Major Edward Hankey DSO is, very simply, a man who should be restored to the ranks of our national heroes.
He would doubtless have argued against that, modest and quiet as he was about his role in the 2nd Worcesters' achievement in their counter-attack on Gheluvelt on Saturday, October 31, 1914.
The notes he made on the battle – and the arguably more remarkable counter-attack in Polygon Wood, seven days earlier, when the 2nd Worcesters drove the advancing Germans back – already betray that instinctive matter-of-factness.
Courtesy of Col John Lowles, at The Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire), here's a chance to read those notes:
Transcript of notes by Major EB Hankey, DSO
23rd/24th relieved by French (after Battle of Langemarck)
24th to Hellfire Corner (Halte east of YPRES) where railways crosses Menin Road.
E of Polygon Wood was 7th Div and enemy had broken through.
Attacked from Western edge of the wood to Eastern edge.
Touch with Scots Guards of 20th Brigade & remnants of Royal Warwicks at dusk.
Casualties – 200 including 6 officers.
(The Reutel spur had been lost by the Wilts?) [This inserted]
Bayonet only – in case of our own in front! (we couldn't have seen anything anyhow!)
Went wrong at first & started again!
HLI (5 casualties) got left!
Could it be done with present methods?
[These notes are on foolscap sheet, not a page from a field notebook, and up to and including the casualty figures are evidently hurriedly written.
The following lines appear to have been written later.]
Transcript of notes by Major EB Hankey, DSO
I was in command. Messing about NORTH of POLYGON WOOD for attack which didn't come off and bivouaced near GLENCORSE WOOD & night 30/31st October were bivouaced in SW corner of POLYGON WOOD.
Fairly fresh – in good heart after counter attack through P. WOOD on 24th Oct. when we'd properly chased the Bosche – but heavy casualties (6 & 200).
We are now 12 & 480.
We knew nothing of the general situation – news from stragllers was genrally depressing & good deal of noise & shelling from area in front.
Pareira (in Wood) told me & showed me message that Worcesters could be used as last resource. I didn't know by whom!
(Lomax – by arrangement with Monroe – had told Fitz Clarence (1st Brigade) to order Worcesters into fight as last resource).
FitzClarence sent for an officer – Clarke (Adjt) went.
FitzClarence's Hd Qrs centre stage of GLENCORSE WOOD.
Clarke returned – explanation situation serious – Worcesters would probably be wanted & meanwhile 1 Coy to go to Embankment immediately W of Gheluvelt.
A Coy (3 & 120) went off with a guide.
I was sent for & went to FitzClarence's Hd Qrs – good view of Gheluvelt Church – FitzC and Corkran there. Definite orders. Thorne to guide. Packs to be left – speed essential. Wire cutting.
I sent off Haskett Smith & Sgt & 8 scouts to cut wire etc.
I led Battn. In file (with Thorne) to Wood & left it there and went on with Thorne to reconnoitre and found A Coy (depressed – in the air – heavy fire – casualties. 1 officer & others) and told Wainman (comdg) I was coming through with right on GHELUVELT. I met SCOTS GUARDS cpl who helped a lot and went back to Battn through nasty fire and found them glad to see me alive & Thorne left. Deafening noise – retreating men – shouting commands – passed down through Coy Comdrs.
The only forward movement.
I was to lead – centre of 2 forward companies in line. 1 company support 50x behind.
No cheering – learnt our lesson. Series of rushes – resulted in two long rushes – sharp jog – one halt in middle – Distance 1200x.
Strength. 8 & 370 (1 Coy 3 & 120 gone on to embankment. H. Smith & scouts gone on.)
On arrival edge of Chateau grounds (under cover) – (none of support left – accounted for by casualties & some not coming on) – I filtered over style (sic) with Adjt and Comd of leading Company & saw know of men in corner by bush – ran up with Adjt & Bowring following & saw Burley (sic) Leach & quickly arranged to fan out and half right to outer edge of grounds. Bowring & Co. fanned out and curious sight of Bosche in flower beds & conservatory & rabbit shooting and bayonet lunge at Biscoe – and got into sunken road. Splendid shooting towards copse 200x left front. Leach & Co. stunned! No baynet! Shooting 10 yards!
Time taken from start to establishment. 2 – 3pm.
Wanted to go on to Wood line but Artillery coming down on it – didn't even like where we were – shrapnel (Williamson) – d-d angry – told afterwards it was Bosche fire.
Saw Leach & agreed sunken road & watch GHELUVELT. Scraped in. Found H.Smith (Intelligence Squad!) – Bosche frightened to death – 2 prisoners.
H. Smith & Sgt wounded & killed: shelling & burning.
Got Wainman up & turned back flank – no touch!
Casualties 3 – 189 out of 12 – 450.
Accounts say GHELUVELT in our hands. Might say it was NO MANS LAND – burning & shells.
Chateau full of wounded – we only left very bad – nearly all our casualties happened before we got to Chateau grounds & were got away by B.M.O. (Carrington-M.C.).
Very heavy going – not very fit – feeling effect of sitting down. – Adjt sick! Very light – no packs – I had no sword or spurs – Walking stick & revolver.
We didn't know we were being supported (41st Bde RFA) No liaison in those days! Impossible to tell which was our's [sic]. So much crumping – when we got up we cursed as we couldn't go on for shells by wood – must have been our's [sic] – but when Williamson wounded – might have been Bosche!
Squads seen on right rear. – bewildered! –
Messages (2) sent back for reinforcements – didn't know there were none! Messengers killed.
Retired at dark by Companies. Unmolested – reported to 5th Brigade Hd Qrs and started to dig new line (Veldhoek) and back to bivouac Midnight – and off to 7th Division (Capper) next morning.
Could problem like this be tackled by present methods of deployment in depth & section leading – NO. especially when so weak.
[The note 'Retired at dark...' appears to have been added later. These notes on Gheluvelt were written on two foolscap sheets.]
MAJOR EDWARD HANKEY'S NOTES COURTESY OF MERCIAN REGIMENTAL ARCHIVES, WORCESTER