened a heavy fire, carefully directed on successive points of the German line. In order to increase the demoralizing effects of the bombardment, and to identify the German units holding the line, a number of raids were carried out during the last days of June. Of these raids, one near Hebuterne was entrusted to the 1/7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, and was carried out on the evening of June 28th; but unbroken enemy wire prevented success.

The first days of the bombardment were fine and hot, although occasional small thunderstorms competed with the crash of the guns: then the weather broke, and rain fell heavily, causing the date of the attack to be postponed at the last minute from June 28th to July 1st. The postponement came so late that the 10th Battalion had already started to march from Dernancourt to the assembly positions before the counter-order arrived. The postponement brought no better weather, and dawn of the 30th found the rolling country of Picardy still shrouded in drizzling rain; but it would have needed more than rain to damp the enthusiasm of the troops; and the 4th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment Diary recorded that all ranks were "going about singing, and as cheerful as could be." In the afternoon the sky cleared and, as dusk fell, the move forward to the assembly positions was begun. All along the twenty mile front from Hannescamps to the River Somme long columns of British troops were on the move; and that night four Battalions of the Regiment were marching forward from their billets through darkness lit by continuous gun-flashes towards the soaring flares and bursting shells which marked the battle line.

The 10th Battalion was the first to move. Leaving their camp near Dernancourt at 4 p.m. the Battalion marched (by half companies at long intervals to avoid air observations) to Millencourt. There the 57th Brigade assembled. At 11 p.m. the Brigade moved forward. Shortly after midnight the battalions filed into assembly trenches ("Tylers Redoubt.") half-a-mile east of Millencourt.



The IIIrd Army Corps, in the centre of the British battle line, had been entrusted with the capture of the fortresses of Ovillers and Pozieres. On July 1st the attack of the IIIrd Corps had been partially successful. The 8th Division had failed before Ovillers; on the other hand the 34th Division had bitten deeply into the German positions south of La Boisselle, though that fortified village, despite the explosion of an enormous mine, still defied all assaults. By dawn of July 2nd La Boisselle formed a sharp salient in the enemy's line. A fresh attack was ordered, and the 19th Division were brought forward from Corps Reserve.

The 10th Worcestershire, after spending the night before the battle in trenches west of Albert had been moved forward about 9 a.m. on July 1st to assembly positions nearer the line. There the Battalion lay all day amid terrific thunder of gun-fire and conflicting rumours and alarms. After dark (7.40 p.m. according to the Brigade. 9.15 p.m. according to Battalion) orders came for the 10th Worcestershire and 8th North Staffordshire to move up to the front line for attack. The Battalion moved off. "In the communication trench confusion reigned. Wounded were being brought out—we were trying to get in—carrying parties were trying to go both ways—it was raining and the trench was knee-deep in mud." Not until long after midnight did three companies reach the British front line opposite La Boisselle, and then it was too late for the attack to be carried out. The plan was cancelled, and the three companies made their way back to reserve trenches on the Usna—Tara ridge. By dawn all platoons had been collected in trenches and dugouts. Officers and men alike were utterly exhausted. "The remainder of the day (July 2nd) was spent in sleep—which was greatly interrupted by the bombardment of La Boisselle" (Battalion Diary).

That afternoon the 58th Brigade attacked the La Boisselle salient, securing a lodgment on the southern face; and orders were sent for the 57th Brigade to move up after midnight. Rather than risk another jam in the communication trenches, the 10th Worcestershire moved forward across the open in three lines of platoons, reached the British front line opposite the extreme western end of the hostile salient, and lay down to await the moment of attack. The other battalions of the Brigade formed up to flank and rear. Flares and bursting shells disclosed their position to the enemy, and a heavy fire of shrapnel caused many casualties: but all lay still, awaiting the hour fixed for the attack.

La Boisselle 3rd July 1916

La Boisselle, view taken from the 10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment trenches during the battle on the 3rd July 1916

Shortly after 3 a.m. (2 a.m. according to the Battalion Diary. 3.15 according to the Brigade) amid the blazing gun-fire all around, a warning order was passed along the line. A few minutes later a second order, unheard amidst the din but quickly sensed, rippled down the ranks. The men rose to their feet, and the order was given to advance. The platoons rushed forward, crossed "No Man's Land" and charged the German defences. A fierce fight followed with bomb and bayonet over successive lines of trenches. The companies became confused, control became impossible and the platoons stormed forward as best they could, led by their subalterns and N.C.O's. One party was led by Lance-Corporal A. J. Gardner, who dashed ahead of the rest carrying a Lewis-gun under his arm which he fired as he ran. A party of the enemy gave way before him and he seized their trench. He was hit, but continued to fire his Lewis-gun till he fainted from loss of blood. L/Cpl. Gardner was awarded the D.C.M.

In small groups the Worcestershire platoons fought their way onwards into the ruins of the village. Ten days of intense bombardment had shattered every house; but the enemy had previously constructed deep dugouts and had strengthened the cellars. In those underground strongholds they had survived the bombardment, and now they swarmed up from their cover to meet the attack. In and around the smashed heaps of masonry which had once been houses, the British platoons fought with enemies who appeared suddenly and unexpectedly from every side. Only by the momentary light of flares and shell-bursts was it possible to distinguish friend from foe. The fighting was hand-to-hand or at point-blank range, with bomb, bullet or cold steel.

Capt. H. A. Gillum-Webb

Capt. H. A. Gillum-Webb

At various points individual officers established some sort of order for a moment and attempted a systematic destruction of the German defences. Explosive charges previously prepared were brought up and were thrown down such dugouts as were discovered. But the fighting was too involved and the casualties too rapid for any permanent control.

Battalion Headquarters of the 10th Worcestershire had followed the companies forward across the trenches. The Commanding Officer, Colonel Royston-Piggott, made his way forward with his Adjutant (Captain H. A. Gillum-Webb) up to a large mine-crater—the crater of the mine which had been fired on July 1st. There he made certain that his Battalion had reached the village. He dictated to his Adjutant a message to be sent back to Brigade reporting the progress. Just as the message was finished, the Colonel was shot through the heart. A few minutes later the Adjutant also was hit and, for a time, Battalion Headquarters ceased to exercise control.

The first light of dawn enabled the fighters in the village to recognise each other with certainty, and the struggle reached its climax. Most of the defenders had by that time been killed or captured, although a few strong points still held out. Several of the Worcestershire platoons had fought their way right through the village to the more open ground on the far side. That ground was a tangle of broken hedges in a wilderness of shell-holes. Small parties of troops pushed forward in the excitement of victory, shooting, bombing and collecting prisoners.

Lieutenant R. W. Jennings led one such party, collecting such stray men as he could find. In the dim light he recognised one of the "Battalion bombers," Private T. G. Turrall, and called him to follow.

Lieut. R. W. Jennings, a very brave young officer of fine physique, had been in charge of the bombers. Private Turrall was a well-known character in the Battalion; and had been freed from the Guard Room specially to take part in the battle.

Private Turrall, a powerfully built soldier, went forward with the bombing party. The daylight grew. A hidden machine-gun suddenly opened fire on the group. Private Turrall flung himself on his face and escaped the hail of bullets. When they ceased he peered around. The subaltern was lying close to him, badly wounded, with a shattered leg. No other survivor of the party could be seen.

Private Turrall crawled to his wounded officer and dragged him slowly to shelter in a shell-hole. Then he set to bandaging the wound, using the shaft of his entrenching tool as a splint, and binding it with one of his own puttees.

As he worked, a bomb burst close to his head: then another. A German bombing party had seen him moving in the shell-hole. He picked up his rifle and opened fire on the bombers, who were working forward along a hedge. A gap in the hedge enabled him to shoot two of them: the others gave up the attack.

Peering from the shell-hole he saw a wave of German infantry pouring forward from the east—a strong counter-attack. Resistance to such a force was useless, but he did not think of surrender. The subaltern had fainted. Private Turrall flung himself flat and feigned death. He was prodded with bayonets and then left. The counter-attack swept on to break against the Battalion in the village.

Private Thomas George Turrall V.C.

Private Thomas George Turrall V.C.

Throughout that day he tended and defended the helpless subaltern. When darkness came he cautiously made his way towards the village, with the officer on his back. By good fortune they reached safety.

Private Turrall afterwards stated that his worst moment in the day was when he reached the British line and was hailed in the darkness with "Hands up !" followed by "That man behind you too—quick !" The subaltern was unconscious. He was taller than the private and his feet reached the ground, though his arms were round Private Turrall's neck; but fortunately the position was explained before a shot was fired.

Lieutenant Jennings' wounds proved mortal, and he died within a few hours; but not before he had dictated an account of his soldier's deed; and Private Turrall's brave devotion was rewarded by the Victoria Cross.

In the village itself the last brave remnant of the enemy fought on, holding individual posts for several hours. Those posts were gradually isolated, surrounded and reduced. Strong German counter-attacks were made against the village; but a defensive line had been hastily organised on the eastern outskirts of the village and the counter-attacks were withered by machine-guns and musketry. By midday the fighting in the village was over: the last German post had been taken, and reorganisation was in progress.

The 10th Worcestershire had reason to be proud of their first battle; for the captured position was of immense strength. The dugouts were so deep and of such solid construction that even after the terrific bombardment of the previous week many of them were still undamaged; and the defenders—troops of the German 13th, 23rd and 110th Reserve Regiments—had fought to the last. The 57th Brigade captured 153 prisoners—nearly all wounded (among the trophies of the 10th Worcestershire was an undamaged machine-gun). But the success had been dearly purchased. The Battalion had lost a third of its fighting strength, including the Commanding Officer and Adjutant.

Killed or died of wounds:—9 officers [Colonel G. A. Royston Piggott, D.S.O., Major F. St. G. Tucker, Captain R. G. Tasker, Captain A. R. Thomas, Lieut. R. W. Jennings, Lieut. C. H. G. Lushington, 2/Lieut. B. W. Pigg, 2/Lieut. C. V. Hadley and 2/Lieut. G. M. S. Foster] and 44 other ranks. Wounded:—6 officers [Captain and Adjutant H. A. Gillum-Webb, 2/Lieut. G. G. Perkins, 2/Lieut. J. O. Ashton, 2/Lieut. A. M. Dickinson, 2/Lieut. F. G. Miller, 2/Lieut. F. J. Pearson] and 197 other ranks. 106 N.C.O's. and men were missing, and of those the majority were undoubtedly killed and buried either by falling ruins or in wrecked dugouts.

10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment bring in German prisoners captured during the attack at La Boisselle, 3rd July 1916
(photo IWM Q763)

The survivors of the Battalion held on throughout the remainder of the day in such cover as they could find or make, and in the evening the supernumerary officers who had been left behind with the Battalion Transport came up and took over command of the companies. This was one of the first occasions on which officers were deliberately left behind before an attack, in order subsequently to replace the inevitable casualties. After dark the 10th Worcestershire were relieved by the 7th South Lancashire and withdrew to rest. Orders were to proceed to a trench named "Ryecroft Avenue," but in the darkness the weary troops wandered to and fro for some time before the location of that reserve position could be discovered. Eventually the platoons were housed in crowded dugouts. All next day (July 4th) officers and men slept the sleep of exhaustion, broken at intervals by heavy shelling (one big shell wrecked a dugout, killing five men and wounding two others).

At 9 p.m. on July 4th the 10th Worcestershire moved forward again to the old British front line, in support to the lighting still in progress beyond La Boisselle. Rain and shell-fire made all ranks damp and miserable but the Battalion was not actively engaged. Next morning the Battalion again moved back to the Tara-Usna line. Orders came for the 57th Brigade to be relieved; and after dark that evening the 10th Worcestershire marched right back to billets in Albert.

The storming of La Boisselle completed the capture of the enemy's first line defences in the centre section of the great battle-field. Further to the right Fricourt, Mametz and Montauban had fallen before the British attacks. It was now possible to make plans for attack on the enemy's second system of defence; which ran from Guillemont through Longueval along the Bazentin Ridge to Pozieres. But before that new attack could be organised, certain intermediate fortified positions had to be conquered. The British IIIrd Corps was now faced by one of the strongest of those intermediate defences: the fortified village of Contalmaison.

In the opening attack on July 1st, the 34th Division had stormed several lines of German defences between La Boisselle and Fricourt and had reached Horseshoe Trench, within a mile of Contalmaison itself. Fresh troops were needed to relieve the 34th Division and to carry on their work. Orders were given to send forward the 23rd Division.