The flow of news from the Western Front was slow and fragmented a hundred years ago.

It was some weeks before a true perspective of the 2nd Worcesters' history-making achievements hit the Faithful City's daily press, and a few more before the detail began to emerge.

When it did, imagine the buzz of conversation it generated around the county.

The long testimony below comes from Sgt-Major Sidney Brown.

The 31-year-old was in D Company and among the first line of chargers who fixed bayonets and then ran to their destiny at Gheluvelt Chateau. 

The London Gazette of October 11, 1916, listed him as a Military Medal winner, an award that was reported in the Worcester Herald three days later.

His wife, Alice, played a key part in these memories being recorded for posterity in the Worcester Daily Times of Monday, December 7, 1914. 

The gallant Worcesters

Sergt-Major's graphic story

Sergt-Major Sidney Brown, of the Worcestershire Regiment, is spending a few days on leave with his parents, Mr and Mrs John Brown, of Meadow View, Charles Street, Godalming.

Mrs S Brown was in Worcester visiting her parents when news of her husband's arrival on leave was received.

Of the original sergeants' mess of 63 who went to the front, only Sergt-Major Brown and three others went through the fighting unscathed. The four received leave at the end of last week.

"The worst place I have ever been into," he said in an interview, "was Frameries, about ten miles south of Mons. The enemy had broken through our lines and we had to turn them out at all costs. We did it at the point of a bayonet. We entrenched ourselves against shrapnel attack just outside the village, on the left of the iron foundry.

"Then at daybreak the Germans began shelling the place, and for eight hours we dare not move. The civilian population had not been warned of the bombardment, and the slaughter of civilians was the most awful thing I have ever seen.

"Hardly a house was left standing. If women and children were not killed because of the houses being blown to bits and falling on them, they were killed by shrapnel. It was heart-breaking. I saw women lying dead with children clasped in their arms, the children having had their arms or legs blown off. It was ghastly. It was the worst sight I have ever seen, although I have been in the thick of the war from the beginning to the end of last week." 

Sergt-Major Brown described the the famous retirement down to the Marne, and also the subsequent advance.

"The only exciting thing about the Marne battle," he said, "was that it was our company who relieved the Irish Guards, who were so badly cut up. We had to wade across the river up to our necks. There was a very strong current, and the only way we could do it was by holding each other's rifles and and supporting each other in that way."

Referring next to the fighting on the Aisne, Sergt-Major Brown said: "I can truthfully say that I was the first infantry soldier of the British Army to cross the Aisne. When we got to the Aisne we had to assist the Royal Engineers to build a pontoon bridge. As soon as we had got the bridge completed the Germans blew it up with Jack Johnsons.

"I got an order that my platoon had to get across the Aisne somehow, so as to fell trees to which we could fix the end of the next bridge. We then got a ladder from a farmhouse and put it in the river against the broken part of the bridge, and it was by that means that we climbed up the other side. The next battalion to come was the Highland Light Infantry, but by the time they arrived we had got the new bridge completed. 

"One of the first positions we had to take was a hill, which was afterwards known as Blood Hill, because of the awful slaughter which took place there. No sooner had we got to the place than shells came upon us in dozens. We had to advance through this and rifle fire, and naturally lost a good many men. It was just getting dark and we dug ourselves in.

"Next morning we found that we had advanced too far, and we had to retreat 300 yards to get back to our line. That cost us a good number of men too. We stuck for 11 days at the point we retired to, and we had some stiff fighting there. It was here where Brigadier-General Haking was wounded and the Brigade Major and the Staff Captain were killed. Col Westmacott took over the Brigade, and he commanded it right up to the time we reached Baelliel eight days ago. He has now been made Brigade-General in charge of Second Brigade." 

A DASTARDLY GERMAN'S FATE

"The recapture of the village of Gheluvelt (the operations which, in the words of Sir John French's despatch were "fraught with momentous consequences") was preceded by the three hardest days fighting we had seen.

"On one of the days, we were proceeding across a swede field, when we found a wounded German officer lying on the ground. He asked one of our men to give him a drink of water. Our man knelt down to give him a drink, when the German whipped out his revolver and blew the Englishman's brains out. I saw that myself. It was dastardly. The German had a hundred bayonets thrust at him in less than two minutes.

"When we arrived at Ypres we made the bayonet charge in the wood. We had been told to clear the Germans out at all costs. A German was lying wounded – his leg was blown off – yet, as we passed by, he shot one of our men and killed him. Needless to say, he paid the penalty he deserved, and after that we did not leave any wounded Germans on the field to play that game.

"After the charge, we dug ourselves in at the edge of the wood, and were entrenched there for three weeks. During that time, the fighting with the Prussian Guards was the biggest thing we had. They attacked us at 7pm, and the fight continued till 2am. The flower of the Kaiser's Army was simply piled up in front of us – dead and wounded.

"At times our trenches were very close to the German trenches. The only thing we could do was throw hand bombs into each other's trenches. Suddenly there came the news that the First Division had given way at Gheluvelt and we were told to occupy the village by recapturing it from the Germans.

"When we left the wood we had 900 yards to go across an open space. The Germans were ready for us, for 100 of them were in the Church tower, and others who in the bedrooms of houses. Before we got to the village we had terrible losses. Fortunately, I was in the first line, which suffered less than the second line of advance.

"At last we got there, and we routed the Germans with the bayonet. We made the village look like a slaughterhouse. It literally streamed with blood. We fetched them out of the houses and also bayonetted them in the bedrooms, where they were hiding. We were told to clear them out at all costs, and we did it. Lots jumped out of the bedroom windows into the street, because our men were rushing into the houses with bayonets fixed.

"But they didn't escape our men, for there were others in the street waiting for them. After we had taken the place, we handed it over to the First Division again who had got some reinforcements.

GREATEST HONOUR OF THE WORCESTERS

"The day that we were relieved out of the trenches, General French personally inspected out battalion, and delivered a speech to us. He told us that he had mentioned us in the despatches for the fine work we had done at Gheluvelt and said that the fighting at Ypres would not have been so far advanced but for what we did. He also said that the glories of the Peninsula and other honours which we (the Worcesters) have on our colours were not to be compared with the work we had done in taking back that village, which was of great strategic importance." 

Battle of Gheluvelt commemoration in association with....

Worcester Warriors websiteThe audio documentary at the heart of this Battle of Gheluvelt commemorative project would not have been possible without the support of Worcester Warriors and The Duckworth Worcestershire Trust. Please click the logos for more details

Gheluvelt: The documentary

Worcetershire Regiment cap badge 1914Find out how the Gheluvelt documentary happened by following this link, and start reading the remarkable stories that didn't make the final cut.... 

The visit you ought to make

Gheluvelt 1914 detailLet's set you on your way so that you, too, can research your family connections to Gheluvelt, or visit the other battlefields of Flanders... and you should. 

Please tell us about your hero

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