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Brevet Colonel Percy Reginald Worrall, CBE, DSO, Devonshire Regiment

Brevet Colonel Percy Reginal Worrall served in the 1st Battalion The Devonshire Regiment in World War 1.

Percy Worrall was born in May 1880, the third of seven sons born to William Houlton Worrall, a paper mill owner from Salford, and his wife Mary.[1]  Born in Whalley Range, Manchester, by 1891 Percy had moved with his family to Newton House, Hill Road, Clevedon, Somerset.  Having been taught by a governess, Percy continued his education at Haileybury College and Keeble College, Oxford.[2] 

Commissioned into the Devonshire Regiment on 4 December 1901, in 1902 he served in the South African War, earning the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps.[3]  (Although the 1st Devons left South Africa for India in January 1902, the 2nd Battalion remained there until May 1903.)  He was promoted Lieutenant on 14 February 1904, and, from 24 August 1907, was seconded for service with the Colonial Office.  The Army List showed him serving with the West African Field Force from 24 August 1907 until 9 April 1909.  From 10 April 1909 he was promoted Temporary Captain while serving as Adjutant to the 6th (Territorial Force) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment.

The 1911 census shows him living at Eastcombe House, Tavistock, and his 61-year-old widowed father living with him.  That October Percy married Agnes Margaret Mostyn, the daughter of Sir Pyers Mostyn Bt.[4]  On 10 May 1912, having been supernumerary, Percy was restored to the establishment of the Regiment as a Lieutenant.[5]

He was still a Lieutenant, but a very senior one, in D Company of the 1st Battalion when it landed in France on 22 August 1914.[6] 

At La Bassee at 2pm on 17 October the Battalion advanced 1,000 yards to within 300 yards of the German guns but, as they were protected by barbed wire, the Devons realised it would be impossible to rush them.  B and D Company had to fall back from their advanced position.  Worrall had established D Company’s position behind a blazing hay rick that had been ignited by the German fire and the smoke concealed his men from the enemy.  Under cover of the smoke his Company managed to withdraw with few casualties and those who were wounded were brought back.  Among the wounded was Sergeant Leonard Harris (No 8585) and Private Salter – probably 31-year-old William H Salter (No 6903) from Cornwall who was killed on 6 November – stayed with him in an exposed position until Worrall was able to carry Harris to safety on his back.[7] 

Three men were killed in this action and eighteen wounded, including Percy Worrall and Lieutenant George Anstey.  Percy was later mentioned in Despatches[8] and his name appeared in the first list of officers to receive the newly instituted Military Cross.[9] 

Two days later Percy returned from hospital.[10]  By 28 October the 1st Devons had suffered nearly 250 casualties, including their CO, Colonel Gloster, who was wounded.  When they relieved the 1st Manchesters east of Festubert, Percy Worrall, as senior subaltern, found himself in command of the Battalion’s entire firing line.  He was promoted Captain that day[11] and continued with the 1st Battalion around Festubert and then at Messines, until invalided from the front and returned to recuperate in Britain. 

In March 1915 he visited the fledgling 8th Devons, who were training in Wiltshire, and shared with them his experience of the new trench warfare.[12]  In May 1915, he was appointed to the Staff as GSO3 (a Grade 3 Staff Officer).[13]  On 10 September he was appointed Brigade Major[14] and served in Gallipoli until 19 December 1915.[15]

By late June 1916, still a Captain, he was appointed GSO2[1] and on 4 December he was promoted Major.[2]  The 1916 Army List shows him still serving as a Staff Officer. 

On 1 April 1917 Worrall was appointed to command the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment, who were in the 5th Division with the 1st Devons.  As an Acting Lieutenant-Colonel,[3] he led the Bedfords through the Battle of Arras in April 1917 and the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) from July until October 1917.  (His report of his Battalion’s attack near Arras on 23 April forms an Appendix to this note.)  At the end of 1917 the Division was sent to Italy, where the Bedfords served briefly on the Piave front.  During this period Worrall was again mentioned in Despatches[4] and awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the New Year’s Honours List.[5] 

On 5 February he assumed command of his old Battalion, the 1st Devons, in the trenches first at Visnadello and then at Povegliano.  During March he spent 19 days commanding 95th Infantry Brigade.  He then took his Battalion back to France after the German offensive of March 1918, commanding them on the Nieppe Front.  They were in action by 12 April at Thiennes.  In mid-April the 1st Devons held the line against relentless German attacks at a relatively low cost of 27 killed or missing, and 32 wounded.  Worrall’s officers and men won ten decorations in this action, after which he was appointed Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel.[6]  He later described how he had prepared his men for the onslaught.

I sent for all our officers, WOs, CSMs and Sergeants to our apology of a mess and explained the dire necessity of stopping the Germans and told them that it must be ‘so far and no further’ and then asked everyone present to drink to the health of the Regiment and to take a solemn oath that, wherever I gave the order to stand, they would stand, and then to sign their names…  we kept our word and never gave way…  There must have been few who really could have expected to survive and stop the German advance which had made steady progress for eight days as reports of the incoming tide were ominous.[7]

In mid-June he left the 1st Battalion to take up an appointment as a senior instructor at the Senior Officers’ School.[8]   He was promoted Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel on 16 July,[9] relinquishing the rank again in May 1919.[10]  He was mentioned in Despatches twice more.[11]

Appropriately after his experience at La Bassee in 1914, Worrall became an expert in the military use of smoke.  He lectured on the subject and, in 1919, he wrote the book, Smoke Tactics.  A year later he wrote the Syllabus of Training for Territorials.  In June 1920, again promoted to Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel[12] he was appointed to command the 6th Devons, a battalion of Territorials, who were reforming having been demobilised in 1919.  Under his command the 6th Devons were the first English infantry battalion in the TA to reach full strength.[13]  In the contracting post-war army, he rejoined the 1st Battalion at Aldershot in January 1923 as a Major (Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel).[14]

After the First World War Worrall and his wife lived at Farnborough Court, Hampshire, and had a daughter, Helen, and twin sons, Pyers Arthur and Anthony Charles.  In 1926 Worrall travelled on the P&O liner Majala, arriving in Plymouth from Gibraltar on 5 November.

Three years later, in October 1929, the entire family sailed as passengers on the Ranchi to Malta, where Worrall took command of the King’s Own Malta Regiment.    Worrall remained on Malta until 1934 when, as Brevet Colonel, he was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service as Island Commissioner for the Boy Scouts.[15]  During his time, he increased Scout membership on the islands from a few hundred to 3,000.[16]  In 1934 Worrall wrote a long, well-argued article about the difficulties of recruitment to the Regular Army.

Worrall retired in 1936 and on his sixtieth birthday (2 May 1940) was removed from the Reserve of Officers.[17]  His long service had earned him a CBE, a DSO, an MC, the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps Cape Colony, Transvaal, Orange Free State and South Africa 1902, the 1914 Star (with clasp), the 1914-18 War Medal, the Allied Victory Medal and two mentions in Despatches.

Now in his sixties and suffering from persistent poor health, Percy Worrall was too old and unfit to play any sort of role in the Second World War, but his twin sons joined the forces.  Pyers joined the RAF and flew as a fighter pilot in 85 Squadron in the Battle of Britain.  Two years later, as a 21-year-old Flight Lieutenant with 136 Squadron in India, he was killed flying a Hurricane fighter.  Anthony followed his father into the Devonshire Regiment and was commissioned in July 1940.  Fighting with the 1/7th Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment in Tunisia, he was awarded the Military Cross and, happily, survived the war.

Colonel Percy Worrall died, aged 70, on 29 November 1940 at Warneford Hospital, Leamington Spa.[18]  He was buried in what is now the Worrall family plot at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, near Worrall’s last home, Bitham Hall, Avon Dassett, Warwickshire.

 

Christopher Jary

The Keep Museum

Dorchester

October 2013

 

 


[1] London Gazette 14 Jul 16

[2] London Gazette 12 Dec 16

[3] London Gazette 17 Aug 17

[4] London Gazette 11 Dec 17

[5] London Gazette 1 Jan 18

[6] Atkinson

[7] The Great War and the Making of the Modern World by Jeremy Black 2011

[8] Ibid

[9] London Gazette 9 Aug 18

[10] London Gazette 8 Jul 19

[11] London Gazette 18 Dec 18 and London Gazette 30 Apr 19

[12] London Gazette 18 Jun 20

[13] The Bloody Eleventh Volume III by W J P Aggett 1995

[14] Ibid

[15] London Gazette 1 Jun 34

[16] Bedforshire Regiment website

[17] London Gazette 26 Jul 40

[18] Probate records

 


[1] 1891 Census

[2] Bedfordshire Regiment website www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/1stbn

[3] Army List 1934

[4] Ibid

[5] London Gazette 3 May 12

[6] The Devonshire Regiment 1914-18 by C T Atkinson 1926 and P R Worrall Medal Index Card

[7] Atkinson

[8] London Gazette 17 Feb 15

[9] London Gazette 18 Feb 15

[10] Atkinson

[11] Army List 1914

[12] Atkinson

[13] London Gazette 25 May 15

[14] London Gazette 21 Sep 15

[15] Army List 1934