At 7.30am on the 23rd, 2nd Suffolk went forward again for what was to be their last major action of the Great War.
The forward Companies advanced from their positions and set off for the village of Escarmain and their first objective: the “Red” Line. ‘Z’ Company, were on the left, ‘Y’ Company, were on the right. By 8.40am they had crossed it and were advancing onwards in a north-eastern direct towards the village of Arret de Vertigneul. The first objective had been taken successfully.
‘Z’ Company continued the advance through a series of orchards, keeping a steady pace, whilst on the extreme right of the Battalion’s frontage, ‘X’ Company came up to broaden the Battalion’s frontage.
Behind ‘Z’ Company, ‘W’ Company came forward. However, as they tried to move on, the enemy brought down a gas barrage between them and the frontal companies. Lieutenant Mann, the Company Commander was himself hit and had to be evacuated. In his place, C.S.M. Fayers took command.
However, despite the gas shelling, enemy resistance on the ground was at first slight. “No opposition was met with” recorded the War Diary and “2 enemy machine guns posted in an orchard were abandoned by their crews without firing a shot. An enemy M.G. firing from W.17.d. (trench map reference) central was dealt with successfully by concerted action of Y and X Coys and N.Z.R.B.”
‘Z’ Company now headed for a crossroads to the northeast. Here they were greeted with a remarkable sight. 3 German officers and over fifty ranks, sheltering in a sunken lane waiting to surrender to them. Now, with the K.O.R.L. safely protecting their left flank, all of ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ Companies continued the advance to the southeast corner of the village of Escarmain and by 11.45 am, they were close to a sunken lane near running into the village from the southeast. From here, the enemy could be seen retreating and moments later the “Green" line was taken, The second objective had been taken successfully.
Seizing the moment and seeing that he could exploit the enemies disarray, Captain Lummis, who had by then, come forward, ordered a continuation of the advance. ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ Companies to press onto the “Green Dotted" line some five hundred yards in front. The advance however was slowed by the Allied barrage falling short. “Our barrage dropped short on green line and continued dropping short all the way causing several casualties to our own men”. However, having crossed the open ridge, the frontal companies now were observed by the enemy artillery gunners who were firing at them across open sights. Machine gun fire now came from the right front, causing many casualties, but soon, they were over the small river St. Georges and were close to the enemies artillery. Dashing on ‘Y’ Company, found several enemy artillery pieces abandoned in their temporary scrapes. The enemy had “taken the breech blocks with them”.
By 1.30pm, Lieutenant W.G. Bailey MC, left the newly repositioned Battalion HQ at Le Trousse Minon, and went forward to find Captain Lummis. Finding ‘W’ Company on the left in disorganisation with every officer killed or wounded, he took command of it and alone, he pressed forward under heavy shell fire. For his actions that day, he was awarded a Bar to his MC. The “Green Dotted" line was reached at 2.00pm. The third objective had been successfully taken.
As consolidation began, ‘X’ Company, sent a patrol onwards towards Le Sablonnaire which seemed lightly defended. Though they were confident that they could take the small hamlet, the Allied artillery was again dropping short and causing many friendly casualties.
With the enemy now in disarray, there was a further chance to press on to the “Brown" line which lay beyond it. By 2.45pm, Captain Lummis ordered the advance to continue again. However, the artillery was still a problem and again, many friendly casualties were suffered.
‘W’ Coy under Lieutenant Bailey, who were on the left, went forward first with ‘X’ Coy, on the right. Though the Battalion could have advanced just after 2.30pm, they dared not start as the barrage was not moving. “Advance could not commence earlier as our barrage dropped short. Some 30 men of ‘W’ Coy and Coy Commander of ‘X Coy (Lieutenant Rolfe) were wounded by our own barrage. Up to this time our casualties had been extraordinarily few”. Lieutenant Streeter assumed command of ‘X’ Company.
Pressing towards a cluster of houses at Fond de L’Arbrisseau, enemy machine gun fire now came down upon the frontal companies. As the went to ground, enemy artillery now fired upon them as well, Lummis was forced to retire ‘W’ and ‘X’ Companies back to the sunken lane, but with the Northumberland Fusiliers behind them and not seeing their retirement, they pressed forward and became mixed with ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ Companies. However, the "Brown" line has been reached at the sunken lane.
All four of the Battalion objectives allotted that day had been taken. It was a rare and unique moment. Never had such an occurrence happened during the entire war.
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.
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