South of the river Scarpe, the 7th Battalion were also attacking on the 28th April.
The action was one of the very few times that two Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment, were attacking the same objective.
Their Brigade (35th), attacked along the front line and advanced towards the remains of the village of Pelves. As with their counterparts in the 11th Battalion who were at the same time, advising about a quarter of a mile north of the river, the artillery had failed to silence the german machine gunners or cut all of the belt of defensive barbed wire. 7th Suffolk met a similar fate as 11th Suffolk at Roeux.
7th Norfolk on the left, and 5th Royal Berks on right advanced, but met withering machine-gun fire. 7th Suffolk remanned in their assembly trenches, but after just three minutes, the Germans launched a heavy counter-barrage, that came down on the reserve positions where 7th Suffolk were waiting.
Out in front, 7th Norfolk had failed to reach their objective. They were forced to go to ground and try to hold a line through the numerous shell holes that pock-marked the landscape. 5th Royal Berks succeeded in taking a small section of the German front line known as "Bayonet Trench" and its intersecting communication trench know as "Rifle Trench" but they could get no further.
Twenty minutes after zero hour, 7th Suffolk advanced from their positions at 4.48am and in artillery formation advanced towards the Royal Berks at Bayonet Trench. The Wair Diary recorded that "Heavy barrage + M.G. fire and attack failed. Unable to advance beyond Bayonet and Rifle trench" The machine-guners in the village of Roeux, north of the river had, once the Cambs-Suffolks attack failed, switched their line of fire south against the 12th Division's area of advance. Movement, and progress was now impossible in daylight so the Battalion consolidated in Bayonet Trench and here they remained, until relieved the following day.
Two failures, for two Suffolk Battalions in the Third Battle of the Scarpe. Things would however get better...
On 28th April 1917, the 11th Battalion launched an attack against the German lines around and beyond the Chemical works at the village of Roeux, east of Arras.
At first light, 4.25am, the pre-arranged barrage was brought down along the German front line. For two minutes it rained shrapnel into the enemy’s front line before it ceased at 4.27am and the infantry advanced.
However, no sooner had the men got up and advanced, a mass of German machineguns opened up through the still setting smoke. The barrage had missed a complete line of German defensive trenches and they were soon firing back as the Cams-Suffolks advanced. Men dropped like they had down in the face of the withering fire at La Boisselle nine months earlier.
“My Company” wrote Captain Harmer “was ordered to attack the chemical works at Roeux, near Arras. A Company, which I was commanding acted as Support Company and advanced about 100 yards behind the two leading Company’s. It was quite dark when the attack began and my Company had to be extended over 700 yards, so that any control was impossible. I became separated from most of the Company by some buildings, and eventually found myself in a shell hole with two men; a Signaller and a Runner”
By 5.00am, it was clear that the attack had failed, though some men had managed to reach a quarry to the right of the Chemical Works. The remnants of the attacking waves, fell back into the front line and shortly afterwards, the Battalion Commander, Major G.L.J. Tuck, who had watched from the Second Line and saw the attack falter, came forward into the front line to “clear up the situation and re-organise the defence.”
The front line was full of wounded, but it was clear that many men had been lost in the attack. It was estimated that approx. 5 officers and 300 other ranks remained, along with 2 officers and about 60 men from the 16th Royal Scots who had been mixed up in the attack. These men were the ‘moppers-up’ who were to follow up the attacking waves.
Out in front Captain Harmer and a handful of men in a shell hole, had resisted numerous calls from the enemy to surrender, but as their ammunition was exhausted, they bowed to the inevitable and threw in the towel. Major Tuck’s presence in the front line was fortuitous for around 9.45 am, a hefty enemy counter attack commenced. Pushing up from the south from the direction of the village of Roeux, it cut into the front line and all communication was lost. On the Battalion’s right flank, Ceylon trench, was breached by the enemy and they pushed the Lincolns back to wards Mount Pleasant Wood. A dangerous enveloping salient was in danger of developing which would squash the 11th Battalion in the middle.
However, the line held and the enemy was repelled. Major Tuck established that the enemy had withdrawn over the railway line and were retreating back into Roeux itself and the Lincolns were pushing the enemy out of Mount Pleasant Wood slowly and surely using their skilful use of bombing teams. The reminder of the day was quiet, though no-one could disguise the utter disappointment of the failure of the attack and the grievous losses that had been incurred by the Battalion.
As darkness came, those who had made it to the quarry that morning, returned, bringing with them a handful of prisoners. At 10.00pm, the Battalion was withdrawn to allow a much wider artillery concentration to be put down across the whole of the former Cambs-Suffolks trenches. It was to be the precursor of another attack by another unit; an attack that was also to fail.
On 24th April 1917, 11th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment (Cambs) relieved the 16th Royal Scots in positions opposite the Chemical Works at Roux near Arras.
The Battalion had arrived in the Arras sector earlier that month and had a highly successful first day of the campaign, reaching the German second line close to the village of Maison Blanche, with the loss of only 25 men.
In the days that followed, they went northeast in the direction of the village of Oppy, close to the Canadian sector of the line, and by 15th April, they were back in Arras resting, awaiting what was next required of them.
In these days, generic orders for the advancement of troops had been issued. Though they were designed to be non-specific, they detailed instructions as to how the men should dress and what they were to do when they reached the German lines.
"Faces blackened, officers will wear mens tunics, all ranks will wear a white patch underneath their collar, which must be turned up immediately on entering the German trench. No badges, letter, maps, or any marks are to be carried or worn. Identification discs with mens name only will be worn. Equipment to be carried as in Table "A".
Table "A" in the orders, detailed a curious mix of items to be carried into battle including 30 torches, 36 Dayfield shields (body armour) 70 black helmet covers, 8 French horns, 70 white strips of calico for the tunic collars, 50 phosphorus bombs, 400 3 second bombs (Mills bombs), 4 traversing maps (believed to be 'mats' - for throwing over barbed wire), 4 large wooden handled wire-cutters, 6 poles and canvas for making improvised stretchers and chewing gum.
Chewing gum had come over with the Canadians in the early part of the war, and was a great hunger suppressant when men were caught out in the open with no means of re-supply. It was clear that by April 1917, it was an 'on ticket' item and part of general trench stores. Quite how much was issued and in what quantities, remains unclear.
That "chance shell" that landed amongst 'C' Company that afternoon claimed the life of Private Eric Dewsbury.
Eric heralded from the snall Fenland village of Little Theford near Ely. Unmarried, he lived with his sister Lily, at the Round House in the village. The Dewsbury family had lived in the village for centuries and at ne time, the roundhouse was occupied by a member of the Dewsbury family who had an astonishing 13 children.
When conscription was introduced in March 1916, Eric received his call-up papers. He appealed first against his having to serve in the Army as he said that he had to support his father and sister, as he was the only wage-earning member of the family. His appeal was refused and in August 1916, he was ordered to report for service.
He enlisted at Ely and was drafted immediately to 'C' Company of the 4th Battalion. After training at Halton Camp near Tring, he embarked from Folkestone on 28th August 1916 and joined the Battalion in France on 12th September. he was one of the first drafts to arrive after the Battalion's costly battle to take the enemy trenches near High Wood.
He lies today in Wancourt British Cemetery; one of many reluctant soldiers who had to serve against their wishes to ensure that Victory could be attained.
With grateful thanks to the littlethetford.org website of the above information.
On 12th April, another Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment arrived in the Arras sector.
The 4th (T.F.) Battalion had moved up in the weeks before for Morlancourt in the southern region of the Somme, to the Arras sector. They had prior to the commencement of the battle on 9th April, been behind the lines practicing fire and movement tactics for assaulting gun emplacents.
The Divisional Commander visited them just before they were leaving the Somme and was most impressed by the appearance of the Battalion. That day too, the weather was considered now warm enough for the Battalion to return its leather jerkins to stores.
In the first week of April, the Battalion moved towards Arras by a series of route marches. From La Neuville, to Molliens, to Naours, onto Longuevillette, past Beaureoaoaire Farm, to Couin, onwards to Berles-au-Bois, they arrived on the evening of 11th April in the front line near Ficheux, directly south of Arras.
The War Diary noted that "The weather was bitterly cold and it snowed heavily" the men who had less than a week before, handed their precious leather jerkins into store, had to wait for some hours in this inclement weather until their greatcoats arrived on the wagons and could be put on to keep out the cold.
The Battalion was the Madelain Redoubt for the nigh, but the following day, they received urgent orders to relieve the 18th Battalion, Manchester Regiment who had had a touch few hours in the front lineally to the north east on Neuville-Vitesse - Henin-sur-Coueul road. Leaving at 1.05pm, they had completed the relief by 5.40pm.
The journey had not been without casualties. one man was killed and two were wounded when a "chance shell fell amongst "C" Coy on the way up"
One of those to be lost in the action at Arras with 7th Suffolk, was Second Lieutenant Isaacs.
Henry Roland Isaacs was born in 1897. The only child of Joseph and Pauline Isaacs, he came from minor nobility. His father was a cousin of the Marquess of Reading. His mother was Belgian born. He had not been with the Battalion long, but had transferred from 4th Suffolk in the days before the Arras offensive.
He was killed as 7th Suffolk tried to assault the Feutchy-Chapel Redoubt on 9th April. His body, along with that of fellow officer, Captain D.W.A. Nicholls, were buried in a makeshift cemetery alongside the Feuchy-Neuville Vitasse Road.
The loss of their son in battle brought unimaginable suffering to Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs. Devout Catholics, they sought spiritually to reconcile themselves with his loss. They wrote to the Imperial War Graves Commission, asking to have his body removed from its grave to allow them to take it to Lourdes for a Roman Catholic burial, but the authorities refused. Distraught, Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs asked if they could be allowed to travel to France to erect a family vault in which to inter him. This too was also refused on grounds of safety. The IWCG did however photograph Henry's original grave in its original plot alongside the Cambrai road, and his parents vowed to return to France as soon as it was safe to do so, and to erect a vault and memorial in his honour.
In 1919, when it was deemed safe to do so, Mr and Mrs Isaacs travelled back to Arras to find their son's grave. Returning to its location, they were horrified to see that the cemetery was no longer there. The ravages of war had meant that this ground was fought over again in 1918, and the grave of their son and also that ofCaptain D.W.A. Nichols, were now missing.
Isaacs was said to be the only catholic in the Battalion and after a few minutes of searching, a shattered post was found bearing the letters "R.C." hopeful that this was a catholic grave, they consulted the IWGC photograph, but alas, his original grave was not marked in this way. Mr Isaacs had with him the original burial reports of his son's internment and he hoped these would provide him with a clue where to look next.
His son was shot in the left breast. The bullet piercing his "Dayfield body shield back and front". It indicated that fighting was close and possibly even, hand-to-hand. The report continued stating that he wore a "body belt with pockets sewn up containing, besides reserves of currency notes, Catholic medals, gold, silver and "Fix" gilt". And he wore a ring of aluminium with copper insert marked "Yser 1914, 1915". After talking with locals, even describing his sons teeth, Mr Isaacs drew a blank. He described his son's teeth and the appearance of Capt Nicholls "but his face and chest were smashed by a shell". Sadly, it was to no avail.
Distraught and without a body to inter, his parents consoled themselves in 1920, to purchase three quarters of an acre of ground at the spot where their son had been killed. It was fenced off and shrubs and trees were planted, brought especially from England. Poplar trees shielded the rear of the plot in the direction of the old German front line. His parents constructed inside, an elaborate calvary with the figure of the crucified Christ upon it which bore a plaque with the following inscription;
SAINT, SAINT, SAINT EST LE SEIGNEUR DEU DES ARMEES IN EVER LOVING MEMORY OF 2ND LIEUTENANT HENRi ROLAND ISAACS 7th SUFFOLK REGIMENT HERE HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR GOD, ENGLAND AND FRANCE AT THE BATTLE OF ARRAS APRIL 9TH 1917 R.I.P.
They also paid for new bells to be installed in the newly reconstructed church at nearby Feuchy and so that they could visit their son's memorial as much as possible, they brought a house at 11 Rue de Beaufort in Arras.
By the 1930s, the problems of maintaining the memorial along with the Isaacs failing health, were all too apparent. In 1934, Mr. Isaacs asked the IWGC to take on its maintenance for which he would pay, but they reluctantly declined. The Second World War caused the Isaacs to return home leaving their sons memorial unattended. Mr. Isaacs it is believed, was killed in an air raid on London in 1942 and never returned to his son's memorial. Mrs. Issacs never did return to France but she died in 1954.
By this time the memorial was overgrown and in a poor condition. More valuable elements of the Calvery had been stolen and it had been partially damaged in the fighting of 1940. It was not until 1978 that the Souvenir Francais took over its care and maintenance, which they still undertake to this day. It is the only private memorial to a Suffolk Regiment officer on the Western Front.
Just to the north of the 2nd Battalion, the 7th Battalion were having great success at the Battle of Arras.
Their Division, the 12th (Eastern), had remained underground whilst the initial waves advanced above them. They had had the unpleasant honour of having remained underground in part of the town sewer system for many hours, before they were moved along the tunnels to their ground level entrances.
Their line of advance was along the Cambria road, about 200 yards to the north of the colleagues in 2nd Suffolk. The task allotted to the Battalion was to breach the German front line just west of "Orange" Hill and capture with their counterparts in 9th Essex, the Feuchy-Chapel Redoubt. At 12.15pm, their counterparts in 35th Brigade advanced. 7th Norfolks and 5th Royal Berks moved first, making their objective the "Blue" line which was within 35 minutes in Allied hands. As they consolidated their gains, 7th Norfolk and 9th Essex advanced through them and onto their objective; the Feuchy Chapel Redoubt.
"On the capture of the Blue line" wrote the Divisional History, "The Germans, becoming disorganised, were caught on the run, and 35th Brigade had the Joy of seeing them retreating in disorder." Onwards, both Battalions advanced up a gentle incline from the "Blue" line for their objective was close to the "Brown" line about 1500 yards further on. Parallel to the Cambrai road they ran, taking everything in their stride.
After about 850 yards, the road had a left hand spur towards the village of Monchy-Le-Preux, and it was here that the Feutchy-Chapel redoubt was situated. The Essex succeeded in gaining the Redoubt almost immediately, but 7th Suffolk were stoppedon the southern side of the objective by withering machine gun fire from a German position known as "Church Work."
The Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel F.S. Cooper, decided that it was too big an objective to assault that afternoon. He therefore decided that his men should dig in along the Feuchy-Neuville Vitasse road that ran due south. These positions could be held and strengthened, and from there a further advance could be launched again in the morning. Casualties had been as expected, but were less than predicted. The majority of those lost, were caught in withering crossfire from a heavy German machine-gun nest around "Maison Rouge" - astride the Cambrai Road, but this was soon silenced by the Royal Berks, allowing 7th Suffolk to continue towards the Redoubt."
As the men dug-in, the weather turned again. The crisp fine weather of the day's advance, with a smattering of snow on the ground, now gave way to an evening of heavy sleet and a heavy snow storm. However at first light, the Battalion advanced and took Church Work with only the minimum of casualties.
Another success, for another Suffolk Battalion at Arras.
At 12.45am on the morning of the 9th April 1917, 2nd Suffolk left their comfortable billets in the chalk caves under the town of Arras.
Filing along the chalky passageways in the dim light, they piled their greatcoats into a heap and joined "Circular Trench" the main connecting pathway to the surface. In their prescribed order 'Y,' 'Z,' 'X' and finally 'W' Company's left to take part in the offensive later that morning.
Ahead of them underground in the passageways, were the 4th Royal Fusiliers, who would make the initial advance into no-mans-land, followed immediately afterwards by the Battalion. The access tunnels stretched far out into no-mans-land. Dug over many months and in great secrecy, New Zealand tunnellers had cut new tunnels through the medieval passageways that already existed there.
For over 500 yards underground the men walked in deathly silence and waited. Men carved the chalk around them with their jackknives and doodled on the plain white walls. Their graffiti (such as that above) remains there still. Ahead of the Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers had already prised off the boards at the end of the tunnels and were stealthily amassing their assembly trenches. Around 5.00am, the Allied artillery barked into life. The deafening and shattering series of explosions pounded the enemy front line, heralded the precursor to the attack. The chalk fell from the tunnel walls onto the helmets of men who were frightened that the massive vibrations would cause a cave in. A 5.30am they heard the whistles blow above them and knew that the attack commenced.
The Fusiliers rushed forward into no-mans-land through the valley they had to cross. Enemy artillery fire came down upon them, but their speed was such that it did not cause too greater casualties. A strong counter barrage was started by the Allied artillery, which then crept forward through the valley. The Battalion, kept up close behind and with magnificent discipline, the Battalion reached the German front line with ease.
Their objective was a salient into the German lines known as the "Harp" christened as such by its similarity to the instrument on aerial photographs.The Fusilers were to take the centre, 2nd Suffolk were to advance behind them and split to take north and east side of the position. Within minutes, the position had been taken and was being consolidated. By noon, it was thought safe enough to move Battalion HQ from the caves, out into the Harp itself.
The War Diary was brief to the point of bluntness; "The Battalion took its objectives with complete success." The Regimental History too, paid a glowing tribute to the Battalion's action that day; "The day had been an unqualified success and, as is so often the case in similar circumstances, the casualties were comparatively light, scarcely exceeding a hundred all told."
The first day of the Battle of Arras and been a monumental successful for 2nd Suffolk. Failures in battle since Le Cateau, marred the prestige of this proud Battalion. Here was the first true day of success they had experienced since war began.
On the 8th April; Easter Sunday, the Reverend G.C. Danvers, Chaplain to 2nd Suffolk, organised a church service in the chalk caves under the French town of Arras where the Battalion were then billeted.
Around pillar 5E, the Rev. Danvers had set up his communion set upon a small wooden trestle table, where his candles left deep soot marks upon the chalk pillar behind. As Hymns were sung and prayers offered for the forthcoming attack, the men stood in quiet contemplation.
Standing back in the shadows was Lieutenant W.J. Allum who took out his notebook to sketch the scene that lay before him.
As the service concluded, the CO spoke of the forthcoming tasks allotted to them and to his confidence in their success. After the service, the men dispersed. They were issued with their necessary supplies of bombs, flares and ammunition and made their last preparations for the attack the following day.
Some men including Lieutenant Allum, found quiet corners and wrote letters home to their families, before posting them in the post box - a ration crate placed in a carved aperture in the chalk. Allum wrote a hurried line to his parents and enclosed the sketch he had just drawn.
Back in England, when Allum’s family received his sketch, they though it so emotive, that they forwarded it to the offices of the Illustrated London News who were most interested in publishing it. After a re-draw by Forestier, the well-known French society artist, it was eventually published in March 1918.
The article made no mention of the Suffolk Regiment and gave no credit to Lieutenant Allum. It was only in 1927, when the second volume of the Regimental History was published, that Allum finally received the credit he deserved for recording such a momentous scene.
Early on 1st April 1917, Captain William Campbell and Lieutenant Philip Godsal, crossed into neutral Holland after 12 days on the run. "All Fools Day" was a joyous day for these two escapees who had finally made it to freedom.
Their last few hours on the run had however, been somewhat desperate as Captain Campbell recalled:
"Having located ourselves, and knowing we were at Velen, we knew we had to cross two single line rail at right angles, and then after 6 kilometres we should be across the frontier. In rounding a village a forest guard saw us. He was walking with a women, without his belt, so we guessed he had no firearms. He halted us and said "March or I'll shoot" he started counting "one, two, three." When three came the thing fell flat as he had no revolver. We said we were Dutch and he asked to see our papers. I handed hi an identification card that I had, and at the same time hit hi over the head with a short heavy stick I was carrying. He fell but got up, and I ran after him to give him another to avoid pursuit. We were still 12 km from the frontier, and on looking round I saw the guard fell down after running after us a little way. I think he must have had a headache. We were afraid that he or the women would call out and alarm the village, but mercifully they did not.
We pushed on as quickly as possible, throwing away all our surplus kit, crossed the second single line railway, then waited an hour because the moon was bright and kept to the open as much as possible. Finally we saw the lights of Winterswick. When we got there we at once saw it was a dutch town by the style of the buildings. We found a baker just getting out some new bread; he gave us some rolls and then took us to the police, who took us to a hotel. Unfortunately we could not get a bath, but we made a good breakfast and telephones the consul, who told us to order what clothes we wanted"
Within a month, the pair were back in England and, after a brief period of leave, Campbell was off once more to the front. For his daring escape, he along with Godsal, was awarded the Military Cross in 1920.
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.