1914 saw The Cambridgeshire Regiment in the midst of a major recruiting drive.
A recruiting week in January, succeeded in gaining many new men for the Battalion and, by the end of the month, their strength was at 430 ranks.
Such was the enthusiasm to join that by late March, over 200 men were on a list "waiting to get in."
Such were the numbers now joining, that the Adjutant; Captain H.A.P. Littledale, was in discussions to lay on additional trains to get his men to annual camp in July.
For a youthful regiment, everyone was in very high spirits...
In 1914, Home Rule for Ireland was about to become law.
In Ulster, the Ulster Volunteers were threatening to rebel against this ruling, and the British Government contemplated using military action against them.
Early on the morning of 20th March, the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, Sir Arthur Paget issued a strongly worded deployment order headed “Duty As Ordered – Active Operations In Ulster” it contained a cleverly worded ultimatum to the British Forces who received it.
At the Curragh, Paget's order reached 2nd Suffolk on the afternoon of the 20th. Lieutenant-Colonel Brett horrified at its contents, suddenly summoned his officers together. The situation was tense and he asked all of them that in-line with the Paget’s deployment order whether they would be either prepared to proceed against a Loyal Ulster, or resign their commissions and leave the Army. To do this however, they would have to forfeit their pensions. Paget's intention was clear; be prepared to fight Ulster, or resign. It was a shocking predicament.
The officers were naturally alarmed at having to make such a large decision on the spot and they asked to be allowed until the morning to decide. However, that evening they all met again and unanimously agreed to resign their commissions rather than take any action against the forces in Ulster that were loyal to the Crown.
Brett duly reported their decision back to his superiors and the following morning, March 21st, the entire Battalion were ordered to parade in the Garrison Gymnasium.
Here, the officers were told to fall out and assemble in the Fencing Room where they were addressed by the G.O.C. (General Officer Commanding) 5th Infantry Division; General Sir Charles Fergusson. In view of their unanimous decision, he appealed to them to keep their heads and take no extreme steps. He reasoned with them to uphold duty and discipline within the Battalion adding that they should avoid “any appearance of political leaning.”
An officer of the Battalion stood up and pointed out that as a choice was being offered to them, and a decision had been unanimously agreed, there could be no question of mutiny; the word “mutiny” having already been printed in the London papers that morning with reference to what was being describing as an "Incident in Ireland."
After much discussion in Westminster, including the mention in the House of Commons of a letter written by Colonel Brett to His Majesty the King, the proposal of armed aggression against Ulster met with such consternation, that the matter was shelved and no further action took place.
For Paget, his career in the Army was promptly curtailed. For The Suffolk Regiment, they were pleased that this "unfortunate and disrespectful episode" in their history had finally come to an end.
The year 1914 opened well for The Suffolk Regiment. The 1st Battalion, who were then on Foreign Service, were stationed in Khartoum. They had previously spent time serving in Egypt where two sections of men even learnt to fight on camels! The 2nd Battalion, who were then on Home Service, were stationed at Curragh Camp near Dublin.
Here in Ireland, there was a 'changing of the guard' within the 2nd Battalion's ranks. The New Year saw Colonel Van Straubenzee retire as Colonel with Lieutenant-Colonel C.A.H. Brett, DSO, take his place.
“Charlie” Brett had served with distinction during the South African War and had been captured after the failed attack on “Suffolk” Hill at Colesberg in January 1900.
A keen historian, after his release from captivity, he had travelled around Egypt and the Holy Lands, indulging his passion for amateur archaeology. In 1910, he was partially responsible for the discovery of Nebuchadnezzar’s tomb - pieces of which can be seen today in the Suffolk Regiment Museum.
Brett's character and the high affection his officers and men had for him, were to be put to the test in the days that followed by circumstances beyond their control...
As part of Operation Legacy, the Friends are going to record here on our website, the events of the Great War as they happened 100 years ago.
Starting now with the events of March 1914 before the Great War commenced, we will regularly post information on the events, actions and individuals of the numerous Battalions of the Regiment.
We will not be updating the site daily as quite often, lengthy periods of time were spent by the men of the Regiment in the lines or in rest camps when, as the official War Diaries simply put it, there was "nothing to report.”
However it is hoped that as the years of the Centenary progress, we will build up a new online archive of Suffolk Regiment History, interspersed with information about the men who fought with the "Old Dozen" one hundred years ago.
We will be using this format - a sort of “mini-blog,” to record the events, so please do keep coming back to see how the Great War progressed for both the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Regiments.
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.