Thanks for being drawn to the remarkable story of the 2nd Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment and the gallantry that changed the course of our history.
If you'd like to listen to the documentary now, you have two options. The one below is illustrated with the names, places and words that mark the path the Worcesters took from the Faithful City to Gheluvelt. It might wind now – 100 years on – to a small village just 286 miles away, but the one they trod was longer and harder than that distance could ever cause us to imagine.
Towards the foot of the page, for those who prefer to listen rather than view too, you'll find the audio version.
The Battle of Gheluvelt: The day the Worcesters saved civilisation (illustrated edition)
An idle chat, a two-year pilgrimage
The idea for this Battle of Gheluvelt audio documentary appeared, out of almost nowhere, when my old pal John Phillpott and I were footling around on guitars, one evening back in the late summer of 2012.
We were chatting about me accompanying him on his annual Birmingham War Research Society pilgrimage to the Somme and Flanders that November, a trip I'd always wanted to make with him.
I idly mused how fulfilling it would be to see Gheluvelt for the first time. Not such a surprise, I guess, when you consider the occasions we'd discussed the 2nd Worcesters' crucial victory across the subs desk at the Worcester Evening News – the chat, that is, not the victory – or the number of times I'd crawled past Gheluvelt Park on the A38, over the years.
Then the conversation wound around to the fact that our generation of journalists were the privileged ones. We'd both interviewed First World War veterans during our early reporting careers. We'd both preserved the memories of those interviews in the corner of the mind where the most special recollections dwell.
It didn't seem much of a leap from those thoughts to this. That there would be only once chance to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Gheluvelt in the way either of us were best equipped to do it. In words.
We didn't make it to Gheluvelt that November. Roadworks on the A19, which links Menin and Ypres and runs parallel to the historic Menin Road, meant the coach couldn't make it that far. But the idea of a documentary took deeper root as we passed places like Hellfire Corner, Polygon Wood, Sanctuary Wood, Hooge, Veldhoek and many more.
A year on, however, on the 99th anniversary of the battle, I was back there.
Treading part of the route charged by Major Edward Hankey and his men.
Standing in the grounds of Gheluvelt Chateau, at around the time the 2nd Worcesters burst through the hedges and, thanks to the remarkable defence of the 1st South Wales Borderers, sent the Germans into retreat.
Recorder in hand.
Here it is, then. My small contribution to the memory of those gallant Worcesters.
Thanks for listening.
The Battle of Gheluvelt: The day the Worcesters saved civilisation (audio edition)
FACTS AND FIGURES
The following sources were used to bring you the story of the 2nd Worcesters at Gheluvelt:
- Mercian Regiment archives, Worcester
- Ypres Pocket Battlefield Guide (Major and Mrs Holt, Pen & Sword)
- Ypres, 1914, The First Battle (Ian FW Beckett, Pearson Longman)
- The Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War (Capt H Fitz Stacke)
- Imperial War Museum audio archive (William Finch audio, Catalogue number 8280)
- Worcester Daily Times (1914)
- Berrow’s Journal (1914)
- The Green 'Un, Regimental magazine (November, 1922)
Voices are important to the Gheluvelt: The day the Worcesters saved civilisation documentary, and so is music.
If you're drawn to the clips used, here they are:
- Elgar 2nd Symphony 2nd Movement, London Symphony Orchestra (LSO CD number LSO 0072)
- Elgar Cockaigne Overture, BBC Symphony Orchestra (Warner Classics CD LC 04281)
- Elgar Enigma Variations Variation 1, BBC Symphony Orchestra (Warner Classics CD LC 04281)
- The Lincolnshire Poacher, The Royal Lincolnshire Regiment (Regimental Marches of the British Army)
The local connection to the music doesn't end there, however.
The documentary ends with a rendition of O Valiant Hearts, which is played at the Menin Gate every night and was recorded there on the 99th anniversary of the counter-attack at Gheluvelt, in 2013.
It was written by a vicar of Colwall, Dr Charles Harris, and a former Hereford MP, Sir John Arkwright Stanhope.