A UNIQUE DAY-BY-DAY REMEMBRANCE, 2014 - 2018
follow below, the great war service of the suffolk regiment,
from mobilisation to the armistice
from mobilisation to the armistice
For the second time in as many months, Captain C.M.E. Dealtry was wounded in action.
On 27th March, the British detonated a series of mines along the St. Eloi ridge, near Ypres. In the hours that followed, the 2nd Battalion was rushed from its billets behind the lines, to the front, to bolster the fledgling front line.
Despite the horrific weather culminating in a terrific hailstorm, the Battalion pressed on to consolidate the craters that had been created by the mines and, with the units that were already there, desperately hung on in the face of heavy enemy fire.
The Battalion, pushed directly into the fight, lost it's recently returned CO; Lieutenant-Colonel d'Arch Smith. He had only returned a few days before after recovering from an injured foot, and upon entering the front line trenches, he was hit by shrapnel. His second-in-command, Major Thomas, had reported sick many days before, so that for the first time since Le Cateau, the Battalion was completely leaderless. Within hours however, a new CO would arrive.
At the end of January and the beginning of February 1916, the 8th Battalion were engaged in front line duties to the west of the village of La Boiselle on the Somme.
Nightly in the dark winter days, small raiding parties pushed out from the Suffolk lines to gather intelligence and to assess the ground in front of them. Here ironically for the first time, the Suffolk trenches were on a slight incline with a 'pimple' on the crest being held by the Germans. If command of this could be gained, then a commanding view of the battlefield down the valley towards the villages of Ovilliers and Poziers could be attained.
Gradually the Suffolks had been pushing out towards this feature and late in January, a small patrol under the command of Lieutenant F.T. Keats pushed forward and finally took the position. The shell hole that formed the main position was fortified by a new layer of sandbags, and from the rear, fatigue parties dug with pick and shovel to link this sap to the British front line.
The position that was later strengthened by the efforts of the other Battalion's in the Brigade came to be known affectionately as "Keat's Redan" in honour of the young lieutenant that had originally taken it, and in late March when the latest issue of revised trench maps were issued, it became an officially named position. Until the end of the Somme campaign, the officers of the 8th Battalion still referred to the position as 'his' redan!
In March, the Bury Free Press published the news that Tom Frewer of 5th Suffolks had recovered from his wounds and was back with his Battalion in Egypt.
Tom had been shot through the head and the knee during the attack on Hill 60 at Gallipoli. He had been invalided off the peninsular to hospital on Lemnos, where in the fullness of time he made a complete recovery.
Tom came from the locally famous Frewer family who had no fewer than eight of its male members serving for King and Country.
Tom's father, David, was in 1916, serving as a postman in Bury St. Edmunds, but he had previously served with the 1st Battalion for over 20 years been part of the Hazara Expedition in Afghanistan between 1878-80. His eldest son, Reginald, was a Grenadier Guardsman, wounded on the Aisne, no fewer than five times. He received a discharge from the Army in 1915. Joe Frewer was serving with the Life Guards, but no news had been received of him for several weeks. The youngest Frewer, Frank was a gunner in the 46th Company, Royal Garrison Artillery. There was Tom wounded at Gallipoli, and two sons-in-law, Thomas and Andrew who were serving with Army Vetinary Corps and the Royal Flying Corps, respectfully.
The newspaper noted "Since the great European upheaval has been in progress, many fine examples of local family patriotism have been recorded in our columns, but it is extremely doubtful whether a more striking and notable one than that of Mrs and Mrs David Frewer's family has ever been published by us."
In March 1916, the Reserve Battalion of 4th Suffolk were training hard at Halton Camp near Tring.
Here the Battalion were getting ready to go to war. A cadre of senior NCOs and officers including Major F.W. Turner; veteran of Neuve-Chapelle, were training drafts of men who were to join the Battalion in France. One man who was itching to go, was Private Herbert Percy Welham.
Herbert joined the 3/4th Battalion of The Suffolk Regiment in 1915 when he was only 17 years old and was soon with them in Camp at Halton.
Born in the small Suffolk village of Somersham, Herbert lived in the quaintly named “Leather Bottle Hill” in nearby Little Blakenham when war was declared in 1914.
Though under age, he already had two brothers serving with 1/4th Suffolk in France and he was keen, as soon as he could, to join them. It was whilst training that Herbert was taken ill with double pneumonia, which in turn, led to his dying from pericarditis in Aylesbury Military Hospital on 11th March 1916.
His body was brought home to Suffolk with six members of his Battalion carrying his coffin, covered in wreaths from the family and the Regiment. A volley was fired at the graveside and the Last Post was sounded. The churchyard it was reported “was filled with a large gathering of sympathetic friends.”
Today, one hundred years on, his family have returned to his grave to remember him; the only man from the village of Little Blakenham to die in the Great War.
After their relief from the front line trenches and crater in front of the Bluff, Lieutenant-Colonel Harry D'Arch Smith, commanding officer of 2nd Suffolk, wrote home of his time over the last few days.
His letters, uncensored, gave a truthful account of the action and the time afterwards as they tried to consolidate their positions in the face of dreadful weather.
"Zero hour was 4.30 and no preliminary bombardment warned the enemy; the advance moved silently forward and took them unaware. At 4.35 the Boche rockets went up, a triple barrage fell across our line of attack; but he was too late; his first line trenches were in our hands before his gunners received the SOS. Our men advanced as the sticky ground would allow, and the objective was reached without much resistance except for a stubborn defence on the left which held up our men and caused many casualties before they reached their aim. On the right the line of attack had to go round the lip of an enormous crater at the eastern end of the Bluff. As the day broke large streams of fleeing Huns could be seem inside our lines anxious to give themselves up, and striving to get under cover from the terrible rifle fire and bombardment from their guns, which had now reached such a point of frenzy that you could not hear a word shouted close to your ear. The brilliant success of the attack was followed by the fearful work of consolidating, which in this case, meant that you crouched behind a half blown away parapet and endeavoured to make it higher by filling sandbags with mud from under your own feet, and piling these on top, and incidentally making a pond for your own feet to stand in. When finally the Battalion was relived, it took a whole long night, owing to the havoc of the ground."
"Thanks To The Endurance And Courage Of All Ranks, We Hung On To Our Hard Won Position, And Handed It Over Intact To Our Relief"
At 4.32 am on the morning of the 2nd March 1916, the attack began to win back the Bluff.
First, without any artillery cover, 'B' Company under the command of Captain Leeward on the extreme south of the Suffolk positions, moved off. Sweeping over the high ground in front of the Bluff, they rushed down either side of the crater caused by the explosion of 22nd January, and linked up with 'D' Company under the command of Lieutenant Barker, who were on the left flank. Together they consolidated the crater.
"Three minutes after" wrote a contemporary account in the Regimental Gazette, "the German S.O.S. rockets tore up the sky, and then their barrage was put in. This rather hung up the second company for a short time, but they swept onto their appointed places and tasks."
The third company; 'D' Company, under the command of recently promoted Captain Trollope, met with the full force of German fire; "they had to mine through this terrible curtain of shell fire, but managed to do so with not too much loss, and calmly set about their engineering business" - it was 'D' Company who were to provide the working parties for consolidation of the positions and each man in the opening waves had carried either a pick or a shovel into action to help him in this task.
Blocks were put up and bombing posts established so that the Bombers of 'B' and 'D' Company's could start lobbing bombs into the German second line. To the north, 'A' Company under Lieutenant Elkington, awaited a join up. By now, the dawn was breaking and he could make out through his field glasses, that the crater had been won. He could see the distinctive yellow patches issued the day before to aid recognition in battle, on the backs of the soldiers manning its lip. The patch, which was yellow with a black square in the middle, was worn between the shoulders on the rear of the jacket by 2nd Suffolk.
The leading sections could be seen scrambling around the Bluff and into the German lines beyond. Though their advance had been swift, they had not taken into account the German defenders of the position who were still deep underground. As the men rushed into the German line and started to consolidate, withering machine-gun fire came from the rear, taking a heavy toll. Company Sergeant Major Theobald of 'B' Company, took a party of bombers up on the high ground above and silenced the guns with a barrage of grenades. Those who were not dead scarpered back into the dugouts; the entrances of which, were covered by snipers, who picked off those who re-emerged.
Back at the crater, the beginning of 48 hours of German artillery bombardment began, but defiantly, 2nd Suffolk held on. Under this hail of shrapnel, carrying parties continually brought up small arms ammunition and bombs to the men the crater, allowing them to hold on until relieved on the evening of the 3rd March.
"To add to the general unpleasantness of two days shelling" continued the report, "on the night we were relieved, the weather changed to wind and snow, and turned the already muddy ground into an almost impossible icy slush and caused the communication trenches to be practically useless. But thanks to the endurance and courage of all ranks, we hung on to our hard won position, and handed it over intact to our relief, and managed to get clear away before it got light,"
2nd Suffolk had regained the Bluff and it was back in Allied hands once more.
In the weeks following the German's detonating their mine at the Bluff, the 2nd Battalion had been removed from the front line there and sent to another area in the Ypres Salient.
In the four weeks that they were away from the area, the inevitable happened. The Germans mounted a well-orchestrated attack on the 14th February, which won for them, the Bluff and it's system of tunnels and trenches. Crucially, it also allowed them to see miles behind the British lines from their newly won high ground. Within hours of the defeat, an attack was planned capture the Bluff back; an attack that 2nd Suffolk would be part of.
Unlike the battles of the previous months, this attack was very carefully planned. Behind the lines in those precious weeks, the attacking troops practiced, practiced and practiced again, so that every detail of the terrain, every emplacement of the enemy lines, were known to them. Small scale "sand trap" models were used to illustrate the enemy positions, nothing was left to chance. Importantly too, for the forthcoming attack, a new invention of war arrived for general issue; the steel helmet.
The troops attacking the Bluff were to be the first British troops to be issued with this new form of protective headgear. Patented in 1915 by its inventor, John Leopold Brodie, it has been trialled the previous year under the designation of "Brodie's Steel Helmet, War Office Pattern" and although it was commented that head wounds increased when wearing it, the amount of serious head wounds dramatically decreased.
By March 1915, the first supplies were ready to be issued. Painted 'lawnmower green' the men took to covering them in mud to dull down their shiny surface, and soon hessian covers were being worn to break up their distinctive outline. It was this helmet in a modified and refined form, that would remain with the Regiment until 1946.
On the evening of 1st March 1916, the 2nd Battalion moved into position, ready to assault the Bluff at first light the following day. 'A' Company went into the line to the north of the earthwork, 'B,' 'C' and 'D,' went to the south.
It was a matter of pride, having denied the position to them once, and having seen it lost in their absence, the Battalion were determined to succeed and win it back.
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.