The Transloy Ridges, Somme 1st – 5th November 1916

2nd Bn, The Worcestershire Regiment

The battlefield over which the 2nd Worcesters fought for the Transloy Ridges is 15 km north-east of Albert on the Somme, and have been completely destroyed by the construction of the A1 motorway. The position held by the 2nd Worcesters was called ‘Frost’ Trench , to the right was the 9th Highland Light Infantry and to the left was the French Sixth Army. The French had gained a good deal of ground, and the British were forced to catch up. The British advance has been held up by a system of consolidated shell holes known as “Hazy Trench” and “Boritzka Trench”. Unfortunately the separating the opposing positions was a crest line, and the dispositions of the German defences were extrememly difficult to locate and observe.

On the 1st November the 100th Brigade, of which the 2nd Worcesters were a part was ordered to take German positions in order to link the British line with the French flank on the left. The Worcesters had already been so heavily shelled that they had to evacuate their trenches and move to shell holes behind. At 3.30pm the Worcesters and the 9th Highland Light Infantry advanced. The mud was terrible the attacking men had to wade through morass up to their knees and were met with a storm of bullets. German machine guns opened fire from several different positions, the advancing troops were forced to take whatever cover they could in the water filled shell holes. They could not gain ground, and returned to their trenches after dark. The regimental history comments that the failure of the attack was as much to do with the weather as it was to do with the withering German fire.

After a day’s recovery, it was decided to attack the German position from the French flank (despite the constant rain).After dark on the 4th November the Worcesters took up positions in the French trenches. The British and French trench commanders decided to attack the following morning at 11am. The men dug in and took what rest they could – there was much lightning early in the night, but then the wind changed bringing better weather and the mud began to dry.

Unfortunately at first light the new positions were spotted by a German aeroplane and twenty minutes later the German guns opened a fierce bombardment. The men, huddling in incomplete trenches, only four foot deep in places had very little cover. Both forward company comanders of D and C Companies were killed and all the officers of D Company became casualties.

At 11am the British artillery laid a fierce bombardment, and 13 minutes later the men of the 2nd Worcestershire advanced. Againg they were met by a storm of fire; a barrage of heavy shells crashing down along the sunken lane. Led by a few brave NCOs, D Comapny advaced accross this sunken lane, closely followed by the other three companies. The officer commanding C Company, Lieut E P Bennett was struck by a shell burst and stumbled into the lane. Here his wounds were dressed by a French soldier, and he was joined by a subaltern and a sergeant of the Worcesters. They watched as the remnents of D Company were killed or wounded, and feared that the attack would fail again. The sergeant, dashed forward, followed by the 2nd Lieutenant, hoping to inspire the men forward – however they advanceed only twenty yards before being killed. Lieutenant Bennett, grasping a spade dashed forward and signalled to the men to advance.

The remnants of the battalion rose, and surged forward onto the enemy flank – Bennett later likened the advance to a swarm of rats in a ploughed field. The broken order in which the platoons moved, greatly increased their survival chances, as they afforded no clear target to the German gunners.

Following their orders, once into the German trenches, the battalion wheeled round and advanced some 500 yards down the slope along the entire length of the objective – with Lieutenant Bennett leading all the way. The new line was entrenched under heavy fire, but the Worcestershire soldiers answered shot for shot and dug themselves in. Bennett was awarded the Victoria Cross.

After exposure to heavy fire all afternoon, they were relived by the 5th Scottish Rifles. Total casualties are difficult to assess – the War Diary records 3 officers and 15 O/R killed, 2 officers and 66 O/R wounded and 1 officer and 21 O/R missing. However, the regimental diary states that the War Diary must have underestimated casualties – and that in excess of 200 men were killed, wounded or missing as a result of this action.

Stacke, Capt H FitzM The Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War Kidderminster 1921