Battle for Tripsrath - Bilzen (Christmas Festivity)

30 Corps was now held in reserve, with the task of denying the enemy the line of the Meuse and chasing him back again if he ever got that far. The Worcestershire Battalion situated in Bilzen, Belgium just 15 km from Maastricht and the Dutch/German border. The Worcesters were billeted with the local Belgium folk and Battalion H.Q. was established in the local school. The whole Battalion was on one hour’s notice to move in the event of any further enemy advance.

On the morning of the 20th December Field Marshal Montgomery appeared in the market square in Bilzen for a meeting with General Sir Miles Dempsey, the Army Commander.  214 Brigade H.Q. had been established in the medieval Hotel de Ville.

1st Battalion Worcestershire men with 2 Monks at Bilzen monastery (December 1944)
(seated front is Pte. Thomas Scully, behind with pipe in mouth is the battalion cook
and to his right is the batman of Lieut. Dan Pullens).

Private Thomas Scully ('D' Company) recalls: “We were billeted at the local monastery in Bilzen with the monks, they made us most welcome. On Christmas Day there was snow on the ground. When we had a look around the Abbey we found some diving equipment which had been left there by the Americans, I showed it to my officer, Captain Percy Huxter, we decided just to leave it there. Our Commanding Officer, Major Bryan Elder, had gone back to England on 14 days leave and Captain Peter Hall took over command of ‘D’ Company as temporary Major until he retuned.

Although there was an air of tenseness amongst the men not knowing what was ahead, excitement was also in the air with the approach of Christmas. On the 23rd December the men were informed that Christmas Day would be celebrated with a special dinner with all the trimmings. On the 24th the notice to move was lifted to three hours by day and one hour by night, a welcome relief. All things considered, Christmas 1944 would be remembered as a pleasant interlude in the grim period of winter war.

The Lieut. J. E. Benney (Quartermaster) and his staff between them managed to produce an abundance of tinned turkey, pork, vegetables, Christmas pudding and English beer, not to mention such trimmings as mince pies, fruit, nuts, chocolate, cake, cigars (captured stock intended for the Wehrmacht) and some dubious red wine ‘Chateau Naafi’!!

Corporal William Gould (Signals Company) recalls; “Nuns who were in charge of the local school had prepared a tremendous cauldron of rich vegetable soup as a special treat for their charges and quite a few of the Worcesters sampled it and declared it to be excellent”.

Everyone was warned against the wood alcohol being purveyed by the local café proprietors under the libellous label of “brandy” but, alas, there were a few who disregarded this and literally fell by the wayside, spending Christmas in the Guard Room as a result.

Acting Major Peter Hall

Men of the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment at Bilzen (Christmas Day 1944)
(Private Thomas Scully second from left)
(photo Louis Scully collection)

That night all the officers sat down to dinner together for the first time since Normandy days, and the N.C.O.s and men whose awards had been published at lunchtime were invited to the Officers' Mess for a drink and were congratulated by Brigadier Essame who joined the Battalion for dinner.

Abbey at Bilzen, Belgium

A very adequate meal was followed by a roisterous, though in some cases inarticulate, sing-song round the piano, and everyone went to bed at midnight fervently hoping that if any enemy paratroops were dropped it would not be in the Worcestershires Battalion's area.

One light-hearted moment was when ‘Tanky’ Taylor (‘B’ Company), who may have had a drink or two, was on guard duty and as the C.O. approached he challenged him for the password but the C.O. could not remember it and simply said I am your Commanding Officer. ‘Tanky’ still refused to let him pass much to the annoyance of the C.O. and the officer of the guard had to be called out to sort out the situation!!

On Boxing Day the Worcesters went out to do a little training, more as a liver-shaking measure than anything else, and to enjoy the frosty country air and the brilliant winter sunshine. Football was played each afternoon, against the 5th DCLI and 7th Somerset L.I. as well as some of the local villagers.

43rd Wyvern Division Christmas Card

Inside the menu card was a poem written by Private R. E. Maycock (75 unit) and the first part of this poem is transcribed below:

The Golden Dragon

It’s said King Arthur bore it
As he fought against the Danes.
That William the Conqueror saw it
When he vanquished Harold’s thanes.
In Bayeux it stands forlorn
Embroidering William’s story.
At Shaftesbury its wings adorn
The Abbey’ ruined glory.
But now against the ancient Hun
It makes fresh history;
Its claws new glories now have won
In many a strange country.
And to …………….

The Worcester Evening News & Times 21st December 1944