"I Slung My Rifle On My Back, Discarded My Gas Mask, Put My Wallet In A Waterproof Ammunition Case And Walked Into The Water"
By 3.15 pm, on the afternoon of 10th April 1918, the enemy onslaught had been checked by the men of the 11th Battalion south of the river Lys at Erquinghem and the line had been completely re-established between the original position (near Bac St. Maur) and the right Coy in Erquinghem Switch Trench. Holding on valiantly, by 3.30pm, an order was received that they were to retire to positions north of the river Lys.
The 9th Northumberland Fusiliers on their left, sent a message to Colonel Tuck that they would need some two hours to retire. Tuck therefore decided to hold his Battalion in place as long as possible to allow them to retire. His decision though gallant, led however to more casualties being inflicted on the Battalion during this time.
“The Battalion held off repeated attacks of the enemy until 5.00pm, when the troops on the left had withdrawn”. Now alone and fighting valiantly on three sides, before seeing that they were alone, the CO gave the order to retire.
Crossing the river with what remained of a broken bridge, most of the men stripped off and swam the river, leaving their equipment and gas masks behind. The wounded were left helpless on their stretchers along the banks as Private Frank Hornesy recalled: "Clothes and equipment also lay everywhere here which only too plainly told us if we wanted to go on there was only one way and that was to swim. Some badly wounded chaps lay on stretchers. They had been carried as far as possible. They needed help by they had to be left. We we're the extra stragglers of the retreat. Perhaps we had been sacrificed on purpose to try and hold the enemy if only for a few hours. I don't suppose we were expected to be alive by this time if the truth was known. Lower down several men could be seen swimming through the dark cold water. Many were drowned while attempting to swim this canal. We must soon think about it. Bill was cursing. Just then a violent burst of machine gun fire broke out not many hundred yards away from us. The Germans were in the village we had just left. That decided us who wanted to stop to be taken prisoner or killed. Let them stop who like - we were going through the water".
Stripping down to the bare minimum in the middle of a battle, Hornsey and his chum Bill got ready to cross: "I slung my rifle on my back, discarded my gas mask, put my wallet in a waterproof ammunition case and walked into the water, Bill following me. We were soon in deep water, the current very strong. Thank goodness we could both swim well. My clothes hung like lead. Once again I was almost giving up when my feet touched the bottom and we waded out".
The remains of the Battalion re-grouped in the vicinity of a hamlet called Waterlands where it formed a defensive square, preparing to fight on all fronts. Patrols were sent to the north-west and soon it was established that the enemy were in strength pressing further north along the cover of the railway line on the Battalion’s left flank.
At 4.00 am on the morning of 9th April 1918, 11th Suffolk were in Divisional Reserve behind the British front line south of the river Lys. Two Company’s were positioned in Erquinghem, with the other two Company’s in La Rolanderie Farm.
At 4.00am, a large-scale enemy bombardment came down along the front line. As it intensified, it crept towards the rear areas and the village itself. Sensing that something was happening and preparing to meet a possible enemy attack, the C.O., Lieutenant-Colonel Tuck, moved his men from the village and the farm and into trenches between the railway line and the village.
At 11.15 am, the shelling was still intense and Tuck received orders to move the Battalion to west to the village of Bac St. Maur. The enemy had broken the front line to the south and were fast approaching Erquinghem from the direction of Fleurbaix in the south east. No sooner had he hurried everyone together, when new orders were received to not move to Bac St. Maur but to form a defensive line facing Fleurbaix. Tuck placed three of his four Company’s in frontal positions which stretched from Streaky Bacon Switch Trench on the left, to meet up with 103 Brigade, on the right. Soon it became clear that out in front of them, the fighting was getting heavier and when the 40th Division started to form a defensive line on the Battalion’s left flank, they knew that the enemy was close. 40th Division contained within its ranks, 12th Suffolk and together with 16th Royal Scots, they established a defensive line stretching west to Fort Rompu close to the river. It was noted that “For the remainder of the day enemy attempts to advance were repulsed”.
On 10th April at 7.00 am, the enemy attacked and broke through between right 12th Suffolks and left, 16th Royal Scots. The 12th Suffolks fell back. Upon hearing this, the CO rushed the Reserve Company from La Rolanderie Farm, south to fill the gap. By 8.45 am, the “enemy were driven back and the gap was filled and touch was re-established”.
The front line was now very thin and the men of the Reserve Company were now stemming the advance and supplementing the weakened ranks in the defensive line. This left the C.O. with all but a skeleton staff at Battalion HQ. Tuck requested assistance from 4th Duke of Wellington’s, but they did not arrive until mid afternoon, and as soon as they arrived, they were then ordered to withdraw. “During the morning the enemy pushed forward. The continual harassing caused troops on the right of the battalion to give ground slowly”. The right hand Company of 11th Suffolk, now alone, held their ground and stemmed the tide.
At 2.00 pm, the enemy came on in strength along the whole Battalion’s frontage. The fire was intense, but the line was for the moment, holding. Intense shelling caused the unit on the Battalion’s right, to break and start to fall back in complete retreat at about 2.30 pm. Their rout caused a gap in the front line which the enemy was quick to exploit. The right Company now started to fall back towards the village of Erquinghem and the switch trench which ran in front of the village. “The troops in the centre whose positions had been penetrated were rapidly reformed”.
“There Is A Story, Such As Painters Ought To Make Immortal And Historians To Celebrate, Of How Certain Suffolks, Cut Off And Surrounded, Fought Back To Back On The Wancourt-Tilloy Road"
In 1920, the Regiment commissioned an artist from within its ranks to immortalise their gallant stand in oil. Ernest Smyth who served with the 7th Battalion, had already painted “Crossing the Cavery” the year before (which depicted the storming of the palace at Seringapatam in 1899 by men of the 12th Regiment), was now asked to capture Captain Bakers gallant stand of ‘Z’ Company.
Though there was a great deal of ‘artistic licence’ used, within it, there is great detail. The tank that was brought up that morning to assist them that broke down can be seen in the background. Men of the Gordon Highlanders, whose flank gave way, can be seen pouring back past Baker’s position, and on the left epaulettes of the men’s jackets can be seen the yellow patch of ‘Z’ Company (‘W’ wore blue, ‘X’ wore green and ‘Y’ wore red).
It was said that before the Second World War, every pub in Suffolk had a copy of the print on its wall. At its bottom, there was published a quote from the London Times from April 5th 1918 that ran “There is a story, such as painters ought to make immortal and historians to celebrate, of how certain Suffolks, cut off and surrounded, fought back to back on the Wancourt-Tilloy Road"
"Considerable Bomb Fighting Ensued But The Enemy Obtained A Footing In The Front And Support Line Where Continued Bomb Fighting Was In Progress"
In hope that a few stragglers may have remained, the C.O. asked Sergeant Smith to round-up anyone who may have remained.
“Crawling from shell hole to shell hole under heavy fire and though wounded through the leg by a rifle shot at 30 yards returned with a report that there was no one in either original line, except Germans”.
Holding their positions until about 2.00pm, the K.O.R.L.s were reporting by runner, that the enemy were behind their positions and the C.O. therefore decided to retire. Back in ‘Z’ Company’s area, Captain Russell and Captain Baker received news of the retirement. Owing to the terrain, they started the men off in groups of six men at a time to reach the Neuville Vitasse Switch Trench, and over the next few minutes, the remains of the Company got away to safety. The last two teams to go, one of which included Baker, suffered many casualties, and a team of Lewis gunners valiantly remained and fought off the advance, until they were themselves overrun.
In the switch trench, the C.O. of the Gordon Highlanders, reported that his battalion has suffered heavy casualties and that it was in danger of being overrun. In assistance, the C.O., sent Lieutenant’s Gardner and Emeney with 40 men to reinforce them. By 5.00pm, the K.O.R.L has been overrun and along 2nd Suffolk were now falling back past the switch trench.Though touch was maintained with the Gordon Highlanders, the Battalion were fighting in the centre on virtually every flank. “The Batt’n was holding the green line north of the railway and in touch with the G.H. on the right and the 15th Div. on the left. Considerable bomb fighting ensued but the enemy obtained a footing in the front and support line where continued bomb fighting was in progress and a heavy barrage of 5.9 on the whole line”.
The situation remained as such until nightfall when a conference of officers from all three units decided to re-organise a line in front of Neuville Vitasse village with 2nd Suffolk on the left, Gordon Highlanders in the centre and the K.O.R.L.s on the right. The Gordon’s were asked to relieve the Suffolks early the following morning, but owing to a possible counter attack, the Gordon’s C.O. wished to remain and consolidate in the village. Rations were brought up, but owing to the enemy being close by, they were dumped. Searches during the night failed to locate them and at 3.40 am, the 21st Battalion of Canadians, relieved the Battalion and they were moved into billets at Riviere.
After the action, the Battalion’s strength stood at just under half of what it was the day before. Total losses were 14 officers and 414 other ranks willed or wounded. A large majority of men were also missing including Captains Baker and Simpson.
"Large Numbers Of The Enemy Were In Both Our Original Front And Support Lines But Fighting Appeared To Continue"
At 3.00 am on 28th March 1918, the Germans put down a heavy barrage behind the Battalion’s frontage which gradually crept backwards until about an hour later, it was causing heavy casualties to the men in the front line.
By 6.30 am, news was received from the King’s Own Royal Lancaster’s (K.O.R.L.) to state that their section of the line to the north, was still intact and that there was no sign of the enemy.
However, to the south, elements of the 15th Division were retiring above ground in the face of an enemy attack. To the Battalion’s front, the enemy was now seen coming on in great numbers. Emerging from his dug-out, the C.O. Lieutenant-Colonel Likeman, hurriedly ordered ‘Y’ Company (under Lieutenant Rae) to the right to bolster the flank of the Battalions frontage. Occupying Mackenzie Trench, the enemy were seen to continue forward and by 8.00am, they had worked round behind the Company and were attacking north along the trench.
Seeing that he was in danger of being enfiladed, Rae decided to retire. He pulled his men back through ‘X’ Company’s position to the north where two solitary Vickers guns of the M.G.C., worked tirelessly to cover their retirement. Rae returned to find the Commanding Officer of ‘Z’ Company out in the north but within minutes, Rae was wounded. Rae’s withdraw was observed by the C.O. at Battalion HQ, and seeing that their position was in danger of being overrun, Colonel Likeman sent the Adjutant, Captain Russell forward to mop up several groups of stragglers that had become separated and pull them back to the safety of an area along the old railway line, where the wounded Lieutenant Rae had been consolidating.
By 8.15am, the K.O.R.L. were forced back by enemy infantry, who were now into their front line and were bombing their way along to Mackenzie Trench. Within minutes, they had reached the remains of the cross roads to the west of the village and were bombing into Rae’s area along the railway.
Now ‘Z’ Company in the north under Captain Baker, were cut off from the rest of the Battalion and seeing the enemy coming on, ‘X’ Company in the north now began to retire. ‘Y’ Company were now enfiladed, and went to ground in what remained of a trench in their sector. ‘W’ Company, under Captain Simpson, was now in danger of being enveloped. Turning half of his remaining men half-right, Simpson was now fighting both to the front and the right.
With their left flank now in the air, Captain Russell now organised what he could of the remaining men and fought the enemy off on the left flank. At times, the Germans were only 30 yards away, but the defenders succeeded in keeping them back. “The situation round Z Coy (right front) had been very obscure for some time” wrote a report in the Battalion War Diary, “and large numbers of the enemy were in both our original front and support lines but fighting appeared to continue till about 9.30am”.
Within minutes, Lieutenant’s Coote and Wainwright, reported to the C.O. that they along with 3 NCOs had managed to escape and that ‘Z’ Company was now lost. The situation was bleak.
As the Kaiserschlacht continued, it was now the time for the 7th Battalion to join the fight. To the southwest, behind the town of Albert on the Somme battlefields, the Battalion, now came into the battle.
On 26th March they were rushed forward to form a defensive line to the east of Albert. By mid-morning the Germans looked set to advance and take their positions. They could be seen swarming down the western slopes of Tara Hill and the CO decided that a general retirement should be made. Within the space of an hour, the Germans had bypassed the town to the south and were now being stopped by 'A' Company on the west of the town along the Amiens Road. 'B' Company on their left, close to the railway station reported that the enemy were coming on in heavy waves, and that their position was becoming precarious. With their Lewis gun teams out of action, the German snipers caused terrible casualties. The situation was ‘obscure’ but by 6.00pm, it was clear that the Germans had by now obtained a strong footing to the north and had enveloped the town. A large attack around 6.00pm pushed 'C' Company back some 200 yards, where they dug in along the railway. Though as darkness descended the enemies fire rescinded, it was clear that at first light another large-scale attack would be launched upon them. They readied themselves.
In an attempt to stem the tide, a counter-attack was launched on their old positions in darkness at 11.00pm. They were successful in regaining their old ground, but it left a dangerous salient for them to occupy. Enemy patrols throughout the night were repulsed and at first light a large-scale attack was made by the 9th Division on the Battalion's right. The line held...temporarily.
By the March Offensive, good long standing NCOs with previous experience were few in number. Four years of war had robbed the Army of its old campaigners and Third Ypres took what was left. By early 1918, very few were left. In 7th Suffolk, the Kaiserschlacht robbed the Regiment of a great NCO. On the 27th March 1918, Company Sergeant Major William Bates.
Born in Enfield, Middlesex, No. 5373, Private William Bates enlisted into the Suffolk Regiment in August 1899 and within months, saw himself leaving for service with the 1st Battalion in South Africa during the Boer War. His terms of service ended in 1911 and William left the Army at the rank of Corporal.
In 1914, he re-enlisted at Hertford and was immediately given back his old number and shipped off to Shorncliffe at Folkestone, to start training recruits in the newly formed 7th Battalion. Going with the Battalion to France in 1915, when he was by then a Sergeant, he went all through until he was killed on 27th March 1918 fighting a desperate rear guard action behind the town of Albert. 250 men were killed, wounded or missing.
In the photograph above, the small child in the front is William's youngest child, Herbert. His grandson recalled in 2017 that “I remember as a small child a pocket watch pinned to my grandad’s wall (Herbert) which was William’s. It was broken and was never repaired. The time it stopped was apparently the time he was killed.”
William was most probably buried, but his grave was almost certainly lost in a subsequent action. The fact that his youngest child had his pocket watch, infers that his personal effects were sent home to his family.
With grateful thanks to the Ipswich War Memorial and Cenotaph website for the above information on William.
"22 Regimental Officers And The MO Went into The Fight And Only The MO And 1 Regimental Officer Returned To Duty. The Others All Killed, Wounded Or Missing"
For 12th Battalion, the situation became worse in the hours that unfolded.
March 23rd saw a day of continual attacks by the enemy and his ferocious artillery. By mid afternoon, the Second-in-Command, seeing that the situation was hopeless, made a calculated decision to retire to the high ground behind them and dig a new defensive line.
The following day, the 24th, was much the same. "Night 23rd-24th comparatively quiet" wrote the 2.I.C., "enemy shelled our positions and sprayed us with MGs all day". The Germans had all the newly dug trenches and roads pretty well taped. All day the shrapnel rained down and at times, touch with the flanks was lost. As the darkness came again, the situation was very precarious and not at all secure.
"S.O.S. sent up on our left flanks and very heavy artillery and MG barrages open ed by both sides. Enemy attacked on wide front on our left - Mory to Ervillers, and drove troops on our left through our position. We faced left and opened LG and rifle fire and held up the advance for some considerable time. He was too strong for us however and we retired on Mory Ervillers road and again held him up. Our casualties were very heavy and the enemy in greatly superior numbers, and under heavy fire we took up position on front of the Ervilliers Bemagnies road which we held during the remainder of the night"
By now the Battalion was becoming exhausted, yet gallantly they were doing all they could to stem the time. The following day was much the same as the Germans still came on and still, caused great casualties, yet there seemed to be no end in their offensive.
"Enemy clearly seen digging MG positions" wrote a report for the 25th March, "and snipers did good execution. Movement of enemy considerable all morning". By 3.00pm, having finished erecting and fortifying their new positions opposite, the enemy attacked again. "Enemy attacked in force on wide front but did not reach our trench. He passed through on our right and 4 Bde (Brigade) Guards retired living our left flank open".
Quickly, what troops that could be spared, rushed to hold the left flank and with half from the remnants of two battalions of the Middlesex and the East Surrey's, the line was held just as another attack looked imminent. By 8.00pm, they were evacuated.
The first four days of the Kaiserschlact had scythed the Battalion of its ranks. The footnote to the battle reports of the action, scribbled on the squared notepaper of the field service pocket book, noted soberly of the loss; "22 Regimental officers and the MO went into the fight and only the MO and 1 Regimental officer returned to duty. The others all killed, wounded or missing".
"He Had No Illusions. He Hoped, But Hardly Expected, To Return, And Was Content To Die In A Great Cause.
The Kaiserschlacht took the life of the commander of the 12th Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Theodore Eardley-Wilmott.
Educated at Tonbridge, Eardley-Wilmot graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 1899 and was gazetted into the 1st Battalion, East Surrey Regiment. Two years later he went upon secondment to the 39th Garhwal Rifles, then stationed in Chitral and temporarily joined the India Army.
A student at the School of Musketry at Pachmarhi, in 1908 he was promoted Captain and married Mildred Clare in India. Re-joining the British in 1910, he obtained a position in the 2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment and joined them at Aldershot in 1911. Transferring to their 3rd Battalion in 1912, he remained at the Depot in Pontefract until 1915 when after much protestation, he was allowed to serve overseas on active service.
Severely wounded at Ypres on 23rd April 1915 when serving with 1st York and Lancs, after convalescence and promotion, he accepted command of the 12th Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment. Awarded a DSO in 1916, he was Mentioned-in-Dispatches for his Battalion’s part in the capture of Bourlon Wood in November 1917.
On 22nd March as the German March Offensive, bore its full force upon the Battalion’s position, Eardley-Willmot went forward as his school magazine reported: “Colonel Eardley-Wilmot left Battalion H.Q. at Morthomme about 6 a.m. on March 22nd to go round the front line, and since the Battalion had been unable during the night to get into touch with the 13th Yorkshires on its left, decided to clear the situation up himself. With this object, he went forward from the front line, bearing to the left, taking an officer, a corporal and three men with him, and giving orders for a Platoon to follow him. There was a heavy mist at the time, and he evidently walked directly on to a party of the enemy who had crept up under cover of darkness. This party opened fire with a machine gun. The other officer was killed at once, the Colonel fell immediately afterwards, and two of the men were wounded. The Corporal and the remaining man dragged the Colonel back to a shallow trench, remaining with him several minutes, and only leaving him to warn the Platoon Commander of the presence and position of the enemy. The enemy advanced, and it was impossible to bring the Colonel back, though several attempts were made and considerable casualties incurred thereby. The Corporal had no doubt that the Colonel was killed, as he was hit in the chest, and never spoke or moved afterwards. With this characteristic act of devotion to duty ended the career of a born soldier. His whole heart was in his profession, and he possessed in a high degree the qualities of courage, coolness and confidence, together with the determination and power of quick decision essential in meeting sudden emergencies. He had been recommended for the command of a brigade, and, had he lived, was doubtless destined to rise high. He had no illusions. He hoped, but hardly expected, to return, and was content to die in a great cause".
Whilst 11th Suffolk were pushed back beyond Henin Hill, 12th Suffolk were immediately rushed from their rear areas to support the line in this sector.
At the Germans relentlessly attacked the front line along the entire sector, 12th Suffolk were brought up from Hendicourt to the front line east of Arras. No sooner had they arrived, when the unit of the left flank started to give way. Worried that he would shortly be surrounded, the C.O., Lieutenant-Colonel Eardley-Wilmot, took a platoon forward from the front line into No-Mans-Land to try and establish a forward position to cover his left flank.
“There was very heavy ground mist and the enemy snipers had taken up good positions and sniped the C.O. and the artillery Liaison Officer who was with him killing them both. There were also several casualties amongst the men. The Adjutant Captain A.M. Cross MC there took command”.
Men were now falling to the enemy machine gun fire that raked the front line and also to their own artillery which was indiscriminately giving down with no great degree of accuracy along the front line.
Around 2.00pm, the enemy attacked in great number son the left flank of the Battalion’s frontage. “We could get no definite information as to the situation” wrote the War Diary “and later found he was massing on our own front. We opened L.G. and Rifle fire upon them and got good results from the artillery. The casualties were heavy here”.
Valiantly the Battalion held on but by 5.00pm, with the heavy enemy machine gun fire, the casualties were mounting. On the right, the enemy had been successful in forcing back the Battalion on the right so that 12th found themselves on their own taking fire from both flanks as well as from directly in front.
“A heavy enemy artillery barrage was put down on the Mort Homme Road and a little later we were attacked in force. We sent up the S.O.S. signal and held him off, and our artillery put down a good barrage. By this time both our flanks were ‘in the air’. The enemy gained the trench on our right and left, and our forward Coys were ordered to fall back on the Army line. The message was delivered but rain apart, it arrived too late as no officer or OR of either of the 3 Coys returned”.
The confused situation was not aided by men returning in disarray on the Battalion’s flanks. Around 7.00pm, elements of Battalion HQ and C Company came back to the Army line. The Adjutant, now wounded, decided to re-establish Battalion HQ on the line near Mory Copse.
By 9.00pm, the Second-in-Command had arrived and assumed command from the wounded Adjutant. He had been out in front and reported that the enemy were pushing forward in strength along the Mory-Ecoust Road and had already reached L’Abbaye, about 200 yards from Mory. In desperation a party was sent out to block the road at the junction there where a party from the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders were position.
At around 9.10pm, elements of 20th Middlesex came up to form a defensive line between Mory Copse and the sunken road to the south west, back to the crossroads at L’Abbaye. A salient of 12t Suffolk now held out in the centre along the Army Line, even though the enemy were on both its flanks. 2/4th Leicester’s to the north were lost touch with, though a Suffolk machine gun held-on on the left, keeping the enemy at bay.
At 11.00pm, “the enemy attacked but we held him on our front. He worked round on our right, through Mory and up into the sunken road also around Mory Copse behind us on the left” wrote the War Diary. Seeing the situation was desperate, a withdrawal was now ordered. Attack after attack came in the darkness and a withdraw was accomplished back to the sunken lane from their frontal positions.
“Under very heavy MG and rifle fire from the front and both flanks this move was accomplished and a trench running at right angles to the sunken road occupied and troops then faced both flanks”. At 1.00am, it was reported that all touch had been lost with the other units on the flanks, though the enemy’s fire had died down. “Under cover of darkness – across country towards Ervillers then left to Ervillers-Mory Road extended and advanced towards Mory with the right on the road.
By 1.00am on the 22nd March, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Company’s were in the front line of the new positions along the eastern face of Henin Hill. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Company’s were immediately behind them in a hastily dug reserve line. Sensing that another attack was almost certainly to come, the C.O. made provisions to get all of the wounded away during the night and to remove all but essential ‘baggage’ from the front line positions.
At 5.00 am in a repeat of the previous morning, an intermittent enemy barrage came down across the eastern slopes of Henin Hill. Awaiting the infantry onslaught, at around 9.00am, the Battalion Pioneer Sergeant returned from a reconnoitre to Ipswich Dump in the north, and reported that the enemy were again coming on in strength. The troops in the north were already in the first stages of retirement.
“Almost immediately afterwards” wrote the C.O. in the War Diary, “parties of troops from the right were seen coming back towards Bn. Hqrs. These were stopped by Bn. HQ officers and sent to reform a defensive flank facing south east”. On the right, the 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers were forming a defensive flank against an enemy attack from the right. Sensing that the flanks might give way, Tuck brought ‘A’ Company forward from reserve and placed them on the right to bolster the Northumberland Fusiliers.
An enemy attack was launched against ‘B’ Company but it was gallantly repulsed. The Company Commander, Captain Redwell, was wounded during the fight as he fought hand-to-hand on the parapet with the advancing enemy. His Company were successful in beating the enemy back and contact was established once more with ‘A’ Company on the right. At 8.45am, another heavy enemy attack was fought off by Captain Reid and his men in ‘D’ Company’s positions, with Reid himself being wounded. Further attacks were beaten back and although the enemy came on again from the northwest towards ‘A’ Company’s positions, they were beaten off by Captain Harrison and his men dug-in along the base of the hill.
At 11.00am, ‘B’ Company moved into shell holes on the northern slopes of the hill, close to Farmers Lane Trench to ensure that a complete line was established. ‘A’ Company was now moved to overlook the dead ground to the north near ‘B’ Company in the shell holes. The shelling continued and through it, small groups of enemy storm troops pushed down into the valley from the west, but they were repulsed by rifle and Lewis gun fire from ‘B’ Company.
At around 1.00 pm, the units on the Battalion’s flanks came under attack. The unit on the right fell back, leaving the flank vulnerable. The Intelligence officer, Captain Bolton, went forward with a runner to ascertain how bad the situation was. He found only one officer and a party of around 18 men. The officer informed him that they were the last of the unit - the others having fallen back. He informed Bolton that he would soon be doing the same.
The shelling continued throughout the afternoon fragmenting the front line. Colonel Tuck sent the Signals Officer, Lieutenant Johnson along the line to ensure all was well. He reported back that all Company’s were still in their positions. A terrific bombardment came down on ‘B’ Company’s positions, followed by a large infantry attack. In the face of fierce resistance, the Company Commander, fell back into ‘A’ Company’s positions. Concurrent with their retirement, the Germans were pressing along the line from the south. Lieutenant Hall and a valiant few, immediately blocked their section of the front line and bombed them from behind the barricade.
“A block was formed by Lieutenant Hall who repulsed several enemy attacks with great coolness and determination being wounded and subsequently killed”. With Battalion HQ in peril, Tuck sent a platoon of ‘A’ Company to the right to strengthen the flank of ‘B’ Company’s new position. “At 6pm the enemy launched an attack in the south against the right of the Battalion. They were engaged by rifle, Lewis Gn. And Vickers Guns of the 34th M.G. Bn. and suffered very considerable casualties. The enemy however succeeded in working round to the SW of the defensive flank formed by Ban. HQrs personnel and two platoons of A Coy. After a sharp fight these two platoons and Bn. HQrs personnel withdraw to a bank running NW to SE under heavy machine gun fire from the S and SW of Henin Hill”.
The situation was now desperate. Every available man was turned-out from battalion HQ to man the line. The enemy were now attacking in force on ‘C’ Company’s positions. Behind a small bank, fire was brought to bear by any available man. ‘A’ Company’s positions were now also in danger of being overrun. The Germans were making a concerted effort to advance up the southwest slopes of the hill and by 7.00pm, all but one platoon of ‘A’ Company were still in action. Seeing all was lost, Tuck ordered a retirement. Starting first, ‘C’ Company and the remnants of ‘A’ Company were withdrawn by 8.30 pm, being covered by ‘B’ Company. The machine gun officer, Lieutenant Woods did well with his two remaining Lewis teams to hold back the enemy, but was subsequently killed and his gunners overrun. Battalion HQ fell back too and was in the third line behind the hill just minutes later.
The Battalion or what remained of it, came under the temporary command of 9th Brigade, until 2.30am in the morning, when they were withdrawn to safety behind the village of Henin.
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.