After Neuve Chapelle, many serious questions were asked regarding the conduct of the 4th Battalion during the battle.
First however, came praise from the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French, who when addressing them on 17th April commented of their "splendid patriotic conduct," however amidst the celebrations within the Battalion, investigations at Brigade level were routing deep into the part they played in the action.
Firstly it could be argued, that the Battalion suffered from a lack of exposure to battle conditions. Other than a 'scrap' at La Touret in early February, they had had virtually no real combat experience since they arrived in France in November. Other than single Company's supporting other Battalion's in the Brigade in the front line, no real close-quarter combat action was seen by 4th Suffolk until the battle itself. They had not been gradually eased into action, but appeared instead, to have be thrown head-first into it.
Secondly perhaps, one could argue that they had also suffered from a certain degree of 'mollycoddling' brought about by the personal care and attention their officers and NCOs had lavished upon them. An almost family-like concern to their wellbeing had already resulted in the Battalion Commander, Colonel Frank Garrett being invalided home with a complete nervous breakdown. He had lavished much resources upon them in peacetime. With a lack of these comforts in battle, their morale was dealt a blow. It was a severe case of familiarity having bred contempt when the men saw his invaliding home in February as nothing short of a desertion. The burden of command had fallen heavy upon him, but despite his departure, his own 'H' Company (now 'C' company) from Leiston and East Suffolk, were to be the most gallant of all the Battalion's Company's, winning three of the four DCMs awarded to the Battalion for actions during the battle.
Colonel Frank's replacement, Major Turner, was viewed by his superiors as only a temporary measure until an new CO could be brought in. Turner himself noted in his diary of the time of when, after a conversation with the Brigade Commander, he was given a small booklet of hints on how to command men. Clearly this was a polite hint that they thought him not up to the task of commanding the Battalion. Turner himself however, being a director of an engineering company, a pillar of Ipswich community and an early founder of the Church Lads Brigade, viewed himself as a more than suitable candidate for the Colonel's job.
Although the previous 'action' at La Touret had dealt a blow to morale, it had not depleted the ranks by any great amount. The loss of over 800 men prior to, and during the battle, was and still is, the most difficult question to answer.
Of the 973 all ranks that left the UK in November 1914, just six are recorded as being killed between 1st December 1914 and the 10th March 1915* Therefore taking into account the 222 killed, wounded or missing during the battle itself, and the 173 remaining ranks mentioned in the Battalion War Diary, just where were the other 572 ranks that were not involved in the action?
There is no mention of them in the War Diary or Official History. Were they held in reserve somewhere? or had they been cut off somewhere by shell fire? We shall probably never know.
The Battalion's inability to hold their specified frontage of trench due to these depleted ranks, caused considerable strain on the other Battalion's in the Brigade. The War Diary noted twice that no progress was made by the Division on the left, but they were in fact being stretched far beyond their acceptable limits, due to 4th Suffolk's reduced ranks. The mention too of a spy in both Turners diary and the official history, was much laboured on, but no evidence exists of how such a person could relay reports back to the enemy. Accurate shelling at "Windy Corner" on the morning of the 12th could be put down to the flat, unobstructed terrain of the battlefield; ideal for the German artillery observers high up in the trees of the Bois de Biez, who had an unobstructed view to Windy Corner - a mere 1 mile away across the cross roads at "Port Arthur."
For all these questions, their answers were not, and are still not, very forthcoming. The new Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Wilson Cruddas, had much hard work to do in making these "Saturday Night Suffolks" into professional, efficient fighting soldiers. They had to loose the air of a 'weekend camp' that many still possessed, and realise that this was a real, bloody, ferocious war.
For the remainder of 1915 they would be placed in backwaters, away from the great actions of the war. After Neuve Chapelle, they had to prove themselves once more to their superiors. They may have had the spirit, but what they badly needed was the experience.
*Source: CWGC website, however they may be a further 18 more not listed by Battalion.
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.