The 18th June, saw a determined enemy break the British front line at 2nd Suffolk's positions around "Infantry Hill." The position, which has been taken just a few days before with great success, was now abandoned after a blood drubbing, but such was the way of "bite and hold" trench warfare.
That morning at 2.ooam, the Germans attacked in force to retake the hill. Posts held by the Gordon Highlanders were almost immediately overrun. 2nd Suffolk, who held "Long" trench, were ejected after very heavy casualties, falling back into "Tool" and "Hook" trenches.
With elements of the 20th K.R.R., the Battalion succeeded in halting the advance. The Royal Engineers unit to their left, who also valiantly repelled the attack, lost a staggering 50% of their strength.
As daylight came, the enemy were heavily snipped from the Suffolk lines as they tried to move from shell hole to shell hole, but within 24 hours, the Battalion, who had been in the front line for almost six days solid, were relieved into billets in Arras. In the space of a week, they had seen success, congratulations, failure and retreat. The men felt pretty downhearted.
However, despite the setback of having been beaten days after they had triumphantly succeeded, valuable lessons had been learnt, that were distilled for future use with the Battalion. It had become clear that the rules of war were subtly changing. The C.O. noted in a special appendix in the War Diary that there was "value of not keeping to a stereotyped method of attack" and that the men now showed great zeal in wanting to engage with the enemy; "the importance of impressing the infantry soldier on the use of the rifle" it ran "was exemplified by the keen ness with which the men used their rifle over the parapet and shot the Germans."
The young conscripts who now were in the Battalion's ranks, were not swayed by patriotic fervour, nor shameful offers of white feathers, they had a new outlook to fighting. Forced to go, they wanted it over and over as soon as possible. "Fight them hard and fast, to get this lousy war over with" was the new axiom of the day.
Valuable lessons of a materiel and logistical form were also expressed by the C.O.; "A rifle grenade is needed that will not damage the rifle so that it can be used from any rifle" and that "attempts to carry too much Lewis gun ammunition leads to the whole being dumped (by exhausted men). Three magazines in each mans haversack was found to answer well." Finally, "pigeons proved invaluable and were on more than one occasion as quick as a runner."
The old world was changing. Attack patterns were altered weekly and also at Company level so that lessons learnt could be evaluated quickly, and put into operation again as soon as possible. This was an evolving war and the Suffolk Regiment was part of a great operational "learning curve" - a process that was being enacted right across the whole of the British Expeditionary Force.
Whilst the majority of attention was focused on the fighting units at the front, those left at home, were often forgotten. Their job may not have seen hand-to-hand fighting with the Bosche or the Turk, yet their role in the war was equally valuable.
in the case of the Suffolk Regiment, several Battalions remained at home engaged on Home Defence duties, in the Reserve Garrison Battalions, whilst others were involved in the training of the newly called-up conscripts. Of the latter, the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, spent it's war at Felixstowe, training draft upon draft of men for Battalions of the Regiment serving at the front. However, on the night of the 16th June, war came sharply home to these men in their hutted camp at Old Felixstowe.
In the early hours, gun fire could be heard from across the river in Harwich. A turn-out was ordered by the Guard Commander and the men were roused from their beds. As the pitch black sky was lit up with anti-aircraft fire, high up, the silhouette of a German airship; a dreaded Zeppelin, could be seen passing through the clouds.
The airship; L48, was one of four zeppelins that had hours before, attacked London. Moving northwards, they followed the coastline, up around Southend, then onto Clacton, before picking out the dockyards of Harwich, where they dropped a second wave of bombs. The Captain then turned the airship eastwards and headed for home.
Unbeknown to the crew in the gondola below the ship, the compass was frozen and they were being pushed westwards by the prevailing wind. They were now back over land and not the sea as they though and had just passed over the experimental air station at Orfordness. From here, she had been observed and aircraft had now been launched to intercept her. Veering wildly off course, now flying approximately over Wickham Market, she was fired on by more aircraft who had joined in the pursuit from both Norfolk and Suffolk airfields.
By 2.00am on the 17th her fate was sealed. A BE2c fighter aircraft succeeded in starting a fire in her highly flammable gas tanks. As the airship listed nose-down at a angle of 60 degrees, she plummeted to earth in flames. She came to ground in a field near the small village of Theberton, just north of Leiston. Some crew had miraculously survived the impact, but most had perished with the wreckage, but by morning, a crowd of onlookers and souvenir hunters had arrived, all eager to have a piece to take home with them. The town photographer from Leiston; Mr J.S. Wardell, came too on his bicycle with camera and tripod over one shoulder, to record the scene.
The crowds had come from far and wide a soon the local police called in the Army for assistance in restraining them. From nearby Leiston, came first, a detachment of the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion, who threw a cordon around the site with men guarding a ring around the wreckage at ten-yard intervals. In due course, elements of the 3rd Battalion arrived from Felixstowe, to relive them.
The powers that be sifted through the wreckage and took away what they deemed important; most being taken back to nearby Orfordness, for evaluation. The remainder was collected by cart and sent away to scrap, but not before the local church had procured a sizeable piece for their porch, where it remains to this day.
In the days that followed, both Suffolk Battalion's provided, together with men of the Royal Flying Corps, the funeral cortege for the coffins of the sixteen members of the crew that died in the crash. With full military honours, they were conveyed to the village churchyard at Theberton for burial. Though there was much disgust in the press for the Zeppelin and the way it waged war, within the ranks of the R.F.C., there was still a great deal of chivalry between these modern-day knights of the air.
The crew remained interred here until after the Second World War, when their bodies, together with those of another airship that had crashed at Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, were reinterred in the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. The original marker was replaced with a simple plaque stating; "Here Were Buried 16 German Airman Crew of Zeppelin L 48 17th June 1917 "Who Art Thou That Judgest Another Mans Servant" Rom. XIV-IV"
On 13th June 1917, the C.O. of 2nd Suffolk, Major Guy Clifford Stubbs, went forward infant of his Battalions positions in the front line to reconnoitre the ground in preparation for the forthcoming attack the next day.
Accompanied by the commanding officer of 1st Gordon Highlanders, Lieutenant-Colonel James Burnett, they mapped the land in front of them, and agreed the Battalion boundaries for the attack. Satisfied that they had attained the necessary information, they returned to the Allied lines and drew up a combined co-operational attack for the next morning. In the darkness, Company's were detailed off into position at 1.00am and at 3.00am on the morning of the 14th operation orders were distributed by Adjutant, Captain Trollope, who had along with the CO, moved from their HQ in the rear into the Quarry just behind the Allied trenches.
The Battalion's objective was the high ground due east of the village of Monchy-le-Preux, named "Infantry Hill" The Hill had at its base "Hook trench" which was the Battalion's objective. At 7.20 am, the Battalion advanced. The scene was reminiscent of the first day of the Battle back in April - complete surprise. Fire came from one lone solitary sentry only as the War Diary recalled; "Attack launched, and appeared a complete surprise except for the fire of one sentry on our extreme left. Our artillery barrage came down according to programme. Bosch barrage fell on Saddle, Hill and Shrapnel trenches cutting all wires forward and to Brigade"
The enemy fire was for once landing in the area between the front and second lines, along a series of interlocking communication and support trenches, but the severing of communications was a blow. The Signals section were despatched from the Quarry by Major Stubbs, to see if the lines could be repaired, meanwhile the first message were coming in from the men out in front.
Lieutenant Barton reported at 7.30am, that "first line had reached HOOK TRENCH" and fifteen minutes later he reported that "X-Coy had passed over the crest (of Infantry Hill) and prisoners were coming in." As the sounds of fighting gradually died down, Major Stubbs waited patiently for news of his men on the Hill. Two hours later, a runner appeared with a written message from Hook Trench to state that many prisoners had been taken, along with several machine guns, and two grenade throwers, casualties being "light."
Just after 10.00am, further messages were received. The CO of 'X' Company reported that Long Trench (the closest to the enemy in front of the Bois de Vert) had been taken and they were making good their defences. A defensive post was established on the right flank of Battalion's new positions to cover a gap of some yards between the Suffolks and the Gordons, but the remainder of the dat was quiet.
At 6.00pm, the Germans tried to retake the Hill however, after a spirited artillery barrage, their attack was beaten back. The night was also "quiet" and the darkness allowed the Battalion to continue to strengthen their new positions.
The day was successful for the Battalion, but it was not without loss. One man killed that day was a young Jewish immigrant form London. Hyman Revensky enlisted into the Army in 1915, joining first the 20th Battalion, London Regiment (Blackheath and Woolwich) before being wounded on the Somme. After recuperation, he joined 2nd Suffolk in early 1917. He lived with his parents at 34, East India Dock Road in Poplar in east London, where they resided on the first two floors. Because the line advance far that day, Revensky's body was found and buried in Faubourge d'Amiens cemetery at Arras.
His grave is virtually unique for it states his first name, as well as his surname. Every other Commonwealth war grave bears just the deceased soldiers initials.
At 1.30 am on the morning of 9th June 1917, the enemy made a raid upon the men of the 9th Battalion in the frontline trenches just north of the French town of Loos where in 1915, one of its members won the Regiment's first Victoria Cross.
The Germans were aiming to take "Newport Sap" an old shell hole that had since been tunnelled out to, pushing the British front line forward by some 25 feet. Coming on in great numbers, the Germans were repulsed by Allied artillery and trench mortar batteries. As the enemy dead mounted at the Allied wire, the Germans called off the attack.
The War Diary noted that "a party went out and brought in the dead who were buried and identification obtained" By this stage the Army had finally introduced a second identification disc. The enormous losses of men who have no known grave on the Somme may in part be attributed to the issue of just a single red fibre tag worn by the wearer. if killed, the tag would be removed and returned the Company office to ensure that the unfortunate soldiers rations and pay stopped. It had nothing to do with identifying his body.
No one however realised until the great war that the same ground we fought over time and time again, making any form of permanent memorial possible. The massive battles of the Somme saw men's graves destroyed with their markers lost. No one could ever be accurately identified after the dust had settled unless their body retained a form of permanent identification.
When Colonel Fabian Ware took over control of the Graves Registration Unit, he insisted join the introduction of a further means of identification to be kept with the body after the red fibre identification tag was removed. The idea was ingeniously simple. A second tag.
A second lozenge-shapped tag would be worn. Its have meant that even in the dark, the registration unit could feel the circular red tag and remove it, leaving the squared green tag in situ. In daylight, the second tag was green, so that there could be no misidentification. This simple system ensured that in the battles that were to come, a higher proportion of graves were subsequently identified
The month of May had seen the 2nd Battalion in the front line around the village of Monchy, east of Arras, where they had been continuously serving with the other units in their Brigade.
The month did however bring many awards for men of the Battalion for the gallant actions they had shown at Arras the previous month. Two Military Crosses were presented to Captain Baker and Lieutenant Pryke, and five Military Medals were awarded to Sergeant Jackson and Privates Ashworth, Anderson, Howes and Tribe. The presentation of the ribbons for these awards was made by the G.O.C. 3rd Division on the "football ground" at Arras on 21st May, and a week later, a further four officers; Lieut-Colonel Stubbs, Captain Curtis, and Lieutenant Russell and Harrup and two other ranks; Sgt. Gillson and Pte. Anderson (again) were Mentioned-in-Dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig for their previous gallantry.
June 3rd 1916, found the 2nd Battalion training near Arras, where in honour of the King's Birthday, they wore roses in their headdress. Continuation of age-old customs was evermore important in wartime to keep up morale and strengthen the esprit-de-corps within the Battalion. As the numbers of men in the Battalion who had survived the battles of Le Cateau, Ypres and more recently, the Somme dwindled, new men who had joined the Battalion since, learnt the history of this ever-proud Regiment to which they were now a part of.
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.