Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Herefordshire at the start of the civil war

Before I became interested in wargaming the VBCW, 'Hastings' - proprietor of Solway Crafts & Miniatures and one of the originators of the genre, had included the county in his Severn valley campaign, which pitted the Royalists against the Anglican League.

The following quotes from the Genltemen's Wargames Parlour gives a brief history of how the Herefordians fared...

Ok brief plot. Army of the Severn valley trying to secure base of operations for King in Shropshire/Worcestershire/ Gloucester corridor. The Bishops of Gloucester and Worcester have been replaced by the 'King's Men' but this has added support to opposition groups. Two forces of Anglican Leaguers are mustering one with the Bishop of Hereford and a second group on the edge of the Costwolds. This second group led by Sir Cyril Stanley (ex Anglican Missionary and amateur archaeologist!) has set up a forward base in the vale of Evesham at Bredon Hill.

A very Disasterous Engagement.
While much a do has been occuring in the sunny vale of Evesham on the other side of the Severn valley things are hotting up. B company1/Grenadier Guards has been posted to the small town of Bromyard on the road between Worcester and Hereford. Having organized the defence of the town with local forces the company has been making a recce in the direction of Hereford trying to ascertain the strength the Bishop of Hereford can muster.

A quiet few days have passed without contact with the enemy and the Guards have established a CHQ at a farm near Bishop's Frome. Following a quiet night 3 platoons set out on patrol while the HQ platoon settle in a gun team from Kings troop RHA. With the troubles to the east supplies have been eratic and the days inspection finds the RHA with only 3 rounds for the 18 Pounder. Messengers are dispatched down the line to Bromyard requesting more ammo. However contemplation of logistics is interupted by rifle fire from a nearby hill targetted at the farm. No2 platoon patrolling close by break into skirmish order and engage the rifle group inflicting a casualty, but the enemy marksmen switch positions getting out of the arc of fire and continue sniping at the farm taking out a stores clerk.

The troublsome snipers at 9 oclock are aided by more militia platoons apearing at 12 and 6 oclock the other two patrols move to engage when a further platoon appears on the flank at 3 oclock. No1 platoon starts driving back the platoon at 6 oclock but on the next turn they are reinforced and a concentrated gunfight ensues. No2 platoon is caught in the flank as it assaults the hill top position at 6 oclock. No3 platoon faces the twin assaults at 12 and 3 oclock. The RHA get into action gamely plugging away in support of No1 platoon which soon has the two platoons there beaten and on the run. Inspection of enemy bodies reveals this is not only the work of Hereford's Anglian League but they have joined forces with Welsh Nationalists.

The snipers at 9 oclock re engage no2 platoon and the weight of numbers start to drive the platoon back along the track towards the farm. At 9 and 12 oclock No3 platoon is caught in a deadly cross fire as a third enemy platoon arrives on the scene, finally reduced to 2 unharmed riflemen the Guards platoon breaks, leaving the bloodied but still competant militia platoons to advance on the farm. The Gunners, now out of gun ammo and the HQ platoon are manning makeshift barricades to stave off the attack. N02 platoon keeps the enemy back at 9 oclock allowing No1 platoon to reform and counter the attack on the farm.

They succeed in routing one platoon but the second one has a high complement of LMG's and the attack stalls and as second league platoon turns on No1 platoon they are overwhelmed. Also reduced to 2 men No2 platoon gets to the outer wall of the farm before they are finished off by snipers. In the farm Company commander Major Stanley Laker and Colour Sargeant Oswald Rashbourne command the defences. Laker goes down revolver in hand while Rashbourne covers the retreat of the wounded from building to building until finally cornered he goes down swinging his now empty Lewis gun. By mid day the farm is burning and the battered remains of the league and nationalist forces carry off their prize- the 18 pounder.

++ Urgent++Official Communique to his Majesty King Edward VIII.
It is with great regret that I must inform his Majesty of the disasterous engagement that took place earlier today between B company1/ Grenadier Guards assisted by a Battery from Kings Troop RHA and the allied forces of Welsh Nationalists and the Anglian league nearby the village of Bishop's Frome, Herefordshire. Despite the highest standards of gallantry, professionalism and bravery, the Royal forces were totally overwhelmed by a numerically superior force. At this time we know of only two survivors.
Lord Cirencester ADC

A victory for the Bishop of Hereford, but elsewhere the Anglican League wasn't doing so well. The Bishop's forces now found themselves attempting to take a river crossing at Upton-upon-Severn.

The Battle of Upton
Smarting from the pasting they recieved on Tuesday, sir Cyril Stanley's Anglican leaguers were in a tight spot. With Royalist and Fascist forces closing on their Cotswold bases radical action was required. But the maps the extent of the Anglican's plight. To the West was the barrier of the River Severn with limited crossing points a formidable obstacle. To the North, East and South were Royal Forces in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. There was talk of a gathering Anglican alliance centred on Bath with a supply line now established back to Kent but there was no way in their present condition Stanley's men could fight through the Royalist and Fascist positions guarding the way. The only hope then was to find a way over the Severn and link up with the Bishop of Hereford.

Communications were sent by courier, carrier pidgeon, telephone and eventually radio. The Bishop welcomed the idea and prepossed to seize the crossing of the severn at Upton. This was a totally audacious plan as the bridge was only a few miles from the King's HQ at Madresfield. But during Friday night Herefords own men and some of his Welsh allies seized the bridge and village of Upton, put in defended positions and awaited the breakout of the Cotswold Brigade. Stanley's men had also set off on Friday night but had made slow progress as they tried to evade the shadowing force of BUF. Eventually the Brigade reached some woods about half a mile down hill to the bridge.

But first on to the scene was the repaired MK1 panzer of Cirencester's Guard on a mission to recon the bridge ahead of the fleeing Anglicans. But the Bishop of Hereford's men had two suprises for the Fascists. Firstly an elderly SE5 WW1 vintage aircraft buzed along the valley floor mapping the movements of the enemy and the progress in the race for the bridge. At the same time Major Loughbridge-Evans commanding the forces within Upton ordered his newly aquired 2 pdr anti tank gun to engage the mk1.
Sadly the crew were raw, not used to the weapon and the shell scared the earth not the tank.But it was enough to send the tank swerving for cover and ended its forward momentum.

On paralell roads units of the BUF and Anglican league were emerging. Cirencester's Alarm Company leading for the Fascists , the French Volunteers leading the Anglicans. The French found cover behind some wooden fencing bordering the road and opened up on the Fascists but failed to check their advance. Soon the French were caught in a crossfire between the Fascist infantry and the retreating MK1. The French broke and two supply trucks following behind were torched. The BUF were setting their sights on dominating the road when out of the woods march the US volunteers with a heavy complement of 3 Lmgs. In2 turns fortune's wheel had turned and it was now three platoons of Fascits that were taking fire. Then the unthinkable happened and the green Anti-tank crew scored a direct hit on the panzer, after a platoon of Herefordshire territorials had failed in a attemp to crow bar and grenade it.

At the north and west end of the Royal forces were starting to arrive. The Ghurkas supporting a MKvI went in search of their fascist allies while the company of Grenadier Guards present were keen for revenge on the Herefordshires after the massacre of their A company started to send scouts over the River.

The Guards first platoon came under heavy fire from a Welsh Militia platoon. The Guards second platoon hesitated and confusion tempoaraly reigned. While the Guards were sorting themselves out the Machine Gun platoon came up , spraying the western bank and causing the Welsh to break and panic. Private Andrews, first platoon, A Coy won the MC during this action. He was the only unwounded survivor to reach the West bank, he then charged the enemy positions with his Lewis Gun before being cut down.
Back at the Bridge the first elements of the Cottswold Brigade had joined their allies. The Anglican League Militia crossed flags high While the French and Americans formed the rear guard. In the middle of it all was Sir Stanley riding his bay charger urging his men onward. He was accompained by his trustee batman and personal standard bearer George Parker-Smythe, a trustee family retainer from his days of Missionary Work in China and Africa. Stanley's flag as well as bearing the insignia of the Anglican League had added to it the words 'Onward Christian soldiers'.

All this activity was too much provication for the newly arrived RHa battery whose two guns opened up with near disasterous results for the Anglican's. One shell missed a truck and instead scythed down Sir Stanley's horse, a second shell hit the HQ dugout of Major Loughborough Evans killing him out right. Two more shells crashed into the French Company and when this was repeated they broke for the second time fleeing south along the eastern bank of the Severn.

The Machine Gun platoon with the Guards had moved to a more advantagous position that brought the bridge into their sights, but as they prepared to fire, Flight Lieutenant(retired) Henry Wood appeared over the battlefield in his SE5 again and scored a magnificent strike on the machine guns, knocking out one team and causing the rest to pull back to the cover of the woods. In the failing light the Americans and the French armoured car disengaged and crossed the bridge, the French Company was later ferried over by boat but unfortunately the company was by then reduced to platoon size.

All in all the Anglican League had done well, on two occasions it seemed a Royalist Victory was going to occur only for the situation to rapidly change.

The Guards and Lord Cirencester's men performed bravely but didnt see any results for their courage. The French company were their usual mix of enthusiasm and unpredictability, while the Americans proved solid in the fire support and rear guard roles.

The Bishop's forces then pulled back into Herefordshire as the Royalists entered the county.

The Deadly Crossroads at Bromyard
The village of Bromyard today became the latest scene of conflict between Royalist/BUF forces and the Anglican League. Both forces aiming to control the roads between Hereford and Worcester saw this as an important target.

With the village to the centre and the areas around dominated by stonewalls, hedgerows and copses the terrain was ideal Infantry country- only both sides had brought motorized/mechanized forces. Two platoons of Grenadier Guards had formed an ad-hoc mechanized unit working with a BUF mk1 and a RTR MkvI They made good time and were on the road marking the East-West axis before the leaguers had deployed. Having taken out a league anti tank gun and won a duel with the notorious French Half track Charlemagne.(only after the French tried to ram the MKvI , their guns having failed) the tanks got seperated from their support and luckily survived a molotov attack when venturing along the main street. The Guards were fighting both French infantry and new league volunteers, Normally an unequal struggle but the Guards were suprised by a milita shotgun volley when terrain forced them to bunch closely. one platoon had to retreat because of its casulties leaving the other platoon to fight it out in the close terrain.

Mean while across the road behind a stone wall a Buf hmg did its best to keep the enemy back. In the centre of the village a unit of BUF militia and the Evesham Irregulars cleared a hmg from one house and tried to assault a second interrupted by two fly pasts by the demon se5 liberally dropping flamming bottles and other improvised explosive devices, while escaping retalitory lmg fire. Flt Lt Henry Wood(retired) is certainly gaining a reputation for excellent close air support! On the Royalist right the third platoon of Guards were in trouble, the American support platoon was inflicting heavy casualties and an armoured car was firing into their flank. The situation was only saved by the arrival of the two tanks that kept the Americans pinned. As darkness drew in neither side controlled the village, but during the night the leaguers took the opportunity to fall back and organise for a new offensive.

With support and supplies running low, time was running out for an increasingly isolated Bishop of Hereford.

In the meantime the Royal forces have been successfully taking apart the Bishop of Hereford's forces to the West of Worcester. Despite some initial success the Bishop is now running low on supplies and the local population is far from supportive. BUF General A.A. Fielding has been experimenting with light tanks and lorry borne infantry with devastating effect bringing him within ear shot of the bells of Hereford

Abandoning Hereford 10th September, the Bishop's forces were trying to move south West hoping that they might meet up with an often promised Ang League offensive. The Bishop had one last card to play. From his temporary HQ he broadcasts to the population of the Severn Valley. ' Despite the despotic behaviour of the King and his Prime Minister the people of Britain now have a choice, Despite the abandonment of Britain by the rest of the Royal Family our people do now have a choice - God save King John!' a moment later a different slightly nervous voice is heard obviously reading a prepared statement ' I am John, Prince John soon to be crowned by the will of the British People King, I have long been kept from my people by my family and its ministers, even going so far as to say that I had died in my youth. But now in my Country's hour of despair I am with you and invite you to take arms against your oppressors' A chorus off mike shout God save the King , God save King John

Although out of range of the repeated broadcast the news of the announcement filters through to command centres on all sides. The King is at first brought to tears by the news but as he composes himself the anger builds and he commands his officials 'the capture of this pretender to the throne is now your primary responsibility'

At League temporary HQ near Oxford There is consternation and considerable anger that Hereford will bring down considerable Royalist forces into the Tewkesbury area. But a realisation that it is too late to call off the offensive and that somehow they now also have to rescue a pretender.

Hereford has only survived thanks to the additional troops he got from the early Cotswold command of Sir Cyril Stanley in addition Hereford had been dealing with the Welsh Nationalists along the border. They had provided some experienced fighters and units which have kept the war going with the loss of Hereford itself. However they were initially none too pleased with the Bishop's plan for 'King John' refusing to pledge themselves to any English Monarch. Desperate to keep his small force together the Bishop has agreed that if successful the new King will grant a free and Independent Welsh state. Still not totally convinced, not least by their chances of success the Welsh agree to continue the fight alongside the Bishop, if for no other reason, than it will cause another problem for Edward's Royalists.

The Bishop's final throw of the dice was his participation in the first 'big game' - the culmination of the Severn Valley campaign which saw fighting at Shrewsbury, Evesham, Tewkesbury and Worcester. The Herefordians and 'King John' fight valiantly, but in the end are overcome by the Royalists. The Bishop of Hereford's hare-brained scheme to install a pretender on the throne ends in ingominious failure as he is carted off to the tower, leaving Herefordshire to the mercy of the King.

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