The Herefordshire Regiment in the First World War
1914 - 18
We are indebted to Bob Davies for his account of soldiers from parishes in the vicinity of Abbey Dore who served in World War I.
The Herefordshire Regiment in the First World War
Part one -
When war was declared on 4 August 1914 the young men of Herefordshire were quick to volunteer. Many were in the Herefordshire Regiment; part of the Territorial Army set up in 1908. As the Territorials were part-time soldiers they could be mobilised promptly and as early as 5 August were on their way to Oswestry.
The First Battalion of the Regiment (technically the 1/1st Battalion) was still a few men short so it was decided to ask for volunteers to come to the Drill Hall, Hereford. When Captain Carver took his place there was no sign of anyone. He sat and waited; concluding no one was coming. He need not have worried. Half an hour after the appointed time the men turned up to enlist. The meeting ended with someone calling out the traditional, “Are we downhearted?” He got the usual response. Within a few days, four hundred had signed on for the First Battalion. Those joining later ended up in the new Second Battalion, a training unit, and a third battalion was formed later. Details of their movements appear at the end.
By 31 August, the First Battalion was in Northamptonshire near Wellingborough, part of the 53rd Welsh Division, and they spent the rest of the year in the area. The weather was glorious but the long marches were exhausting. At their head was their mascot, a bull terrier. Billets were good, and the men were popular with the locals. There were many letters to the Hereford Times praising their behaviour. One told how the men, when about to start rifle practice, noticed a farmer getting in the hay at the end of the range. They immediately went and helped him. For many of the farmers’ boys this was to be the last harvest. There followed a long period of waiting which was irksome. There were injuries in training. The first man to die was Sidney Wright son of the well-known Hereford fruiterer and greengrocer.
In December they were moved to Bury St Edmunds and then on to Bedford in May. The wait proved frustrating and it was not until July 1915 that they were warned that they were about to embark for foreign service and it was rumoured that they were off to France. They expected to go to France but found they were heading for the Dardanelles. On 1 July 1915, twenty-nine officers and 969 other ranks, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel George Drage, boarded the SS Euripides at Devonport. For most it was the first time they had been abroad and for some it would be the last time they saw their native land. On reaching Port Said the Battalion was reduced to 25 officers and 750 other ranks and these men went on to land at 'C' beach at Suvla Bay on Gallipoli at 7.20am on 9 August 1915. The rest stayed behind to form a nucleus of a rebuilt unit in case losses were heavy.
By the autumn of 1914, Britain and its allies found themselves at war with the Ottoman Turks. The Turkish Empire in the Middle East was extensive and war with Turkey threatened British and French control of the Suez Canal, and our links with India, Australia and New Zealand, as well as our oil interests in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).
By 1915, there was stalemate on the Western Front. The Germans were deeply dug in and seemed impossible to drive back. Winston Churchill, among others, looked for an opportunity elsewhere to weaken Germany and they saw an attack on Turkey as a useful way of achieving this aim... Success there might shorten the war. It would allow them to supply their Russian via the Dardanelles Straits. Italy and several Balkan States were wavering over which side to join. An impressive victory over Turkey might make them join the British side. An additional motive was that nearly all Turkey’s war materials were produced near Constantinople and destroying those would undermine the Turkish effort everywhere. Turkey’s empire was large so an attack on an area near the capital seemed the best way of achieving these aims.
Some modern historians say that the concept was reasonable. German strategists at the time thought so, too. They considered the Dardanelles campaign the most serious threat they faced in 1915. The German commander on the spot, Liman Von Sanders, later agreed with this, and said that the landings came near to success. Failure perhaps lay in the method by which the plans were implemented. To have any hope of victory it seems that there would have had to be a joint naval and army attack. Instead, these were launched separately, with a considerable interval between. Winston Churchill, First Sea Lord, was most anxious to ensure the scheme went ahead quickly and he persuaded the Cabinet that forcing the Dardanelles by the use of the navy alone would achieve our objectives. After many debates, the go-ahead was given to use the navy. By February 1915, the attempt had failed with the loss of several battleships. Only now was it decided that troops, supported by the navy, must be used to capture the Gallipoli peninsula, destroying Turkish forts, which would allow the navy through.
The Ottoman forces were aware that allied armies would follow and they had two months to prepare. It was unfortunate for the allies that a skilled German strategist, Liman Von Sanders was now advising the Turks, and that the time was more than enough. The Ottomans also had a very capable local commander, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish nation. They had problems though, for their forces were badly equipped, and Von Sanders and Ataturk loathed each other.
The first landing- April 1915
On 25 April 1915 the British attack was launched at two points; the British regulars of the 29th Division attacked at Cape Helles on the southern tip of the Peninsula, and further north-west, at what became known as Anzac Cove, British troops plus the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the ANZACS) landed. French troops struck on the Asian shore.
At Cape Helles, there were less than 200 Turks, but they held back the invaders, inflicting over 500 casualties on the Lancashire Fusiliers alone, out of the 958 who had landed. At Anzac, many troops were landed in the wrong place and little progress was made. By 8 May, the attacks had ground to a halt, and there was stalemate. Apart from stubborn Turkish resistance, many things had contributed to the failure. There were too few troops, and too little artillery. It had been hoped that the guns of the navy would offset this but this proved not to be the case and threats from German submarines led to the withdrawal of the great battleships. The overall commander Sir Ian Hamilton, lacked the drive necessary, left too much to his deputies and was unwilling to remove failed officers. The general staff had never had any clear plan; maps were inadequate so that the officers had not much idea of what lay ahead.
Suvla Bay August 1915
By August, the commanders decided to renew the assault at Anzac and Cape Helles, but to add a third attack point at Suvla Bay to the north of Anzac. Troops landed there would move south to help the ANZAC forces. This is where the Herefordshire Regiment comes into the story.
General attacks began on 6/7 August. They all failed, for much the same reasons as before. This time they had up to date maps, but did not distribute them until a few hours before the landings so they weren’t much use. In addition, the commander at Suvla was Sir Frederick Stopford, Governor of the Tower of London, brought out of retirement to lead the enterprise. However, he had little drive, in contrast to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Von Sanders.
The Herefordshire Regiment landed at Suvla Bay on 9 August, part of the 53rd Welsh Division commanded by Major-General Lindley. The Division faced difficulties. It had no artillery, little transport and no plan, since Sir Ian Hamilton hadn’t included the division in his thinking. In fact, on landing the division was broken up and dispersed to wherever help seemed needed. The commander of the Herefordshire Regiment, Colonel Drage, described by one military historian as unusually perceptive, went to get instructions from H.Q. He left as unclear as he entered, having been told to go and help Colonel Bosanquet and his Sherwood Foresters, but without actually been told where they were, or what the ultimate objective was. The last words the commander said to him were “I don’t think you will have much to do, or get a dusting.”
At about 4.30 pm they moved off, as shown in the famous painting, The Herefordshire Regiment at Gallipoli, which was commissioned by Colonel Clive of Whitfield. Advancing through holly scrub they soon came under artillery fire and long-range, accurate, sniper fire. Many fell. The first man wounded was Private Mailes, son of the butcher in the Butter Market. Before long Drage was out of touch with his leading companies and in front of him was a wild area for which he had no maps. Eventually he was ordered back without having achieved anything. Drage and several officers were then wounded by a shell.
In the many letters home, survivors recounted their story of the day on which a third of the thousand were killed or wounded. Obviously they played down the horrors of those days in letters home.
Private C F Marshall wrote:
“Just a few lines to let you know that we entered the trenches on 9th August and the chaps entered just as calmly as they would enter the parade ground. Both Norman (his brother) and I are quite well and in the best of spirits. It really is not as terrible as a good many think and make out.” Norman Marshall was killed later.
Sergeant E Perks wrote:
“I am very pleased to say that I am all right up to the present. It is very hot here, and there is practically no cover. We landed on the 9th and went into action in the afternoon. It was an unlucky start as we were shelled with shrapnel for about a mile. The feeling was awful at first seeing the fellows dropping around us, but the regiment never faltered. I am writing this within a few feet of the sea and I am going to have a dip as soon as I have finished this. If anyone should be sending me out anything send for preference chocolate and fags as the chaps have been offering 6d for a packet of Woodbines... I have not had a shave since we landed and my shirt and socks could do with a wash. But what are appearances as long as we are bright and merry?” He made it sound like Barry Island with bullets; but like most soldiers he did not want to frighten his family.
Some conveyed a different message.
Sergeant C Faulkner wrote to his mother:
“I hardly know where to start this letter. I am so very upset. We landed at 6 am, and came under shelling. The first to be hit in our regiment was Stanley Mailes (of the bacon firm in the market hall). But after a little while the shelling died down and we had dinner. Then towards evening we were ordered to go into the firing line. I should think we had gone two miles when the enemy started to shell us. Well mum I can hardly steady myself to tell you that one of the bullets from the shells hit dad. (He had to go on, but began searching when they withdrew). I could not find dad anywhere. It was getting dark so I made off in the direction of the beach. Well I had to give up hope of finding poor dad. I could not sleep thinking about poor dad. However when I got up next morning I was told that he had been picked up, and was taken to the hospital, but was quite dead, so I never saw him again.”
“Dad” was fifty-one year old CSM Bill Faulkner, a well-known and highly respected man in Hereford. The family was featured recently in the newsletter of the Waterworks Museum.
For their incredible bravery, Sir Ian Hamilton mentioned the Herefords in dispatches. News of what happened took a long time to reach Hereford, and long afterwards, parents were appealing for news of their lost sons, sometimes with a photo to help. This was true of Private Tom Bull, a servant at Kentchurch Court. Many bodies were never found.
After 12 August, the Herefords were engaged in routine duties, digging trenches, carrying water, etc. They had no tents, but lived on the bare hillside under continual sniper and shellfire. Unlike the situation in France, there was no rest area safe from the war. They were plagued by the heat and driven mad by thirst, for most of the water was brought in from Egypt, an unreliable source. Desperation made some try to get to known springs, which Turkish snipers were very well informed about. The Regiment lost men through to sniper fire. The rats were a nuisance, but even worse were the flies, breeding on the dead between the trenches and swarming in millions over everything. They carried diseases of many types of which the worst killer was dysentery, and at one point, 60% of the British force had gone down with it. Given that the latrines were open pits over which a pole was stretched, there was little chance of restricting the problem. Some of the weak fell into the latrine trenches and drowned, or were sniped. The staple diet of bully beef was awful, since it melted in the sun, and was of very low quality. The cries for help of the wounded caused much distress, for except during occasional truces, they could not be rescued. The worst moments were when the scrub caught fire, consuming the wounded. Even in the lull, men were killed; including R. Smith of Cobhall Common, Allensmore, in September. However, some Herefordshire men still noticed that Gallipoli was beautiful, especially the views over the sea. All praised “Johnny Turk’s” fighting qualities, but writing from his hospital bed in Malta, Sgt-Major Chipp introduced a “Dad’s Army” note; “When you can get near enough they won’t stand the bayonet.”
By mid-August, it was clear that the campaign had failed, but the troops remained over the autumn while politicians dithered over what to do. Then in late November, the weather changed. Captain Peter Ashton graphically described the results in his diary. He told how on 26 November there was a great thunderstorm that resulted in a wave of water eight feet deep sweeping down into the trenches. Everything was carried away. Turks and British stood on top to escape. There was no shooting. About 6 a.m. The following morning it began to freeze, and then came the blizzard. The men still had no proper tents. On the 27th food failed to arrive, but somehow they slept overnight. Ashton woke on 28 November to a scene of horror. During the night, a rum ration had arrived and the men had got stuck in; “filled with a spurious warmth they lay on the ground, and in many cases took off their coats, boots, and even tunics.” A number had frozen to death. When it was all over two officers and seventy-seven men were left fit. One of those who survived was the father of Mr D.Davies of Ewyas Harold, who was noticed and brought round. One who died at this time was Percy Higley, of Kenderchurch. Aged twenty, he has been an apprentice at the King’s Acre nursery and his family was told he had been killed while acting as a stretcher-bearer. Arthur Williams of Shenmore, Madley, who perished on 29 November, may have been a victim of exposure.
By now, the decision to evacuate had been taken; this was the one part of the operation that was carried out brilliantly and the Turks were (perhaps) not aware of what was going on. The Herefords left on 12 December. Curiously, Peter Ashton was half-sorry to go.
“I had been the first ashore. I was the last to leave. It was impossible to help noticing the contrast - that brilliant August morning, 750 strong, the battalion full of fight and high endeavour ... This dark December night slinking away under 100 strong, weary, dirty, disillusioned. And yet I was sorry to go.” (Quotation from Hill.)
Egypt, Palestine, France, Germany and Home
The regiment was sent to Egypt, where it arrived on 22 December. It was in no position to fight and many months would go by until it was brought up to strength. For a little while, Egypt was a novelty, for there were camel and donkey rides, trading with the Arabs, oases, palm trees, and beautiful sunrises. At one point, they camped near the Suez Canal, where the sight of local boats, and great steamers, was a novelty to men from Herefordshire. Farm lads liked the sight of greenery again, and one wrote to his parents saying that it was lovely to see grass again. They also bathed regularly. For the officers there was some good riding available. But the heat was terrible, reaching 130 degrees, as were the flies. Of course, the commanders liked to keep them fit so there were extended marches in the heat. This was supposed to be in preparation for crossing the Sinai desert, on the road to Jerusalem. Eventually boredom set in, and one man wrote home saying they wished “Johnny Turk” would appear to relieve the monotony. He also wanted a camera.
The German strategists advising the Turks were anxious to create a diversion, and a desert crossing was planned, and executed. It threatened the Suez Canal. British reconnaissance revealed the danger, and commanders decided to let the attack come, while hoping to use cavalry to get behind the attackers and force them to surrender. The 53rd (Welsh) Division to which our Regiment belonged bore the brunt of the attack when it came in July 1916. In what became known as the Battle of Romani a number of Herefordshire regiment men were killed, including thirty-eight year old William Charles Mutlow, a farm labourer at Blackmoor, Abbeydore. He left his wife Bridget with four little children, the last was born just before his father died. The baby also died. The canal was saved, though. Another casualty was Sergeant William Lewis. After his death his mother trained as a nurse to help the wounded. The family in Ewyas harold still has her medals.
The march to Jerusalem
The rest of 1916 was quiet enough, but 1917 saw the Herefords on the road to Jerusalem. With stalemate on the Western Front, it was hoped to divert German forces to the east by a campaign in Palestine. Jerusalem was the ultimate objective. The Sinai Desert was crossed, but an enemy defensive line near Gaza blocked the way to Jerusalem. This was attacked in March, the regiment suffering many wounded and dead. Poor leadership meant that the Turks were not overcome on the first day, as they might easily have been. It was not until November that the town fell, and by then there had been many more Herefordshire casualties. Among those who died in the three battles for Gaza were Horace Hughes of Abbeydore, a farmer’s son; Walter Harris of St Devereux and John Pitt of Kilpeck, both farm workers. Horace’s brother, Wallace, was also in the regiment, but survived the war.
Afterwards the Hereford Regiment went on to Jerusalem. The heat continued; men poached eggs in their tin hats. Water was still a problem. For lads brought up on the bible the Holy Land was exciting. They saw the Dead Sea, and passed through Bethlehem on the 9 December, which was the day they entered Jerusalem. There they were billeted in a monastery, the best place they had ever stayed.
France 1918, Germany and home
In March 1918, the German Spring Offensive nearly ended the war, and troops were pulled out of Egypt to help meet it. The Regiment’s ship was almost torpedoed on the way, but it landed at Taranto (Italy) on 22 June 1918 and by 30 June they were in France forming part of 102nd Brigade in 34th Division. They had left their Welsh comrades behind. By now the Regiment had a very different make-up to its original composition. Many men had been transferred to other units while others had come in. This explains why some men who started their careers in the Herefordshires died while serving elsewhere. Examples include Jeffrey Povey of Ewyas Harold and George Jones (commemorated at Abbeydore, Kilpeck and Kingstone), who perished while in the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry and the Border regiment, respectively.
The unit did not go immediately to the British area but were sent further south to the French Soissons-Rheims sector. The French were aware of a pending German attack. With the French army were the newly arrived US troops, in huge numbers. After training, the Herefordshire men took part in one of the decisive battles of 1918, the Second Battle of The Marne. Ironically, the first battle there in 1914 had saved France while this one was the beginning of the end for Germany. On 15 July, the Germans launched what proved to be their last great offensive, but the French and Americans were well prepared and by the 17th, it was the Germans who were thrown back. The Herefordshire Regiment took part in this battle, and inexperienced in Western Front conditions, suffered so many casualties in the battle that they had to be withdrawn for some time. Casualties included eight officers and 230 other ranks, on the first day alone. The fighting was now over open country through fields of ripening corn, a strange place for countrymen to fight and die. Among those killed amid the corn were gamekeeper Charles Jones (St Devereux) and farm labourer Ben Porter, (Kilpeck). During this battle, the Regiment suffered its first experiences of gas.
They were given time to recuperate, and to get reinforcements, and then went north to the British sector to take part in what proved to be the decisive 1918 battles. By now, British tactics had vastly improved. During this time, the Regiment went to many notorious places. In September, they were in the action to recapture Mount Kemmel, a high point in Flanders, and one that had been fought over many times. In October, they were involved in the final battles in the dreaded Ypres area, near Menin, which is why there are many Herefordshire names on the memorial to the missing at Tyne Cot cemetery. Their bravery won plaudits from army commanders. They were still in the Ypres area at the Armistice on 11 November.
On 12 November, they celebrated with Brigade sports. Not surprisingly, the Battalion won the Tug-of-War, a favourite Herefordshire pastime; plus the 220 yards and long jump. They might have expected to come home, but the 34th Division was chosen to be part of the army of occupation in Germany, based at Bonn. Soon many were demobbed. Those who were left returned to Herefordshire on 23 May 1919, stopping at Leominster for breakfast, followed by a reception organised by the mayor. Then it was on to Hereford where the Lord Lieutenant, Sir John Cotterell met them, and they were given a banquet at the Town Hall.
518 men of the Herefordshire Regiment had died and more than twice as many had been wounded. This does not include the many who began their military life with the regiment but were transferred later. Those who survived must have found it hard to settle back into normal life. In parts of the country we know many committed suicide. Others suffered illness for years and died young. Often there was less of a welcome than they might have hoped. For example in the northern mill towns trade unions successfully resisted attempts by factory owners to find work for returning soldiers at a time of depression. Most men found it very hard to talk about their experiences. Perhaps in Herefordshire the men settled down more easily.
Other units In the Herefordshire Regiment
There were two other units of the Herefordshire Light Infantry. The Second Battalion
(technically the 2/1st Battalion) was a reserve unit, supplying trained men to the First Battalion. It did not leave Britain. They were soon 1200 strong, including 400 who were unfit for overseas service. In the beginning some lodged at the Scudamore Schools. They joined 68 Division at Aberystwyth in Sept 1914 and remained there until April 1915, experiencing many marches around Wales. The Hereford Times recorded the wild scenes in the town as they escaped for Christmas leave. In May 1915, it moved to Northampton Then they were sent to Billericay, where they worked on London defences, and later to Bedford. By November 1915 they were in in Lowestoft and they ended their war at Herringfleet in Suffolk, being disbanded on 19 September 1917.
A Third Battalion (the 3/1 Battalion) was set up in the autumn of 1915. It was a composite force and included some men of the Monmouthshire Regiment, and was essentially a training unit. It was based in Abergavenny at first but moved to Oswestry in September 1915 where it remained until sent to Swansea, and it was then absorbed into 4th Reserve KSLI on 24 July 1917, and sent to enjoy the pleasures of Pembroke Dock, where it stayed until after the armistice.
Manu Forti, History Herefordshire Regiment 1860-1967
0-7509-1182-4, published by Alan Sutton. The quotations from Peter Ashton are taken from this. The book can be found in the reference section of the Broad Street library,
Remembering the Great War In Gloucestershire and Herefordshire (Brewin Books, ISBN 1-85858-226-1). Mr Westlake has put the information online. He has written a similar book on Monmouthshire soldiers.
Full details of British army units are given on the excellent “The Long, Long Trail” website. The Commonwealth War Graves site has provided background, as have the records on the Ancestry site.
Background material is best researched via Hew Strachan’s The First World War , (Simon and Schuster 978-1-47113-426-5).
The other quotations are from the Hereford Journal or Hereford Times. The latter is no longer available at the Broad Street Library. Microfilms of others are available. It is planned to put the Hereford Times for the war years online by 2018.
Details of the Regimental Museum are as follows. It is open by appointment
Some men from the Abbeydore area
who went with the First Hereford Regisment to the Dardanelles in 1915
Abergavenny (Don Davies’s father, who survived)
The Shop, Kilpeck (wounded at Gaza, but survived)
The Rhydd, Tram Inn
+ indicates died
Local soldiers who died serving with the Herefordshire Regiment
Charles Mutlow, Abbeydore, Egypt 1916
Other local men known to have joined up
M J Sheen, Ag. Lab, Pontrilas, ASC
Obituary of Colonel Drage from the Radnorshire Society Journal Vol 22, 1952
We have to record with deep regret the death on 8th May, 1952, of Lt. Col. Gilbert Drage, D.S.O., who had been a member of the Society since 1935, and was for many years a member of the Executive Committee. He was 81, but was active to the end. His fine presence and soldierly bearing, and his courteous manner, will be an enduring memory for all who knew him. Colonel Drage had a distinguished career, first as an officer in the Royal Marines for 23 years, and afterwards, in the first World War, commanding the 1st Battalion of the Herefordshire Regiment in Gallipoli, Egypt, and Palestine. He was made a Justice of the Peace for Radnorshire in 1925, and a Deputy Lieutenant in 1938.His book Gazpacho (reviewed in the Transactions of 1949) showed him as he really was, a man of culture, wide travel, and an almost unlimited variety of interest. The Society is indebted to him for several delightful contributions to the Transactions, on subjects so diverse as sundials, mill stones, and woodcock. In addition, his Notes on the Militia," published by the Society in 1937, will long be a standard work of reference, particularly in regard to the Royal Radnor Militia. Colonel Drage was pre-deceased by his wife, who shared to the full his interests, and amassed a large and valuable collection of books and works of art. When living at The Rodd, Presteigne, both he and Mrs. Drage became proficient in hand-loom weaving, on which subject he latterly published a small book, in an effort to bring back to the country side this rural handicraft. A radiant sundial placed on the wall of Norton church tower was one of his last efforts for the parish where he spent the evening of his days. Requiescat in pace. W.H.H.
Second World War
Percy Richard Davies Of Bacton
There is a memorial to P R Davies in Bacton church. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives the following information. Perry (sic) Richard Davies, Private 1438948, 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. Son of Thomas Ephraim and Nora Harriett Davies of Vowchurch. Died 17 June 1944, aged 20. Grave reference XI.A.4 Tilly-Sur-Seules War Cemetery. The regiment had taken part in the D-Day landings and Percy was killed less than a fortnight later as the army continued its attempts to break out.