In early September 1917, Company Sergeant Major J.J. French of 1/5th Suffolk was promoted to acting Regimental Sergeant Major of the Battalion.
His promotion had been in recognition of the gallant leadership he had displayed at the Second Battle of Gaza, earlier that year, when he had been Mentioned-in-Dispatches. When the R.S.M. fell ill, French assumed the position.
Though John James French was not a regular soldier, his entire adult life had been connected with the volunteer movement. Born in 1871 in Hackney, East London, he had by 1901, moved to Sudbury in Suffolk where he and his wife Rose, were living at the Freemasons Hall. Soon after coming to Suffolk, he joined his local company of rifle volunteers; 'D' Company of 2nd (Volunteer) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, but was just too late to join the draft the Town sent to South Africa for service in the Boer War. French was however, most active in weekend parades and shooting days, when he could afford the time away from his job as a stationary manager for a large printing works in the town.
French was a crack shot and his skilful use with a rifle was recognised in October 1910, when he was presented with a handsome silver cigarette case from the 'Sudbury Territorial Shooting Committee'. The case would be carried by him throughout the Great War and can be seen today, somewhat battered and scratched, in the Suffolk Regiment Museum.
Being of such seniority, when the 5th (Territorial Force) Battalion was created in 1908, as a result of the Haldane Reforms, he was allotted an early service number of '108'. French went with the Battalion to Gallipoli, landing there with them in August 1915.
He would continue to show much gallantry being awarded further awards before the end of the war.
"A Giant Czeck Whose Notions Of Squad Drill Were Somewhat Bizarre And Whose Practice Of Bayonet Fighting Was Unorthodox And Very Blood-Curdling"
As the good weather of the English summer drew to a close, at Felixstowe another batch of recruits were being moulded into shape by the 3rd Battalion. Once young officer who had been commissioned into the Suffolk Regiment in April 1917, was training his daft for overseas service which it had been highlighted would be imminent.
"On 26th April 1917" wrote Victor Farmer "I became a temporary gentleman and a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Reserve Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, in Felixstowe, Suffolk. As newly gazetted subalterns" he continues "we were put under the direct command of the Adjutant, but, apart fromm one or two swsultory Adjutants Parades, we were soon given routine duties. I was attached to 'C' Company under Captain Ellis, and later, Captain Campbell who had successfully escaped from a prisoner of War Camp in Germany. My duties were mainly those of recruit training. During my first few months at Felixstowe the Battalion increased in numbers to about 3,ooo men, most conscripted soldiers but containing men who had been on an active front, had been wounded or otherwise made unfit and were sent to us for re-training."
Joining straight from school, Victor Farmer has been a member of the Artist's Rifles before he was given "leave pending commission" in early 1917. He had been posted first to an officer Cadet Battalion at Gidea Park in London, before receiving his commission in the Suffolks. His rag-tag bag of recruits came form all walks of life.
The 'Military Service Act' of March 1916, saw the drafting into the forces of all able-bodied, unmarried men between 18 and 41 years old. Included in this were former refugees who had become nationalised citizens as Victor found; "Amongst the recruits in my Company was a giant Czeck with white hair and whiskers whose notions of squad drill were somewhat bizarre and whose practice of bayonet fighting was unorthodox and very blood-curdling. He professed to a great hatred of the Germans, and a desire to get into the fighting line as soon as possible" However such enthusiasm came with some shaky consequences, as Farmer soon discovered. "One day my sergeant, who shared a billet with this man, told me that in the evenings he talked to the soldiers, and suggested strongly to them that they should disobey their officers and take things into their own hands. I passed this news onto the Major who was Second in Command to the Battalion and shortly afterwards he was taken from the billet and I never hear of him again"
For Victor, he would remain at Felixstowe until early October, seeing numerous German air raids on the nearby air station and just over the estuary at Harwich, the naval dockyard where a light cruiser squadron was based. On countless occasions in September, they would be turned out of their barracks on the cliffs and sent to positions of safety along the railway line but one bomb did fall close as he later recalled; "We experienced other air raids, but the nearest I got to a German bomb was when one fell into the sea about fifty yards off shore and fifty yards from the pier."
The training continued.
As Sidney Day and his colleagues in 11th Suffolk were valiantly holding the line around Malakoff Farm, the weather turned.
Drizzle and then heavy rain, made the conditions in the newly taken front line abysmal. 'Malakoff Support Trench' was all but a series of shell holes and was described as being “held by post and the trench is almost obliterated”. The War Diary too stated that “Weather very wet, making work difficult. Conditions wretched.”
Over the next 66 hours much was achieved as consolidation began. Malakoff Support Trench had been deepened to a depth of six feet and had been fire stepped. A field of fire was established for 150 yards and ‘Triangle Trench’ to the south was defended for over 100 yards, back towards ‘Cologne Farm’. At the junction of ‘Malakoff’ and ‘Rifle Pit’ Trenches in the north, they had started immediately to wire around the parapets.
The wire in ‘Malakoff Support Trench’ was described as “thin” and in an attempt to bolster the defences in this sector, 11th Suffolk had already thrown out knife-rest obstacles.
What enemy remained in the southern end of ‘Triangle Trench’ continued to harass ‘D’ Company with two machineguns that they had close and despite repeated attempts by a battery of Trench Mortars attached to the Battalion, the guns continued to fire.
Sergeant Negus along with a Battalion Sniper went out to attack the machine gun, but owing to a group of the enemy being du in further down the trench, they were unable to get out of the trench. With skilful use of bombs, Negus accounted for four of the enemy, whilst the sniper, managed to put the machinegun out of action. Fresh supplies of bombs were sent up for him to continue is sterling work, even though by this stage of his fight, he was waist-high in the muddy water of the broken trench line.
Sergeant J.P Negas, had only been with the Battalion a matter of weeks but he had already been recommended for the Military Medal for his skilful use of bombs earlier that month. Though his actions on the 26/27th were worthy of a Bar to the award, he was not to be awarded this until later that year. A total of eight Military Medals were awarded to men of the Battalion for their actions at Malakoff Farm.
The award of the Victoria Cross to Lance Corporal S.J. Day, was the second that the Regiment has earned during the Great War.
Born in Norwich in 1891, Sidney James Day was an active member of the Church Lads Brigade and was an apprenticed butcher when War was declared. He enlisted for service in September 1914 and joined the Suffolk Regiment being posted to the 9th Battalion at Shoreham.
He was no stranger to the heat of battle. In September 1915 at the Battle of Loos, he was the only man of his section to come out of the battle uninjured. During the firefight toward the Hulluch Road, Day went out under heavy fire to rescue his officer, Lieutenant Stevens. As a token of esteem for the rescue of their wounded son, Mr and Mrs Stevens presented Day with an inscribed silver cigarette case.
Day was wounded during the Battle of the Somme receiving four separate gunshot wounds on the same day; three to his legs and one to the upper body. The latter, was nearly fatal - entering from the side and embedded itself close to his heart, but by some miracle, it was stopped by his paybook and a quantity of field service postcards that were stuffed in his upper pocket. Within weeks, he was back at the front, being transferred to the 11th Battalion.
The award of his Victoria Cross for his actions at Malakhoff Farm was formally announced in October 1917 and on the 9th January 1918, he was presented with the award by The King at Buckingham Palace. however, no sooner had he returned to the front, than he was taken prisoner in the German March Offensive, ending the war in captivity.
The citation for his award concluded by saying that "he afterwards completed the clearing of the trench and, establishing himself in an advanced position, remained for sixty-six hours at his post, which came under intense hostile shell and rifle grenade fire. Throughout the whole operations his conduct was an inspiration to all."
Post-War, Day took a job for the Electric Light Company in Norwich, before moving to Portsmouth in the late 1920s. Here, he opened his own hostelry aptly named "The Sidney Day VC Tea Rooms". He married a local girl in 1939 and the tea rooms flourished until they were tragically bombed in 1941. Day died of tuberculosis in 1959.
At his funeral, 2/Lieutenant I.W. Jefferson, representing the Suffolk Regiment, laid a wreath of 150 red and yellow roses. In the twilight of the Suffolk Regiment just prior to its amalgamation, it was touching that the last officer to be commissioned into it, was paying respects to it's last Victoria Cross winner.
On 26th August, the 11th Suffolk attacked towards the German trenches that ran north to south in front of the German fortified position around Malakhoff Farm, just northwest of the village of Hargicourt.
The front line had been advanced earlier that year around 'Cologne Farm' to the south and a small factory in between. A precipitous sap had been dug due north to connect the line with the Hargicourt –Bony road. However the use of this trench, nicknamed ‘Redan Lane’ was dangerous as movement was observed from the still heavily defended system of trenches around Malakhoff Farm to the east.
A defensive perimeter had been dug by the Germans in front of the farm, known as ‘Malakhoff Trench’ and behind it, a redan of two further trenches sealed its ruins on three sides. It was this section of line that the Battalion had been ordered to take and hold, linking up with other units to the north in ‘Rifle Pit Trench’ and to the south in ‘Sugar Trench.’
At 1.00am on the morning of the 26th August; three years to the day that the 2nd Battalion had fought so gallantly at Le Cateau, the Battalion moved into position. By 2.30am, the Battalion was ready, but the wind was howling and the men were ‘very cold before starting off.’
At 4.30am the attack commenced. ‘A’ Company on the left, ‘B’ in the centre and ‘D’ Company on the right. ‘A’ Company advanced well and found that ‘Rifle Pit’ trench was unoccupied. In the centre and to the right, the enemy were well dug in and large in number. At the junction between ‘Malakhoff Trench’ and ‘Sugar Trench’ there was tough fighting. The war diary noted that “There was hand to hand fighting and bombing, the machine gun here caused a few casualties but the crew were soon killed. The second wave pushed on to find the objective.”
‘Triangle Trench’ to the southeast was strongly defended, but the Company Commander, Captain Wright, decided to seize the initiative and press on to capture it. He was successful, but not before two of his platoon commanders; 2/Lieutenant’s Cavaliero and Gentle, had been wounded. Over 30 prisoners were taken and consolidation began.
'B' Company in the centre, under the command of Captain Sheepshanks, made ‘Malakhoff Trench' and pressed on beyond it into the ruins of the farm. The going was tough above ground, rubble, uneven tracks and numerous shell holes caused the men to slip and slide in the muddy conditions. 'Malakhoff Support Trench' which lay beyond the ruins was reached, but the forward platoons were taking fire from both the north and the south. To make the position safer and to press onwards, the bombers now came to the fore to start their work.
The drill was now enacted. A bombing section, under the command of Lance Corporal Day, halted and bombs were lobbed over. In the smoke of the explosion, the party went forward, covered by riflemen. For 30 yards they pressed on, until north of the farm ruins they halted at the junction of 'Malakhoff’ and ‘Malakhoff Support’ Trenches, just south of the Bony road.
As they paused and took care of the wounded, Day pressed on alone, ken to make contact with their neighbours on the left flank, Running the gauntlet of fire over the above-ground area along the road, he reached the other side and was soon in contact with elements of the 16th Royal Scots on the left flank.
After he had relayed the message that they were in position on the other side of the gap he returned to start back to the Suffolk positions. Upon reaching the other side of the road, no sooner had he got his breath to tell his officer of the link-up, when a German stick grenade landed just inches from his feet. Day instinctively seized the grenade and hurled it back over the parapet where it immediately exploded. His gallant actions undoubtedly saved the lives of the men around him.
It was clear that the enemy were still very close and their forward position would become untenable unless they were supported. In an attempt to silence the enemy who must have been just yards from them, Day took a party of bombers south along ‘Malakhoff Trench’ to see if he could get around behind them.
Finding a small, disused German sap, he was able to get into a position from where they could lob bombs into the enemy’s frontal positions. Here, with six other men, he was to remain for a staggering sixty-six hours, harassing the enemy, until with all bombs gone, and fearing a retreat, reinforcements finally arrived to relieve them.
For 11th Suffolk, the day was a success. Objectives had been taken and initiative had been seen. Co-operation within units was excellent and although casualties were heavy, the farm was finally in Allied hands and 11th Suffolk had an unrestricted view down the valley to the east; the first time they had commanded the high ground here since they arrived.
The battle would continue, but the actions of ‘B’ Company, and in particular, those of Lance Corporal Day and his bombing section, were pivotal in the line being advanced and held. For his gallantry in those difficult hours, he was to receive the second, and final, Victoria Cross awarded to a soldier of the Suffolk Regiment.
In August 1917, Mrs Danzanvilliers living at 636 Garratt Lane, Lower Tooting, London, received a parcel of her late husbands effects, taken from his body when he was killed near Vlamertinghe, west of Ypres in Belgium.
French by birth, her husband, Louis Marie Joseph Vital Danzanvilliers was killed on 13th July 1917. He had been born in Paris but was brought to London when he was three years old by his parents who came to work in the hotel trade.
When Louis grew up, he followed them into the same profession, becoming a hotel porter. His wife, Caroline, also worked in the hotel trade as a laundry maid.
At 5ft. 2ins tall, Louis was an early member of the 12th Battalion, suggesting that perhaps he had already been refused military service before on account of his height. Aged 39, he was certainly not the oldest soldier in the Battalion, but he must have been one of the eldest, for in the first few months of their creation, the Battalion suffered with many mothers claiming back their sons who had illegally signed-up underage.
Danzanvilliers was certainly not serving with 12th Suffolk when he met his end. The Battalion were on the 13th, in the front line near Villers-Guislann, south of Cambrai, almost eighty miles away. The 'Frenchman' as he is known locally in Belgium (on account of his unusual surname), attracts many visitors to the secluded Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, where he now rests.
With grateful thanks to the Summerstown182 website;
On 6th August 1916, the 8th Battalion, marched along with the 6th Royal Berks, to Dickebusch. Here just behind the line, they were addressed by the Commander of IInd Corps, Lieutenant-General Sir Claude Jacob.
Sir Claude gathered the two Battalions together to congratulate them and to thank them for their efforts on the first day of the battle at Sanctuary Wood. It was clear by his sitting words that he was impressed by their limited success in view of the complete failure of the 30th Division to even achieve the first of their allowed objectives, which caused these two Battalions to have to complete the tasks of a Division, when they were not even the strength of a Brigade (when combined).
"You started off alright" Sir Claude said "everything went splendidly, and then when you were going for attack you learned that the 30th Division had not got the 'Black line' and you had to do it for them. It was bad luck. We are all pleased with the action and that of the Commanding Officers of the Suffolks and Berkshires. They did absolutely the right thing, and they did the job the 30th Division should have done."
"I am grateful" he continued "and congratulate you on your work. Do not think for one moment that your work was a disappointment; you did absolutely the right thing. My only regret is that you could not start from the original line. You had a lot of casualties, but they cannot, unfortunately, be helped."
For a Battalion that felt slightly disrupted, these were inspiring words. Alluding to the weather that had been pretty dire for the past few days he concluded his speech by saying "I am absolutely certain you will show the 'Bosche' at least, what a splendid fighting lot you are. You have always been so, and have always played the game in the field. I am grateful to you and thank you for the work that you have done."
Within days his words would be in print in newspapers in England. The division that failed; the 30th was not mentioned but was replaced with a censored "-" in Sir Claude's published speech. For 8th Suffolk, they were already back in the line when their relatives at home began to learn of their great feat on that first day of battle.
Lieutenant L.A.G. Bowen, who had caught the nasty lungful of gas at Monchy with Lieutenant Green, was conveyed to a field hospital behind the lines to recover.
Within days, Bowen was up and about and keen to get back to the front. Though not fully recovered, he was allowed to walk into the local town to be able to post letters and buy provisions.
On one of his walks when he was trying to procure some shaving tackle, he noticed in a shop window, a small teddy bear. Thinking it would be a great gift for his baby son, he brought the bear and sent it home to his wife. The bear would never leave the Bowen family for 89 years.
Captain Bowen would continue to serve in the Army, being posted after the War to the Essex Regiment. His son too, followed in his fathers footsteps and also became a soldier, eventually retiring as a Major-General.
The bear or 'Sir Edward' as was affectionately known, was later made a uniform complete with Suffolk Regiment buttons, cut from Bowen's service dress jacket. He was in 2008, bequeathed to the Suffolk Regiment Museum by the late Major-General Bowen and is now on permanent display. An exceptionally popular exhibit, he attracts many visitors both young and old!
"His Lion-Hearted Courage And Pride Of Race Carried Him On To The Supreme End; A Gallant English Gentleman, He Died That The England He Loved So Well Might Rise Triumphant Over An Unscrupulous Foe"
Late on the 9th August 1917, almost 350 men of 7th Suffolk waited in their caves, ready to advance in a co-ordinated raid on the enemy trenches just north of Monchy le Preux near 'Infantry Hill'.
The 'raid' was the first large-scale experiment, which involved men from all Battalions in the Brigade. It had taken much planning and preparation and their consolidation on the battlefield was rehearsed many times behind the lines on a system of dummy trenches using highly detailed aerial photographs of the land they were to cross and that which they were expected to capture.
From first light, the Allied artillery had pounded the German positions in front of the Suffolk lines; the usual precursor to the infantry attack. The front line, was sparsely defended during this time with the majority of the troops concealed in their caves, ready to go when the time was announced.
7th Suffolk vacated their section of line early in the morning, just before the bombardment commenced. The Germans seeming to sense an attack, fire over several gas shells, crippling the last members of the Battalion to leave. Captain L.A.G. Bowen, and 2/Lieutenant A. Green, who were hurriedly pushing men back, were too late to don their respirators and caught a nasty breath of phosgene, which caused them to be hospitalised for several days.
"The bombardment will last 13 1/2 hours and will be intense between Stirup Lane and Bois de Aubepines" wrote the Battalions order for the attack. It continued "Towards the end of the bombardment, during daylight, under barrage of artillery, TM's (trench mortars) and MG's (machine-guns) infantry brigades will send strong parties into the enemy's trenches with a view to killing any survivors, obtaining identifications and destroying dugouts" There was to be no chivalry now in war.
The assaulting troops were to be "dribbled" into position section by section, making every conceivable effort to not alert the enemy to the amassing of troops opposite him. Bayonets were not to be fixed until everyone was in position. The barrage wound continue for another hour and a half after zero hour, when the troops had gone over the top. The barrage would however be held in a box pattern to shield the assaulting waves. The countersign was "whiskey". Despite the ferociousness of the barrage, the wire it was anticipated would not be completely destroyed and for the attack every single man involved carrier a pair of wire cutters into battle.
At 7.45pm, the men advanced and were within minutes filing from their caves out into no-mans-land. The plan was working magnificently. Rifle bombers on the flanks laid down the covering fire, the lewis gunners moved through and the riflemen followed behind. Those on the flanks, as per the plan kept the fire up and soon within minutes, the first prisoners were running through the Suffolk positions.
As the box barrage halted, the German first line was held. As it moved on Captain Morbey stood on the parapet and urged his men forward, a captured German Maxim gun was slung over his shoulder. No sooner had he spoken, a German fighter plane appeared out of the smoke, it's machine guns blazed. Morbey was killed and his Sergeant Major who stood beside him, was badly wounded.
Educated at Soham Grammar School and at Oundle, he was an excellent footballer, being the Captain and Treasurer or the Ilford Wanderers. Relinquishing his job upon the outbreak of war, he enlisted on 20th August and was commissioned the following year. Wounded at Loos, he recovered and returned to the front in July 1916. The Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel F.S. Cooper wrote to his family; "He had led his men in a successful raid in the enemy's trenches, and was returning to our front line, carrying a captured machine-gun, when he was hit; and he died a few minutes afterwards in our trench. He was a splendid Officer, full of courage and devotion to duty. He was very popular with Officers and men, and we shall miss him greatly."
After recuperating, his Sergeant Major wrote also; "I was his Co. Sergeant-Major, and a better Captain I shall never have. He was loved by all the men of his Company, and I miss him terribly. He was a soldier - one of the best."
His old school paid him the following tribute; "Captain Morbey's death was deeply mourned, not only by his relatives, but by many friends in Soham, where he was well known and exceedingly popular. He was of a most amiable disposition, kindness being one of his foremost qualities, and the warm appreciation of his comrades-in-arms was no surprise to those who had seen the manly promise of his boyhood. His soldierly qualities were most pronounced, and on no single occasion did the men under his charge have cause to mistrust him. His lion-hearted courage and pride of race carried him on to the supreme end; a gallant English gentleman, he died that the England he loved so well might rise triumphant over an unscrupulous foe".
With grateful thanks to the Soham Grammar School website for the above information.
For the 4th Battalion, the month of July was one of training, sport and more training behind the lines at Warlus behind Arras.
It was a chance for the Battalion to recover following it's heavy fighting at Arras on the 23rd April and the months afterwards. It was normal for a Battalion to be rested every ten weeks or so and pulled right out from the front line into a rear area, where they could for a few days, feel they were away from the fight.
For the Adjutant, Captain C.C.S. Gibbs, these periods of rest were not ones of calm, but ones of great fevered activity as he tried to put the Battalion back into a semblance of order. "All our officer were new, drafted in from all sources" he recalled "many not Suffolks at all. In a few days we should be in the line again with new officers and for the most part new men, all easily trained and more hastily absorbed. The only element of permanency in the Battalion seemed to be the CO, the Doc (who was then quite new) and Richards, the transport officer, and old Hudson the Quartermaster".
For Gibbs it was a trying time for after time in the front line, he could not rest like the others for the day-to-day running of the Battalion had to continue. Drafts had to organised and collected, returns for required men and material submitted to Brigade, casualty reports to be written or dictated, and arrangements made for the billeting of men in their new positions.
In amongst all this, Gibbs recalled fondly of his return to his old Company (B) when he had the time: "It was always good to setback to 'B' Echelon after a long tim in the line - especially after a 'show' in the line. There was my welcoming orderly rom staff, Sergeant Rowe, Corporal herring and theta clerks - always more welcoming because they themselves remained behind in safety with their typewritters. As I sand worn out in my office chair, or whatever substituted for one, after an all night march from the trenches, Sergeant Rowe used to radiate sympathy and cups of tea without every speaking a word".
Soon 4th Suffolk would too be committed to the fight at Third Ypres and Gibb's workload as Adjutant would become an awful lot heavier.
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.