By mid-March 1918, the face of the Suffolk Regiment on the Western Front had changed drastically.
The 8th and 9th Battalion's had disappeared to history, being disbanded in January with their men redistributed. The 7th Battalion was much depleted, but was still existing in it's own right as a fighting Battalion. The 11th and 12th Battalions were operating at virtually full strength, their ranks having been bolstered by men of the disbanded Battalions.
As the month of March wore on, the enemy seemed unusually quiet. There was a vague expectancy in the air that something would be happening soon. The trench raids seemed to melt away as March progressed, nut the artillery still pounded the Allied line. A gentle increase in it's ferocity over the course of a week, indicated that something was definitely going to happen.
Reports from within Germany had confirmed the Allies worst suspicions that, following the signing of the peace treaty with Russia, almost 50 German Infantry Divisions were moving from the Eastern Front, to the Western Front and the majority were being repositioned opposite the frontage occupied by the British Expeditionary Force. Though it was a great testament to the fighting prowess of the B.E.F. for it showed that it was they who the German's feared the most, it was a sobering thought that they would be bearing the brunt of any offensive that was sure to come.
Sydney Fuller, a signaller in the now disbanded 8th Battalion, was now serving in the ranks of the 7th Battalion. March 19th 1918 was a quiet day for him as his diary recorded: "Wet. I was orderly Corporal. Not much to do - no sick (there were never so many sick in a place like this as there were in or near the line). I only had to draw rations from the Q.M.S. Buzzer practice and flag drill, also a bit of T.M.S. Commenced 'five minute lectures' - each man had to lecture the others on some point for five minutes".
As the training continued, their counterparts in the front line readied themselves expectantly for whatever the Bosche would throw at them.
Early in February 1918, Lieutenant-Colonel F.H.A. Wollaston, commander of 1/5th Suffolk, was home on leave in London living in his families London House at Warrington Crescent in St. John’s Wood.
On the night of the 7/8th March 1918, the Germans launched an air raid on London using large Gotha biplanes. The raid, which was designed to attack Paddington Railway Station, but instead its payload of just over two tons of bombs, landed to the northwest on Maida Vale and St. John’s Wood. The raid destroyed four houses in Warrington Crescent, killing twelve people and wounding 23 others. One of those killed was Lieutenant-Colonel F.H.A. Wollaston whose house was completely destroyed.
The Regimental History noted of when a few days later, news of his loss was received at the Battalion in Egypt: "The unexpected news was received that Lt Col F H A Wollaston, DSO, who was on leave, had been killed in London during an air raid on the night of March 7 - 8th. The whole battalion deplored the loss of a brilliant soldier and a gallant gentleman".
Frederick Hargreaves Arbuthnot Wollaston was the son of Frederick Wollaston of Shenton Hall, Nuneaton. His father was a local Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of Warwickshire. He had been commissioned into the Rifle Brigade, but had since the August 1916, commanded 5th Suffolk. He had already been awarded the D.S.O. and later was Mentioned-in-Dispatches by General Sir Archibald Murray for the part he and the 5th Battalion played in the advance to Jerusalem. Following his death, command of the Battalion until the Armistice, was taken by Lieutenant-Colonel William Campbell who had, exactly two years before, escaped from German captivity and had made it into neutral Holland, from where he returned to England.
Captain Lionel Charles Stopford-Sackville who had been a contemporary of Wollaston in the 4th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, wrote to Wollaston’s mother in early May when he heard the news of his old comrades death: "I Return Mrs Wollaston's letter will you please thank Aunt Grace very much for sending it to me as I knew him well. We were practically alone at Ypres except for 3 boys for the last part of it. It's a very sad end as I believe he had been all through the Palestine show".
He was buried in the churchyard of St. John the Divine church at Shenton, close to his family home. He was 39 years old.
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.