In mid-February 1916, the official War Office telegram fell onto the door step of No. 4 School Cottages, Smart Street, Ipswich.
Mrs Georgina Webb learned the saddening news that her son Stephen, had been killed in action on the 3rd February.
That day, in the front line trenches around Loos, the 4th Battalion were manning the front line. Around mid-morning, the enemy artillery rained down upon the leading Company's. It continued unabated until mid afternoon when at one point shells were landing on the Suffolk positions at a rate of 50 per minute. The War Diary noted that they produced "a wonderful and spectacular effect."
Lieutenant K.W. Turner; who had been a member of the 1st Volunteer Battalion, prior to the creation of the Territorial Force in 1908, showed great gallantry in bringing up men from 'B' Company from their reserve positions in the cellars of Loos, to the front line.
The immense shelling had reduced the communication trenches to a mass of wounded and hampered any progress in getting fresh troops up to the front line. The shelling had severed communications to the Battalion HQ and the signallers had all been wounded. Two signallers from the nearby Connaught Rangers, did great work in kneeling upon the parapet under heavy fire to use their signalling flags to relay messages. By early evening, both had been wounded, but would subsequently be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The shelling continued into darkness, claiming many more casualties. It was not until early the following morning that the 8th King's Own Scottish Borderers arrived to relive them.
For nearly 17 hours, they had been under continuous shell fire, yet despite this ferocious onslaught, the men stood up to it well. Front line dug-outs had meant that deaths were that day, comparatively light.
One of those who fell that day was No. 2888, Private Stephen Webb of B Company. He had enlisted around the 20th November 1914; most probably in the wake of seeing his mates and relations depart for service in France. He would have most probably walked across town from his mothers house at Smart Street, to the Drill Hall at Great Gipping Street, to enlist in the 4th Battalion (T.F.), The Suffolk Regiment.
In the photograph above, taken most probably in early 1915, Stephen had managed to get one of the last remaining suits of khaki service dress that remained in the drill hall stores, but has missed out on a stiff topped service dress cap. He has instead been issued with a Winter Service Dress cap or 'gor blimey.' The issue of this piece of headgear was restricted in early 1915 for troops proceeding overseas only, so this may have been one of the last photos taken in Britain of Stephen before he went overseas.
He arrived in France on 28th February 1915 and within a few weeks, he was fighting with the Battalion at Neuve Chapelle. He most probably met his end in the congestion of the trenches, caught by the bombardment. Ipswich born and bred, Stephen's old home can still be seen today. It's occupants worked in the school directly opposite which still stands today.
With thanks to Paul Horne via Facebook for the image of Stephen Webb.
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.