"I Have Seen Him Stand Cool And Motionless In The Light Of Very Flares. For His Conduct On These Occasions, I Twice Recommended Him And He Was Awarded Both The Military Medal & Bar"
For his actions at Hinges, Private Meeks of 'X' Company was awarded a Bar to his Military Medal. Meeks later went on to become an in-pensioner at Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Following his death in 1974, Canon William Lummis, who has then been a Lieutenant at Hinges remembered him: "He was one of the bravest and coolest men in action that I have ever known. Ifirst met his acquaintance when I took over command of 'X' Company, 2nd Battalion, before going into action in front of Hinges. He was Company runner. Standing a few yards in front of me, I noticed him quietly pull out a New Testament from his pocket and, after reading to for a while, place it back. It was this action that induced me to form a Bible Class in the Battalion, which he and many other attended. He was particularly good at guiding companies into positions and in bearing messages to and from Bn. HQ. I have seen him stand cool and motionless in the light of Very flares. For his conduct on these occasions I twice recommended him and he was awarded both the Military Medal and Bar."
The photograph above, published courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, shows William 'Bill' Meeks MM and Bar on the right. His chum sitting left, can be seen with the coloured right-hand epaulette of 2nd Suffolk, which varied in Colour depending on which Company he was serving with. On his left forearm is a stripe of coloured material denoting his trade (Mortar, Signals, Lewis gunnner etc.). Meeks served with the Signal Section. In close up, the ribbon for the Military Medal bears the rosette of the Bar awarded at Hinges.
The month of June was a quiet one for the 15th (Suffolk Yeomanry) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment.
Having arrived the previous month from the Middle East, they had throughout June been in a period of acclimatisation to the Western Front in a ‘quiet’ sector near Penin. Early in the month, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel William Jarvis, left for several days to tour the trenches in a nearby sector, occupied by the Australians. Whilst he was away, the men started training with tanks in the large scale open warfare that their colleagues in the 7th and 9th Battalion’s had used to great effect the previous year.
Despite this earnest training, the Battalion was always at 9 hours notice to move. The lessons of the German March Offensive were that they blow could come at anytime, anywhere, though many now firmly believed that due to the lack of enemy activity of late, they had played their last card, but were not yet ready to leave the game.
At this time, the strength of the Battalion was 39 officers and 914 other ranks, but the acute man-power shortage of 1917, that had been made worse in March 1918, meant a further reorganisation and a reduction in the size of the infantry Battalion. On 17th June the War Diary noted: “A GHQ letter was received showing the new organisation of an infantry battalion. The strength was reduced to 900 O.R.s. Each platoon was to consist of 3 sections instead of 4. The Lewis gun section being reduced to 1 NCO and about 10 men. The Stokes, two sections with rifle sections of 1 NC0 and 6 OR each. No platoon was to go into action stronger than this.”
When the CO returned, he was made aware of the new organization. Frederick “Freddy” Weston Jarvis had already served with distinction in the Suffolk Yeomanry since 1882. Born into nobility in 1866, he was destined to have pursued a career in the families flourishing legal practice, had he not have become involved with his local troop of yeomanry in his early teens.
During the Boer War he had served with the Imperial Yeomanry and on detachment to the 13th Hussars at Elandslaagte and after the peace was signed, he remained in South Africa serving with the South African Constabulary. Already in his 50s when he look the Regiment to Gallipoli in 1915, he had been with them ever since.
By late May 1918, 2nd Suffolk was back to full strength following the losses it had incurred at Wancourt in late March.
The C.O. Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Stubbs, together with his Adjutant, Captain 'Val' Russell, had ensured that during the quiet time much emphasis had been placed upon training and upon inter-company co-operation.
On the night of 14/15th June,the Battalion went into action in front of the village of Hinges. The plan was to push the enemy back as far as possible and force them back over the La Bassee canal that ran through the village, so that a defensive line could be made along its southern bank.
Moving off in the darkness after midnight, the weather conditions were fine. The advance was ironically, too regimented and men moving across no-mans-land into the rubble of the village, they moved in column of file, passing several concealed German positions, before the enemy fired on them from behind. These enemy outposts were however, soon death with and the advance continued. "The centre company was held up for a time in this way" wrote the Adjutant (Russell) "The platoon commander, Lieutenant Franks, being killed in dealing with one of these posts on the assault course, there was confusion and on Ford Lane being reached, there was a gap between the centre and the left coy. with the Bosche in-between".
Concerned that the Battalion may be divided; as could have happened at Wancourt, the C.O. ordered up a platoon under Lieutenant Bennett, who promptly filled the gap. "The right company was held up on their left by a post with a machine gun" continues Russell, "The platoon commander and a Sgt. being wounded and the Coy. Commander shortly afterwards, when dealing with the situation. This left a Bouche post still holding out in the practice trenches just south of Ford Lane. 2nd Lt. Cook commanding the right front platoon had reached his objective on Ford Lane having himself shot a German Machine Gunner and put the remainder of the post out of action and was digging in when he received news of the situation onto left. He assumed command of the Coy, and organised a bombing attack and cleared up the resistance. His prompt action is most commendable."
Using the bridges still in situ, 'Y' and 'Z' Companies crossed the canal and made the other bank. Now touch was remade all along the Battalion's frontage and with the battalions on the flanks. Now, the reserve company could come forward and bring up supplies of small arms ammunition and more desperately needed Lewis gun magazines or "drums". The enemy artillery was "pretty feeble" and much of it now fell into the canal behind the Battalion.
"Signalling communication by telephone and Lucas Lamp though not through until dawn was effective from that time onwards. A message rockett (rocket) was sent from the forward post, but was not recovered though seen by the look out man. Medical arrangements worked well and the wounded were quickly cleared by the R.A.M.C. bearers. Number of prisoners unknown - about 50. Several L.M. Guns, about seven, were captured and are in use while ammunition last in the posts."
The following night, the Battalion extended its front line positions by 'X' Company under the common of Lieutenant Lummis, being brought up to take over the front line at L Pannerie on the left flank, that had previously been held by the 1st Gordon Highlanders.
The Battalion was in a good strong position. Young officers such as Lieutenant Cook, had shown not only courage but great initiative. The Battalion was now, with the exception of the CO, the Adjutant and 2 Company Commanders, staffed by young subalterns, most of whom were under 25 years old, and had only joined the Battalion in the past six months. It had come a long was since Le Cateau.
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.