Remember the 161 men of the 1st Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment, who were killed, wounded and missing in the battle to take the Chateau de la Londe near Caen, 75 years ago today. In a bitter, confused and ferocious battle, ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies took the largest amount of casualties as they advanced to take the Chateau and its grounds. Continual enemy mortar barrages and enemy armour caused heavy casualties to those who made it to the objective and in moving forward to support them, ‘D’ Company also suffered heavy casualties including its commanding officer, Major Papillon. Both ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies commanders, Major’s McCaffrey, and Boycott were wounded in the advance and McCaffrey’s second-in-command, Captain Archdall was killed. In each company, two of the three Platoon commanders were wounded and one died later of his injuries. Of the thirty seven men killed that day, a large number were ex-2nd Battalion soldiers who already had seen pre-war service in India, and wartime service in Burma. Described as the “Grimmest mile in France” it was the single largest loss of life that the Battalion incurred during the entire NW Europe campaign. Spare a thought today for those who fell there and as the inscription on the original cross erected at the head of ‘Suffolk cemetery’ noted “They will never be forgotten”
As the attention of the past few days has focused on the invasion of Europe in 1944, let us not forget that 75 years ago today on the other side of the world, the men of 2nd Suffolk were ending a three-day battle to take the Japanese hilltop fortification known as ‘Isaac’, just north of the Indian town of Imphal. Between the 6th and 8th June 1944, 2nd Suffolk were fighting a bitter hand-to-hand battle against the Japanese in their well constructed positions. After active patrolling, a thrust on 7th June by ‘C’ Company gained entry into the position but armoured support was trapped by a well-concealed anti-tank ditch. As ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies relieved ‘C’ Company, a fresh attack went in the following day, supported by an air strike. With much determination, ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies pressed-on and late on the 8th June, finally overcame the position with much bitter fighting. In many respects, the action was similar to that which the 1st Battalion fought on D-Day to take the bunker complex ‘Hillman’. Both fortifications were in commanding positions. Both were more heavily defended than the intelligence the Battalion Commanders were given beforehand, led them to believe. Both were impassible to armour without much clearance. Both relied on the Infantry to clear them. So, spare a thought today for those in the ‘Battalion in the East’ who were fighting a war in the jungle every bit as ferocious as that in Europe, with the same tenacity for which the Suffolk solider is famed. Their Divisional Commander congratulated them for their efforts stating that ‘your success was due to your determination to succeed’.
The Heroes Return.
As the Queen and grateful nation paused yesterday to remember those who landed on D-Day 75 years ago, today in Normandy, the very last survivors of that momentous day have made return journey to France to attend the commemorations at the Hillman Bunker. Ken Wright, a section sniper from 15 Platoon, C Company, made a pilgrimage to Colleville-Montgomery, together with Ken Mayhew, who commanded the Carrier Platoon that day. As Ken Wright returned to the beaches to find the spot where he came ashore, Ken Mayhew went to Hermanville Cemetery to lay a cross at the grave of his fellow officer, Philip Papillon, who was killed on the 28th June 1944. In this, perhaps the last year that a sizeable contingent of Allied veterans would return to their former battlefields, let us remember however that D-Day was but the first day in an eleven month campaign that saw the 1st Battalion fight across northern Europe before their enemy were finally beaten. Though they may now be short in number, their deeds in that campaign are in no way forgotten.
Remembering D-Day: 75 Years On
As commemorations to celebrate and commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings begin across Britain and in France, we have been getting a little bit nostalgic about past reunions and members of the 1st Battalion who are now sadly, no longer with us. As the living face of that generation fades gently away, we were reminded of the reunions in Normandy in which we participated in 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009. We're recalling with much affection the many 'Vin d'Honneur' held in Colleville by our good chums 'Les Amis du Suffolk Regiment' and of all the characters that they contained. Of a slightly tipsy Lieutenant Frank Matthews singing the Marseilles. Of Major Hugh Merriam raising an eyebrow to 'Titch' Hunter who had had a glass too many. Of Bill Jacobs cursing at the French photographer at the Chateau de la Londe who accidentally knocked him into a hedge, and of John Fenn describing in detail the loading procedure of mortar bombs into his carrier as we sat in the sunshine at Banneville. Good times that will never be repeated, being in the presence of ones personal heroes, but great memories that will last forever.
Very Pleased With The Result
Last year, we helped in the production of a short film being made by the D-Day Museum In Portsmouth. The film, featured a Section of men from 1/Suffolk in their landing craft as it approached the Normandy beaches on D-Day. The Friends assisted in getting the correct insignia applied to their battledress blouses and the remainder of their uniforms and equipment was supplied by our good friends at Khaki Devil. Recently on a work visit to Portsmouth, we decided to call in and take a look at the finished result. The image here show the film being played in the museum. It is very cleverly projected onto a screen in an original LCI (Landing Craft Infantry). In the film, everyone looks so well, contrary to the majority of the surviving accounts of the Battalion's run-in to the landing beaches where everyone pretty much unanimously stated that everyone was being, or had been sick, except Major Boycott, commanding 'C' Company who recalled later that "being sick might have been badly misconstrued!"
The Home Guard
It's funny, but here at the Friends we never seem to mention the men of the Home Guard not nearly enough as we should do. The men of the various Suffolk Battalion's proudly wore the Regiment's Badge and stood alone throughout the early stages of the war, as Britains first line of defence. Recently on Facebook, the photograph here surfaced. It shows men of the 1st (Beccles) Battalion, Suffolk Home Guard machining down Smallgate Street in the town. They wear the woollen battledress that replaced the old Denim overalls they were issued in 1940, but have no belts or weapons. This might have been taken in 1944 at their Stand Down Parade as no gas masks are worn either. Any further information as to the photograph would be very much appreciated.
Wot...No Daffodil Sunday!
With the daffodils in the back garden bursting into bloom, it suddenly dawned upon us that we'd not received any word from the Regimental museum that "Daffodil Sunday" was being held this year. Traditionally the open day of the barracks, where the public me to see how the Regiment functioned, with was usually the last weekend in March when the age-old daffodils burst into colour across the Depot site. Well, anyway don't delay, get over to the Regimental Museum and explore its treasures - and walk around the old Depot site and marvel at the 80+ year old daffodils that burst forth into bloom each year.
Unique 'Antiques Roadshow' Find
A colleague at work recently drew to our attention, an interesting find on the BBC Antiques Roadshow in the form of a unique pattern book of Second World War printed badges, amongst which was a Suffolk Regiment shoulder title. The programme, transmitted a couple of weeks back, featured a pair of pattern books produced by the firm of "Calico Printers" from Accrington, who held one of several contracts during the Second World War for the manufacture of printed insignia for the British Military. The two books that were displayed together with a number of Civil Defence printed armbands, contain hundreds of examples of printed insignia manufactured for Army between 1941 and 1945. Printed insignia was widely introduced in 1942 to save on the manufacture of costly, intricate embroidered badges. Shoulder titles for the infantry were standardised to a set design of white on scarlet, with exceptions for Corps and a few rifle regiments. As the expert leafed through the two books that had been brought along, one page displayed these shoulder titles, in the centre of which was a printed 'Suffolk' title. It is most likely that the company kept an example of each badge they manufactured and late compiled the books as a record of their wartime manufacturing. A unique record we would think, and very valuable for averaging £10 per badge, the collection was valued at £10,000!
The Demise Of The Regimental Tie
It was not many years ago that the distinctive Suffolk Regiment tie was a regular sight in town's across the county. Now sadly, it is seen less than the Loch Ness Monster. A sad fact that the living face of the Regiment is diminishing fast, it now cannot be purchased in many of the outlets that used to stock it. Demand being of course, not what it used to be. The idea of Captain and Adjutant Shadwell, and the Commanding Officer, Colonel O'Grady-Haly, its creation in the late 1880s, was one of the first 'regimental ties' in existence. It's colours represented scarlet of the infantry tunics, old gold of its original facings, white of its facings during the Cardwell Reforms of the Army, and a black stripe in mourning for the death of General Wolfe, the Regiment's most famous Ensign. As the Royal Anglian Shop have stopped stocking it, and 'Smart Turnout' have ceased producing it, procurement of examples will become more difficult than ever. Only one manufacturer in the USA makes them in silk and in the UK, only Polyester ties are available. As it is now only 'officially' worn by the Old Comrades Association, the Suffolk Army Cadet Force and men on 'B' (Suffolk) Company, 1 Royal Anglian, it's wear might soon slip into history. Once described as the 'most hideous regimental tie', let's hope that the Friends can keep it in the public eye for just a little longer.
For The Man Who Has Everything
For the man who has everything, a complete Brigadier's uniform of the Suffolk Regiment is being auctioned next month at Durrant's auction house in Beccles. The figure is complete from top to toe, with officers Home service Helmet, scarlet jacket with yellow facings, Crimson and gold aguilletttes and sash. General List officer's pattern belt with Royal Crest, and George Boots, just as an Suffolk Officer would have appeared from the Boer War onwards. This ensemble was still being worn as late as 1935 when the Regiment celebrated the 250th anniversary of its creation (Colonel Parry-Crooke was certainly also wearing a similar ensemble at that time). It is not believed that all the elements belong to the same person, but the previous owner has gone to considerable lengths to ensure that the helmet plate, buttons and collar dogs are all correct for the period with three turrets to the Castle. The auctioneers estimate is £1200-1500 which considering the value of all the elements involved is quite realistic. It has come from a local Suffolk private museum that is now being disposed off. The opening bid is £720 so get you bids in early fro the auction which starts on 16th March.
For more information, please visit www.durrants.com
A Beautiful Gift
A lovely gift to the Friends arrived today in the form of a cigarette case and two letters written by Lieutenant Rae of 12 Platoon, C Company, 8th Suffolk, to the father of Private Maskell who was wounded by shell fire on 31st July 1917 when the Battalion attacked from ‘Stirling Castle’ towards ‘Glencorse Wood’ on the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres. The first letter stated he was killed in action, but the second, written just two days later, revealed that he had since been found at the Regimental Aid Post with shell wounds to the legs and head. The battered cigarette case inscribed ‘P Maskell’ was carried by him on the day he was wounded. We are truly grateful to our generous benefactor and we are now researching the story of Percy Maskell and his service with the 8th Battalion in earnest for an article in a future magazine.
New Short Film About The Chateau De La Londe
Through the Regimental Grapevine, we learn that a short film about the 1st Battalion's actions at the Chateau de la Londe on 28th June 1944, is to be aired soon. The film, which has been commissioned by the Trustees of the Suffolk Regiment Museum, is to compliment the film they made about the 1st Battalions attack on Hillman Bunker that was released in 2016. For a complex, confused and multi-faceted battle, we hope the film will draw all the elements of the action together. So often, 'B' Company is mentioned in isolation, yet 'C' Company suffered similar casualties advancing beside then, as did 'D' Company who came later to reinforce them as the battle continued. With precious few personal accounts and photographs available, we hope they do justice to the actions of the Regiment that day. The campaign was so ferocious that it still stands as the largest loss, killed wounded, missing and prisoners during the entire campaign. NB: The image here taken the following day, shows the wrecked chateau at Le Petit Londe, which was never rebuilt. It was 250 yards north of the Chateau de la Londe.
For those of you who are unaware, the rather excellent short movie 'Stanley's War' is now available to buy on DVD. The film, which tells the story of Stanley Banyard, a young signaller from Hollesley, together with the courtship of Captain Frank Pretty, of 4th Suffolk, and his eventual wife, Edith Pretty, of later Sutton Hoo fame. Intersperced with interviews, including one with our very own Chairman, Taff Gillingham, the story is an honest appraisal of how the Great War affected those in the County of Suffolk. We can thoroughly recommend that you get yourself a copy, however, what happened to Frank's moustache?!
'Tiddler' Martin's Copy
Today, on a windswept visit to Clacton, in a second-hand book shop we procured a copy of the fourth volume of Regimental History. In itself nothing to glamorous or special except that the author Major Bob Godfrey had signed it. Bob Godfrey was a career soldier joining the Suffolk Regiment in 1949. In 1986, he was tasked to compile the last volume of Regimental History that was finally published in 1988. What is really nice about this copy is that Bob dedicated it to Regimental Stalwart, Walter 'Tidler' Martin. Tidler Martin had a long and distinguished career with the Suffolk Regiment. He enlisted aged 15 into the 1st Battalion in 1935, then stationed in Plymouth, where he joined the Band. Two years later, he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion in India and served with them until 1943 when he was posted home. He then joined the band of the 1st Battalion that had remained at the Depot whilst the 1st Battalion were training in Scotland and in 1945 after VJ Day, he was transferred to the 31st Battalion, then in Gibraltar. He rejoined the 1st Battalion in Palestine in 1946 and after a brief spell with 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment, he was demobbed in 1950. In later years, Tiddler was the Secretary of the Bury St. Edmunds Branch of the Old Comrades Association for over twenty years, until ill health forced him to retire. He died in 2005. We remember Tiddler at Minden Day over fifteen years ago, in a wheelchair but proudly wearing his medals and Regimental tie, so its nice to have been able to secure his copy of the Regimental History that spanned the majority of his service with the Regiment.
The Plague Of The Spanish Lady
As the centenary of the Great War passes, it is important to remember the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19, claimed the lives of many men of the Regiment who had served across the globe, only to die of its affects once the armistice was signed. One such example was Private Leo Durant who died of pneumonia, brought on by the flu. The son of a law clerk, Leonard 'Leo' Durrant was born in Hadleigh and enlisted into the 4th Battalion in late November 1914. Almost certainly underage, there is evidence to suggest that he did not go to France until 1915. After being wounded, he recuperated and was back at the front. Upon being discharged in 1919, he promptly re-enlisted into the Norfolk Regiment, before he obtained a transfer to the 1st Battalion, then leaving for India. After a course in Clerical Instruction, he was promoted Sergeant and from the photograph left, Leo appears to have been a member of the Band or the Corps of Drums, his scarlet uniform having the 'wings' of a musician. Leo died at that British Stationary Hospital at Putoyli in northern India. He is buried in Jutogh New Cemetery. With grateful thanks to Hadleigh WW1 Project for the image of Leo.
A Reunion Of A Very Different Kind
Recently, the effects of the later Brigadier H.P. Gardham were sold at auction in Kent. Amongst his possessions was a snare drum of the 1st Battalion from the period 1933-1954. An identical drum can be seen at the Suffolk Regiment Museum, which is affectionately known as the 'Roubaix' Drum. The story of the Roubaix drums of the 1st Battalion is well known, but there whereabouts today are a little less well known. Of eight drums reluctantly abandoned in France in 1940, three were subsequently recovered in 1944 and brought back into use with the Battalion. One of the three recovered Drums, was lost when the truck it was stored in suffered a direct hit before the Battalion crossed the Rhine in March 1945, leaving just two survivors. When the Corps of Drums was reformed in 1948 in Greece, it was made up from four Drums that came out from the UK of a similar style. These had remained at the Depot in 1939 when the Battalion went to France. These Drums were later, it is believed, repainted in Trieste in 1953. Records show that two older 'Roubaix' Drums were we believe, sold off in 1947 to 'raise funds for new drums' and we believe that the Roubaix Drum at the Regimental Museum and the Brigadier's Drum, were these two older examples that were sold off . Of twelve Drums originally painted in 1933, the Museum's Drum is No. 12 and Brigadier Gardham's Drum is No. 11. Both have their numbers carved into the hoops and stamped into the body of the Drum. The new owner of the Brigadier's Drum recently brought his Drum to the Regimental Museum, where for the first time since 1945 (when they all three Drums were last played together in the Belgian town of Haacht) it was reunited with its identical brother. Identical in every detail, even the year of manufacture, it was an historic reunion. It is known that there is another Drum of this style in existence in private hands, an escapee of the criminal repaint that occurred in the 1950s, and maybe one day, all three will come together again.
We heard today that Wing Commander Donald Perrens, DFC, celebrated his 100th Birthday on 9th January. We had the honour to meet Wing Commander Perrens at Minden Day in 2010 where he became a Friends member. Since then we have researched his somewhat amazing career with both the Suffolk Regiment, and later the Royal Air Force. Wing Commander Perrens went to France with the B.E.F. in 1939 and was one of the last men to leave. His escape route was through Cherbourg with a handful of men of 'B' Company who had been separated from the Battalion up in Belgium. Later after brief service as Adjutant to the newly reformed 8th Battalion, he transferred to the R.A.F. winning a DSO and a DFC for air operations in the Middle East. To our most decorated living Suffolk soldier, we send our very best wishes and congratulations upon reaching his tenth decade!
(With most grateful thanks to Eastbourne College for the photograph above, which shows Donald and his daughter blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.)
It was with sadness that we heard today of the passing of Suffolk Regiment stalwart Colin Smith, who passed away just before Christmas. Colin’s military career began just after the Second World War when he joined the 5th (Cadet) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. He was a Cadet Bandsman who played with the Battalion Band in the 1947 Royal Tournament at Olympia. Colin signed on as a regular soldier in 1951 and was soon serving with the 1st Battalion in Malaya. Here he joined Support Company, serving with the Anti-Tank Platoon with its impracticable 6 pdr. guns, then later with the Mortar Platoon. He returned to the UK with the Battalion in 1953 and became a Sergeant Instructor at the Depot. He served briefly with the 1st Battalion in Germany in 1955. In later years, Colin carried the Bury St. Edmunds Branch Standard on many occasions and on one particular parade in London at the 60th anniversary of VJ Day, Colin had taken the trouble to ensure that the Standard was decked with Roses as is the custom when the Monarch is present. Colin lived in later years at Whepstead and was instrumental in the refurbishment of the village War Memorial which contained one of the first three fatalities of the Great War, William Flack. He was also involved later in the creation of a Memorial Close of residential sheltered accommodation that was named in Flack's honour. For the Regimental Historian, Colin was a wealth of knowledge on the minutiae of the dress and regulations. From trouser creases to blanco shades, and how low the trousers were worn above the webbing anklets, he knew most of it. From how to make a Drum Trace, to how to tension drum skins with potatoes, he remembered all of the tricks. He also knew the trick for folding the beret to keep the cap badge prominent and how to flatten the brass keepers on a webbing belt to make them easier to polish. Colin was a loyal member of the Friends since it earliest days and was a dedicated Volunteer at the Regimental Museum. Colin helped tremendously with the revamp of the Regimental Museum and was always willing to show people around it many treasures, with a story and a memory of most of the exhibits. He was Chairman of the Bury St. Edmunds Branch of the Old Comrades Association and a member of the Sergeant Mess Dinner Club. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his daughter and his family at this time.
Left: The Bury Free Press record Colin and his Brother-in-Law's return from service in Malaya in 1953.
Happy New Year
A very Happy New Year to all Friends.
2019 looks set to be another good year for the Friends. We are well on the way to organising another trip to Holland, planned for September, and they'll be lots of other great Suffolk Regiment-related news we're sure.
Keep checking back to see what we're up to and what happening and don't forget to follow us on both Facebook and Twitter, or better still if you're not a member, pop along to the Membership page to download a membership form and join us!