Heroism of 2/8th Worcesters Recalled

The Mayor of Worcester (Ald. C. Edwards) was recently approached by the British League of Help, with a view to the adoption of some French town or village by the City of Worcester. The matter was brought before the Corporation at their last meeting, and it was recommended to adopt the village of Gouzeaucourt. Yesterday (Thursday) afternoon a meeting of citizens was held in the Theatre Royal in support of that decision. The Mayor presided and he was accompanied by the Deputy Mayor (Ald A Carlton), Miss Scriven (Organising Secretary of the League). Major Fox (a member of the editorial staff of the “Morning Post” and of the Executive Committee of the League) and Colonel H. T. Clarke. The attendance, which was not a very large one, included Mrs Ernest Day, Major H. F. Williams, Messrs W. Hunter, Sutton Cockran, and J. W. Cassidy.

The Mayor said that he had asked Major Fox, who had served for some years in France and was well acquainted with the devastated area, to come down with the object of telling them the best way they could help their adopted village. The object of the League was the redemption of our debt to France by assisting her in the task of restoring, to something like a semblance of their former state those war-scarred areas of the north, which for 4 years or more bore the brunt of the battles. History recorded no more heroic decision than that of the French when, during the spring of 1918, they resolved that, should the German advance prove successful, they would inundate the whole of the Calais province and destroy the harbours of Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne. Why did France make that decision? The answer was to save England. And England would never forget that resolution. The British League of Help hoped to come to the rescue of those who suffered as much on her behalf as on their own.

How Best to Help

He was sure that it was a task which would recommend itself to every generous British heart. He had no doubt that the committee which it was hoped to form in Worcester would quickly devise means and ways of helping those who helped us, and would do some good by sending a deputation to confer with the Mayor of Gouzeaucourt and inquire the best way of helping the people there. The French Government was doing much for the battle-scarred areas but, like other governments, it proceeded slowly. Immediate necessities were great, and he felt very valuable help could be given.

The Mayor reminded his hearers that 1,400 miles of railways were destroyed in France, 1,000 miles of canals, 32,000 miles of roads, 11,000 factories, 75% of the coal mines, and 4,000 towns and villages. Over 50% of the population between the ages of 19 and 32 were killed. Before the war, Gouzeaucourt had a population of 1,925, 1,500 of whom had returned. Its houses, farms, schools and Town Hall had been burnt out or destroyed. The village contained 1,200 English graves and these were cared for by the inhabitants.

Local Associations

The 2/8th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment played a great part in the Battle of Gouzeaucourt. They were driven back, but they held out until fresh troops were brought up and the line was re-established. Among the officers at that battle were some local men, including Major H. W. Davies, Captain Cyril Holcroft, Captain Eric Mitchell, and Captain Richard Stallard. The report said that the battalion did magnificently and Captains Holcroft and Mitchell achieved wonders. The General Officer Commanding the Division went down and thanked the battalion, and said that the 2/8th Worcestershires had saved the Third Army. They would not, he hoped, waste money on small objects here and there, but would centre on one. It might be a harbour of rest for old people, a water supply, a dispensary, or some object of permanent value, so that in years to come the people of Gouzeaucourt might point to it and say “Worcester was generous to us in our trial. If you wish for proof, look at that memorial, which is more enduring than gold”.

Other English towns had adopted French places, and he was sure Worcester - whose sons had so nobly represented her in the war - would not be behind in following their example.

Major Fox’s Address

Major Fox said that when he came to Worcester he was not under the illusion that he had come to an extremely wealthy people. He knew that in England today, they might divide the country into 2 classes – those with absolutely nothing, and those whose income-tax demands they did not know how to meet. It had always been a characteristic of the country that the poor would help those who were poorer than themselves. He made an appeal that day to a city which he knew could not be wealthy, but which, he knew, was a generous city. If he could only bring home to them the gladness which had been brought to the hearts of people of the devastated areas of France, by the help which England had given them, his task would be an easy one. It recalled the profound gratitude which came over the French people when the British Army landed in 1914. They felt as anyone would feel who had a friendly hand extended to them in a time of trouble. They felt that the English were true “pals” to come to them in their hour of stress. The devastation in France would cover the whole of our great Midland manufacturing towns, and would extend from Liverpool to London and the East Coast.

An Effective Adoption

He appealed to the citizens of Worcester to do their utmost to make their adoption of Gouzeaucourt effective, so that they might take to those people, who had been taken on as their godchildren, a little comfort. England had suffered practically nothing of the desolation of the war, and it was mainly because the French had suffered. For stark heroism, the resolution of the French to destroy their ports in the event of the Germans breaking through, was unequalled in the annals of any country’s history. When he was with his battery in France, every shell they fired was at a French building and they had to do it because it was occupied territory. He recounted the indomitable spirit of the French people in ploughing under shell fire and remaining in their homesteads and farms wherever it was possible, and how the children went to school in gas masks. These people were now returning to their homes, wanting everything. They were more than ever hopeful, because they felt that the mighty heart of England was behind them.

Pictorial Illustrations

Several lantern slides were exhibited, showing the terrible destruction wrought on towns, coal mines, factories, works of art and orchards. One of these pictures showed how fruit trees were deliberately cut through by the Germans so that the poor French farmers should have no more crops. Another depicted a simple cross erected to the memory of a British soldier, and upon the grave were flowers picked from the fields and hedgerows and arranged in a shell case by French people.

Why Gouzeaucourt is selected

Ald. Carlton moved a resolution that the meeting was in favour of the adoption of Gouzeaucourt, and pledged itself to help in every possible way. He said he felt there was not the slightest doubt that, whatever their own troubles might be – and they had many – the troubles of the French nation were very much more acute. He had heard people in Worcester ask: Why should they adopt Gouzeaucourt? The name that came more readily to them was Gheluvelt, because it was there that the 2nd Worcestershires performed the great feat of saving the Channel ports. They had immortalised Gheluvelt by re-naming Barbourne Park, and calling it Gheluvelt Park. A little while ago he started a fund to put up a memorial in Gheluvelt, and a considerable amount of money was collected, but it was not thought advisable to do so, and the matter was dropped, the money being returned to the subscribers.

The Next Best Thing

They were approached by the Belgian Ministry with a view to the adoption of Gheluvelt, but its requirements were so very heavy they felt they could not possibly offer to carry them out. The next best thing was to take advantage of the suggestion of the League of Help, and adopt a smaller place, where another great exploit of the Worcestershire Regiment was performed. In Gouzeaucourt there was a large cemetery, where there were buried a number of boys from Worcester and the district, and the people who had gone back were attending carefully and faithfully to the graves. Surely, as France was doing this duty to our dead, we could do a little for their living ones. To rebuild Gouzeaucourt would be entirely beyond the means of Worcester, but they could give the inhabitants a little help.

A Painful Experience

Mr Sutton Corkran seconded the resolution. He said Major Fox’s eloquent lecture had made them feel the solemn responsibility which rested upon them for these people who acted so bravely in the struggle from which they came victorious. About 12 or 18 months ago he visited the devastated areas, and it was such a painful experience that he did not know whether he would like to recommend anyone else to go.

The resolution was unanimously agreed to.

Col. Clarke and German Orders

Col. H. T. Clarke proposed a vote of thanks to Major Fox for his address and to Ald. Carlton for granting the use of the Theatre for the meeting. He said Gouzeaucourt was occupied by the Germans for 3 years, and the Commandant gave orders that no dog was to bark and no cockerel was to crow between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. He also said that every inhabitant was to hand over 6 eggs per week for every hen kept. When the 2/8th Worcestershires distinguished themselves so much, Capt. Holcroft held on for 24 hours and won the DSO. Only 60 of the British came out, the others being either killed or wounded.

Major Williams seconded the vote of thanks and expressed the hope that Worcester would give the object the support it deserved.
Major Fox replied on behalf of Ald. Carlton and himself and also thanked the Mayor for presiding.
The Mayor announced that Mr A. C. Cherry had consented to act as treasurer too the fund and Col. Clarke as secretary.
During the afternoon a collection was taken for the funs by Boy Scouts.