Friday, 27 February 2015

Gheluvelt 1914

Gheluvelt
October 1914

What Actually Happened

The German aim was to overwhelm the British and French armies and sieze the Channel ports, but Ypres was in their way, and the British held the town. The importance of Ypres was hard to overstress. If the Germans overran it they would have a clear route to the Channel ports. Critical to the British campaign at Ypres was the village of Gheluvelt. It was the last position which had to be taken before the enemy advanced on Ypres. By noon on 31st October, the defending regiments of Royal Scots, Welsh and Kings Royal Rifles had been overcome. Loss of Gheluvelt would now open up the serious gap in the British line. The gap had to be closed.

The Worcester Regiment was the last regiment waiting to be thrown into the defence. They were located in Polygon Wood, commanded by Major Hankey. At 1300 hours, they were ordered to attack and hold Gheluvelt. All around them, they saw other defeated British soldiers drawing back. When the Worcesters moved forward, they were the only ones to do so. In front of them the ridge which hid the village was littered with dead and wounded. German shells fell all around them.

When the leading men came in sight of the Germans, the enemy guns were instantly trained onto them, but there was no going back. Hankey decided that the only way to cross the open ground in front of them was at the double. They began their attack with 370 men but 180 were killed in the advance. As the remaining Worcesters burst into the grounds of Chateau Gheluvelt, they met up the South Wales Borders who were making a last-ditch heroic stand. Amidst fierce fighting, they forced the Germans to retreat. Gheluvelt was taken and the gap in the British line was plugged. Ypres was saved, as were the Channel ports.

In Line of Fire


In Line of Fire begins with the siege of Antwerp in 1914. I wanted to end my novel with an account of that heroic action by the Worcester Regiment, but I also needed to bring in my fictional characters, Captain Wendel and Lieutenant DeBoise. I was, in short, in the same position as Bernard Cornwell when he put Richard Sharpe into the battles of the Peninsular War. The plot I devised required me to bring another regiment into the action – a totally fictional regiment which I called the King’s Own Highland Dragoons. I make no apologies for that because I have in no way taken anything from the bravery of Hankey and his Worcesters. People who have read my novel tell me it works every bit as well as any Sharpe story, but what do you think?

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