On 13th June 1917, the C.O. of 2nd Suffolk, Major Guy Clifford Stubbs, went forward infant of his Battalions positions in the front line to reconnoitre the ground in preparation for the forthcoming attack the next day.
Accompanied by the commanding officer of 1st Gordon Highlanders, Lieutenant-Colonel James Burnett, they mapped the land in front of them, and agreed the Battalion boundaries for the attack. Satisfied that they had attained the necessary information, they returned to the Allied lines and drew up a combined co-operational attack for the next morning. In the darkness, Company's were detailed off into position at 1.00am and at 3.00am on the morning of the 14th operation orders were distributed by Adjutant, Captain Trollope, who had along with the CO, moved from their HQ in the rear into the Quarry just behind the Allied trenches.
The Battalion's objective was the high ground due east of the village of Monchy-le-Preux, named "Infantry Hill" The Hill had at its base "Hook trench" which was the Battalion's objective. At 7.20 am, the Battalion advanced. The scene was reminiscent of the first day of the Battle back in April - complete surprise. Fire came from one lone solitary sentry only as the War Diary recalled; "Attack launched, and appeared a complete surprise except for the fire of one sentry on our extreme left. Our artillery barrage came down according to programme. Bosch barrage fell on Saddle, Hill and Shrapnel trenches cutting all wires forward and to Brigade"
The enemy fire was for once landing in the area between the front and second lines, along a series of interlocking communication and support trenches, but the severing of communications was a blow. The Signals section were despatched from the Quarry by Major Stubbs, to see if the lines could be repaired, meanwhile the first message were coming in from the men out in front.
Lieutenant Barton reported at 7.30am, that "first line had reached HOOK TRENCH" and fifteen minutes later he reported that "X-Coy had passed over the crest (of Infantry Hill) and prisoners were coming in." As the sounds of fighting gradually died down, Major Stubbs waited patiently for news of his men on the Hill. Two hours later, a runner appeared with a written message from Hook Trench to state that many prisoners had been taken, along with several machine guns, and two grenade throwers, casualties being "light."
Just after 10.00am, further messages were received. The CO of 'X' Company reported that Long Trench (the closest to the enemy in front of the Bois de Vert) had been taken and they were making good their defences. A defensive post was established on the right flank of Battalion's new positions to cover a gap of some yards between the Suffolks and the Gordons, but the remainder of the dat was quiet.
At 6.00pm, the Germans tried to retake the Hill however, after a spirited artillery barrage, their attack was beaten back. The night was also "quiet" and the darkness allowed the Battalion to continue to strengthen their new positions.
The day was successful for the Battalion, but it was not without loss. One man killed that day was a young Jewish immigrant form London. Hyman Revensky enlisted into the Army in 1915, joining first the 20th Battalion, London Regiment (Blackheath and Woolwich) before being wounded on the Somme. After recuperation, he joined 2nd Suffolk in early 1917. He lived with his parents at 34, East India Dock Road in Poplar in east London, where they resided on the first two floors. Because the line advance far that day, Revensky's body was found and buried in Faubourge d'Amiens cemetery at Arras.
His grave is virtually unique for it states his first name, as well as his surname. Every other Commonwealth war grave bears just the deceased soldiers initials.
At 1.30 am on the morning of 9th June 1917, the enemy made a raid upon the men of the 9th Battalion in the frontline trenches just north of the French town of Loos where in 1915, one of its members won the Regiment's first Victoria Cross.
The Germans were aiming to take "Newport Sap" an old shell hole that had since been tunnelled out to, pushing the British front line forward by some 25 feet. Coming on in great numbers, the Germans were repulsed by Allied artillery and trench mortar batteries. As the enemy dead mounted at the Allied wire, the Germans called off the attack.
The War Diary noted that "a party went out and brought in the dead who were buried and identification obtained" By this stage the Army had finally introduced a second identification disc. The enormous losses of men who have no known grave on the Somme may in part be attributed to the issue of just a single red fibre tag worn by the wearer. if killed, the tag would be removed and returned the Company office to ensure that the unfortunate soldiers rations and pay stopped. It had nothing to do with identifying his body.
No one however realised until the great war that the same ground we fought over time and time again, making any form of permanent memorial possible. The massive battles of the Somme saw men's graves destroyed with their markers lost. No one could ever be accurately identified after the dust had settled unless their body retained a form of permanent identification.
When Colonel Fabian Ware took over control of the Graves Registration Unit, he insisted join the introduction of a further means of identification to be kept with the body after the red fibre identification tag was removed. The idea was ingeniously simple. A second tag.
A second lozenge-shapped tag would be worn. Its have meant that even in the dark, the registration unit could feel the circular red tag and remove it, leaving the squared green tag in situ. In daylight, the second tag was green, so that there could be no misidentification. This simple system ensured that in the battles that were to come, a higher proportion of graves were subsequently identified
The month of May had seen the 2nd Battalion in the front line around the village of Monchy, east of Arras, where they had been continuously serving with the other units in their Brigade.
The month did however bring many awards for men of the Battalion for the gallant actions they had shown at Arras the previous month. Two Military Crosses were presented to Captain Baker and Lieutenant Pryke, and five Military Medals were awarded to Sergeant Jackson and Privates Ashworth, Anderson, Howes and Tribe. The presentation of the ribbons for these awards was made by the G.O.C. 3rd Division on the "football ground" at Arras on 21st May, and a week later, a further four officers; Lieut-Colonel Stubbs, Captain Curtis, and Lieutenant Russell and Harrup and two other ranks; Sgt. Gillson and Pte. Anderson (again) were Mentioned-in-Dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig for their previous gallantry.
June 3rd 1916, found the 2nd Battalion training near Arras, where in honour of the King's Birthday, they wore roses in their headdress. Continuation of age-old customs was evermore important in wartime to keep up morale and strengthen the esprit-de-corps within the Battalion. As the numbers of men in the Battalion who had survived the battles of Le Cateau, Ypres and more recently, the Somme dwindled, new men who had joined the Battalion since, learnt the history of this ever-proud Regiment to which they were now a part of.
Sydney Fuller, 8th Suffolk, noted in his diary on 21st May 1917; "We passed through the ruins of Boyelles, and halted on the open ground near the Arras-Albert railway. Here we made bivouacs, with our groundsheets. the men who had been on "detail" were there - as brown as berries. they were a strange contrast to the men who had been in the line, who were sallow and tired-looking. rainy night. We got a bit wet, as our "waterproof" roof leaked in places.
Sydney and his chums would have been issued back in England, though most probably worn out and replaced since, a single 6ft by 2ft waterproof panel of rubberised canvas. You could choose to sleep on it, to keep the damp from coming up from below, or sleep with it over you, to keep the rain from coming down on you. Along all four sides, it had a series of eyelets, which could be joined to a fellow chums groundsheet with a spare bootlace. With the aid of a piece of twine, it could be strung between two trees, or with two stout twigs, it could be guyed into a simple tent. Ineffective, crude and impracticable, the Army took much time to realise that something better was desperately needed and in mid-1917, a version of the groundsheet was modified to include an extra panel and a collar so that it could be properly worn as a waterproof cape. Buttons and buttonholes replaced eyelets to that a better seal could be made with a chums cape when making a rain tight shelter.
The hot conditions that had erupted on the Somme earlier that month led to men acquiring the most unusual suntans. In days without any protection from the sun's glare, the standard "Somme-tan" as it was known was to have bronzed arms up to about three inches above the elbow - where the shirt sleeves were to be ruled to in shirtsleeve order. Sometimes it went a little higher when the sleeves were hacked off the shirt, but both were accompanied by a tanned 'v' shape under the collar where the bib-front of the regulation grey flannel shirt was rolled in.
It was quite unique to the Western Front with its scorching hot days and damp, drizzly nights. Mens faces to took on a bronzed appearance, so much so that on occasion's chums joked to one another "Hello Johnny Turk!"
On the night of the 5/6th May 1917, 12th Suffolk; the Bantams, were in the front line close to the French village of Villiers-Plouich, about 15 miles south of the town of Cambrai.
That night the Battalion were to participate in a trench raid against the enemy trenches opposite near the hamlet of La Vacquerie. The morning and most of the afternoon had been spent relatively quiet, but in the still darkness, the men awaited the artillery barrage that was the precursor to their advance.
At 11.00pm, the barrage erupted and 'A' and 'D' Company's setting off to follow it across no-mans-land. No sooner had they advanced, than heavy enemy machinegun fire erupted from their front line. Leading 'A' Company forward, Captain Crump, was wounded in the thigh and foot and had to be evacuated by stretcher. Pressing onwards, 'D' Company also suffered heavily from enemy grenades. They had come up against a new form of wire entanglement that could not be cut with the cutters that they had. Like sitting ducks, they crouched behind it in whatever cover was available, but as they were within striking distance of the German front line, its occupants hurled grenade and grenade at them, causing terrible casualties.
Whilst the bulk of 'D' Company were held up by this wire, a party managed to find a gap to the right that had been cut by the artillery barrage, and pressed onwards to the German front line. Sergeant Lovell and a party of some 7 men, got into the German line and set about getting a few prisoners. A patrol of about six Germans were taken, but as the party set off back to their own lines with their haul, they became lost.
In the darkness, Lovell and his men could not find their way back though the wire. In desperation, a route was taken back through a sunken lane to the south east, working on a compass bearing rather than memory. On the way back, the patrol was accosted by an enemy sentry along the lane and he too was taken prisoner. Thankfully however, he agreed to show them the way back to a place where they could cross into the Allied lines. When they arrived back and handed over their prisoners for interrogation, someone pointed out to Lovell that he had been wounded. He had been shot twice through the arm.
Though not bathing themselves in glory, the patrol had successfully brought back a sizeable number of prisoners, much intelligence and a great haul of information. For Lovell, the award of the DCM would come in due course, being announced two months later in July, but the medal itself, was not officially bestowed upon him until Sunday 4th August 1918, when he was home on leave from the Front.
The Mayor of his hometown of Sandy in Bedfordshire, presented it to him along with a posthumous MM to another townsman's widow. Mr. E.T. Leeds-Smith J.P. made the presentation after Mr Mark Young, Chairman of the Parish Council, made an address. He stated that "This day four years ago, with no warning, the Germans marched their hordes through Belgium to attack France and expected to be in Paris within a few days. The battle of the Marne was fought and Paris was saved and Europe was saved thanks to such men as you see before you" He concluded by saying that if this had been a sermon, he would have chosen for his text "Remember and Rejoice"
On 3rd May, a Suffolk officer was posted missing whilst serving with the 5th Battalion, Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment.
Born at Abbey Oaks, Sproughton, near Ipswich, Captain Charles Harvey Churchman was originally commissioned into the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, T.F., in August 1914. The youngest son of the tobacco giant Sir Arthur Churchman, he was educated at Rugby, and later Pembroke College, Cambridge, where upon the outbreak of war, he volunteered for war service and was promoted Captain in July 1916. He had prior to the outbreak of war, spent six months studying in Germany, where he had become fluent in its language.
Retained in England, for the 6th Battalion did not serve overseas, he was keen to see action and volunteered to transfer to the West Yorkshire Regiment, joining them in France in January 1917. On the day he was lost, he was leading his men into cation around the village Bullecourt. He had not originally been detailed to be part of the attacking wave, but such was esteem in which his men held him, that they specifically asked for him to lead them over everybody else. He wrote home the night before of how proud he was and how glad to go with his men into action.
Leading his platoon forward, they reached their final objective but were almost immediately cut-off by a savage enemy counterattack. With no chance of reinforcements of resupply, they bravely fought on. only when Captain Churchman was killed, did his platoon bow to the inevitable, and surrender. He was 22 years old when he died.
His Colonel wrote, a few days before his death to his parents at Sproughton; "Charlie is a perfect Officer, always cheery and absolutely reliable. His Company Commander relies on him above all others, and, better still, the N.C.O.s and men have a very great confidence in him, and he has proved himself a leader in every way. He has been through some very hard and trying conditions with them all, and has never failed for a moment."
A brother Officer wrote of his last moments gallantly making a dash for the German front line; "He and I are great friends, and we have worked together all through. One could not have wished for a better Subaltern than Charles. Nothing was too great for him to tackle, and he had the love and respect of his men. The whole Company followed him to a man."
Stricken by grief at his loss, and not having a grave to visit, his parents commissioned a portrait in his honour to hang in the family home. Using what scant photographs they had of their son, the original artists charcoal sketch is shown above. Whether the portrait ever reach reality is unknown.
With grateful thanks to Taff Gillingham for the above image.
South of the river Scarpe, the 7th Battalion were also attacking on the 28th April.
The action was one of the very few times that two Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment, were attacking the same objective.
Their Brigade (35th), attacked along the front line and advanced towards the remains of the village of Pelves. As with their counterparts in the 11th Battalion who were at the same time, advising about a quarter of a mile north of the river, the artillery had failed to silence the german machine gunners or cut all of the belt of defensive barbed wire. 7th Suffolk met a similar fate as 11th Suffolk at Roeux.
7th Norfolk on the left, and 5th Royal Berks on right advanced, but met withering machine-gun fire. 7th Suffolk remanned in their assembly trenches, but after just three minutes, the Germans launched a heavy counter-barrage, that came down on the reserve positions where 7th Suffolk were waiting.
Out in front, 7th Norfolk had failed to reach their objective. They were forced to go to ground and try to hold a line through the numerous shell holes that pock-marked the landscape. 5th Royal Berks succeeded in taking a small section of the German front line known as "Bayonet Trench" and its intersecting communication trench know as "Rifle Trench" but they could get no further.
Twenty minutes after zero hour, 7th Suffolk advanced from their positions at 4.48am and in artillery formation advanced towards the Royal Berks at Bayonet Trench. The Wair Diary recorded that "Heavy barrage + M.G. fire and attack failed. Unable to advance beyond Bayonet and Rifle trench" The machine-guners in the village of Roeux, north of the river had, once the Cambs-Suffolks attack failed, switched their line of fire south against the 12th Division's area of advance. Movement, and progress was now impossible in daylight so the Battalion consolidated in Bayonet Trench and here they remained, until relieved the following day.
Two failures, for two Suffolk Battalions in the Third Battle of the Scarpe. Things would however get better...
On 28th April 1917, the 11th Battalion launched an attack against the German lines around and beyond the Chemical works at the village of Roeux, east of Arras.
At first light, 4.25am, the pre-arranged barrage was brought down along the German front line. For two minutes it rained shrapnel into the enemy’s front line before it ceased at 4.27am and the infantry advanced.
However, no sooner had the men got up and advanced, a mass of German machineguns opened up through the still setting smoke. The barrage had missed a complete line of German defensive trenches and they were soon firing back as the Cams-Suffolks advanced. Men dropped like they had down in the face of the withering fire at La Boisselle nine months earlier.
“My Company” wrote Captain Harmer “was ordered to attack the chemical works at Roeux, near Arras. A Company, which I was commanding acted as Support Company and advanced about 100 yards behind the two leading Company’s. It was quite dark when the attack began and my Company had to be extended over 700 yards, so that any control was impossible. I became separated from most of the Company by some buildings, and eventually found myself in a shell hole with two men; a Signaller and a Runner”
By 5.00am, it was clear that the attack had failed, though some men had managed to reach a quarry to the right of the Chemical Works. The remnants of the attacking waves, fell back into the front line and shortly afterwards, the Battalion Commander, Major G.L.J. Tuck, who had watched from the Second Line and saw the attack falter, came forward into the front line to “clear up the situation and re-organise the defence.”
The front line was full of wounded, but it was clear that many men had been lost in the attack. It was estimated that approx. 5 officers and 300 other ranks remained, along with 2 officers and about 60 men from the 16th Royal Scots who had been mixed up in the attack. These men were the ‘moppers-up’ who were to follow up the attacking waves.
Out in front Captain Harmer and a handful of men in a shell hole, had resisted numerous calls from the enemy to surrender, but as their ammunition was exhausted, they bowed to the inevitable and threw in the towel. Major Tuck’s presence in the front line was fortuitous for around 9.45 am, a hefty enemy counter attack commenced. Pushing up from the south from the direction of the village of Roeux, it cut into the front line and all communication was lost. On the Battalion’s right flank, Ceylon trench, was breached by the enemy and they pushed the Lincolns back to wards Mount Pleasant Wood. A dangerous enveloping salient was in danger of developing which would squash the 11th Battalion in the middle.
However, the line held and the enemy was repelled. Major Tuck established that the enemy had withdrawn over the railway line and were retreating back into Roeux itself and the Lincolns were pushing the enemy out of Mount Pleasant Wood slowly and surely using their skilful use of bombing teams. The reminder of the day was quiet, though no-one could disguise the utter disappointment of the failure of the attack and the grievous losses that had been incurred by the Battalion.
As darkness came, those who had made it to the quarry that morning, returned, bringing with them a handful of prisoners. At 10.00pm, the Battalion was withdrawn to allow a much wider artillery concentration to be put down across the whole of the former Cambs-Suffolks trenches. It was to be the precursor of another attack by another unit; an attack that was also to fail.
On 24th April 1917, 11th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment (Cambs) relieved the 16th Royal Scots in positions opposite the Chemical Works at Roux near Arras.
The Battalion had arrived in the Arras sector earlier that month and had a highly successful first day of the campaign, reaching the German second line close to the village of Maison Blanche, with the loss of only 25 men.
In the days that followed, they went northeast in the direction of the village of Oppy, close to the Canadian sector of the line, and by 15th April, they were back in Arras resting, awaiting what was next required of them.
In these days, generic orders for the advancement of troops had been issued. Though they were designed to be non-specific, they detailed instructions as to how the men should dress and what they were to do when they reached the German lines.
"Faces blackened, officers will wear mens tunics, all ranks will wear a white patch underneath their collar, which must be turned up immediately on entering the German trench. No badges, letter, maps, or any marks are to be carried or worn. Identification discs with mens name only will be worn. Equipment to be carried as in Table "A".
Table "A" in the orders, detailed a curious mix of items to be carried into battle including 30 torches, 36 Dayfield shields (body armour) 70 black helmet covers, 8 French horns, 70 white strips of calico for the tunic collars, 50 phosphorus bombs, 400 3 second bombs (Mills bombs), 4 traversing maps (believed to be 'mats' - for throwing over barbed wire), 4 large wooden handled wire-cutters, 6 poles and canvas for making improvised stretchers and chewing gum.
Chewing gum had come over with the Canadians in the early part of the war, and was a great hunger suppressant when men were caught out in the open with no means of re-supply. It was clear that by April 1917, it was an 'on ticket' item and part of general trench stores. Quite how much was issued and in what quantities, remains unclear.
That "chance shell" that landed amongst 'C' Company that afternoon claimed the life of Private Eric Dewsbury.
Eric heralded from the snall Fenland village of Little Theford near Ely. Unmarried, he lived with his sister Lily, at the Round House in the village. The Dewsbury family had lived in the village for centuries and at ne time, the roundhouse was occupied by a member of the Dewsbury family who had an astonishing 13 children.
When conscription was introduced in March 1916, Eric received his call-up papers. He appealed first against his having to serve in the Army as he said that he had to support his father and sister, as he was the only wage-earning member of the family. His appeal was refused and in August 1916, he was ordered to report for service.
He enlisted at Ely and was drafted immediately to 'C' Company of the 4th Battalion. After training at Halton Camp near Tring, he embarked from Folkestone on 28th August 1916 and joined the Battalion in France on 12th September. he was one of the first drafts to arrive after the Battalion's costly battle to take the enemy trenches near High Wood.
He lies today in Wancourt British Cemetery; one of many reluctant soldiers who had to serve against their wishes to ensure that Victory could be attained.
With grateful thanks to the littlethetford.org website of the above information.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.