The Worcester Daily Times of Friday, November 13, was first with Commander-in-Chief Sir John French’s salute to the Worcesters after the Battle of Gheluvelt ended.
But it was another 17 days – Monday, November 30 – before his full accolade was reported. For the first time, the painful detail of the 2nd Battalion’s gallantry was revealed to the people. This is what he said:
I regard it as the most critical moment in the whole of this great battle. The rally of the 1st Division, and the recapture of the village of Gheluvelt at such a time was fraught with momentous consequences. If any one unit can be singled out for special praise it is the Worcesters.
If anyone was in any doubt as to the sincerity of those words, after another four years of blood and slaughter, then let’s fast-forward to June 17, 1922, when Sir John, by now Field Marshal and the 1st Earl of Ypres, opened Gheluvelt Park in Worcester and reflected on Saturday, October 31, 1914.
“On that day,” he told the thronging crowds, “the 2nd Worcesters saved the British Empire."
The park commemorates the 2nd Battalion’s remarkable achievement and contained homes built to house veterans of the Great War, among them men who’d made that murderous, 1,000-yard charge at Gheluvelt. This silent Pathe News film reel of the ceremony exists to this day. Do you recognise any family faces?:
A plaque inside the park commemorates Captain Gerald Ernest Lea, who died on September 15, 1914 while commanding D Company of the 2nd Battalion.
Today, the park is a haven that echoes to the sound of children playing. Barbourne Brook, which leads to the Severn, feeds a duck pond within which is a bandstand. The park contains a play area and a supervised paddling pool, thanks to an £850,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
A conservation site is managed by the Duckworth Worcestershire Trust and, following renovations to the old Victorian Pump House, the Environment Centre provides information about environmental issues as well as sustainability.
In a more quiet corner, close to the A38, is a reminder of why the park exists. It comes in the shape of a sculpture that symbolises the fallen soldiers. To some its stark, rusting steel panels are out of keeping with the traditional Portland stone ideal of a war memorial. Such critics are, by some margin, missing the point.
If nothing else, the lasting impression they should take away from standing in front of its jagged outline are the words of Sir Claud Jacob, which are engraved on one panel opposite the Roll of Honour.
Let it never be forgotten that the true glory of the fight at Gheluvelt lies not in the success achieved but in the charge which required our solitary battalion to advance, undaunted, amid all the evidences of retreat to meet great odds in a battle apparently lost.