Seven months after the 2nd Battalion's gallant action at Le Cateau in August 1914, news was still not particularly forthcoming about those who had fell in battle or who had been taken prisoner.
For the family of one Suffolk Soldier, No. 8083, L/Sgt. Donald Dawes, no news was received of him until March 1915.
Donald's family who lived at Ufford, near Woodbridge, had written in late 1914 to the International Red Cross in Geneva to enquire as to his whereabouts, but they were at first, unable to locate him. This appears to have been due to a simple clerical error in his name being mis-spelt as 'Daws' and not 'Dawes' but by confirming his service number, he was located alive and well as a Prisoner of War at Doeberitz Camp near Berlin.
Donald Dawes joined 2nd Suffolk on the 15th August 1910. By 1912, he was Lance Corporal and guarding rioting miners at Brynkinault Colliery at Chirk. By 1913, he was Corporal with the Battalion at Aldershot and in early 1914 at the Curragh in Ireland, he was promoted Sergeant. At the time of Le Cateau, he was Lance Sergeant.
Don would spend just over four years as a prisoner, interspersed with periods of official leave in Holland. He would leave the Army in 1919 after his repatriation, would sign on again immediately, serving with the 2nd Battalion in Ireland in the early 1920s.
Instrumental in establishing the Ipswich Branch of the 'Old Contemptibles' Association, he left a prolific archive of his captivity which we shall see more of in the future.
One of the first fatalities to be buried in 'Suffolk Cemetery' was young 2nd Lieutenant Francis Thomas Schroder.
Schroder started his military career as a Sergeant in the Grenadier Guards (no. 14705) but having had a good education at the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook, near Ipswich, he was commissioned and joined the 2nd Battalion in the Ypres salient in early in 1915. The War Diary noted that "2/Lt FT Schroder killed, 10 men wounded 4 rifle grenades landed in L5 doing most of the damage."
When rumour of his death reached England, his family enquired to the War Office to ask if the rumours were true since they had not as yet, received the official notification of his being either dead or missing. The telegram arrived on 25th to state coldly that "2/Lieut F T Schroder 2nd Suffolk Regt killed in action 24 March"
On 31st March a letter arrived stating that "The Military Secretary presents his compliments to Mr Shillum and begs to inform him that since writing to him on 25th inst. a report has been received that 2nd Lieut FT Schroder was killed on 24th inst."
The other fatality of the action that day was 13150 Private Sergeant Jessup. Another Suffolk man, he was born in Wickham Market in 1891. Originally a member of 4th Suffolk, he transferred to the Royal Field Artillery in 1913, but after war broke out, he found his way back to his old Regiment and to the front, joining a draft that arrived early in 1915.
In 1921, when a pension was granted to Jessup's family, his brother, who was then living in Benton Street in Hadleigh, received a payment of £4 1s 4d. (around £135 today). Not much for a brother lost.
South of the Vierstraat to Whyteshaete road, the 2nd Battalion started in March 1915, to build a small regimental cemetery for their war dead who had fallen in battle in the preceding days.
Behind the position of this photograph, Pioneers from the Battalion started to gather the Regiment's war dead together following the attacks of the 16th March.
In the days that followed, eighteen men of the Battalion would be buried there and although there would be many other cemeteries across the world containing fallen Suffolk soldiers, this was one of the first.
Following the battle at Neuve Chapelle, the 4th Battalion went through some hasty reorganisation.
After the battle had died down and the Battalion had been withdrawn to billets at St. Vaast, the Battalion Commander was able to take stock of the situation. Battalion strength was down to a mere 173 men after the battle although there were almost 40 men who were receiving attention for minor wounds in the nearby field hospital. It was a severe reduction in numbers from the 973 that had handed in France the previous November.
The Adjutant, Captain Cockburn had also suffered greatly. A shard of shrapnel almost completely severed his right arm on the 12th March and after being evacuated to a field hospital, he was sent on to a general hospital to have his arm amputated. In his place, 2nd Lieutenant Barnes took over as acting adjutant.
The following day, a draft of 3 officers and 100 other ranks came out from the 3rd Battalion in England. They managed with a little reorganisation, to arrange the four separate Company’s into a strength of around 125 all-ranks each. The Battalion was gradually being rebuilt to its former glory.
March 15th saw The Cambridgeshire Regiment in the trenches around Voormezeele with periods in the front line at St. Eloi.
The Battalion was gradually becoming acclimatised to the routine of trench warfare and would soon be going into to the line ‘on their own’ in the Salient.
On this day in the trenches in front of the Cambridgeshire's, the Germans were planning to attack. It would not be an offensive attack, but one of stealth and secrecy.
The Germans had unbeknown to the occupants of the front line, been mining deep into the Flanders clay beneath them and laying a series of mines, ready to be detonated prior to an infantry advance.
At 5.30pm, the Germans blew their mines. The Royal Irish Rifles who were manning this sector took the brunt of the onslaught. No sooner had the dust and mud settled on the newly formed crater, the enemy advanced. Captain Clayton, who had watched the explosion from their positions in the rear lines, saw the enemy advancing in great numbers. Aghast, he ordered the Cambridgeshire’s to open up with all they had in an attempt to stem the German advance.
It was a cruel baptism of fire for the Battalion. Ordered to fix bayonets, the men were rushed into the front line trenches to support the faltering troops there. Within minutes the Cambridgeshire’s were in the thick of the fighting.
Clayton recalled: “I remember Jenkins telling me to make my way to the right to watch if the enemy had worked round, and stopping on the way to tell a red-haired private to follow me. As I shouted to him a burst of machine-gun bullets sprayed his head into a pulp from his jaw upwards, and his brains splashed all over me and two other men…”
The battle raged on into the darkness of early evening. Machine guns were engaged against each other in a bitter spat. Cambridgeshire's scrabbled from shell hole to shell hole, from scrape to scrape often fighting by hand and by rifle butt along the way. One NCO, Sergeant Bowyer showed himself the epitome of courage by taking off his tunic, rolling up his shirt sleeves and manning one of the Battalions three Maxim machine guns as if on the range at annual camp. “Cool as the proverbial cucumber” he was later described.
Fighting went on throughout the night and by morning, as daylight emerged, a counter-attack by the British saw much of the lost ground retaken, and many valuable lessons learned.
Despite however their gallantry, no awards were given to men of the Regiment for their actions that day. They had however proved that they were not only ready for front line service, but that they were every bit the equal of their regular counterparts.
With thanks to the excellent Cambridgeshire Regiment 1914-18 website:
Finally on 13th March 1915, Sydney Fuller of the 8th Battalion was discharged from hospital. He'd been admitted the previous month suffering from German Measles.
Upon his release, he was given the first leave he had had since he enlisted the previous August. In addition to 7 days free to himself, he was finally issued with a khaki uniform, replacing the old blue suit he had worn since October. His counterparts in the Battalion had already received theirs whilst he had been in hospital.
Sydney noted "I was discharged from hospital at 5.00pm and given 7 days 'sick leave.' Paid 15/-. I also received my khaki uniform including great-coat."
The men were happy that they were at least starting to look more like soldiers than postman.
At midnight on the 12th March, the Germans brought down heavy shelling in the billeting area of 4th Suffolk in the Rue de Berceaux.
A shell dropped into one house around 3.00 am killing one man and wounding three others. At 4.30 am, orders were received to fall in and moved to another location. The Battalion however took over half an hour to get everyone gathered up and fall in since they were scattered through numerous houses, sheds and outhouses along the entire length of the village. The shell fire was accurate and later, when they started off on the road, the shells came down with alarming accuracy on the Battalion claiming many men.
Such was the ferocity of this bombardment that by the time the Battalion has reached “Windy Corner” a message came from the CO at the head of the column to disperse and find shelter in the trenches and redoubt of the southern side of the road junction.
Here they remained for some time until around 7.00 am when orders came up to move up in the direction of the village of Neuve Chapelle itself. They were at this point, still spread out along the road south with the right hand end of the Battalion's frontage just south of the cross roads at "Port Arthur."
Shortly after 8.00 am the Battalion commander was called away to a conference with the General and left command of the Battalion to Major Turner. Turner was alarmed by the increasing weight of enemy shell fire being directed along the Battalions frontage and the sudden fire started in a burning building to their left (believed to be the village school) was suspected to be the work of a spy. Perhaps it was the same spy had drawn down the accurate fire on the Battalion that morning?
When the CO returned, he called a conference of Company Commanders, the Adjutant, his second-in-command and the machine Gun officer in a shell hole near "Port Arthur." The event was to be recalled by those present five years later when the scene was to be immortalised on canvas.
The CO brought word that the Battalion were to once more join the attack on the Bois de Biez and that the attack would commence at 11.00 am. The Battalion snaked up the front line past other units in the Jullandur Brigade, to a small orchard, just south of the newly captured village. When they arrived, a quick tally of numbers revealed a huge loss of men. Only 173 all ranks could be counted and because of the shortfall, the frontage of trench they were allocated to occupy before the attack, was greatly reduced from 225 yards to just 100. The 59th Scinde Rifles on the Battalions right, took up the shortfall.
At around 11.00 am, the greatly reduced Battalion were told off into three lines. The first line of approx 80 men were ready to advance. Behind them, the second and third lines, of each approx. 45 men each, were ready to reinforce the first line when they reached their object. Ready to go, at the last minute, orders was received that the advance was delayed for 2 hours.
Around 1.00 pm the advance commenced. The first line pushed gradually towards the wood until it reached the old German second line. The second line of 4th Suffolk, also reached them shortly afterwards at around 2.00 pm, with the 3rd line arriving shortly afterwards, but as with the failure the day before, the Division on their left had faltered, and progress was greatly slowed down.
The men now got busy turning their positions around and making good their gains. The parapet was reduced turned around. The business of clearing and making good went on whilst the Adjutant gathered intelligence from the recently extricated German dug-outs. In the quiet still of their new positions, the Battalion received orders via a field telephone some yards down the line, that they were to remain in these positions overnight. As the darkness descended, the temperature plummeted, but the men could not sleep.
If ever a counter-attack was to come, it would be in darkness. The men huddled and shivered in the cold. Balaclavas were put on under service dress caps, but the men tried not to cover their ears, less they could not hear an attack coming. At 1.00 am, an order was received by the Adjutant that they were to be ready to be relieved at 4.30 in the morning. They had been on the go for 24 hours. The men who survived the battle were cold, hungry and very tired.
Would the next day bring disappointment again?
At 1 am Major Turner, second in command of the 4th Battalion awoke in his billet. He had only his mackintosh and not his greatcoat or waterproof sheet and was bitterly cold. He got up around 3.00 am and went to the cross roads at “Windy Corner” around a quarter of a mile away to wait for the rations to come up for the Battalion. He hoped that his greatcoat would come too.
At 12 noon, the Battalion who were still in billets in the Rue de Berceaux, received orders to move up to the recently taken German trenches in front of the French village of Neuve Chapelle. Although there had been amazing success the previous morning, the enemy’s artillery was still much in force in the area.
Because of this, the Battalion took a circuitous route via several villages to the north, joining the main La Bassee road at the southern end of the village. When the Battalion came within yards of the newly taken positions, they ducked down into the ditches alongside the road.
In order to move from here to the newly gained positions, they had to run out in the open over a period of some twenty yards. The trenches were not deep and the sandbagged emplacements that had been built above aground were only partial with large gaps in between. Rather than risk the entire Battalion, small groups of men were sent forward into the front line in rushes, darting over the exposed ground. Once under cover again, they could skirt up the front line north past the area known as ‘Port Arthur’ and into their new section of front line opposite a raised parvee roadway from the south, behind which was the dark and looming Bois de Biez, which had until the day before, been lined with German artillery.
In their new forward positions, the Battalion waited expectedly. The forward company’s under Majors Turner, Payne and Row, waited expectantly. At 12.45 pm, the advance went in but the Division upon their left made very little progress. Wearing greatcoats against the cold, they carried full equipment with large packs upon their backs. The enemy fire was steady and constant, taking its toll on the Battalion. From the front line trenches, one platoon from each Company advanced first.
This was no mass effort, but a calculated and well planned offensive. By limiting the men that could potentially be lost in the first attack, the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Cruddas, could sent forth further Platoons from the Company’s in the rear as reinforcements to those out in front, should the attack falter.
Out in front, the men reached the raised roadway, and paused below its cover. Only 18 inches off the ground, it did at least afford some protection. Communications via wire and field telephone were unsuccessful, and on their left, it could be seen that the attacking division had floundered and were bogged down in front of the northern edge of the Bois de Biez. At 5.00 pm, the War Diary noted that “no further advance was made” and as dusk descended, the Battalion withdrew back to their front line trenches. Shortly afterwards came an order to retire and return to their billets in the Rue de Berceaux.
Believing this to be ruse-de-guerre (a fake) Major Turner sent a runner back to Brigade HQ behind Port Arthur to confirm that it was indeed genuine. The runner confirmed it was.
It was a second day of disappointments. The failure of their counterparts on the left to advance, had seen them once more being denied the battlefield. The lack of heavy ordnance to pound the front line German positions, and pave the way for a further advance, all added to the failure that day. As the Battalion got back into their billets, the losses of the day soon became apparent.
One officer had been killed, two had been wounded. 19 NCO’s and men had been killed and over 100 had been wounded. It was the first great losses to be incurred by the 4th Battalion since they arrived in France four months before.
One man lost that day was Captain Stephen Garrett. Commissioned into the 1st Volunteer Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment in June 1902, Captain Stephen Garret was the younger brother of Colonel Frank Garrett and heir to the Richard Garrett & Sons Engineering Company in Leiston. He died of wounds he received that day at Neuve Chapelle whilst leading his men into action against the Bois de Biez. Although he was able to be extricated from the fight, his wounds were such that he did later in an impromptu dressing station between Neuve Chapelle and Port Arthur. He was 36 years old and left behind a wife in Eastbourne.
Frank Garrett, his older brother, who had previously commanded the Battalion, and had been invalided home after a complete breakdown in February, never forgave himself for Stephens’s loss. A forward thinker, Stephen had installed electric light at Garrett’s Leiston foundry for the benefit of his workforce, and had brought the first two internal combustion engine lorries, which the company used for deliveries. His would have risen high within the company and taken it onto great things.
Private Todd penned his last diary entry for the Great War; "Went into trenches. 2nd day Neuve Chapelle. Got hit in leg about 1.30 Friday dinner time." For the foreseeable future, Todd's war was over.
At 6.15 am on the morning of the 10th March, 4th Suffolk left their billets in the village of Lestrem along with the rest of the Julladur Brigade and proceeded via road, the distance of a mile to Vieille Chapelle, arriving there about an hour later.
At around 7.30am, a furious bombardment was brought down on the German front line trenches by the British artillery. It was the precursor to a major attack going in against the German trenches in front of the village of Neuve Chapelle.
At 8.40am, news came down the line that the German first line trenches had been taken and shortly afterwards, it was reported that the village church was in British hands. The attack it seemed was going according to plan. Later at 10.15am, further news was received to say that the German second line trenches had been captured an hour before. Everything on the British side was running to schedule.
Around noon, orders were received to move the Battalion with the rest of the Brigade, to Richebourg and to remain there to await further instructions. The Battalion had been brought up in readiness to support the major British attack that had gone in that morning, but with its early and unquallified success, their support was no longer needed. As they began their journey back to billets, they passed the first of many batches of German prisoners being sent back behind the lines. Their weary expressions and dishevelled appearance, did much to raise the men’s morale.
For one Suffolk Territorial, that evening he penned the penultimate entry to a diary he had been keeping in a small notebook since the Battalion left Colchester on the 6th November; “Marched to Vie Chapelle later to Richebourg. Lied in support first day attack on Neuve Chapelle, later moved closer up. Layed in ruined house for night.”
For No. 2309, Private F.J. Todd, the next day would leave him with a permanent reminder of the battle of Neuve Chapelle.
On the 7th March 1915, the 4th Battalion were in the Front Line opposite the Germans near the French village of Neuve Chapelle.
The Battalion who were at that time, still part of the Julludur Brigade of the Lahore Division, were relived by units of the 58th Vaughan’s Rifles (Frontier Force); a unit of the Indian Army in the same Brigade.
Straddling the “Rue de Bois,” the area they were vacating was known as “Port Arthur” named after the naval port where the first action of the Russo-Japanese war took place exactly ten years before.
Here, was the intersection of the roads from the north, from the village of Neuve Chapelle, from the south, from La Bassee and a road from the west, from the villages of Richebourg and Rue de L’epinette. Being a major road junction, it commanded much attention from the German artillery positions dug in along the southern edge of a large wood below the village of Neuve Chapelle itself, known as the Bois de Biez.
The following day, the 8th March 1915, saw the newly appointed CO of the 4th Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Cruddas, summoned away for a meeting at Brigade HQ. Leaving his men in their billets in the village of Lestrem, he returned later that evening with the news that a large-scale attack was planned for the forthcoming days in their sector and that they should be ready to move at one and half hours notice to go up to the Front Line.
The following morning, the 9th, orders were still yet to be received. The men, who had hurriedly packed up their kit that morning, paused and used the free-time to make one last attempt to get the majority of the dreaded French mud off their uniform and weapons.
The preceeding days in the line around Port Arthur were particularly squalid. The trenches opposite the Germans were still unreveted scrapes, made only slightly better by four or five courses of sandbags as a parapet. Some sections of the line did not even interlock and in places, men had to run the gauntlet between sandbagged emplacements. These gaps in the line were magnets for the German artillery and snipers and movement was kept to an absolute minimum during the hours of daylight.
At 4.00pm orders were finally received to move, but at the last minute they were rescinded. The Battalion therefore spent another relatively comfortable night in their billets at Lestrem. The next day would be one of not much comfort. It would bring the Battalion honour but not without tragedy.
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.