Quietly in England, the last of the war raised service battalions was getting ready for war.
The 12th (East Anglian) (Service) Battalion was a 'Bantam' Battalion. Comprising of men of short stature who did not meet the minimum height requirement of 5ft. tall for regular service, in June 1915 the War Office, after much protestation from volunteers who were short in height, authorised the creation of the Bantam Battalions.
The country of Suffolk alone however, did not have the necessary numbers of recruits to form a complete Battalion, so recruits were drawn from the neighbouring counties of Essex, Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely.
On 7th July 1915, the Battalion was formally created at the Depot at Bury St. Edmunds. From the outset, these lucky recruits did not suffer the logistical nightmares of the forebears. They received immediately khaki uniforms and leather equipment but the older rifles remained until the newer SMLE could be issued. By the end of July, Lieutenant-Colonel R.E.P. Pigott arrived form the Essex Regiment to assume command of the Battalion.
In adherence of the strict rules that came from the War Office, all officers and NCOs were of "normal" height, and the first senior NCO to be posted to the Battalion; R.Q.M.S. Williams, was himself over 6ft. tall. The initial nucleus of some 60 men were supplemented by a draft of 200 men from the Middlesex Regiment and by November 1915, the Battalion was some 800 strong and on its way to new billets at Bordon in Hampshire.
Whilst here the serious matter of training began. Senior NCOs and retired officers not allowed to serve with other Battalions, were utilised for their skills and leadership, but by far the biggest problem was numbers. With the Battalion's move to Pirbright in December and fresh drafts from other units, they were gradually getting close to their 'war establishment' strength of around 1000 men, but in the New Year, a rigorous comb out was conducted to remove all those who were both unfit and underage. Of the latter, nearly 130 were returned to their families after repeated letters from anxious mothers, asking for the return of their sons, some of whom, were as young as 13.
At Pirbright they became part of the 40th Division; a division they were to remain in almost until their disbandment. As the training continued, they found themselves getting one step closer to active service overseas. The Division, which was already proving a name for itself in the Corps athletics, showed that though these men were short in stature, they punched above their weight and outran most of their contemporaries. Would it be the same on the battlefield?
On Friday 12th May 1916, Signaller Sydney Fuller, 8th Suffolk, wrote in his diary;
"Practiced sending "D.D." messages with "discs". A DD message was one which was not answered or acknowledged by the receiving station. Each word was repeated once - thus a message reading, for instance "short of bombs" would, if sent by the DD method, read "short short of of bombs bombs""
In an age where communications were in the form of bugle, flag and runner, the need to send important messages quickly and securely was paramount. The DD system which required an un-acknowledging receiving station, was the safest way of getting a message through. The enemy were almost certain in an attack to concentrate on the lines of communication and flag signals which could be both read and acknowledged, could also be seen by the enemy, who could then call down artillery on the receiving station once they had identified its position. The DD system could be observed from receivers in concealed positions who need not reveal themselves to the enemy. In the battles that was to come, carefully concealed tree houses were effective receiving stations, from where the message could be sent onwards by telephone.
Fuller continued; "The discs were intended for use for such messages sent from advanced positions only. They consisted of a disc of tin or sheet iron about a foot in diameter, on a light pole about four feet long. The back of the disc, which would be towards the enemy when in use, was "camouflage" painted, and the front was white, with a black diagonal bar. they were used in the same way as flags."
In early May, the local newspapers in Suffolk reported the loss of a young man from Cockfield Green near Stowmarket.
Mr and Mrs Stone received news that their youngest son had been killed in action on the continent on 28th March whilst serving with 2nd Suffolk.
The Battalion had been in the front line trenches around St. Eloi near Ypres, where they were to relieve the 2nd Royal Scots that evening. Around 6.00pm, an enemy artillery barrage came down along the front, killing Private Stone and wounding the CO; Colonel D'Arch-Smith.
No. 12236, Private Christopher James Stone enlisted into the Suffolk Regiment in 1914 with his chum Harry Sparkes. The two men were both labourers for Mr Jennings who farmed considerable land around the village.
The pair soon found themselves at the 3rd Battalion at Felixstowe for their basic for training. For Christopher or "Jimmy" as he was better known, his Army service suffered a temporary set-back. After a medical examination, it was discovered that he suffered deafness in one ear. The condition was however, operable and keen to serve, he had his ear operated on in the Military Hospital at Colchester in late 1914 and after being graded fit for service again, he rejoined his pals at Felixstowe before they were posted overseas in February 1915 to join 2nd Suffolk who were gradually being brought back up to strength in Belgium.
Later that month, Jimmy was wounded by shrapnel in the both legs and invalided home to a hospital in Nottingham, where after numerous operations to remove the dreaded shards of steel, he was again passed fit and allowed to return to the fight in Belgium, arriving back in December of 1915.
Writing to his parents following his death his Sergeant paid tribute to a gallant and tiresome warrior; "I have lost a big friend and the whole Company was very fond of him. He suffered no pain, being killed instantly."
On May Day 1916, the 11th (Service) Battalion received a new commanding officer.
Captain and Adjutant G.L.C. Tuck assumed command after Colonel Somerset had been posted away in mid-April 1916 to assume command of the 101st Brigade. Major W.A. Farquar was to assume the position as CO, but he was currently on leave to England along with Major Morton. In the absence of all senior officers, Captain Tuck assumed command.
It was to be the first of no fewer than five times that he would assume command of the Battalion, later leading it to victory in 1918. Gerald Louis Johnson Tuck was to be a man of exceptional character and skill. He would later receive higher awards and accolades. In civilian life, he was to become Mayor of Sudbury; being one of its most highest decorated alderman.
The Battalion now having been on the continent for five months, were acquitting themselves well. They had received much praise from Divisional HQ in March for the conduct of their snipers in the front line near Bois Grenier and the GOC 34th Division sent the CO a personal hand-written letter of congratulation; "I wish to compliment you not only on your snipers, but on the general work of your Battalion in the trenches which is most excellent."
Tuck as Adjutant, ensured that every man got to hear of this praise. With such a feather in their cap, the men were pleased and felt ready for the big push that they felt was sure to come soon.
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.