The 8th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment (1914-19)

Served in France and Flanders in Nineteenth Division.

Awarded 23 Battle Honours.

Died: 42 officers and 931 other ranks. Total: 973

The 8th. Battalion left England for France in the Summer of 1915.

During the four years of their service the 8th Gloucesters fought on the Somme in 1916 and 1918, at Ypres and Cambrai, at Polygon Wood and the Menin Road, at Passchendaele and at Saint Quentin. Second only to the 1st Battalion in the number of Battle Honours it won, and the number of its men who were killed, the 8th Gloucesters did great honour to themselves and to their Regiment.

The 8th Battalion, recruited mainly in Gloucester, had the distinction of winning two Victoria Crosses, as well as a special divisional Badge of Honour. It was in September 1916 that the then commanding officer of the battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Carton de Wiart, D.S.O, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his action leading the 8th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment at La Boiselle. He was attached to the Regiment from the 4th Dragoon guards, but he had old county associations, as he had been the Adjutant of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars before the War. The citation of his Victoria Cross tells of the Colonel's quality as an officer:

For most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during severe operations of a prolonged nature. It was owing in a great measure to his dauntless courage and inspiring example that a serious reverse was averted. He displayed the utmost energy and courage in forcing our attack home. After three other Battalion Commanders had become casualties, he controlled their commands, and ensured that the ground won was maintained at all costs. He frequently exposed himself in the organization of positions and of supplies, passing unflinchingly through fire barrage of the most intense nature. His gallantry was inspiring to all.

During the battle the men saw their commanding officer, who had lost a hand earlier in the War, tearing out the safety-pins of bombs with his teeth, and hurling the bombs at the enemy with his one hand. He had also lost an eye in battle, and wore a black patch. The men called him "Nelson." Shortly after Colonel Carton de Wiart received his Victoria Cross he told a friend that it had been won by the the 8th Gloucesters, "for every man in the battalion has done as much as I have." When, after the battle, the Colonel was offered a brigade, he replied that he would take command of a brigade only if the 8th Gloucesters could go with him.

The divisional "Battle Badge" was awarded to "A" Company of the 8th battalion on August 2, 1917, by General Tom Bridges, commanding the division. In a Special Order of the Day the General announced:

I have decided to award the Badge of Honour to "A" Company, 8th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment, for its gallant conduct during the capture of Druids and Wall Farms on the night 9th/10th July, and for the part it took in beating off by heavy rifle-fire the attack of a hostile storm troop which entered our line on the night of 27th/28th July. In these two affairs the Company lost 5 officers and 32 other ranks killed and wounded.

This honour is awarded in recognition of the fine soldierlike spirit displayed by all ranks on these occasions and of the good fighting record of "A" Company and of the Battalion to which it belongs.

The badge was a crimson silk butterfly worn on the right forearm above any badges of rank, and it was presented to the company at a full brigade parade, the whole company marching forward in review order to receive the award. They then stood on the left of the saluting base while the brigade marched past.

The second Victoria Cross of the 8th Battalion was awarded to Captain Manley James, M.C., for "most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack" in April 1918:

Captain James led his company forward with magnificent determination and courage, inflicting severe losses on the enemy and capturing 27 prisoners and two machine-guns. He was wounded, but refused to leave his company, and repulsed three hostile onslaughts the next day. Two days later, although the enemy had broken through on his right flank, he refused to withdraw and made a most valuable stand, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy and gaining valuable time for the withdrawal of guns.

He was ordered by the senior officer on the spot to hold on 'to the last,' in order to allow the brigade to be extricated. He then led his company forward in a local counter-attack of his own initiative, and he was again wounded. He was last seen working a machine-gun single handed, after having been wounded a third time.

Captain Manley James fortunately survived his experiences. He was taken prisoner, and recovered from his wounds.

Extracts taken from : Cap of Honour, The Story of The Gloucestershire Regiment (The 28th/61st Foot). 1694-1950, by David Scott Daniell.
First published 1951 by George Harrap & Co Ltd., 182 High Holborn, London, WC1. Reprinted 1953