For ten days, Captain William Campbell of 2nd Suffolk, and Lieutenant Philip Godsal of the Ox. and Bucks L.I. had been trudging across Germany, edging ever closer to neutral Holland. Prisoners for two and a half years, they had vaulted from a moving train on 20th March in a gallant bid for freedom.
Campbell wrote; "That night we did 28 miles, first 3 miles in the wrong direction as we had to cross a river. We managed to strike a good road, rounded the town of Arolsen and travelled chiefly across country for ten nights. Five days we slept in barns and five days in the woods. Once we found ourselves on the edge of a training ground and people drilling all round us, but it was raining, and we managed to get away. Another time we were in a price copse and a sportsman came along with a dog, but he passed us by.
We lived Chiefly on bacon, and by making fires between 12 and 4 o'clock in the morning in a dip we knew were pretty safe. We had fried bacon and hot cocoa during the night and raw bacon the day. We lost ourselves once or twice, but after 10 nights we found ourselves about 16 km, from the frontier. We could not find a suitable place to lie in, and we had not been in our hiding place five minutes before dogs started barking. Within happened, however, to strike a barn where we hid.
During the day a couple of people came snd took some hay within about 4 feet of us. We heard bells near by, and luckily, finding a cart with a name on it, we found we were at Velen, the village we were making for. It is exceedingly difficult to find your way about now, as near the frontier, unlike the rest of Germany, the germans have removed al sign-posts and all the milestones are without names. I think they have done this purposely."
As Campbell and Godsal lie low, they planned to cross the frontier that night. Would they make it?
On 20th March 1917, Captain William MacLeod Campbell of 2nd Suffolk made a daring escape from amoving train as he was being transferred to yet another PoW camp in Germany.
Wounded and taken prisoner at Le Cateau in August 1914, he had been in a series of PoW camps, many of which he had already tried escaping from. In desperation, the Germans transferred him, and several other 'die hard' escapees from their camp at Friedberg, to another camp deeper in germany. Campbell would however not make it.
He recalled; "We got orders to move on 20th March, when Friedberg was abandoned as a camp for British prisoners though we were not told our destination, I had excellent maps to Switzerland and to the Dutch frontier. One had been sent to me at the bottom of a biscuit tin; the other I got from a Frenchman. I got an electric lamp by bribery, and packed enough food for 10 days into a little knapsack. I had a second knapsack with my other things in which I showed when we were searched in a feeble sort of way before leaving the camp. We were being sent in three parties, 80 to one camp, 30 to a second camp, and 7 to a third camp.
The first camp was Clausthal; what the other two were I do not know. The sentry who was in charge of us had been on duty for 26 hours taking Belgians up to Friedberg to take our place. We entrained at 8 o'clock. On entraining, the names of al those who had tried to escape were read out, excepting mine, and these men were put into a compartment by themselves, closely guarded. That included my Friend, but I knew two other officers who would attempt to get away should an opportunity present itself, so I climbed in with them. By 11 o'clock, two of the three guards were asleep. We were in third-class bogey carriages with corridors but without doors. It was a slow train. All lights had been extinguished in the small stations, and in some cases the personnel had been reduced to one on a station, usually a women. We passed several dark stations.
It was the intention of the three of us to get away. In one small station where we stopped we made our mind up to get out. I was rather clumsy getting out, and the train just started as the second man got out. We both tumbled over a rail and lay down until the train pulled out. When it did so we were in a bright white light, but the person in the station did not see us and went off to the signal box. We ran up a bank. I was deficient of my blanket, and Captain Godsal of his waterbottle. Captain Godsal was in full uniform, but he had a dark blanket which he threw over his shoulders, and I was in engineers' overalls, a green coat and mufti cap. We went off through side roads and a couple of villages, and made 10 miles through fairly deep snow. During the day we lay up in a barn, burying ourselves deep in the hay. It was very cold and the water in my water bottle froze.
We managed however to sleep for about five hours, then at dark off we went again, marching by compass bearing. We got into a forest where snow was in deep drifts. I drank some cold water and fainted. Godsal helped me and we got into a barn. My electric lamp gave out and in climbing into this barn, I was very weak and fell about 10 feet onto a chopper. However I managed to get up again and slept all right."
That night they duo would be off again...
In March 1917, the officers of the Suffolk Regiment who were held captive in Friedberg PoW camp met to discuss the parcels situation for their men.
Captain W.M. Campbell and Lieutenant-Colonel W.B. Wallace, who had only recently recovered from pneumonia, held a meeting to decide on the best distribution of the mens parcels. In the preceding months, it had become clear that the food was gradually getting less and less from their captors, and that the men were forced more and more, to rely on the parcels they received from home to supplement their meagre rations.
There was however confusion. Men received parcels via the Red Cross from loved ones at home, but also from Regimental Committees in Britain. There seemed however to be no co-ordination between the two organisations. Some times men received as many as five parcels a month. Some men however, received just one. Campbell wrote; "The parcels are excellent, but there are a certain number of men who get their parcels through their regimental committees, and these parcels are not so good nor well executed and it would be much better if these men had their parcels through the central committee."
It was clear that the German war effort was beginning to falter. Through the wire of the camp, and the upper stories of their barrack block, Campbell could see the world outside. He noted that "Leather and most articles which can be used for military purposes, have been called in. Motor cars ate forbidden. A few taxis only being allowed in the larger towns. Only a few horses are in use. Draft horses are issued in teams to each town. Every man, woman and child, and all material of military or food value is under direct military control."
Food was not also the only gripe of Captain Campbell. The payment of officers wages through the Army Bank of Cox & Co. was perhaps a little bit too frequent for it as being used for gambling and the procurement of much wine by some. "Colonel Wallace is of the same opinion as myself" wrote Campbell "that too much money is being sent to the British and that it is being wasted in some cases on wine and gambling. A few rich men have as much as 20l. a month. Colonel Wallace and two or three others, spoke emphatically against drinking and giving dinners etc. but there are no means of enforcing discipline in these camps."
However Friedberg was being abandoned as a PoW camp and the men were being moved to other locations by train. Campbell and Wallace were to part company, but under rather unusual circumstances.
On 11th March 1917, 5th Suffolk started to move into new positions in the desert to prepare for the forthcoming offensive against the Turks.
From Mohamadeih, they marched in the sweltering heat to Rabah, then onwards to Khirba. Along the way, new drafts of men trickled in to join the Battalion, including a few who had recovered from wounds and illness picked up at Gallipoli.
Days before the Battalion packed up and prepared to move forward, they had seen in the desert, a new and wonderful machine of war they had heard had been used on the Western Front; the Tank. Captain E.D. Wolton wrote that: "On the 3rd, we reached Gilban, where the great "Tank" secret was learned. There had been rumours for some weeks, and, in spite of all official denials on the subject, it was fairly well known that they had been landed at Alexandria."
The tank has had a spluttering, but not exactly glorious entrance to war. Its first "trundling" to war was at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in September 1916 in the latter half of the Somme campaign. It met with mixed successes but there was no denying that it had a great fear factor in the face of the enemy. Now, it was this machine and this fear factor, that the Allies hoped would give them a kick start in the offensive that was to come in the weeks ahead in Gaza.
In early March, a German field gun was delivered to the Christchurch Art Gallery in Ipswich. It was one of several pieces that had been captured by units of the Suffolk Regiment in the actions of the previous month.
This particular gun, was believed to have been captured in the area of Boom Ravine; ground over which 8th Suffolk tough gallantly on the 17th February 1917. It was probably one of many enemy artillery pieces that were hastily abandoned by the retreating Germans as they fell back to the Hindenburg Line in early 1917.
Most grateful villages and towns who had contributed greatly to the war effort in men and materiel, were rewarded such items to do with as they wished and to inspire other to contribute to the cause. The fate of this piece is unknown, but it is highly likely that it was melted down for scrap at a later date, perhaps in a later 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.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.