Stampede at Newbury 28 Aug 1914
In 1908 the Warwickshire Yeomanry were brigaded with the Worcestershire Yeomanry and the Gloucestershire Hussars to form the 1st South Midlands Mounted Brigade. The brigade was called up for service on 11 Aug 1914 and mustered at Warwick. From there they went to Bury St Edmunds, then Norwich, and then on to the camp on the racecourse at Newbury, Berkshire. It was here, at the end of August that 400 of their horses stampeded through the town. Many of them were injured and others ran for 30 or 40 miles before they were captured.
Torpedoed off the Scilly Isles, April 1915
The winter was spent in training, and on 11 April 1915 the brigade embarked at Avonmouth for Alexandria. But the horse-transport 'Wayfarer' was torpedoed 60 miles northwest of the Scilly Isles. The men took to the boats but it was found that the ship was not sinking, so the captain re-boarded her with an officer and 40 men of the Warwicks. The 763 horses were standing up to their knees in water but were brought back to Cobh near Cork with the loss of only 3 horses. They were finally taken to Alexandra which was reached in the last week of April, and went into camp at Chatby, 2 miles from the docks.
The Battle of Scimitar Hill 21 Aug 1915
The day after their arrival at camp they heard news of the landings at Hellese on the Gallipoli peninsula. The Yeomanry brigade remained in Egypt and helped unload wounded ANZAC soldiers from the ships. They did not enter this ill-fated campaign until 13 Aug 1915 when they were issued with webbing equipment to fight as infantry. As part of the 2nd Mounted Division they sailed to Sulva Bay along with many other Yeomanry units so that 50,000 men got safely ashore. They were ordered to attack the Turks on Scimitar Hill, together with the 29th and 11th Infantry Divisions. The battle started with an artillery barrage which ignited the dry bushes and caused a raging fire. This did not die down until 3pm when the Yeomen advanced in line towards the Turkish defences. The 1st South Midland Brigade supported the 2nd South Midland and the 4th London Mounted Brigades. The 2nd South Midlanders sustained heavy casualties and captured the position but it was soon lost again and the effort and losses were in vain as the attack had to be abandoned. Thereafter the campaign became a stagnant trench-bound stand-off.
Egypt and Sinai 1916
Following some re-organisation the 1st South Midland Brigade was re-named the 5th Mounted Brigade, and were re-united with their horses that had remained in Egypt. The C-in-C in Egypt, Sir Archibald Murray was charged with the defence of the country and especially the Suez Canal. He decided to seize the important water supplies in the palm hods at Katia in north Sinai, and sent the Brigade, under the command of Brigadier E A Wiggin, to attack and capture the position. The operation turned out to be a complete disaster. It began with the destruction of 2 squadrons of the Worcester Yeomanry on 23 April 1916 by a Turkish force that surprised them at Oghratina. Fifteen officers and 187 men were killed wounded or captured. Wiggin took another party of Warwicks and Worcesters to Bir el Magheibra on the strength of false reports and had to return to Hamisah. Meanwhile another disaster occurred at Katia when a squadron of the Gloucester Hussars were wiped out by a camel-mounted force of Turks. The prisoners from this defeat were paraded through the streets of Jerusalem.
Operations with the ANZACs
However, a composite force of Warwicks and Gloucesters achieved success at Mount Royston when they supported the Australian Light Horse and the NZ Mounted Rifles. This brought about the recapture of Romani. As part of the ANZAC Mounted Division, the 5th Mounted Brigade took part in a dismounted attack on the redoubt at Rafa, on the Egyptian Palestine border, on 9 Jan 1917. Their horses were guarded by the number 3 in each section and the fortified position was stormed, mostly by the NZ Mounted Rifles. The brigade then marched back to Sheikh Zowalid where the mounts were fed and watered at midnight, after 30 hours without water. One hour later they began a 20 mile march in the rain. The men had not slept for 3 nights and most slept in the saddle or hallucinated until they reached El Arish where they were able to rest at last.
Gaza, Mar - Nov 1917
Gaza had to be captured before the advance to Jerusalem could proceed. Due to bungling at the highest level, the troops were withdrawn after the Australians entered the town and a second and third battle for Gaza had to be fought. General Murray was replaced by Sir Edmund Allenby in June 1917 and he was felt to be like 'a strong reviving wind' rushing through the camps. He ordered the Australian LH to capture Beersheba and secure the wells there; this they did on 31 Oct with a dashing cavalry charge. This was the start of the Turkish retreat so that taking Gaza on 7 Nov 1917 then became a relatively easy matter.
The Cavalry Charge at Huj 8 Nov 1917
This heroic charge was made by men of the Warwickshire and the Worcestershire Yeomanry who were to amalgamate later, in 1956. During 1916 and 1917 these regiments were part of the 5th Mounted Brigade which included the Gloucestershire Yeomanry. This account is taken from the Cavalry Journal of Oct 1936, a detailed description of the charge written by Major Oskar Teichman who was the medical officer of the Worcestershire Yeomanry, and an eye witness.
The Charge at Huj, had it occurred in a minor war, would have gone down in history like the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. In the First World War, when heroic deeds were enacted on all fronts almost daily, it was merely an episode; but, as the official historian remarks: 'for sheer bravery the episode remains unmatched.'
After the capture of the positions at Sheria and Kauwukah by the 74th (Dismounted Yeomanry), and the 60th and 10th Divisions, orders were issued for the advance of the cavalry through the enemy's broken centre. The first objectives were to be Huj and Jemmame, whose water supply was of paramount importance to the troops. Huj was a town where a large enemy tented camp was established, with a water pumping station and enormous dumps of war materials near the railway station.
It had been hoped that 3 complete cavalry divisions would have been available, but on 7th Nov only six brigades could be mustered because the Yeomanry Mounted Division was still guarding the left of the 53rd Division in the hills northwest of Beersheba, and the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade (A & NZ Mounted Division) was engaged at Khuweilfeh. The mounted brigades available were the 1st 2nd 3rd and 4th Australian LH, the 5th (Warwick, Worcs and Gloucester Yeo) and 7th (Sherwood Rangers and South Notts Yeo) Mounted Brigades. The horses of the 5th Brigade were by no means fresh having returned to Beersheba at dawn on 5th Nov after 48 hours continuous fighting at Ras El Nagb. Also the D Squadrons of both the Warwicks and the Worcs Yeo were on detached duty elsewhere.
During the afternoon of 7th Nov, the 5th Mounted Brigade, which had been suffering from shell fire by the enemy's retreating guns, reached the confluence of the Wadis Sheria and Barrata. At dusk this brigade received orders to make a mounted attack on the retreating enemy with the special object of capturing their guns. Cantering in lines of squadrons, the yeomen advanced into the night, and for the next two hours they wandered about with swords drawn, over broken and unknown ground in pitch darkness without bumping into the guns. The Gloucester Yeo lost direction and was fired on by our infantry to the west. Finally, after losing its way several times, the brigade was brought back with much difficulty to the Wadi Barrata.
At 1am on 8th Nov the 1st and 2nd Australian LH Brigades and the 7th Mounted Brigade were ordered to advance north to Bureir. The 3rd and 4th Australian LH Brigades and the 5th Mounted Brigade were directed to Huj, with the 60th Infantry Division on their left flank. At 6am the Warwick and Worcs Yeomanry, 2 squadrons each, rode out in pursuit of the enemy. The Gloucester Yeo remained behind to water their horses. They were also deprived of their HAC battery and machine-gun squadron.
The yeoman cantered over the undulating downland which was grassy, and described as resembling Salisbury Plain, but without trees. The retreating Turks made use of every ridge in order to fight small rearguard actions and delay the brigade's advance. This entailed a number of dismounted actions and much expenditure of ammunition. There were serious skirmishes at Juaithim and Zuheilika, and it was realised that a force of 2,000 Turkish infantry was covering the withdrawal of their guns.
About a mile east of Munteret El Baghl there was a fight that lasted half an hour, and casualties sustained were left in groups guarded by one lightly wounded man to be picked up by the field ambulance. On the left the 179th Infantry Brigade were advancing in extended order, and taking casualties from field guns covering the retreat. By noon the yeomen and the 3rd Australian LH Brigade had secured the Kofkha position and the pace improved. Debris was strewn everywhere, abandoned equipment left by the Turks, including water-barrels amongst the wagons and gun limbers, which was much needed by the thirsty men.
The yeomen had now reached Wadi Fueilis and saw that the infantry were pinned down by artillery fire. The CO of the Worcester Yeo, Lt-Col H J Williams, decided to ride southeast to the 3rd Australian LH at Kofkha and ask them to give covering fire while the 5th Mounted Brigade made a flanking attack on the enemy artillery. It is not clear why he could not send a messenger, but this left the Warwicks CO in charge of both regiments. He was Lt-Col Hugh Gray-Cheape DSO, who had been transferred from the Worcs Yeo in 1915 to command the Warwicks. Major Wiggin was temporarily in command of the Worcesters.
While Col Williams was away, the commander of the 60th infantry Division, Maj-General Shea, approached the yeomen in his car and suggested that there was a unique opportunity for a cavalry attack while the flank of the enemy artillery was in the process of being protected by a long straggling column of infantry. The Warwicks and Worcesters were spread out across a wide front and needed to be gathered in. The strength of the Warwick squadrons was 9 officers and 76 men, the Worcesters had 9 officers and 96 men, amounting to 190 men that took part in the famous charge on the batteries at Huj.
The order to mount was given at 1.20pm. The Worcesters consisted of A Squadron commanded by Major A C Albright, and 2 Troops of C Squadron commanded by Lieut J W Edwards. The Warwicks had A Squadron commanded by Captain R Valentine, and 2 Troops of C Squadron commanded by Captain J S Stafford. From where they were in Wadi Fueilis they could not be sure of the position and disposition of the artillery and infantry but as they cantered up onto the ridge A (see map of Huj) in front of them the artillery switched direction to fire at the dust cloud they created. They now galloped northeast to knoll D, all the time under fire from artillery at B.
From this position Lt-Col Gray-Cheape was able to decide what targets to aim for. Albright's Worcester Squadron was directed to charge the mountain battery on ridge C and disperse them. Having accomplished that they were ready to tackle the Howitzers which were 600 yards behind but they were then joined by Major Wiggin who redirected them onto the flank of ridge B to support the Warwicks' charge. Captain Valentine's squadron had been ordered to charge the battery of 75s on ridge B, accompanied by Lt Edwards and his two Troops of Worcesters. This was over a distance of 1400 yards.
No sooner had the leading yeomen cleared the crest of the ridge, behind which they were, than they were met by a terrific outburst of shell-fire, machine-gun fire and rifle bullets. The ground dipped and then rose again, about 400 yards down a steep slope, 600 yards level, and then 300 yards uphill. The last 100 yards were very steep indeed. So that 1000 yards had to be covered under continuous fire before the charge could be driven home. The howitzers to their right were brought to bear on them as they galloped forward, and the 75s fired directly at the charging men. The yeomen and their horses fell quickly in the hail of projectiles but their blood was up and the survivors pressed on until they reached their objective and sabred the Turks and the Austrian gunners. The Turks were less brave and scattered in the face of charging cavalry but the Austrians fought like lions to the last. Lieut W B Mercer an officer of the Warwick Yeomanry who was in the leading line of Capt Valentine's squadron, survived unharmed and gave this account of the action:
'A whole heap of men and horses went down 20 or 30 yards from the muzzles of the guns. The Squadron broke into a few scattered horsemen at the guns, and then seemed to melt away completely. For a time I, at any rate, had the impression that I was the only man left alive. I was amazed to find that we were the victors.'
Captain Valentine of the Warwicks was killed, as was Lt Edwards of the Worcesters in this charge, and Major Albright, leading his Worcester squadron on the flank was also killed. Fifty yards from the guns major Wiggin of the Worcesters was wounded in the head by a shell fired at point blank range, and in a dazed condition galloped onto the muzzles of the guns. Here his horse was killed and he fell under a gun where he was wounded again by a bayonet thrust from an Austrian gunner. He was saved from death by a private of the Worcesters who killed the Austrian with his sword. One of the last shots fired by the Austrian guns went right through a horse as it approached the muzzle of the gun. The machine-gunners in the rear of the 75s were the next target of the surviving Warwicks and a desperate fight took place there.
The men of Albright's squadron were right behind Major Wiggin and hacked their way through the Turkish left flank, wheeling right to charge uphill to the top of ridge B. The machine-guns there had already cut down many of Valentine's men but the Turks thought that Albright's squadron was a large force of reinforcements, so they fled. On the reverse slope were large numbers of enemy infantry who were either cut down or ran away. But only two men were left unhurt from this charge; Lieut Parsons and Trooper J Williams. However, a captain of the Gloucester Hussars had arrived on the scene, the Hon Elidyr Herbert, who used one of the 4 captured machine-guns to cause havoc amongst the Turkish infantry. They were an especially easy target as they retreated up ridge E.
Meanwhile Lt-Col Gray-Cheape had kept two Troops of C Squadron Warwick Yeo in reserve to support Albright's attack, but when he saw the Howitzer battery retreating he took his men around the ridge to intercept them. This action was a success and brought about only two wounded casualties. Two Howitzers were captured and the Mountain Battery which had been abandoned, was also secured. The remaining Howitzer teams were gunned down by a sub-section of Warwick Yeo machine-guns under Lieut Halliday.
Lt-Col Williams returned from his ride to the Australians to find the remnants of his regiment in a defensive position on ridge B. Lt-Col Gray-Cheape and Major Watson were rallying the men of the Warwicks, some of whom had been left behind either slightly wounded or unhorsed. But the yeomen were not out of trouble yet because they were still vulnerable to a Turkish counter-attack. They had advanced too far to be supported by the Australians or the 179th Infantry Brigade. But the Turks had no stomach for further fighting and assumed that British reinforcements were close behind their attackers.
The casualties of the Warwickshire Yeomanry were: Out of 9 officers, one killed (Capt Valentine), and 2 wounded. Out of 76 NCOs and men, 16 killed and 16 wounded. The Worcestershire Yeomanry casualties were: Out of 9 officers, 2 killed (Edwards and Albright) and 4 wounded. Out of 96 NCOs and men 17 killed and 35 wounded. There were a total of 190 horses in both regiments of which 140 made the charge; 110 were killed or had to be destroyed. The battle of Huj had been a victory, but at great cost. Eleven guns had been captured along with 70 prisoners, and 2000 enemy infantry put to flight. The news of this action reached various enemy units causing them to panic and take flight to Jerusalem and Damascus. General Baron Kress von Kressenstein and the staff of 8th Army HQ were still at Huj and in their hurried flight they had to leave everything behind including their wireless code book. The Turks continued to use the same code so the book became invaluable.
Major Teichman, the medical officer of the Worcesters followed the charge closely so that the wounded could be treated as quickly as possible. He had two medical orderlies and they had much work to do, treating British as well as Turkish wounded. He was astonished to compare the clean sword wounds of the Turks with the jagged wounds of the yeomen caused by shell-fire and sword bayonets. About 90 Austrians and Turks had been killed outright with the sword, some 25 per cent of which were through the head. A young subaltern spoke of his sword going through a man's head 'like butter'. Luckily an enemy field ambulance was captured which contained much-needed equipment along with Turkish and German orderlies. And within three quarters of an hour the 179th Brigade arrived with field ambulances and vehicles in which to put the wounded.
On the same day as the cavalry charge on the artillery, there was an important development in Huj itself which lay one mile to the north of the battle. D Squadron of the Worcestershire Yeo led by Major Lord Hampton had been involved in an action at Baghl where they captured 40 prisoners, then trotted on for two miles to a hill west of Huj from where they could see the enemy camp, the pumping station and enormous dumps of war material. Hampton observed that preparations were under way to destroy the dumps and evacuate the camp. They headed straight for it intending to prevent the destruction, but as they set off there was a huge explosion so that one dump was now already destroyed. They galloped towards the camp and managed to scare off the Turks who had been tasked with igniting the fuses. The captured ammunition was fired against the enemy with the guns which had been captured by Gray-Cheape's squadrons.
Fox-Hunting and Cavalry
Major Oskar Teichman the medical officer, on whose eye-witness account this narrative is based, expressed this opinion: 'There is no doubt that fox-hunting helped to make the charge at Huj a success, for all the leaders were first-class men to hounds. Rapidity of decision, an eye for a country and the desire to ride straight have their fruits in war as well as in the hunting field. Major Albright, who led two charges before he fell was Master of South Herefordshire. Captain Valentine who charged right up to the battery where he fell mortally wounded..had been a well-known follower of the Warwickshire for over 20 years. Lieut-Col Cheape...was Master of the Berwickshire, and Major Wiggin who rallied A Squadron (Worcesters) and led them up to the mouth of the guns where he fell wounded, had hunted all his life and subsequently became Master of the Worcestershire and the Croome.'
The Leasowe Castle Tragedy, 27th May 1918
The Warwickshire Yeomanry were linked with the South Notts Hussars in Egypt on 3 Apr 1918, and shipped across the Mediterranean in May 1918 on the HMT Leasowe Castle. But 100 miles out of Alexandria it was torpedoed by U-Boat 51 at 12.25am on 27th, resulting in the deaths of the commanding officer Lieutenant-Col Hugh Gray-Cheape, Captain Drake and 9 other ranks. The ship also contained The South Notts Hussars, who lost 8 officers and 44 men, and other machine gunners. 92 men in all were killed out of a total of 3,000.
Machine Gunners in France 1918
On 18 Jun 1918 they sailed once more, landing at Taranto in Italy on 21 June. From there they were taken by train to Etaples and moved to the Western Front at the end of June. They were re-designated 100th Machine Gun Battalion on 19 Aug 1918, and after brief spells with the 12th and 47th Divisions joined the 58th and moved on to the 46th, 25th and finally the 66th Division.