Private Thomas Turrall VC- 3rd July 1916

Thomas Turrall VC (440x640)

Pte. Thomas Turrall VC. Turrrall was awarded his VC for gallantry at La Boisselle 3rd July

Born on 5th July 1885 in Birmingham, Thomas George Turrall was educated at the Dixon Road School in Small Heath, Birmingham. He trained to be a painter and decorator but in 1915 he joined the 10th Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment.

Thomas Turrall was a powerfully built man who was known throughout the Battalion as being a character. In fact prior to the battle where he won his Victoria Cross, his platoon commander, Lieutenant Richard William Jennings, decided to release him earlier from the Battalion Guardroom were he was serving a short sentence. The two men were known to have a mutual respect for one another.

In early July 1916, the Battalion were part of the 19th (Western) Division on the Somme. During the night of the 2nd/3rd July, 57 Brigade which included the 10th Battalion were ordered to continue an attack started that afternoon by 58 Brigade. At 0300 hrs the Battalion crossed no-man’s land taking many casualties and then became involved in heavy hand to hand fighting which lasted until dawn. Lieutenant Jennings then led a small party of men, which included Private Turrall to attack a position to the flank. It was during this action that Private Thomas Turrall won his Victoria Cross.

His Citation reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. During a bombing attack by a small party against the enemy the officer in charge was badly wounded, and the party having penetrated the position to a great depth was compelled eventually to retire.
Private Turrall remained with the wounded officer for three hours under continuous and very heavy fire from machine guns and bombs, and, not withstanding that both himself and the officer were at one time completely cut off from our troops, he held to his ground with determination, and finally carried the officer to our lines after our counter attacks had made this possible.”
London Gazette, September 9th 1916

Lieutenant Jennings was able to recount Private Turrall’s action but then died of his wounds a few hours later.

Turrall GH drawing

Turrall rescuing Lt . Jennings at La Boisselle. Drawing by Holiday

Private Turrall, the third person from Birmingham to receive the Victoria Cross was congratulated by the then Lord Mayor, Neville Chamberlain. The people of Small Heath where he lived presented him with a gold watch and £250. He collected his Victoria Cross with his young daughter from Buckingham Palace. He kept in close contact with the Regiment after the war, attending many Regimental functions as the guest of honour. He died on 21st February 1964 in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, at the age of 78.

The Worcestershire Regiment at the Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916) was a joint operation between the British and French armies, intended to deliver a decisive victory over the Germans on the Western Front. For many in Britain, the resulting battle remains the most painful and infamous episode of the First World War.

In December 1915, Allied commanders had agreed to launch a joint attack in the region of the River Somme in the summer of 1916. Intense German pressure on the French at Verdun throughout 1916 made action on the Somme increasingly urgent and meant the British would take on the main role in the offensive.

They were faced with German defences that had been carefully prepared over many months. Despite a seven-day bombardment prior to the attack on 1 July, the British did not achieve the quick breakthrough that had been anticipated and the Somme became a deadlocked battle of attrition along a 15 mile front

 British casualties on the first day – numbering over 57,000, of which 19,240 were killed – making it the bloodiest day in British military history. Over the next 141 days, the British advanced a maximum of only seven miles. More than one million men from all sides were killed, wounded or captured.

From the outset The Worcestershire Regiment experienced heavy fighting.  Six Battalions were in action on the fateful 1st July 1916, these were:  1st; 3rd; 4th; 1/7th; 1/8th and 10th.  They were later joined by the 2nd and the 14th Battalions.

During the five months of fighting on the Somme, the Regiment took part in the following actions:

The Worcesters at High Wood

The Worcesters at High Wood

Beaumont Hamel, 4th Battalion, 1st – 3rd July
Leipzig Salient (1st Phase), 3rd Battalion, 3rd – 8th July
La Boisselle, 10th Battalion, 3rd July
Contalmaison, 1st, 1/7th, 1/8th, 4th Battalions, 6th – 10th July
Ovillers, 3rd, 1/8th, 1/7th Battalions, 10th -17th July
Bazetin Ridge, 2nd, 1/7th, 1/8th, 4th Battalions, 15th – 21st July
High Wood, 2nd, 10th Battalions, 15th – 23rd July
Pozières Ridge, 1/7th, 10th, 3rd Battalions, 20th July – 23rd August
Leipzig Salient (2nd Phase), 3rd , 2nd Battalions, 23rd – 26th August
Delville Wood, 2nd Battalion, 24th August
Leipzig Salient (3rd Phase), 3rd, 1/7th, 1/8th, Battalions, 2nd – 3rd September
Ancre Heights, 3rd, 10th Battalions, 2nd – 24th October
Transloy Ridges, 10th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 1/8th, 14th Battalions, 12th October – 5th November
Ancre, 10th, 14th, 2/7th Battalions, 13th – 21st November

Turrall rescuing Lt . Jennings at La Boisselle.  Drawing by Holiday

Turrall rescuing Lt . Jennings at La Boisselle. Drawing by Holiday

As a result of the courage and resolve of the Regiment, its officers and men were accorded a total of 50 Honours and Gallantry awards.  These included:  two Victoria Crosses; awarded to Pte T.G. Turrall of 10th Battalion at La Boisselle on 3rd July 1916 and Lt. E.P. Bennett of 2nd Battalion at Transloy Ridge on 5th November 1916, and 7 Distinguished Service Orders; 17 Military Crosses; 20 Distinguished Conduct Medals; and 4 Military Medals.

Lt. Bennett wininghis Vc at Transloy Ridge

Lt. Bennett wining his VC at Transloy Ridge

Regimental casualties on 1st July 1916 were recorded as 102.  A further 613 were killed in action during the period to November, with other casualties recorded as an additional 3090 wounded and 519 men missing.

The Regiment was subsequently awarded the following battle honours:

The Somme (1st July – 18th Nov)                    Pozieres (23rd July – 3rd Sept)

Albert (1st July – 13th July)                              Le Transloy (1st Oct – 18th Oct)

Bazentin (14th July – 17th July)                        Ancre Heights (1st Oct – 11th Nov)

Delville Wood (15th July – 3rd Sept)               Ancre (13th Nov – 18th Nov)

Captain E.P. Bennett VC

Captain E.P. Bennett VC

 

“Breaking the Stalemate”: the Battle of Loos – 25th September to 18th October 1915

There had been no decisive advance on the Western Front and the stalemate of the trenches continued through the summer of 1915.   The Allies therefore decided upon another major offensive in Champagne to be launched by the French. The British were to provide support to this campaign with a joint Anglo-French attack at Loos.  It was hoped a breakthrough of German defences at Artois and Champagne would restore a war of movement.

The scale of the attack was much greater than any that had been attempted that year and was known as ‘The Big Push’. The battleground, to the south of La Bassée Canal, was less than suitable, being uniformly flat and dominated by slag-heaps. The combined Franco-British offensive would attack eastwards against the German Sixth Army. The whole force, supervised by General Foch, would consist of French Tenth Army and British First Army. It would attack on a 20-mile front between Arras and La Bassée. The British bombardment started on 21 September and continued into 24th.

The 2nd Battalion, the Worcestershire Regiment, was moved into reserve position west of Givenchy on the 24th September, amid heavy initial bombardments for the battle. They then spent the night carrying gas cylinders to emplacements in the trenches in preparation for the morning.

At dawn of the 25th the poisonous chlorine gas was released, which formed a 30 to 50 feet high blanket, moving forward slowly in places but virtually standing still in the British assault positions in other areas, with devastating effects.  Very soon rumours of a disaster began to filter back to the reserve – the windless conditions had caused the gas to hang motionless in the air in front of the parapet, and even in some cases had drifted back onto the British troops.   As the troops advanced out of the trenches it was realised that the initial bombardment had failed to cut extensively the German wire; within range of German machine guns and artillery, advancing over open ground, the losses were great. Whilst numerical superiority had initially enabled the capture of the town of Loos-en-Gohelle, the late arrival of reserves meant this breakthrough could not be exploited.

Two companies of the 2nd Battalion were sent forward in the support of the Highland Light Infantry, but before they reached the front line it had been decided to suspend the attack. By sunset the Battalion was again back in the reserve position, having suffered few casualties.

Meanwhile, further north the 10th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment in reserve at Le Hamel, marched forwards to Le Plantin. There the attack was counter-ordered and they trudged back to their previous billets at Locon.

Throughout the day of the 26th September the 2nd Worcestershire waited, eventually receiving orders to move southwards to join 1st Royal Berks and 1st Kings Royal Rifle Corps to form an improvised Brigade. During the night the situation altered and a strong enemy counter-attack had driven back the troops of the 7th Division and had recaptured the Quarries. The 7th Division were unable to regain ground.

Battle of Loos 26 Sept 1915

Battle of Loos 26 Sept 1915

The 2nd Worcesters were ordered to lead an attack at “the Quarries”. The battalion deployed in four waves, coming under heavy fire as they reached the old German lines. When the two leading companies had got clear of the trench, Colonel Lambton again signalled the advance. In short rushes of small squads, firing and dashing, they pushed on up the gentle slope towards the enemy. Major P. S. G. Wainman leading the men was mortally wounded. The survivors of the 2nd Worcesters held their ground opposite the enemy’s line during the remaining hours of daylight. Nearly half the Battalion had been lost (13 officers and more than 300 N.C.O.’s and men).  Throughout the night the stretcher-bearers toiled to clear the battlefield.

Major P. S. G. Wainman

Major P. S. G. Wainman

At 5 am on the 27th a strong German bombing party, advancing along the communication trench, was driven back. Throughout the day sharp firing was kept up between the trenches.   At one point, CSM E. Welch mounted a machine-gun to repel another bombing party coming up the communication trench. The following day was spent in miserable conditions under continual firing.  At dawn on the 29th September, the Worcesters repelled a fresh attack, with Colonel Lambton ordering a charge over the parapet.

After a long and hard day, the Worcesters were relieved by the 2nd Kings Own, and made their way back across the battlefield. They then remained at Essars till the following day.  By this time the Germans had retaken both the Slagheap of ‘Fosse 8’ and the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and it was decided that the 2nd Division should relieve the 7th Division at Gun Trench with a view to regaining the lost ground. In the afternoon of the 30th the 2nd Worcesters re-joined the 5th Brigade at Vermelles.

An attack by the Highland Light Infantry was made on the evening of 2nd October; whilst the Worcestershire waited for orders to join in the fight. Presently it became known this would not happen and the attack had failed. The 2nd Battalion was spent the final day of battle for the under enemy shell, eventually being relieved after midnight. Their battle was over!  As a result of their actions men of the Battalion were awarded:  one Military Cross (Captain C.H. Ralston) and no less than seven Distinguished Conduct Medals.

Fighting continued until the 18th October.  British casualties were estimated at 50,000 whilst German losses were thought considerably lower at around 25,000.

Action at Krithia Vineyard, Gallipoli, 6th August 1915

The 4th Worcestershire, having taken part in the initial landings at Cape Helles on 25th April, advanced up the peninsula towards the village of Krithia.  Three attempts to take the village were made in April, May and June, and in further fighting Lt James won the Regiment’s first VC on 3 July.  After this the front stabilised about 3/4 mile short of Krithia at its nearest point.

Veteran of the 4th Battalion

Veteran of the 4th Battalion

The Battalion went into reserve at Gully Beach on 28 July and prepared for another attack by the 29th Division between the Krithia Nullah and the Gully Ravine.  At 0400 6 August the attacking troops left the beach and moved forward to the assembly trenches.  The Battalion had been made up to full strength by fresh drafts and went into action over 800 strong.  There was plenty of time to make final preparations, for the attack was not to commence until the cool of the evening.  Midday passed amid heat and buzzing flies.  At 1420 the British heavy artillery opened fire.  Instantly the Turkish guns replied and high explosive shells burst all along the British trenches.  The British field artillery and machine guns joined in the fire preparation, and the attacking troops left their trenches at 1550.

Krithia June-August 1915

Krithia June-August 1915

The Battalion went forward in four waves.  For the first 50 yards all went well and losses were not heavy until the crest of the low rise in front was reached.  As the successive waves topped the rise and came in full view of the enemy, they were struck from both flanks by a hail of machine gun bullets.  The platoons rushed on, but under that deadly fire the ranks withered away.  The remnant charged the trenches and in many cases leapt in, fighting hand to hand until overpowered by numbers.  About 30 of the Worcestershires formed a stronghold in the enemy trench and held out for three hours.  After expending nearly all their ammunition, 12 survivors made their escape under cover of darkness.
By dawn a large number of the wounded had been brought in and the Battalion was relieved.  The remnant of the 4th Worcestershire went back to Gully Beach, to reorganise and reckon their loss.  It was found that the casualties numbered 16 officers and 752 other ranks.

The Mercian Regiment Museum launches an exciting new book

Norton Book Front CoverThe Story of Norton Barracks:Home of the Worcestershire Regiment’ by Stan Jobson
This is the story of both the buildings that formed Norton Barracks and of the soldiers and other personnel who were based there as members of staff or who passed through as they underwent training. Stan Jobson has spent much time in the Regimental Archives unearthing both photographs and personal recollections of time spent at the barracks. The result is a tale of British Military history in microcosm, but often seen from a personal viewpoint of hard training, military structures, playful pranks, sporting achievements, patriotic surges, post D-Day traumas and both keen and reluctant National Servicemen. There is also an appendix which gives the background to the names of the streets which now criss-cross much of the site of the barracks, names which are largely associated with the battle honours of the Worcestershire Regiment.
On retiring from a service career in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Stan Jobson joined the American IT company Electronic Data Systems where he worked as an Information Systems Project Manager, primarily for the MOD. Having had an interest in military and aviation history for many years he gained his MA in British First World War Studies from the University of Birmingham, graduating in December 2007. For the past three years he has been researching the history of the barracks at the request of the Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire).  Available through the Museum, priced £7.50 plus p&p.  Please contact us on 01905 721982.

Neuve Chapelle 10th to 13th March 1915

 This was the first major British offensive of the war on the Western front.  The initial assault on 10th March broke through the German line.  During that night elements of the 1st Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment went forward to hold the gap.  They were reinforced by the remainder of the Battalion the next afternoon.

At dawn on the 12th March the German artillery opened up and shortly afterwards attacking infantry loomed through the mist.  “There was a most extra-ordinary hush for a few seconds as we held our fire” said an officer “While they closed in on us.”  Then the Battalion opened a rapid fire.  As the Germans reeled, the Battalion broke from their trenches and charged with the bayonet, pursuing the enemy back beyond their own trenches which the Battalion then occupied and held against several counter-attacks.

Mantania

This painting by Matania of the 1st Battalion at Neuve Chapelle graphically portrays the savage nature of the hand-to-hand fighting

By 10 am it was clear that the position of the Battalion, far in advance of any support, encircled on three sides, and shelled by both enemy and friendly artillery, was not tenable.  As they withdrew in good order, they were decimated by the enemy’s cross-fire, losing amongst others the Commanding Officer and the Adjutant.

wodehouse

Lt. Colonel Wodehouse

 

 

The losses had been severe; 9 officers and 92 men killed, 10 officers and 226 men wounded, and 27 men missing. 

 

 

 

The Battle of Gheluvelt October 31st 1914 “The Worcesters save the Empire”

 The first shock of the German invasion came near to defeating the combined French and British Armies.  The British Army stood to fight at Ypres.  After ten days’ hard fighting, the 2nd Battalion, 350 strong, was the only reserve for the Gheluvelt sector.  The Battalion was then resting in Polygon Wood.  The line at Gheluvelt, attacked by overwhelming numbers, gave way, and the enemy took the Chateau and village.  The situation was very serious, and preparations for a general retirement were made; unless the gap was closed, the Army would be lost, so, more or less as a forlorn hope, the Battalion was ordered to counter-attack.

‘A’ Company advanced to a railway embankment overlooking the village, to prevent the enemy advancing up the Menin Road.  Meanwhile, with lightened kit and extra ammunition, the rest of the Battalion made ready for the attack.  The village was hidden by a ridge, and their aiming mark was the Chateau.  As they advanced, signs of retreat were everywhere; they alone went forward.

The crest of the ridge was covered by the enemy guns, and could be crossed only by a quick rush.  Though over a hundred fell to the storm of shelling  which met their advance, the rest dashed down the slope, forced their way through the hedges and fences and into the Chateau grounds, where they closed with the Germans.

Surprised by the impetuous speed of the attack, the enemy, though far superior in numbers, gave way, and the attackers linked up with the remnants of the South Wales Borderers, who were still holding out.

As a result of the capture of Gheluvelt against terrific odds, and the consequent closing of the gap in the British line, Ypres was held and the Channel ports were saved.  In his despatch describing this action of the 31st October, 1914, the Commander in Chief, Sir John French, said:-

“the rally of the 1st Division and the capture 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 Worcestershires.”

The casualties of the Worcestershire Regiment in carrying out this counter attack were 3 officers and 189 other ranks, or 50 percent. of their fighting strength on the day!

The Worcestershire Regiment retake Gheluvelt

The Worcestershire Regiment retake Gheluvelt

 

Yeoman, 1916

Mounted Worcestershire Yeomanry Trooper at Huj

This Yeoman is stopping to check his compass while on patrol in the Sinai Desert.

During the First World War the Worcestershire Yeomanry fought in Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine. Roving across wide open desert in the blistering heat for days on end, the Yeomanry led the British Army all the way from the Suez Canal to Damascus in one of the most successful British campaigns of the war. It was a tough life in a very harsh environment. Water was always short and disease common.

The Yeomen also carried out raids on enemy positions, and could act as storm troops in battle. At Huj, in November 1917, less than 200 Yeomen charged eleven Austrian field guns and over 2000 Turkish infantry with swords drawn – and won. It was the last great charge of the British cavalry .

First World War Body Armour

WWI body armour

WWI body armour worn in Flanders

 This is a set of First World War body armour, used by the British Army. It has curved metal plates for the chest and the back, and was supposed to protect snipers and other vulnerable soldiers by stopping or deflecting bullets. Unfortunately, the metal is very thin, and probably would not have stopped a direct hit. Also, the metal curves in to the middle, so any bullet hitting in the centre of the armour would have been deflected inwards!

This set belonged to Private A. W. Tunkiss of the 1/8th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. He used it in France in 1916. He was wounded in action on the 5th November 1916, and discharged from the Army the following March .

Jack Parsons: soldier and man of peace

The Jack Parsons collection takes pride of place in our museum

The Jack Parsons collection takes pride of place in our museum

Jack Parsons, from Birmingham, served through the First World War in both the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanrys.  He won the Military Cross for leading part of the charge at Huj, 8th November 1917, the last recorded cavalry charge carried out by the British Military.

The charge was successful in that the British troops captured the position from the Turks, taking seventy prisoners, eleven pieces of artillery and four machine guns. However British casualties were heavy; of the 170 men taking part, twenty-six were killed and forty wounded, and 100 horses were also killed.

Jack Parsons was one of only two men from his Squadron still on their feet afterward. He carried and used the revolver shown above at the charge.

After the war Jack Parsons became a vicar, and for the 1946 Remembrance Day sermon he decided to follow the Bible’s advice ‘and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares’ (Isaiah 2:3-4).  He took his old sword, plus a captured Turkish one, and asked a blacksmith to forge them together to form a ploughshare (the part of the plough that makes the groove in thh soil). He then used the ploughshare to sow wheat, which he grew for Communion bread.

The ploughshare and sword hilts were later given to the museum by Canon Parsons, and take pride of place in our displays