Friday 26 June 2009

4966 Sgt Alfred E Worrell, 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards

In January 1982 I interviewed six First World War veterans at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Alf Worrell was the first man I was introduced to. A regular soldier who had joined the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards in the autumn of 1910, Alfred was on horseback in France within a few days of the 1914-1918 war being declared. This is his description of those early days.

"On August 4th 1914 until 24th August 1914, an army of 75,000 men, with all their equipment was shipped from England over to Belgium and they actually started fighting on the 22nd August 1914. That was when the first shot was fired and that shot was fired by the big drummer of my regiment.

"He was the man who fired the first shot and I was in one of the scouting parties that helped to find the advance guard of the German Army at a little place called Casteau about three miles to the north east of Mons. That was on the 22nd August.

"We then had the 5th Division which consisted of all these infantry battalions. Between the 22nd and the 24th they’d come up from down country by train most of them, and marching, and they’d got in position by the morning of the 24th. But by that time, where we’d got somewhere around the region of about 50,000 up along the front, the Jerry had got there with 400,000 and he had got everything right up in the front; big guns and everything. And also he’d got nearly another civilian army at the back of us which was known as the 5th Army; the German 5th Army, all civilians. Well as we moved they moved and within twenty four hours he got us moving, driving us back.

"But, as British soldiers there was one god that we had and that was the Sam Browne belt which was worn by officers only. And where we saw a Sam Browne belt we rallied round him and there wasn’t one English officer that had got a full complete unit of his own men.

"We retired and we fell back and we had our first real rest around St Quentin because the Jerry was running around. But we retired back again from St Quentin to within eighteen kilometres of Paris. Then we had our first wash since we started. Some of the poor old infantry had got no boots on their feet but we equipped and in six days we turned around and fought him back. It took him five weeks to send us but we sent him back in six."

The photograph at the head of this post shows Alfred Worrell, right, in his Chelsea Penisoner scarlet coat, standing next to fellow Chelsea Pensioner Charles Quinnell at the Menin Gate. The photo appears in Before Endeavours Fade by Rose Coombs.

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