Yesterday on the main ITV evening news, we spotted a report on a group of archeologists in India who have been trying to trace the graves of four missing soldiers of 2nd Suffolk, killed in April 1944 when the Battalion was attacking the fortified hilltop position known as the 'Mound' just north of the Indian town of Imphal. During their excavation, buckles and pieces of brass-work from the webbing equipment worn by British soldiers at the time were discovered, along with personal items such as a comb. Much Japanese shrapnel was also found. Though the report intimated that 'remains' were found, no body was discovered, and the brainwork ay infer that the webbing may have been salvaged by others when the bodies were originally buried. The missing men; Privates David Tod, Serafino Narduzzo, Cyril James and Herbert DuFeu, were all recent reinforcements to arrive with the Battalion. Tod coming from the Royal Scots, Narduzzo from the Oxf. and Bucks Light Infantry, DuFeu from the Hampshires and James from the Buffs. Todd had only joined the Battalion two weeks before. The Friends have several friends on our Facebook page associated with the excavations and we hope to be able to bring more news of their efforts soon.
Image courtesy ITV News.
Captain Lewis Thomas MC
We received the news this week, that Captain Lewis Thomas of 1/Suffolk passed away earlier this year. In an email received via the Friends website, his grandson informed us of his passing in February aged 96. Lieutenant Lewis Thomas joined the 1st Battalion on 17th June 1944 as a replacement from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He commanded 17 Platoon of 'D' Company at the Chateau de la Londe, and when his fellow officer Geoffrey Wilde was badly wounded, he assumed command of both his own platoon and Wilde's and pushed them forward to their objective. Later in Holland when Captain Ken Mayhew - 'D' Company’s commander was wounded at Venray Lewis, then promoted to Captain, was given command of the Company but Ken returned unannounced a fortnight later, after having discharged himself from hospital, command of the Company was given back to him. However, Ken wounds would not heal and he had to be evacuated again, and Lewis became Company Commander once again. At Geijsteren in Holland, Lewis was awarded the Military Cross for gallantly commanding 'D' Company under heavy fire without any radio communications. When the order to withdraw was received by runner, he skilfully extricated the Company under fire with minimal casualties. In 1945 he was chosen by the Battalion to take a detachment of men back to the Dutch town of Geert, to accept on behalf of the Regiment a Freedom Scroll and a small silver plaque. He left the Battalion in Belgium in September 1945, just prior to their being sent to the Middle East. Lewis Thomas was in later life a successful businessman and attended the 1994 pilgrimage to Normandy and the same year, he visited Overloon where he was interviewed by a Dutch documentary crew who were making a film on the battles there in October 1944. He is seen here at Minden in the summer of 1945 being presented with the ribbon of the Military Cross by Field Marshal B.L. Montgomery.
It is with much sadness that we have to report the passing of Suffolk Regiment Malaya veteran, John Bye, who passed away peacefully after a brave battle with cancer. As 22444920, Pte. John Bye was called up for National Service in 1950 and served first in 1 Platoon 'A' Company of 1/Suffolk in Malaya between 1950-51. Later he served with 3 Platoon, before finally serving in the MT Platoon, before he came home in early 1952. Suffolk born and bred, in civilian life John was very much anchored to his country roots, and he never strayed far from East Suffolk. He worked on the estate of the Ogilvie family at Thorpeness, before briefly working for BP and then as a gas and heating engineer for the new Sizewell Power Station when it opened in 1967. Afterwards, he was a self employed heating engineer and ran a successful business in Leiston. His calls took him to numerous residences in the locality, and often an old Suffolk soldier was met during his travels. He maintained a close friendship with Suffolk officer Frank Lockett, whom he had served with in Malaya and also with Ernie Morgan, who had been the Intelligence Officer in Malaya. Both men lived close to John. It was in his retirement that John made a profound return to the Regiment. After the retirement of CSM ‘Smudger’ Smith; the long-serving Chairman of Leiston Branch of the Old Comrades Association, John stepped up to become Branch Secretary and later Treasurer as well. For over ten years, he along with a dedicated team, kept the branch alive and organised the highly-successful buffet-dances held twice a year along with an annual stand at the Long Shop Museum on it’s regular open days. It was John with his truck that undertook to move the Far Eastern Prisoner of War union flag from the TA Centre in Leiston, to the Long Shop Museum in 1993, and were it not for his efforts, this important Suffolk Regiment memorial may have been lost. From our earliest days, John was a great champion of the Friends, and did much to help us promote our activities in East Suffolk. John was always accompanied at regimental events by his devoted wife Ann, to whom he was married for 59 years. To her and her family, we extend our most sincere condolences at this most difficult time. John was a true gentleman, whose character and bearing so epitomised the Suffolk soldier. He was passionate about keeping the Suffolk Regiment alive and saw that the future lay with the Friends. He did all he could to foster our cause in our early days for which will we be forever grateful.
Military Illustrator Mike Chappell
For those with an interest in uniforms and equipment, for over thirty years, the foremost British military illustrator has been Mike Chappell. His illustrations in the numerous Osprey books he wrote and illustrated, were a mine of reference on the British soldier of the twentieth century. Mike, who sadly passed away this week in France, illustrated the Suffolk Regiment in several of his publications, providing much detailed research of the Regiments uniforms and particularly its insignia in great detail. The only full-length figure of a member of the Suffolk Regiment that he painted is that show here; an officer of 2nd Suffolk in India during the 1930s. We rather suppose it was model on Major F.V.C. Pereira, of 2nd Suffolk, a professional pre-war soldier who was taken prisoner at Le Cateau. Mike's short-lived Wessex Military Publishing series on the British soldier and his equipment and headdress, was very much in ahead of its time, and before the advent of the internet, it was the best reference material of its kind for both the modeller and collector alike. Mike deserves a place alongside the great Army illustrators of the past including Harry Pane and Richard Simkin, both of whom in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, did much to ensure that the details of regimental dress of numerous British and Commonwealth units were recorded. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.
In a small, but impressive ceremony in Haverhill yesterday, the town paid tribute to the men of its borough who served in the Far East during the Second World War. Friends Chairman Taff Gillingham laid a wreath on behalf of the Suffolk Regiment, whilst Friend Martin Boswell laid a wreath on behalf of the Cambridgeshire Regiment. As headquarters of 'D' Company, 5th Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment (T.A.) a large proportion of the men of the borough served in this unit during the war, and were subsequently taken prisoner at Singapore. Due to its close proximity with Cambridgeshire, the men who lived and worked in the outlying villages also served in the Cambridgeshire Regiment. Though not able to attend in person, there lives in Haverhill, 101 year old Cambridgeshire Regiment veteran, Ernie Brett who served in their 2nd Battalion and who was also taken prisoner at Singapore. He had been present when Lieutenant Basil Groom was killed (see post below) and has provided a living link to his relatives who have been searching for the details surrounding his death 78 years ago. The Regiment is not forgotten in Haverhill due to the sterling work of Mayor John Burns, and former Mayor Tony Brown, who are great champions of both Regiment's history. Tony is also a loyal Friends member.
VJ Day Remembered
Despite the current situation, VJ Day was celebrated across the country. With a national commemoration being centred around the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, across the country of Suffolk, smaller, but none the less poignant ceremonies were taking place. In Leiston, the Friends were asked to attend a small ceremony in front of the FEPoW memorial at the Long Shop Museum. This memorial, a pattern Union Flag, framed on the museum wall, hold special significance for the townsfolk. It was used at all the funerals of Leiston men who died in Japanese captivity between 1942 and 1945. It was an altar cloth on the small makeshift chapel at Chunkai camp and was later brought home as a memorial to the men of the town who did not return. Unique for it is a memorial that is an object from the time it commemorates, rather than a memorial erected since, it is a poignant reminder of those dark years in our Regiment's history. Today as we remember those men of 4th and 5th Suffolk, along with their counterparts in 1st and 2nd Cambridgeshires, let us remember those of 2nd Suffolk, who fought a gruelling campaign against the Japanese throughout 1943 and 1944, and who on VJ Day, had already been withdrawn to new positions the other side of India at Lahore (now Pakistan) where they were below half strength, having suffered heavy losses in the jungle campaigns to a bitter and determined enemy, who was often unseen. As one Suffolk Regiment FEPoW once said "thank god for the atomic bomb" - his worlds were echoed by may a Suffolk prisoner, who by 1945, were nearing their end after years of brutal treatment and malnutrition and whose health was so bad, that they probably would not have survived another few months. Seen here is the Roll of Honour of 'B' (Woodbridge) Company of 4th Suffolk. Of the thirty names listed here, four died with other units, and of the remaining 26, just four died fighting at Singapore, with the remainder dying in captivity.
"When you go home, tell them of us and say, 'For your tomorrow, we gave our today'"
Ipswich FEPoW Remembered
Today, at Ipswich War Memorial, a small ceremony was performed to remember an Ipswich casualty that died during the opening battles in the Far East campaign in 1942. Lieutenant Basil Groom, who was originally commissioned into the Suffolk Regiment but later transferred to the 2nd Battalion, the Cambridgeshire Regiment, was killed on 26th January 1942 during the fighting on the island of Singapore. The ceremony today, which was attended by the Friends, and also by representatives from the Cambridgeshire Regiment Association and the Commonwealth War Greaves Commission, was organised by teh Haverhill Family history Society who have organised next week for their last surviving Far East Prisoner of War, 101 Ernie Brett, a Suffolk Regiment veteran to receive a memorial book of the ceremony as due to social distancing he could not attend today It is both touching and humbling that these two county regiments are remembered 75 years on from the end of the War in the pacific; a war that saw more men die to brutality and disease, at the hands of their Japanese captors, than in action against them. For many in the East, with relatives held in Japanese captivity, it was VJ Day that finally ended years of worry and speculation as to the fate of their menfolk, captured three and a half years before and from many of whom, no news had ever been received as to their wellbeing.
With grateful thanks to the Ipswich War Memorial and Cenotaph for the above photograph.
It was much sadness that we heard this week of the passing of Friends member, Dennis Sale, who had bravely battled cancer for some time. Dennis was an early member of the Friends and was a long established collector of British Army cloth insignia. There was not much that he did not know about post-war formation signs and since his childhood, he had amassed an impressive collection of virtually all known examples. Dennis was also a collector of post-war British uniforms and equipment and he was always happy to put on a display at Old Comrades gatherings, especially those held by John Blench for his fellow 1 Suffolk Malaya veterans. Dennis would often turn up with an impressive display and if he didn't have a bit of kit, he would make sure it was there the following year. Dennis was a true London lad having been born in Bethnal Green, an area of London he did not move from his entire life. He worked for the Royal Mail at its Mount Pleasant sorting office, a short walk away and was a most competent engineer. He turned his hand to replicating many items for his displays that were virtually unobtainable - the most notable being the buttons made from coconut husks for Indian-made WW2 jungle green clothing - a feat of engineering that he completed on a small lathe in the shed at the end of his garden. Our photograph here shows him second right, at John Blench's BBQ in 2009 when he helped us to make a display of kit used in Malaya. The previous year, veteran Dick May had commented that he did not have a fore grip on his Bren gun, and the following year, Dennis arrived with one that he had made from copying original photographs. An enormously likeable man of profound knowledge, our thoughts are with his family at this time.
Minden Day this year was an eerie and surreal affair for most of us. No formal gathering was held and all the week before, our phones had not stopped ringing with old comrades asking us if it was still being held. Personally, I felt I that despite the fact that nothing was happening, I still had to go. I journeyed to Bury St. Edmunds to be at the Depot, determined not to miss a personal vow of having been there every Minden Day since 1999. In eerie silence, the old Depot was completely empty, not even a dog walker or rambler could be seen. As I walked through the trees and along the remains of its pathways, I could hear in my mind the tramp of hobnailed boots and the strains of 'Speed the Plough' being played as my mind wandered back to a time long before I was born when Gibraltar Barracks was the home of the Old Twelfth. Next year, we hope it will all be back to normal and once again, the barracks will come alive to the sounds of those who passed through its gates over 60 years ago.
Why? (...would you convert a Scots Guards tunic to a Suffolk one?)
Today we spotted for sale a Suffolk Regiment scarlet tunic, but the more we looked at it, the more we noticed it was not all it seemed. Offered for sale in the USA on eBay, is this tunic here. It is scarlet but its buttons are grouped in threes, which was never a practice adopted by the 12th Regiment. It does have yellow facings and cuffs but curiously these are edged in white, again not a practice of the Regiment. To the rear of the jacket, the skirt ornament, appeared to have different buttons with a Scottish emblem, and upon seeing images of the inside of the jacket, all became clear. The jacket was marked to a member of the Scots Guards and marked with an issue date of 1914. This certainly explains the spacing of the buttons and the white piping to the edges or the collar and epaulettes, but the question is why? This is an other ranks jacket, so we rules out a poor 'temporary gentleman' having a tunic converted for a special occasion. Then we thought a military pageant. This seemed to us to the most plausible assertion. Often, a supply of tunics were held for the Aldershot or Tidworth Military Tattoos in the mid-1930s and we thought that this could be one such example. Then we thought it may have been converted in the 1950s for the 1st Battalion Band with they were presented with new Colours in Germany. The Band were to be dressed in scarlet for the ceremony, but they didn't have enough tunics and had to borrow some from the 4th Battalion. Was this a hasty converted tunic for such an occasion? and if so, why did it have an obsolete pattern of collar badges? (2 turret castle's went out of wear in the 1930s). Either way, we cannot attempt to purchase it as the seller in the USA will not ship it to the UK. Its an interesting 'curio' and any help on its past would be appreciated, as there will be a reason as to why someone converted a Scots Guards tunic was into a Suffolk tunic.
Minden Day - CANCELLED
This is a notice we never wished to have to write.
Minden Day this year has been cancelled due to Coronavirus. It is a real shame as this will be the first time in living memory that the former Depot site will not come alive once more to the past ranks of the Old Dozen.
At present we cannot offer any further news, except that we most sincerely hope that it will be held next year. To end the tradition now would be most sad, but the Friends have long held the hope that if the event did cease to be held in Bury St. Edmunds, that it could still be held somewhere else in Suffolk and it could still be a truly traditional affair.
We'll keep you posted here should we receive any further news.
Remembering the Chateau de la Londe
The 28th June brings us once more, the anniversary of the 1st Battalion's action to take the Chateau de la Londe in 1944. The 'bloodiest square mile in Normandy' as it was later described, saw the largest loss of men killed, wounded and captured for the battalion in the entire NW Europe campaign. For those who are interested in learning more on the Battalion and the Battle, our very own secretary has partnered up with WW2TV on YouTube to tell the story of that day and to help promote his book on 1/Suffolk. You can follow the actions of the Battalion by following this link:
The 'Lost' Dunkirk Letters
Recently, the national press has been awash with the story of the 'Lost Dunkirk Letters'. The story of these is not a new one; for the letters were found by a German officer who had souvenired them in 1940 when they were abandoned by the 1st Battalion as they retreated towards Dunkirk. The officer who rediscovered them in his retirement, handed them in at the British Embassy at Bonn in 1969, from where they were returned to the Royal Anglian Regiment, who then set about trying to trace their original owners. A large proportion of the letters were returned then to the original owners (including one to Bandsman Ray Walker - that is now on display in the Regimental Gallery at Moyses Hall in Bury St. Edmunds), but now with the advent of social media, the story has been expanded to find some of the relatives of those who wrote them, which has in turn, brought up many new photographs of Suffolk Regiment soldiers form the B.E.F. period. Relatives of Platoon Sergeant Major George Whayman have been contacted and have provided the image above of him, wearing what looks like a Coronation Medal. His number of what we believe is 5821066 dates his enlistment into the Suffolk Regiment in the very early 1920s, so he would have been a real 'old sweat' at the time of Dunkirk. Following article in teh Daily Mail is well worth a read and we hope that more stories of this much overlooked period of Regimental History come to light:
'Fighting Through To Hitler's Germany' - New 1/Suffolk Book Launched
After much anticipation, today we received this photograph from our secretary to let us know that finally his first book 'Fighting Through to Hitler's Germany' has now been published. The book tells the story of 1/Suffolk from D-Day to VE-Day. At over 250 pages in length, with many unseen photographs and some highly detailed maps, this is an excellent volume on their war service, and one that should grace any Suffolk Regiment bookshelf. A complete list of all known casualties is also published for the first time as well. Its always very pleasing to see a new book being published on the Old Dozen: the last being that written by Friend Martin Bell, which told of his time serving with the 1st Battalion in Cyprus (1956-8)as a young national Serviceman. Any method of keeping the Regiment in the public eye is much appreciated by us. Copies can be obtained direct from the publisher: Pen & Sword books, or via Amazon. We are also informed that signed copies are available upon request!
This week on Facebook, we came across the image here of a gunner from 55th Anti-Tank Regiment (Suffolk Yeomanry), Royal Artillery, taken on the continent in 1945. His insignia is most interesting in that it has always been quite a puzzle to determine exactly what badges the unit wore. Clearly from this photograph, they wore standard cloth 'Royal Artillery' shoulder titles (though photographs taken in the UK prior to their move to France after D-Day, do show them wearing an embroidered 'Loyal Suffolk Hussars' shoulder title being worn. Below this the Divisional patch of the 49th Division, with its distinctive polar bear can be seen here, with the Artillery arm-of-service stripe below (red/blue). What is really curious however is the wearing of what appears to be a white metal collar badge of the Loyal Suffolk Hussars, see here worn above the brass ? badge of an ?. The badge we believe was worn on the left arm only, but did they were it as a cap badge as well? As with their forefathers in the Great War, the issue of teh delicate flags on the tops of the turrets seems to have been an issue in the Second War too. Here, he looks like he has already lost the flag off the left hand turret of the castle (The secretary has his great grandfathers original badge worn in France in 1918 with both turrets broken off!) Photographs survive of men of the Regiment wearing both the Royal Artillery grenade collar badge, and the standard Suffolk Yeomanry cap badge but any help in confirming any other small elements of dress and badges worn by the Loyal Suffolk Hussars, would be most appreciated.
Wing Commander Donald Perrens DSO, OBE, DFC
Shortly after we heard the sad news of the passing of Major Arian Gillmore, news reached us on VE-Day of the passing of Wing Commander Donald Perrens, DSO, OBE, DFC, who also served with the 1st and 8th Battalions before transferring to the Royal Air Force. Born at Willinghall, Staffordshire, Donald Frank Perrens was commissioned into the Suffolk Regiment in February 1940. He served with the 1st Battalion in France in 1940 and was one of a number of men of ‘B’ Company who fought on in France after Dunkirk and made their escape via Cherbourg. When the newly reformed 8th Battalion required men, he served briefly with its Adjutant before he transferred to the R.A.F. Flying Hurricane fighters from North African airstrips, as acting Squadron Leader of No. 225 Squadron in March 1944, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. As a highly skilled Spitfire reconnaissance pilot, he became Second-in-Command of No. 208 Squadron, based near Florence. During one mission to spot targets for a heavy artillery unit, he ran out of fuel over the German lines. His fuel tank had been punctured by flak in several places, but he continued feed back information back by radio to the gunners. As enemy ground fire intensified, he used his remaining height to glide back towards the Allied lines some 12 miles away. Finding a suitable landing ground in a snow-covered field, he attempted an undercarriage-down landing, but the snow was deeper than it looked and a small stone wall, stopped the aircraft in its tracks. Unconscious for over 24 hours, Perrens was taken to an nearby US Army hospital where it was discovered he had broken two vertebrae and had fractured his skull. He was covered with numerous cuts. Remarkably though, within weeks, he was back with the squadron and the award of the Distinguished Service Order for his gallant actions was announced in April 1945. After the war, he took up a teaching role at Eastbourne College and later became Head of Science and acting Headmaster. He was also instrumental in setting up the school’s Cadet Corps. Our thoughts are with his family at this time. Until his death last month, he was the most highly decorated living Suffolk Regiment soldier.
A Very Happy VE-Day!
A very happy VE-Day to all Friends!
Spare a thought today for those men of the Suffolk Regiment who played a part in defeating the Nazi regime and bringing an end to the war in Europe. Whether at home or on active service, the news of the Germans final surrender was greeted with mixed emotions. For the 1st Battalion, their fighting war had ended some days earlier and already they were carrying out the role of occupation troops in the small town of Bramsche. Already rumours abounded that they may have to fight again in another part of the world and many were apprehensive that another big offensive against the Japanese would be imminent. One soldier wrote in his diary that: “Told that 3rd Div have finished fighting on Western Front. Might we go into action again? I hope not.” However in true Army fashion, VE-Day was spent for many with a complete check of the Battalions G1098 stores, before the men got down to a complete re-blanco of their webbing equipment! So raise a glass, or cup of tea today and remember those who made that day possible and who helped shape the world that we all live in today. Do not forget however that on the other side of the world, men of the Suffolk Regiment were still fighting the Japanese and others were still in captivity having been taken prisoner three years before.
As Major Albert Claxton said after the battle at Tinchebrai: “Well done lads our objective is reached” and 75 years ago today, that was certainly the case for the men of 1/Suffolk.
Major Adrian Gillmore MC
It is with sadness that we heard today of the passing of Major Adrian Gillmore who served with 1 Suffolk in Greece and Malaya, who passed away after a short illness. Adrian Henry Victor Gillmore was commissioned from Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, into the Suffolk Regiment in August 1948 and joined the 1st Battalion in Greece, shortly afterwards. The 1st Battalion had only recently arrived in Greece from Palestine and were shortly due to depart for service in Malaya in 1949. Upon his arrival in Malaya, he was promoted Lieutenant and in July 1950, he took over command of 3 Platoon, 'A' company (‘The Phantoms’) from Lieutenant Charrington. What started for him and his platoon was a period of heavy campaigning into the Malayan jungle. Successes were high and for a period in early 1950, they held the 'score' of bandits eliminated. Posted home in December 1951, the following year he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in Malaya. The citation for his award noted that “His thoroughness and tenacity, combined with his complete disregard for his own personal safety has inspired the platoon which he commands to a model of fighting efficiency. His spirit to close with the enemy and maintain contact at the expense of personal comfort has been apparent throughout hi s command. This officers determination and strength of character are factors which were in no small way responsible for his platoon’s outstanding successes over the last six months.” After a spell at the Small Arms School at Browndown, he was promoted Captain in 1954, and throughout the 1950s he attended several language courses in languages as diverse as Finnish and Serbo-Croat. He served again in Malaya in 1958 when on a cross-posting to serve with the Malaysian Forces after their independence. In 1960 he served with the Directorate of Borneo Operations before in 1963, he returned home to attend Staff College. He served latterly with 1/1st East Anglian Regiment, before he became Training Major for 4/5th Royal Leicesters (TA), then part of the Royal Anglian Regiment. In his retirement, Major Gillmore farmed in Devon and was a regular attendee at Regimental functions until his eyesight started to fail. He maintained close links with the Suffolk Regiment and gave a most generous donation to the restoration of the 15th Battalion (Suffolk Yeomanry) Colour, when the Friends organised and funded its restoration in 2018. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.
The Liberator's Message
This evening we saw via our Friends in Weert, a short video made by Major Ken Mayhew, formerly of 1/Suffolk, to his friends in Holland, sending them his thoughts and best wishes on this, the day of their liberation. Ken, who is 103 years old, embraced technology to pay tribute to the people of the Netherlands and to thank them for their generosity to him over the past 75 years. Ken who is a Knight of the Military Order of William, has returned to Holland several times in the past 75 years and holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Weert; a town he helped to liberate with the Battalion in September 1944. As we pause in a few days time to remember the official end of the war, let us not forget those of Ken's generation who fought with the Regiment from the Normandy beaches to the dockyards of Bremen to ensure that the Nazi regime was finally and thoroughly defeated so that once more the peoples of Europe could be free.
The Last Man
Today, 75 years ago, the 1st Battalion suffered its final casualty in the North West Europe Campaign. The fighting war for the Battalion had 'fizzled out' some days earlier and the loss of a soldier when a surrender being just days away, was bitterly felt by the Battalion. On 4th May 1945, the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Goodwin received an order allowing his men to go into the city of Bremen to relax and have a drink. In ‘D’ Company, Major Bevan permitted small numbers of his men to go into the city in pairs. The orders stated however that all men were still to be armed. Later that evening, as the men converged in a cafe, the beer was flowing. The nearby Becks Brewery meant that supplies were not short. As the evening came to a close, the men got up to leave. One man, a little worse for wear, accidentally knocked the chair of the man next to him and his Sten gun, which was slung over the back of it, dropped to the floor. The jolt of its sudden landing, caused it to go off on automatic and the unfortunate soldier got the full magazine’s worth. Corporal Ernest Fountain joined the Suffolk Regiment in 1932. He served with the 2nd Battalion in India, being a specialist in machine guns (seen here behind the sights of a Vickers at Mhow in 1939). A Battalion footballer, he returned home in 1944 after years of peacetime colonial soldiering and having served in the Arakan and at Imphal. He was posted briefly to the Royal Norfolk Regiment, before joining 1st Suffolk in Holland in early 1945. It was a sad ending to the campaign as Major Bevan recalled later ‘On Armistice Day, a corporal in my Company was accidentally shot and killed. We’d served together in India – Mhow and on the Frontier. The excitement of the ending of the war was marred for me by this tragic death of a comrade I’d served with for many years’. Ernie Fountain is buried in Becklingen CWGC Cemetery. This year, we had hoped to go there and pay our respects to him and the others buried there on a special anniversary tour and when this crisis has passed, we shall certainly return. So, remember today, the 215 officers and men of First Suffolk who lost their lives Between D-Day and VE-Day.
A gentle reminder that you can join us on Facebook for regular updates throughout the crisis. Last week, we decided to post up 12 bright and colourful images of Suffolk Regiment-related items, just to keep your spirits up.
Here is just one of a Regimental sports vest, c. 1935.
Stay safe everyone.
The Great Souvenir Hunter
Recently this image appeared on eBay of a soldier of 2/5th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment (T.F.) earring a really snazzy 'Hate Belt'. Hate Belts were belts worn by solider where they contained badges and buttons of different regiments. Here, this soldier appears to have a leather belt, secured wit the 2" buckle of the webbing equipment. His jackknife can be seen hanging from it on his right hip. The collecting of regimental badges was as old as the Army itself. As units moved between stations, soldiers often collected badges of departing or arriving units, or swapped them for their own. Collections could be quite proudly displayed in photographs of soldiers bed spaces, though how one explained the loss of a piece of government property, remains unknown! Here, this solider appears to have procure badges from the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, the Kings Regiment, the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, the Middlesex Regiment, the Rifle Brigade and the Royal Engineers. Also seen is what appears to be a Lancashire rose collar badge. Quite what is around the back remains a mystery! Note the regulation way of securing the woollen underwear which had loops at the top to pass the braces through when worn. It must have been a complicated procedure if one need the loo in a hurry!
Beating The Boredom
We spotted the photograph here on the interest the other day of a modeller in Holland who is recreating a fighting soldier of the 1st Battalion in NW Europe. The modeller has taken the trouble to go into great detail on the elements of his webbing and equipment and has even modelled in the rivets at the crimped ends of the equipment and the mesh on the net on the helmet. Though some of the details might be a little out (the Battalion were equipped with the No. 4 rifle in 1942, replacing the old SMLE shown here) it really is a fantastic effort. Those landing on D-Day were all issued with the new shape helmet, and those who joined the Battalion later as reinforcements (a large majority from the 8th Battalion) had the older ship as seen here. All he needs is a scrim scarf and lightweight respirator and he's pretty much there. We look forward to following his progress and are chuffed that he has chosen to model the Old Twelfth - Well Done!
The Conquerers Visit The Silent Cities
Today on Twitter this most unusual photograph appeared. It shows a German soldier, clad in combat uniform, but unarmed, visiting British graves in an Imperial War Graves Commission cemetery on the Western Front, most probably in the summer of 1940. Seen on the extreme left is the grave of a Suffolk Regiment soldier; the Regimental Badge clearly being seen on the headstone. The photograph posted by Alex Tijhuis, has been identified since a Heilly Station cemetery, south west of the town of Albert on the Somme. There are 27 Suffolk soldiers buried here, but an examination of the cemetery plans, in orientation to the entrance gate (seen on the right) reveals that the photograph shows an area of the cemetery, marked as plot IV. In this section lies 3649, Private Jack Thrower of 4th Suffolk, killed on 31st August 1916, and 23362, Private J.F. Hone of 12th Suffolk, killed on 28th September 1916, both of whom are possible contenders to the unknown Suffolk grave in the photograph. The gravestone beside the Suffolk one, looks to be a Devonshire one, so it may be possible to work out from the records, just who he is. Either way, its about time we went back to create a 'Then and Now' for a future magazine.
With grateful thanks to Alex Tijhuis, via Twitter.
Following In Father's Footsteps - Frank Pretty's Roller Skate?
The top news this weekend was that Netflix are currently making a film about the treasure of Sutton Hoo and its owner, Mrs Edith Pretty. The treasure that was uncovered in May 1939 near Woodbridge, was of such national significance that much of it still resides on display in the British Museum and the site of its discovery is still visited today by many thousands each year. Edith Pretty, was the widow of Major Frank Pretty, who served with the 4th Battalion during the Great War and later ran the family corsetry business in Ipswich. Frank was a true Suffolk soldier, caring more for his men than for himself. His obituary in 1935 noted that several times he refused promotions to better jobs, instead choosing to remain in the front line with his men. In his early youth whist a student at the Leys School, he had taken greatly to roller skating and became a regional and school champion. In an online article published in the Daily Mail, it was noted that Frank's only son, Robert must have followed his father's hobby of roller skating for aged nine, he "dropped a roller-skate into a burial mound by accident and couldn’t find it among the spoil. Decades later, the British Museum asked for his permission to reopen the mound in case anything had been missed the first time. On a return visit to Sutton Hoo he was surprised to be presented with a shoebox. ‘Inside was a rusted piece of metal with what appeared to be four wheels attached, one at each corner,’ he recalled. ‘Only after I had removed it from the box did I realise what it was: a single steel roller-skate.’" Shooting on the film, called 'The Dig' is already underway and will star Ralph Fiennes as the archaeologist, Basil Brown, and Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty. Its release is expected to be later on this year. Although he died in December 1934, almost five years before the first discoveries were made at his home near Woodbridge, hopefully Frank will still get a mention on screen.
"Some Corner Of A Foreign Field That Is Forever Suffolk"
Amidst these turbulent times, today our spirits were lifted when Friends member, Bob Faiers posted a short clip on our facebook page of the news coverage of the 1994 Pilgrimage to Normandy and the unveiling of the memorial at the Chateau de la Londe. The short clip shown originally on BBC Look East, showed Friend Martin Bell interviewing several 1 Suffolk veterans. They were seen marching into Colleville (with Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Lummis balling out "1 Suffolk Quick March!"), an interview with B Company veteran James West (seen here), who was taken prisoner at the Chateau, and an interview with Doug Edis of the Carrier Platoon. Many a familiar face can be seen that is now sadly no longer with us. Hugh Merriam, Frank Matthews, Alan Sperling, 'Buck' Glibley, Les Perry, Cliff Kindred, Bill Jacobs and 'Titch' Hunter to name just a few. Martin concluded his report by stating profoundly that "There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever, Suffolk" - words so true, particularly when speaking of the 'Grimmest mile in France' that was the most costly attack for the 1st Battalion during the campaign.
"Passing Through A Very Difficult And Anxious Time"
As the Coronavirus spreads rapidly around the world, we are passing through turbulent and largely unknown times. From a Friends point of view, we are at present, on top of things. The latest magazine, the Friends Gazette, was delivered to our printers yesterday and will hopefully be printed soon. Present circumstances permitting, we will be posting it out early next month. Should the situation change, we will do our best to communicate to you all through this website and via social media. Perhaps, it might be prudent to repeat the words of the 2nd Battalion's representative for the 'Suffolk Regimental Gazette' from May 1914. His words, which described the 'Curragh Incident' of that time, might have been written for the current pandemic that is unfolding before us: "We have been, and, indeed, still are, passing through a very difficult and anxious time; for obvious reasons it is at present impossible to make any further reference to, or comment upon, what has been taking place, except to assure you, and through you, all of your readers, that over and above all personal considerations and sentiments, our one anxiety has been to preserve untarnished the very highest traditions of the Regiment"
Today we said farewell to Friend Dick May. In a packed crematorium, former Suffolk Regiment soldiers from Ipswich, Felixstowe and Leiston came together to say goodbye to a close chum, who always gave his all for the Old Comrades Association. Dick was Friends member No. 9 and was hugely supportive of us in their early days. He was a 'first generation' National Serviceman who went with an early draft to Malaya in 1950 and came home in late 1951, before returning to his job on the railways. After the funeral, we were privileged to see many photographs of Dick's life and several from his service in the Suffolk Regiment. In the photograph here, Dick can be seen in his newly issued battledress. Interestingly, from an 'anorak's' point of view, his outfit is unique. He wears the newly introduced '1949 Pattern' of battledress trousers, with the '1946 Pattern' of battledress blouse, worn interestingly with a coloured field service cap, as opposed to the usually seen GS cap or midnight blue beret (as seen in our previous post). He wears no gaiters, but appears to be wearing ammo boots, so maybe this photograph was taken when he obtained his first pass to leave the Barracks after initial training (maybe hence the obsolete 'swanky' hat?). Does anyone else have a similar photograph? was this a trend that caught on? or was Dick a Regimental Trendsetter?
75 years ago today, 1/Suffolk was fighting its first major battle on German soil. In the woods before Goch, an attack through the dense woodland was commenced on 27th February 1945 to attempt to sever the Udem-Weeze Road. 'D' Company met with heavy resistance at a small forest hamlet known as Sophienhof, whilst 'C' Company battled dense undergrowth to reach important road junctions in the wood. Though the going was tough they secured their objectives. Their counterparts in the Brigade; 2nd East Yorks and 1st South Lancs, had a much tougher time and sustained heavy casualties. Both failed to take all their objectives, but the East Yorks fought off a four-hour enemy counterattack around their positions at Schaddenhof Farm, that left their positions precarious. The following morning, 1/Suffolk advanced to take their untaken objectives. The action was bitter, against a tenacious enemy, that now fought for every inch of his homeland. Despite this, it covered by less than a paragraph in the Regimental History. It cost 'D' Company its commanding officer, Major Mayhew, who was badly wounded by shrapnel, together with the wounding of over twenty men. Captain 'Ike' Morris, the Battalion Medical Officer, was to later receive a Military Cross for his skilful positioning of the Regimental Aid Post, that enabled the wounded of the Battalion and those of the East Yorks, to be got away swiftly to the Advanced Dressing Station. Spare a thought today for all those who took part in 1/Suffolk's 'forgotten' battle in NW Europe.
Bon Anniversaire Les Amis du Suffolk Regiment!
We saw recently on Facebook that our French counterparts, Les Amis du Suffolk Regiment have just celebrated their 30th Birthday. Born out of the gift to the Regiment of the Hillman bunker in 1989, Les Amis have since 1990, maintained the bunker complex to allow it to be opened for the public to visit. From an overgrown dumping ground for the villages rubbish, by 1990, they had cleared the site and has over the past twenty years, excavated the site further and have recreated several missing features of the site such as gun positions and the cupolas that were removed just after the war. Over the twenty years of official pilgrimages between 1989 and 2004, Les Amis have been most excellent and generous hosts, treating the veterans of the 1st Battalion as royalty on the visit we made to Normandy. Now the site is a major tourist attraction, the bunker is in virtually every guide book on the Normandy campaign. Through the tireless efforts of Les Amis, the Suffolk Regiment remains firmly on the map in Normandy. We send our most hearty congratulations to Les Amis and wish them every success to the next 30 years.
Where It All Began
Exactly 130 years ago today, the first edition of the 2nd Suffolk Gazette was printed by the 2nd Battalion in Alexandria. Baring a few years of the Great War, it was published continuously until amalgamation in 1959. Originally only intended for the news of the 2nd Battalion, in 1897, the 1st Battalion started to send in news and its name was changed to the Suffolk Gazette and then a few years later, the Suffolk Regimental Gazette. By 1914, all Battalions of the Regiment were covered. In 1925, the 1st Battalion took over responsibility for printing it and later, it was published at the Free Press works in Bury St. Edmunds. Originally it was published monthly, but some years were bi-monthly and some quarterly. Later it was reduced to three issues per year. In 1960, the Britannia & Castle was published which contained news expressly for 1/1st East Anglian Regiment (Royal Norfolk and Suffolk), which was continued as a copied newsiest in 1965, after the Royal Anglian Regiment was formed. Britannia & Castle ceased publication in 2013, but by then the Friends magazines; the Castle & Key and the Gazette were already in existence. Thus since 1890, news of the Suffolk Regiment and its history has always been in print somewhere and we've got many more years of articles yet.
Here's to the next 130 years!!!
Shortly after hearing the sad news of Tony Coote's passing, we heard today of the loss of another Suffolk Regiment stalwart, Richard 'Dick' May, who passed away after a brave battle with cancer. Dick was another National Serviceman who completed his time with the 1st Battalion in Malaya between 1950 and 1952 serving with 1 Platoon, A Company. Prior to his call-up, Dick had worked for British Railways, and after his service had ended, he returned to work with them. Working as an fireman in the Ipswich shunting yards, he later worked on the east coast main line where he had the privilege of firing the Sandringham Class locomotive named 'The Suffolk Regiment'. Its original driver and fireman were both former Suffolk Regiment soldiers, and Dick may have been the only other member of the 'Old Dozen' to crew her in her 26 years of service. In retirement, Dick and his wife Jackie, threw themselves wholeheartedly behind the activities of the Old Comrades Association. They were staunch supporters the Ipswich, Felixstowe and Leiston Branches of the OCA and Dick was often a Standard Bearer to all these branches, helping out where needed. When the Friends were formed, Dick and Jackie were early members and huge supporters, even giving over the garden of their home for two barbecues help to promote the Friends and raise money for the OCA. In 2010 their garden became a Parade Ground and the scene for a Drum Head service as the Ipswich Branch Standard was rededicated for the 60th anniversary of its original presentation in 1950. Dick was always a most willing and helpful man, always ready to assist the Friends. A man of unflappable character, he will be greatly missed. Both he and Jackie were great patrons of the Suffolk Regiment, and did much to ensure the survival of the OCA in Ipswich and in East Suffolk. Our thoughts are with Jackie and her family at this time.
Above: The 2010 Drum Head service held in Dick's back garden in Ipswich. Dick can be seen third right, with fellow Suffolk veterans John Bye, Alf Watson, Ron Freeman and the late Ray Saxby. A Colour Party was provided by the 'Khaki Chums' and Mrs Betty Rinder who repaired the Branch Standard in 2000, was also present.
We heard recently of the loss of Suffolk Regiment stalwart and Malaya veteran Tony Coote, who passed away after a short illness. A local Suffolk lad who heralded from Lowestoft, as No. 22477751, Tony completed his National Service with the 1st Battalion, serving in 3 Platoon, 'A' Company in Malaya between 1952 and 1953. He even became an uncredited extra in David Macdonald's 1953 documentary film 'Operation Malaya' where he was seen briefly as a Bren gunner (above), laying down fire on a bandit camp. Tony, together with his wife, Rosie, were staunch Suffolk Regiment supporters and Rosie has managed with Tony's constant support, to organise the running of Lowestoft Branch of the Old Comrades Association for some years, together with the twice-yearly Diss Regimental dinners for Suffolk Regiment veterans. Tony was the very epitome of the Suffolk soldier. Try, loyal, steady and proud. His ever-smiling cheerful face, will be greatly missed at Minden Day which he attended every year without fail, always wearing his original jungle hat. Our thoughts are with Rosie and her family at this time.
Tales Of The Unexpected
This evening whiling away time, we watched an episode of the the long running Anglia TV series 'Tales of the Unexpected'. In one episode from the early 1980s, named "The Colonel's Lady" starring Joss Ackland and Pauline Collins, the opening scene in an English country manor house, the camera flashes through a grand hallway, past a hall table that exhibits two silver-framed photographs of Suffolk Regiment interest. On the left, a photograph of H.R.H. The Princess Margaret visiting the Depot in 1954 to be presented with a handsome regimental brooch. On the right is a photograph of Her Royal Highness presenting new Colours to the 1st Battalion in Germany the following year. Thus the question is, who lives in a house like this? (to quote from 'Through the Keyhole'!) As the series was filmed predominantly in the eastern counties, it is fair to surmise that the house belonged to a former Suffolk officer who loaned it for filming. Does anybody know which officer it could have been? It is a fairly grand house so were surmising that it may have been a superior officer of a great rank. If anything here looks familiar, do please contact us - it would make a great story for the next Friends magazine.
Battledress - The First Known Photograph?
Is this the earliest known image of a Suffolk Regiment soldier in battledress? A discovery this evening in the July-August 1939 edition of the Regimental Gazette showed men of the 1st Battalion, immediately after war was declared. At this time, service dress uniform was still being worn and this was how the Battalion returned from Malta a few weeks earlier. Here in this photograph, one man leans out of the back of a truck wearing a battledress blouse with brass castle collar badges and an FS cap. His contemporaries still wear the traditional service dress and peaked caps and this was how they went to France a few weeks later. We know that the militiamen were issued battledress when they were called up that summer, partially as a way of distinguishing them from new recruits at the Depot, but is this the first use of BD with the regular battalions? Have you an earlier photograph of it being worn? If so please do contact us.
Our recent appeal for Regimental Gazettes, has proved successful with a Friends member contacting us to say that they had a spare copy of No. 405, the only edition we were missing from 1935: the 250th anniversary year. This is great as it now fills another gap in the archive. Were now getting very close to having a complete run from the end of the Great War to Amalgamation. We still need a few more and lots of early editions, but we'll publish a list soon of those editions we need. Please do contact us if you have any unwanted editions or duplicates. We have plenty of spares too, so we can do a swap!
'Fighting Through To Hitler's Germany'
We saw today on Twitter that our very own secretary has released an image of the front cover of his first book, due out in May. The book, entitled ‘Fighting Through to Hitlers Germany’ will tell the story of the 1st Battalion in NW Europe, 1944-45. Based on many previously unpublished accounts, it will be accompanied with many previously unpublished photographs and detailed maps of the major battles the Battalion fought. He has faithfully promised us updates of its journey to print, with the book being launched in early May, so watch this space (as they say) for more details!
Happy New Year!
A very happy New Year to all Friends.
Stick with us as we commemorate the 75 anniversary of VE and VJ Day, the 85th anniversary of the creation of the Regimental Museum, and the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk Evacuation.
Membership is ever important and anyone can join us. Pop along to the Membership page and download a membership form. Our magazines are packed full of interested Regimental articles - only available if your are a paid-up member!