The Worcesters Charge at Ypres
The 31st of October 1914 AD
Following the inconclusive Marne campaign the German offensive in the early days of WWI shifted north to Belgium, where the town of Ypres became the focal point of a push that nearly saw the collapse of the Allied line.
On October 29 what was to be the decisive battle within a battle began. Between October 21 and 24 the Germans had pushed towards the village of Langemarck just north of Ypres after an initial British sortie there. Seeing an opportunity von Falkenhayn, Chief of the German General Staff, ordered the formation of a powerful force under General Fabeck, six divisions whose goal was to break through the British lines near the village of Gheluvelt. Their attack began on October 29 and took the crossroads near the village; the next day they pushed the British line further back; on the 31st they took the village itself, isolating a small British force in the Chateau of Gheluvelt. Had the Germans been able to press home their advantage it may have caused the entire British line to give way, and routed the Allies in the North.
Step forward the 364 men of the 2nd Worcesters, the last remaining reserve behind the front line. They were ordered to counter-attack the far more numerous German units grouped before the Chateau, perhaps 1200 men in total. By the time the Worcesters had crossed the half mile and more of ground between them and the enemy the German artillery had taken its toll, and around 240 were left. Amazingly they fixed bayonets and charged on, and after a brief and brutal fight the 1000 German soldiers left alive fled.
The Battle of Ypres continued, but it fell into the pattern of so much of the Great War, attack and counter-attack with little prospect of victory for either side. Sir John French, British Expeditionary Force Commander, made clear the significance of that bayonet charge, saying: “On that day the 2nd Worcesters saved the British Empire.” Their action is commemorated still by the public gardens in Worcester named Gheluvelt Park to honour their heroism in that Belgian village.
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