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27 November 2014

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Entrance to Gheluvelt Park in Worcester

Entrance to Gheluvelt Park in Worcester

Gheluvelt Park

A history of this Worcester park, built to commemorate a famous battle in WW1.

After the huge loss of life in WW1 there was hardly a city, town or village in the country that didn't build a war memorial to remember the soldiers who died in 'the war to end all wars'.

Gheluvelt Park, in Barbourne, Worcester, has to be one of the most ununusal memorials - a whole park named after a famous feat of arms involving the Worcestershire regiment - complete with a memorial arch and bungalows for old soldiers to live in.

The park was opened in 1922, four years after the war ended and eight years after the action in Belgium that the park is named after.

The day that saved the empire

It's hard to exaggerate the importance of the Battle of Gheluvelt, that took place on the 31 October 1914, outside the city of Ypres in Belgium.

Plaque in Gheluvelt Park in Worcester

Plaque in Gheluvelt Park in Worcester

Field Marshal Sir John French, who was commanding the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) at the time, said that "on that day, the 2nd Worcesters saved the British Empire."

The action at Gheluvelt was part of the much larger First Battle of Ypres, where the outnumbered and outgunned BEF struggled to hold off a much larger German Army intent on breaking through their lines and sweeping through to the channel ports.

Had they succeeded, the British Army could have found itself involved in a Dunkirk-style evacuation, a quarter of a century before the actual one.

On the 31 October, around midday, the British line finally broke at Gheluvelt, and the Germans were poised to make the breakthrough that could have won them the war.

Plaque in Gheluvelt Park in Worcester

Plaque in Gheluvelt Park in Worcester

The only British reserves available were less than 364 men of the 2nd Battalion on the Worcestershire regiment, who were sheltering nearby in Polygon Wood.

Led by Major Hankey, they mounted a bayonet charge, through heavy artillery and machine gun fire, and drove more than 1,000 German troops out of the grounds of Gheluvelt chateau, and the surrounding area.

They managed to 'plug' the whole in the British line, and save the day for the British army - so heavy were the losses the Germans sustained that they called the day 'the slaughter of the innocents'.

A famous painting of Major Hankey and his troops in the grounds of the chateau hangs in Worcester Museum and Art Gallery.

The park

The foundation stone for Gheluvelt Park was laid on 16 January 1919 by Field Marshal Sir William Robertston.

Houses in Gheluvelt Park in Worcester

The homes for former servicepeople

The bungalows within the park, built to provide homes for retired servicemen, were officially opened on 13 July 1920.

The park itself, with its distinctive bandstand in the middle of a small lake, was opened on 17 June 1922 by Field Marshal John French, who was by then the Earl of Ypres.

The park has a memorial archway, near the junction of the Ombersley and Drotwich roads - a plaque on the archway reads:

"City of Worcester homes for disabled sailors and soldiers. The houses that form the central block of these homes were erected to commemorate the Battle of Gheluvelt, in which the Worcestershire Regiment took a very distinguished part."

The bandstand in Gheluvelt Park in Worcester

The bandstand

Behind the archway is a large rectangular flat area, where a WW1 tank stood for many years - it was probably melted down to make new tanks for WW2.

One of the bungalows has its own plaque, commemorating Captain Gerald Ernest Lea of the 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment - he died of his wounds in September 1914.

last updated: 19/12/2007 at 16:48
created: 19/12/2007

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