In mid July, the 7th Battalion, still under a period of acclimatisation in the Ypres Salient, began to see its first casualties.
On the night of the 18th July 1915, a party of 2 men under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Bamkin were sent out into no-mans-land opposite Plugstreet in an attempt to try to tap the German telephone lines that ran across the top of their trenches. About half way out, the party were spotted crawling forward and a flare was launched by the Germans. All men lay dead still in no-mans-land as the Germans raked the area with machine gun fire. In this action, Lieutenant Bamkin was wounded along with another member of the party, Private Armsby. Alone in the open, the third member of the party, Private Orbell, crawled over to Lieutenant Bamkin and dragged him back to the British front line. All the time the Germans were continuously raking the area with machine guns, with Orbell receiving a slight wound to the foot. Once he'd safely delivered Bamkin into the Suffolk front line, he set off again crawling back to try and rescue Armsby. Doing the same again, he dragged him back into the front line about twenty yards to the south. Upon leaving him to receive aid, he hobbled back down the line to find out how Lieutenant Bamkin was. He had arrived too late. Bamkin had died of his wounds moments before. Hobbling back to find Armsby, it was a similar case. He too had died of his injuries.
Born in 1895 in Brixton, London, Harold Picton Bamkin came from a teaching family. After education at Dulwich College, he entered Jesus College, Oxford in July 1914. When war was declared, he found himself with the 3rd Battalion, before being posted to the 7th Battalion, with whom he proceeded overseas in May. Herbert "Bert" Armsby was a native of Ely joining 7th Suffolk soon after war was declared.
For Private J.A. "Dan" Orbell (above), it was a day of sadness. He heralded from March in Cambridgeshire and had enlisted into the Regiment with Bert Armsby; the pair having been on the same train to Bury St. Edmunds. His gallant act brought him in the first place, a field promotion to Lance Corporal, but lost him a chose chum.
However unbeknown to Orbell, the C.O. was submitting him for a gallantry award. It would however be many more months before he would receive any further news of his recommendation for Orbells deeds that day. Today Armsby and Bamkin lie side-by-side in Calvaire Military Cemetery near Ploegsteert. The epitaph on Bamkin's grave, chosen by father reads "Detur Gloria Soli Deo" - Let Glory To God Alone.
On 25th July 1915, Private Sydney Fuller, 8th (Service) Battalion, made a routine entry into his diary. Today its title was however underlined "The Great Day" - Burnt the straw from our beds during the morning and handed in our blankets etc. 120 rounds of ammunition were issued to each man - the real article this time. Hitherto only blank had been issued except when firing on the butts." This was finally the real thing.
In addition to identity discs and first field dressings issued for overseas service, each man received his paybook. Army Book No. 64 contained in a brown linen cover, his particulars of service, inoculations, next of kin, will etc. and for their journey overseas, a small slip of loose paper was issued to each man to stick into the front of his paybook. The slip bore the words of Field Marshal Lord kitchener and impressed upon setting an example overseas and of being of a conduct befitting that of a British soldier. It ended by saying "In this new experience, you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must entirely resist both temptations, and, while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy."
From Wylye station near to Codford, the 8th Battalion travelled on two specially chartered trains to take them to Folkestone and then across to France. A and B Company's left first at 4.20pm with C and D Company's following at 4.50pm. The journey was a long one taking some five hours to get to Folkestone via Salisbury, Andover Junction, Whitchurch, Basingstoke, Hook, Woking, guildford, Shalford, Chilworth, Dorking, Reigate, Red Hill junction and Paddock Wood.
The journey on the RMS 'Victoria' took around an hour and a half, arriving at Boulogne around 11.30pm. After a short march, they arrived in a tented camp at Ostrohove where Fuller noted he was issued one blanket and that his 'bivvy' leaked.
Two days previously, the advance party of 3 officers and 110 other ranks had left arriving in La Havre on the 25th. Now Including these men, the Battalion's strength was 34 officers and 987 other ranks, and a chaplain (Rev. Donald Fraser). Another Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment was off to war.
At 8.00pm on the evening of the 20th July 1915, the men in a forward crater that was blown the previous evening, received news to retire back to their own lines after darkness had descended.
The previous evening immediately after a mine was blown, a section of men under the command of 2nd Lieutenant De Castro went forward to take the hole and succeeded in getting to it with only a handful of casualties.
As darkness wore on, a second section crawled out to them under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Pickard-Cambridge to bring up supplies and shovels to start to break back from the crater towards the British front line. However progress was painfully slow and by daybreak, no link-up had been made with those digging out to the crater.
With daylight came a renewed German interest in dislodging the men from the crater. De Castro's men were falling victim to German grenades being lobbed from their front line just a few feet away. In return the men in the crater retaliated using the most primitive of grenades issued to them.
As these men in the crater held on, they hoped that a link-up would soon be made to relive them but as darkness came again, they were beginning to think that they had been left stranded. They had been on their own for almost 24 hours. Water was running low and the men had already consumed their 'iron rations' (a tin of bully beef) during the day. Then just as they gave up hope, the right-hand digging party linked up with them at around 8.00pm. Caked in mud, these tunnellers brought orders for them to pull back.
Cold and hungry, the men in the crater dragged themselves through the shallow trench that had been dug with pick, shovel and entrenching tool all day, and arrived in the front line to a well earned cup of tea.
Packard-Cambridge was personally recommended by the CO of the 1st Gordon Highlanders for his actions that day and De Castro was recommended by the CO of 2nd Suffolk for a Military Cross. He would not however be granted it. It would not be the first major award De Castro would be recommended for, that he would not receive. A higher recommendation was yet come come.
On 19th March 1915 at Hooge near Ypres, Private P.G. Motroni was killed whilst serving with 2nd Suffolk.
Montroni had been part of section that had gone forward under the command of 2nd Lieutenant De Castro, to take and hold a recently blown mine crater in front of the village.
At 7.00pm, the mine was blown and as soon as the dust settled, De Castro went forward with a section to consolidate the hole. Two further sections would then endeavour to cut a trench out to this 'sap' during the hours of darkness from opposite directions, thus pushing the allied line forward a few yards. However, one of those wounded in the initial advance to take the crater, was Private Motroni.
Peter George Motroni was the second son of Anthony and Carmela Motroni of Atina, Italy, who settled in Ipswich after emigrating from Italy in the 1890s. They stayed briefly in Colchester where George was born in 1895, before they settled in Ipswich the following year.
The family lived in the tiny and now completely redeveloped 'Permit Office' Street in the heart of Ipswich. The area was exceptionally poor and many of the immigrant families who lived there hoped that their children did not do well enough to attend the local grammar school since they could not afford the cost of the school uniforms. By far the highest proportion of immigrates living there were of Italian origin and the area was known well into the 1960s as 'Little Italy.'
After schooling, George enlisted in the Suffolk Regiment, aged 18 in 1913. He was with 2nd Suffolk at the Curragh, but when war was declared, he was held back from proceeding to France even though he was four weeks past his 19th birthday. However, following the 2nd Battalion's decimation at Le Cateau, he was sent with the first draft of replacements, arriving in France on 11th September.
Mr and Mrs Motroni would loose three sons before the war was over. Peter's father Anthony, would die shortly after the war ended, leaving his mother alone in the world. She had her own business - a costermongers barrow, selling fruit and vegetables at a nearby road junction, but by 1926 and the time of the General Strike, Mrs Carri Motroni or 'Matronie' as she now called herself, was one of just two Italian families still living in the street.
Still in the relative safety of the Ypres ramparts, half of the 2nd Battalion were having a well earned rest from front line service.
Captain W.B. Higgins, still with his trusty camera, captured the view from his within his new billet. Inside the ancient walls of the fortified town, the French had built deep brick casements, which were serving well to the men of 2nd Suffolk as 'comfy' billets.
Higgins photograph left, shows the ground floor establishment looking across to a still undamaged St. Martins Cathedral, prior to its almost total destruction later on in the war. The heavy sandbagged defensive wall outside the door served as a blast curtain incase a shell landed outside.
The men were slightly worse off in the upper stories of the ramparts. The had no direct route out of their holes in an emergency, except for a ladder or a quick jump of over 10ft!
On 11th July 1915, the War Diary for the 2nd Battalion noted that: "Battalion moved. A+B & HQ Coy going into the ramparts Ypres, C+D Coys going into dugouts in Sanctuary Wood"
Taking his platoon from A Company back into the wrecked town was Captain W.B. Higgins who had recorded that historic meeting of the 1st and 2nd Battalions at Westoutre earlier on in the year.
Higgins took with him his trusty camera and recorded his new home. The photograph left, shows the state of the town at that time, before the major bombardments began later that year.
The ramparts were constructed at the end of the 17th century by the French military engineer, Vauban when the town was under French occupation.
It would be here in these ramparts later on in the war, that the famous soldiers periodical, the 'Wipers Times' would be complied and printed.
On 10th July 1915, Private Sydney Fuller was on leave at home in Cambridgeshire. Before leaving he noted that "had half a dozen photos ordered from boltons, Fore Hill (cabinets 6/6 half dozen). caught the 12.30pm train. Had to stand all the way to Liverpool Street, which I reached at 2.32pm. crossed to paddington by Underground. There met several more chaps returning to camp. Left Paddington 4.50pm and reached Codford station soon after 8.00pm"
When Sydney arrived back in camp around 9.00pm, he found it largely deserted. Most of the men were still not back from leave and many still trickled in the following day. For the 8th Battalion, this leave signified the end of the beginning of the Army service, for in an matter of weeks, they would be joining their counterparts in the 7th Battalion in France.
On 4th July 1915, the 7th Battalion, newly arrived on the continent, went into trenches in the Plugstreet section of the line south of Ypres - considered at that particular time, a 'quiet sector.'
Unlike their counterparts in the 4th Battalion who arrived the previous November, this was the start of an acclimatisation process to get them used to service in front line trenches and to work in close co-operation with their counterparts on the flanks of their positions. It also served to get the men used to the routines of trench life and the ever-unpredicable enemy opposite them.
The Army had quickly learnt in the early days of 1915, that throwing troops into battle without acclimatisation, was sheer folly. Regardless of previous service, reputation or past honours, every newly arrived unit now went through a period of staggered service in a quiet sector of the front line, designed to gradually ease them into readiness for action.
Upon arrival here, the CO and the Adjutant made a thorough appraisal of the positions they had taken over command of. They noted that the trenches liked loop holes and machine-gun emplacements. The scouting officer made a tour of the positions with a view to the placement of snipers. No real cover presented itself apart from a few shell-pocked trees, with the scantest amount of foliage.
For the remainder of the month, the Battalion would be almost exclusively stationed in this section of the line whilst furnishing daily, drafts of men for working parties in the surrounding trenches.
Only when the powers that be considered them ready would they be used in action against the emery. It was the testing time for the first Service Battalion of the Regiment.
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.