A NEW exhibition to mark centenary of the First World War battle of Neuve Chapelle has opened in the Worcestershire Soldier galleries at Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery.

Taking place from March 10-13 in 1915, it was the first major offensive by the British on the Western Front and the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment played a pivotal role in the action. However, losses were severe, with nine officers, including the commanding officer and adjutant, and 92 men killed, 10 officers and 226 men wounded, and 27 men missing out of a total 26 officers and 870 men who went into action.

The battle raged fiercely for three days. The initial British assault on March 10 broke through the German line and during that night the 1st Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment went forward to hold the gap.

At dawn on March 12 the German artillery opened up and shortly afterwards attacking infantry loomed through the mist. “There was a most extra-ordinary hush for a few seconds as we held our fire” said an officer “While they closed in on us.” Then the battalion opened a rapid fire. As the Germans reeled, the battalion broke from their trenches and charged with the bayonet, pursuing the enemy back beyond their own trenches, which the battalion then occupied and held against several counter-attacks.

By 10am next day it was clear the position of the Worcesters, far in advance of any support, encircled on three sides, and shelled by both enemy and friendly artillery, was not tenable. As they withdrew in good order, they were decimated by the enemy’s cross-fire.

Dr. John Paddock, curator of the Mercian Regiment Museum, said: "The actions of the officers and men of the 1st Battalion during the period March 10-13,1915 were heroic and in the best traditions of the regiment. Had they received the support their tenacity warranted then a significant allied breakthrough might have been achieved."

The exhibition, which includes unique relics from the battle, the original handwritten casualty list and the preparatory orders of Lt. Colonel Wodehouse’s, the commanding officer, is open until March 31.

For further information contact Dr. John Paddock, curator of the Mercian Regiment Museum, 01905 721982 (office) Monday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm.