Gheluvelt – The day the Worcesters saved civilisation

A former Worcester Warriors Press Officer will be telling the story of the 357 Worcestershire men whose remarkable bayonet charge saved the Allies from losing the First World War.

Mark Higgitt is set to release special audio documentary The Battle of Gheluvelt: The day the Worcesters saved civilisation, in association with Warriors and the Duckworth Worcestershire Trust – a charity set-up by the club’s Executive Chairman Cecil Duckworth.

There will be 100 copies of the 60-minute documentary available from the club shop for free on a first-come, first-served basis.

Members of the Warriors squad and coaching set-up will also be attending a commemorative dinner at the Guildhall this Friday before Sixways hosts a Gheluvelt Charity dinner in November.   

Mark’s documentary is the fruits of more than two years or research, writing and recording by Mark and describes how the 2nd Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment ran through murderous shellfire to halt the Germans' triumphal march up the Menin Road to Ypres and on to the Channel ports on Saturday 31 October, 1914.

The Worcesters were the last hope of King and Country when they launched their counter-attack on Gheluvelt Chateau, after the enemy had broken the British line.

Their achievement against overwhelming odds was described by Commander-in-Chief Sir John French as “the longest half-hour of my life” – but the feat has been largely forgotten by the British public and is known by few people outside of the Faithful City.

With the centenary of the battle nudging closer, that was Mark's inspiration.

“I realised, a couple of years ago, that – amid all the other events going on – there would only be one opportunity to commemorate the centenary in this way, a documentary that could be listened to, perhaps by people in 100 years time,” he explains.

“To be honest, when I started to explore what would be involved, it seemed a far-fetched ambition. But, with the help of the team that runs the Mercian Regimental archive, and many other people with a greater insight into what happened than me, it's gradually happened.”

The documentary follows the 2nd Worcesters – commanded on the day of the battle by Major Edward Hankey – from their arrival in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force, through the Retreat from Mons and on to the fabled 'Race to the Sea', which saw them end up as part of the thin Allied line defending the strategically important weaving town of Ypres, in Flanders.

Saturday 31 October 31, 1914 was the day the Germans broke through the line. The Worcesters were the last throw of the dice to halt the advance.

The documentary includes many voices related to the men who fought that day, as well as that of Brummie lance-corporal William Finch, whose testimony was recorded in in 1984, when he was 95.

It has also received the backing of two organisations that are synonymous with life in the modern-day county – Worcester Warriors and the Duckworth Worcestershire Trust.

“While there's absolutely no way we could compare the feats at Gheluvelt, and the rest of the war, I'm certain there are traits shown on the Sixways pitch that the Worcesters wouldn't find hard to recognise – the ethos of the team, the willingness to take a step forward where most of us would turn the other way,” says Mark.

“I needed support to take the project to the next level, and deliver the documentary via its own website, and the idea appealed to Cecil Duckworth. I'm delighted that the final product will go live in association with both the Warriors and the other great love of Cecil's civic life, his Duckworth Worcestershire Trust.”

Cecil Duckworth said: “There's a common theme that links the rugby club and my charity, the Duckworth Worcestershire Trust, and that's the part they seek to play in our community and the lives of the people who live in it.

“The 2nd Worcesters' remarkable achievement at the Battle of Gheluvelt 100 years ago, and its significance to our lives now, should never cease to be a source of pride to everyone who calls this county their home, or whose families connect back to those courageous few hundred men who once walked our streets.

“That's why, when Mark asked me to sit down and talk about the documentary, and the reasons behind it, I realised the invitation to play a part in beginning it and bringing it to fruition was something I really wanted to do.”

The documentary will also be available to watch at www.battleofgheluvelt.co.uk at the start of the centenary week, Monday, October 27, 2014.