In late June 1916, sorrow came once more to the village of Elmswell near Bury St. Edmunds.
The congregation at the Sunday service on 2nd July mourned another son of the village who had fallen in action. He was the eleventh man of the parish to be killed in the war so far.
No. 12974, Private George Howe, was killed early on the morning of 27th June 1916, when his dug-out received a direct hit.
He had, less than six hours before, been on a raiding party into no-mans-land with elements of 'C' Company. The raid began with success with the men the Company reaching the German front line un-noticed. Crawling forward into no-mans-land; each man keeping in contact with the boots of the man in front. As the head of this "snake" reached the enemy's parapet, a star shell went up, forcing the men to go to ground; lying flat in no-mans land. Amazingly however, they were not spotted, or so they thought. They cautiously continued.
A fine drizzle had emerged, causing the chalky mud to cling to the mens uniforms. This greatly aided in their camouflage, but the steel helmets or fresh green paint, glistened in murky moonlight. As the first men peered over the German parapet armed with clubs and entrenching tool handles, they expected to deal with a couple of sentries. Instead, what greeted them, was an entire section of the enemy who immediately opened fire on them. Chaos ensued and another star shell went up.
"Get back, get back" cried the Sergeant as the men darted back for the Suffolk lines. Signaller Sydney Fuller; who was also on the raid took off at top speed - leaving the telephone wire's earthing pin and his torch stuck in the German parapet. He was caught several times on the way back as his putties and his trousers snagged on the barbed wire; "Something went rip and I went for the trench. There I met the bayonets of two of our sentries who called on me to halt, - "Halt! - who are you" I said "Suffolk" and they demanded the password (which had been given us immediately before we started) I gave this "Haversack" - and they allowed me to enter our trench."
As these men rushed back, wet and caked in mud, they were all too pleased to reach the safety of the Suffolk line and pile into dug-outs to sleep. It was in one of these dug-outs that George was killed and there of his chums badly wounded when the shell struck it.
A typical Kitchener recruit, George was one of those initial first recruits who flocked to enlist in 1914 and he crossed to France with the Battalion on 17th August 1915. At the service at Elmswell on 2nd July, the vicar of the parish spoke of him; "He was loved by all who knew him for his genial character and kindly disposition. He was always a willing helped in any movement associated with the church, and he was a keen supporter of the local branch of the church of England Men's Society. For Joe Howe, compulsion had no meaning. He sprang to arms the moment the call came, being one of the very first from this village to enlist after the outbreak of war. He offered himself willingly and freely for the sake of King and country and did not tarry behind. Such men are worthy of the highest honour because they willingly gave themselves to defend and save the Empire."
With thanks to Kelvin Dakin, Suffolk WFA, and the Elmswell Family History Society
On 22nd June 1916, Lieutenant Isaac Alexander "Alec" Mack, arrived back in France to rejoin the 11th Battalion after a few days of leave in England.
“Leave" he had written in his diary on the 14th June, "that Will-o'-the-Wisp which everyone possesses, but which evades all but the staff, and the very lucky."
It was a testament to the British Army's efficient organistaion of the French railways that, having left the Battalion at 8.30am on the morning of the 14th June, he was on a train to Le Havre, stopping only once for lunch. by early afternoon, he was on a boat, and by breakfast the following day, he was leaving Southampton for Waterloo station.
"Winnie met me at Waterloo, or rather I met her, gazing forlornly at streams of strange soldiers. All morning at Harold's offices and shopping, lunching at the Criterion, &c. Then on to Win's to tea and back in bare time to the Savoy to change for dinner. Then to "To-night's the night"—topping seats and a good show.”
After an all too shorter time, Mack was heading back to France at the end of his leave. News of the forthcoming "big push" was heavy in the air. He had spent most of the previous months attached to a trench mortar battery engaged with the Battalion, but had seen the effects of war bite deep into his close circle of friends. Many whom he had been at school and later university with, had been killed and his letters home reflected his sadness at their deaths.
His last letter home, written before his leave, concluded; “I am very fit and well, and hope to be home on June 15th. Old Wroxan, who shared a room with me at Cambridge, was killed the other day—he had only been out about a month. “Socks, cake and all sorts of nice things received. Much love to all, from your loving Son, ALEC.”
The war was coming close to Mack. It would come closer still in the days to come.
For the 12th Battalion, they had only been in France a fortnight when their first member was lost. Lost not to enemy action however, but to a tragic training accident.
On 18th June 1916, the Battalion were deep in training. Upon arrival in France, 'A' and 'B' Company's were sent to be billeted at Chocques, whilst 'C' and 'D' Company's were send to Lebeuvriere. In their respective camps, the hard work began. A strict routine of "bombing, attack, digging and repairing trenches and musketry" began. A special course in gas was also prepared so that the men could get used to wearing their newly issued 'tube' helmets.
Grenades were a new-found novelty for the men of the Battalion. No training had been given in England for the use of such weapons. The recently introduced No. 5 grenade, or "Mills Bomb" was the latest in a long line of grenades to be issued to the British Army. Its simplistic fragmentation design, combined with a reliable priming and arming system, ensured that in a modified form it was to remain with the British Army until the Falklands war of 1982. It had been introduced the previous May, but sufficient stocks had not been ready for the battle of Loos in September.
On the fateful day, the Battalion War Diary noted that four men had been badly wounded by an accidental grenade explosion at the 12th Divisional School at Le Beuvriere near Bethune. All men suffered heavy concussion and multiple wounds caused by the fragmentation of the grenades' casing. One man's injuries were so severe that he died the following day in hospital.
Born in Marylebone in 1897, Percy James Bedward was an early member of the Battalion. Unemployed at the outbreak of war, he tried several times to enlist in London. He'd failed to get into his local Regiment; the Royal Fusiliers in early 1915 due to his short stature. Frustrated, he went north to Suffolk to try and enlist there. This time he was successful.
The son of Thomas and Margaret Bedward, of No. 22 Sarsden Buildings, St. Christopher Place, the family lived in the ground floor room of converted series of Georgian Mews houses off Wigmore St., London. Like many, Percy probably saw the Great War as an escape from the continual drudgery of this life and was keen to serve to get away from such an existence.
His family were abhorrently poor. Such was their poverty that they could not at first, afford an inscription for their sons headstone. After much saving, they managed to have the single word "Peace" applied when it was erected in 1923. St. Christopher's place was badly bombed during the Blitz in 1941, but today the street is one of affluence and prosperity, a thriving shopping thoroughfare in the heart of London. A world away from what it was one hundred years ago.
At the beginning of June 1916, as the expected "push" was drawing near, the commander of the 4th Battalion; Lieutenant-Colonel F.W. Turner, departed for home to assume command of a training battalion.
Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick William Turner had been with the 4th Battalion since its creation by the Haldane reforms. He had previously been a member of the 1st Volunteer Battalion which pre-dated the Battalion's creation in April 1908. He had also been an early driving force in the Boys Brigade movement in Suffolk.
Turner was however, seen as something of an un-dynamic commander by his superiors. Although his personal diary - written throughout 1914 and 1915, showed much of his own higher opinion of himself, it was seldom shared by his seniors.
Although pre-war he had never commanded the Battalion, in the wake of the loss of Colonel Frank Garrett in early 1915, he had assumed its command. However, after just getting to grips with the position, he was within days, demoted again, as a new Battalion Commander; Lieutenant-Colonel H.W. Cruddas, arrived to command the Battalion.
When Cruddas was himself killed in early 1916, Turner was once again denied the command of the Battalion. He was recovering from a slight wound at the time and command reverted to Lieutenant-Colonel Archie Gilson-Taylor. When Taylor was wounded in March 1916, command of the Battalion finally arrived with Lieutenant-Colonel Turner. His time as the Battalion commander was however to last just eight weeks.
However, for all Turner's failings as a decisive commander, he was in fact, a visionary. He realised that the war would go on for some time yet and with the great push coming imminently, there would be many dead and severely wounded members of the Battalion who would be leaving widows and dependents at home with no assistance from the either the state or the Old Comrades Association; an association whose membership and benevolence was only eligible to men of the Regiment's regular Battalion's.
In a moment of inspiration whilst travelling back to Great Britain, Turner had the momentous idea to create a separate Old Comrades Association just for the men of the 4th Territorial Battalion. Turner wrote on 16th June 1916, to all serving officers of the 1/4th Battalion stationed France asking for their support in obtaining a figure in excess of £1000 by charitable contributions. He proposed a monthly subscription to be deducted direct from officers pay, suggesting a contribution of £1 per month from Lieutenant-Colonels and 5/- per month from Second Lieutenants.
His proposal was taken up with great support and by the end of the war, the fund had over £4000 in the bank; the equivalent of £185,000 today. It would remain active until 1995 supporting former members of the Battalion.
Turner's benevolence of his former soldiers extended past their military service. As the director of a large Ipswich engineering firm and foundry; E.R. & F. Turner Limited, if ever a former member of the Battalion found himself down on his luck and in need of a job, Turner always found him a position. He was a much respected director of the company and a pillar of the Ipswich community in the post-war years.
At 6.00pm on the 5th June 1916, to the strains of "Goodbye Dolly Gray" the last of the Service Battalion's of the Suffolk Regiment left England for France. As the band played, the troopship slowly pulled away. it was the ninth Battalion of the Regiment to serve overseas.
The 12th (Bantam) Battalion which had been formed the previous year, was within a week of receiving news of their embarkation, at Southampton docks, where they departed for Le Havre.
One man leaving with the Battalion for France, was 21507, Drummer George Brown. Though within weeks, he would be transferred to another unit; the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers, Brown proudly played his drum as part of the Band leading the Battalion as they landed in France and marched away to the railway station where they were to journey to a training camp to start their apprenticeship for war.
The son of a carpenter, George enlisted under age at Putney, London in September 1915. Though short of 17th birthday, he declared he was 19 and had successfully avoided the numerous combings of underage men in the preceding months when the Battalion were stationed at Pirbright.
The Battalion would start in ernest learning the art of war at Lillers near Bethune, where they practiced bombing, trench building and improved their musketry. Would they be ready in time to join the forthcoming offensive? or would they be left behind as others took the fight to the Kaiser?
The above statement appeared in the War Diary for the 8th Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment on 3rd June 1916.
The Battalion were in billets just behind the line at Bronfay Farm, just to the rear of Carnoy on the lower section of the Somme sector of the line.
Early that morning, one single 4.2" enemy shell fell in the farm courtyard, killing three of the Battalion's drummers who were sleeping together in the hayloft of one of the farm buildings. in one stall, some of the drummers were playing cards, whilst the other slept next door. The shell burst through the roof, richocheyed off the wall before exploding. "One man killed" wrote Sydney Fuller "was the big drummer and a Wicken man named Hall."
The other two drummers to meet their end by the same shell were Edwin Boxcer of Walthamstow and William Ward of Lowestoft. Ward (above centre) joined 8th Suffolk in late in 1914 and was soon based at Colchester where the above photograph was taken in May 1915. The lady and gentlemen are Mr and Mrs Curtin who ran a soldier recreation hut at the Colchester Garrison. Around William are men from other units in the 53rd Infantry Brigade of which 8th Suffolk were part of in the 18th (Eastern) Division. William's family have never forgotten him. In 2015, his great grandson travelled back to Bronfay Farm cemetery to visit his grave and pay his respects.
Perhaps the most poignant words in the diary entry were "shell shock" - a new phrase that had not yet been fully defined. It had been coined at the front for those suffering mentally from the effects of the war. Later its effects would be seen and made public, but for the moment, it's mention and its meaning were being heavily suppressed. With a large offensive planned in the next few weeks, it was essential that public opinion at home was 100% behind the war effort abroad.
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.