At midnight on the 12th March, the Germans brought down heavy shelling in the billeting area of 4th Suffolk in the Rue de Berceaux.
A shell dropped into one house around 3.00 am killing one man and wounding three others. At 4.30 am, orders were received to fall in and moved to another location. The Battalion however took over half an hour to get everyone gathered up and fall in since they were scattered through numerous houses, sheds and outhouses along the entire length of the village. The shell fire was accurate and later, when they started off on the road, the shells came down with alarming accuracy on the Battalion claiming many men.
Such was the ferocity of this bombardment that by the time the Battalion has reached “Windy Corner” a message came from the CO at the head of the column to disperse and find shelter in the trenches and redoubt of the southern side of the road junction.
Here they remained for some time until around 7.00 am when orders came up to move up in the direction of the village of Neuve Chapelle itself. They were at this point, still spread out along the road south with the right hand end of the Battalion's frontage just south of the cross roads at "Port Arthur."
Shortly after 8.00 am the Battalion commander was called away to a conference with the General and left command of the Battalion to Major Turner. Turner was alarmed by the increasing weight of enemy shell fire being directed along the Battalions frontage and the sudden fire started in a burning building to their left (believed to be the village school) was suspected to be the work of a spy. Perhaps it was the same spy had drawn down the accurate fire on the Battalion that morning?
When the CO returned, he called a conference of Company Commanders, the Adjutant, his second-in-command and the machine Gun officer in a shell hole near "Port Arthur." The event was to be recalled by those present five years later when the scene was to be immortalised on canvas.
The CO brought word that the Battalion were to once more join the attack on the Bois de Biez and that the attack would commence at 11.00 am. The Battalion snaked up the front line past other units in the Jullandur Brigade, to a small orchard, just south of the newly captured village. When they arrived, a quick tally of numbers revealed a huge loss of men. Only 173 all ranks could be counted and because of the shortfall, the frontage of trench they were allocated to occupy before the attack, was greatly reduced from 225 yards to just 100. The 59th Scinde Rifles on the Battalions right, took up the shortfall.
At around 11.00 am, the greatly reduced Battalion were told off into three lines. The first line of approx 80 men were ready to advance. Behind them, the second and third lines, of each approx. 45 men each, were ready to reinforce the first line when they reached their object. Ready to go, at the last minute, orders was received that the advance was delayed for 2 hours.
Around 1.00 pm the advance commenced. The first line pushed gradually towards the wood until it reached the old German second line. The second line of 4th Suffolk, also reached them shortly afterwards at around 2.00 pm, with the 3rd line arriving shortly afterwards, but as with the failure the day before, the Division on their left had faltered, and progress was greatly slowed down.
The men now got busy turning their positions around and making good their gains. The parapet was reduced turned around. The business of clearing and making good went on whilst the Adjutant gathered intelligence from the recently extricated German dug-outs. In the quiet still of their new positions, the Battalion received orders via a field telephone some yards down the line, that they were to remain in these positions overnight. As the darkness descended, the temperature plummeted, but the men could not sleep.
If ever a counter-attack was to come, it would be in darkness. The men huddled and shivered in the cold. Balaclavas were put on under service dress caps, but the men tried not to cover their ears, less they could not hear an attack coming. At 1.00 am, an order was received by the Adjutant that they were to be ready to be relieved at 4.30 in the morning. They had been on the go for 24 hours. The men who survived the battle were cold, hungry and very tired.
Would the next day bring disappointment again?
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.