On 31st August 1915, the last of the three Service Battalions raised during the early months of the War, landed in France.
The 9th Service Battalion had been at Blackdown Camp near Camberley for some weeks. Its arrival in June from Reigate, placed it one step closer to Southampton for the journey to France and the Western Front.
They had spent the August days in trench digging on the nearby Chobham Common not far from Woking, but when news was received that they were to proceed overseas at the end of the month, leave was hastily organised for all ranks. For those lucky enough to get an early leave, their jubilation upon return was met with a sharp shock. The first 50 men back had to spend the finals days in England filling-in the trenches they'd spent weeks digging on the common.
Three days before departure, the Battalion was 'robbed' of a large amount of senior well-trained ranks to bring up the strength of other Battalions in the Brigade. 15 men departed to 11th Essex, 19 men to 8th Bedfords and 12 men to the newly created 12th (Bantam) Battalion of the Regiment. One man who was very sick, went to the 10th Battalion at Felixstowe. Three days before on the 28th, it was noted in the recently started War Diary, that the first draft of the Battalion had proceeded to Southampton consisting of a Field Officer, the machine-gun officer (Lieutenant R. England), the Transport Officer (Lieutenant J.C. Rowbotham), the Transport Sergeant, The Sergeant Shoemaker, 37 Drivers, 2 Pioneers, 10 Grooms, 34 men of the Machine Gun Section, 5 Cooks, 9 signallers with cycles and 4 Storemen!
Then on 30th, specially chartered trains took the four company's of the Battalion to Southampton. A and B at 5.50pm, and C and D at 6.17pm - that left just over 25 minuted for all 500 or so men in each allotment to get on board, stow their kit, and be counted ready of roll call. However all men were accounted for and embarkation onto the troopship went so smoothly that the C.O., Lieutenant-Colonel Stracey, himself not long arrived from the East Surreys, was personally commended by the General commanding the Division.
After a short crossing, the men arrived in France; the sixth Suffolk Battalion to do so since war was declared. From the port of Boulogne, they marched to Camp 'G' when after blankets were distributed, the men settled down around 2.00am. The remainder of the morning was spent in rest, before at midday, they embarked by train from the Gare Central, to Montreuil. From here a march to Alette, saw them getting step by step, closer to the front. For men like John Kettle (above) they knew their time for battle was getting close.
As the Battalion marched out of Boulogne that afternoon, one man remained. Captain A.P. Mack, who had slipped in Britain whilst boarding the boat, remained at No. 9 General Hospital, where the doctors had confirmed that he had broken a small bone in his foot. It would be a couple of weeks before he would rejoin them.
The month of August ended dramatically for the 8th (Service) Battalion with the death of No. 14799, Drummer Patterson in the front line trenches opposite the village of Mametz.
On Monday 30th August, elements of the 'B' Company were involved in deepening a front line trench. The village was at that time, relatively undamaged, and the slates still remained on the roofs of the houses. A few shell holes stood testament that the war had not left this little village entirely alone.
The weather was particularly hot that day and many of the men working removed their jackets in the heat. Drummer Patterson took his off, folded it and placed it on the parados (back face of the trench), along with his water bottle. An enemy sniper, observing this from the German trenches in the village, noticed this and watched the spot for further movement. Late in the afternoon as Patterson reached up to get his water bottle, the sniper shot him through the head. He was the first casualty to be lost to enemy action the the 8th Battalion.
Ernest Arthur Patterson, was born in 1894 at Edith Cottage, 56 Commodore Road, Oulton Broad. The only son of George and Eliza Patterson, his loss must have been difficult to bear. He'd enlisted the previous year, aged 18 and went with the Battalion to France. He'd started an apprenticeship to the Blacksmith next door, but when War was declared, he like many others saw adventure in war. His service with the Regiment was sadly not a long one.
In August, Lieutenant 'Jack' Ganzoni returned to 4th Suffolks who were once more in the front line near Neuve Chapelle.
His stay with the Battalion was not a long one and he was soon off again to serve with another unit. Jack had left the Battalion shortly before the battle of Neuve Chapelle under somewhat curious circumstances. It seemed that just when things were hotting up, several of the most important officers, went home on leave. However, a newspaper article from late March 1915 reported that he had actually been sent home to recuperate following a bout of bronchitis and a case of extreme frost bite; the latter being most probably caused by cold winter days spent in primitive trenches. The War Diary however, made no mention of his injuries.
The newspaper went on to report that “He speaks cheerfully, but guardedly of the position, and says that the spirit of 4th Suffolks, with whom he is serving, is excellent. Although he had not personally met with any remarkable adventures or very narrow escapes while in the fighting line, companions had fallen on either side of him.”
Following his recuperation and then leave, he was posted not back to the 4th Battalion, but to the Reserve Battalion at Felixstowe, which allowed him to continue to carry out his duties as the Conservative Member for Ipswich; a position that he would retain with a short break, until 1938. It was also reported that during this time, he was offered a Captaincy in a City of London Regiment, but that he chose instead to continue to serve as a humble Lieutenant in 4th Suffolk.
Jack's photo above, showed him looking somewhat gaunt and walking with the aid of a stick. It was not until July that he was considered fit enough to return to front line duty in France.
In the fighting of August 15th, the chaplain of the 1/5th Battalion distinguished himself in battle. Captain, the Reverend Pierrepont Edwards, lead a volunteer stretcher part forward under heavy fire to assist in bringing in the wounded of the battle. Under heavy enemy fire, he succeeded in getting many wounded men of the Battalion back to the Suffolk lines. At one point, a stretcher bearer was hit in the waist by shrapnel in front of him. Without hesitation, he got him onto the stretcher he was carrying and got him back to safety. A man down, he continued working with the other stretcher bearer as his number 2. For his actions that day, he would be awarded the Military Cross.
The Reverend Charles Pierrepont Edwards was known popularly as the "Fighting Parson" or "Old Spiery." He worked before the Great War as a curate in an East End mission, where it was rumoured, he was not afraid to use his fists to settle a disagreement between those of his flock. He had served in South Africa with the Essex Yeomanry, and joined 1/5th Suffolk in 1914.
In 1916, he left the 5th Battalion to serve with the Imperial War Graves Commission. The work that he carried out at Gallipoli after the withdrawal in January 1916, was instrumental in establishing the fate of the 'vanished' 5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment, who were part of the same Brigade as 5th Suffolk. After the war he became a Clerk to the West Mersey Parish Council.
A man who "blessed all with his humour, kindness and energy," he died in 1946 and had erected in his honour, a set of memorial gates at the entrance to village church. At the annual reunion of the officers of the 5th Battalion, a toast was given to 'the fighting parson' who every year declined an invitation to attend.
At 4.00pm on the afternoon of the 12th August, the CO of the 5th Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Armes, ordered the Battalion to advance on the Turkish positions in front of them.
In a Brigade attack, 163rd Brigade, of which 5th Suffolk were part, advanced. The orders they were given, were to clear the ground of the snipers they had experienced on the night of their landing. "The men were in excellent spirits" wrote a commentator in the Regimental Gazette of the following March "and looked forward to the job, as one man remarked, instead of grouse driving, we are going sniper driving on the famous twelfth"
5th Suffolk took the left flank, 5th Norfolk the right and 8th Hants in the centre. Almost immediately, the Turks poured forth their deadly fire. Concentrated Turkish artillery and machine gun fire caused many casualties. A survivor recalled "Almost immediately men dropped out wounded before we had covered twenty yards. Down one slope in snake formation, over two hills and then in extended order, for the open hills, that loomed like mountains ahead of us, with the salt lake on our right. Now we came under withering fire from the enemy's machine guns. Our left flank now being well enfiladed. The line never wavered, the men going on like seasoned soldiers and not like men having their baptismal fire"
After about 1000 yards, the attack began to falter. However they pressed on. From the scrub, they advanced through fields of corn and onwards into vineyards full with figs and peaches. Though tempting, they were not yet ripe. With no cover, these inexperienced Territorials began to bunch up causing a mass in the centre of the advancing line, which the Turks exploited mercilessly. Small groups of Suffolk's pushed forward trying to continue the advance but were picked off one by one.
Seeing that any further advance was useless against an enemy that had remained safe in his deeply entrenched positions, the Brigade Commander called a halt. The Battalion were ordered to withdraw some two hundred yards to a position close to that they had occupied briefly on the night they landed. Ironically, give or take a yard or two, they would remain in these positions until they were evacuated the following January.
"I must add a word of praise for the sterling leadership of our officers" wrote a member of 5th Suffolk the following year, "Lieutenant-Colonel Armes was in the foremost line encouraging us and our Adjutant Captain Lawrence worked like a Trojan."
The Battalion lost their CO that day. Lieutenant-Colonel William Morriss Armes (known as Morriss) died in his first action. He was 43 years old and was the managing director of a large weaving firm in Sudbury that specialised in the manufacture of coconut matting which was exported all over the world. From an early age he dreamed of becoming a professional soldier, but with the sudden death of his father when he was just 16, the family business needed him, robbing the army of a "superb" soldier. Serving as a Territorial was perhaps some consolation to him.
Armes was leading his men forward when he was hit in the chest. He fell immediately but still urged his men on. Propped up on his knees, he was shot several more times. The final wound to the head proved fatal. Private Harvey who witnessed the action, struggled to get help for the wounded Colonel but failed as all the stretcher bearers were busy with other fatalities. He ran back to the Regiment's lines to summon assistance, but was shot in the leg. As the line fell back, he was left in the scrub and it took him a further two days to crawl back in excruciating pain, to the Suffolk lines, but by then it was too late.
The Colonel's body was never recovered and despite repeated family appeals to the Red Cross for information - which was then subsequently passed to the Red Crescent in Constantinople, all inquiries proved fruitless. He is remembered today on the memorial at Helles.
Though the Turk claimed many lives that day, another deadly enemy has reared its head on the battlefield. Disease was a new enemy to be contended with at Gallipoli. Almost 150 men had already gone sick since landing and dysentery was gradually taking it's toll on the Battalion.
On the evening of Tuesday 10th August 1915 in the darkness of a warm Mediterranean evening, the men of 5th Suffolk watched the dark cliffs of the Gallipoli peninsular loom out from the darkness.
Huddled on the flat deck of a 'lighter' barge, the pinpricks of light came into view. Shortly afterwards a massive naval bombardment was made of the Turkish positions inland. As the bombardment continued, the men were transferred from the lighter to numerous steam launches waiting alongside to take them into shore. It was around 2.00am and under the cover of the bombardment, the men edged closer to the beach. A gentle crunch was felt as the launches breached and small ramps were dropped allowing the men to file ashore as fast as possible. Some too eager, jumped over the side. The lucky ones landing on the sand, the unlucky ones landing in the sea. This was 'A' beach and the Battalion had just gained another battle honour for their parent regiment; 'Landing at Suvla' adding to 'Le Cateau,' 'Neuve Chapelle' and 'Ypres 1915.'
In the darkness, the Battalion consolidated and started to move inland. As the men moved off up steep slopes, down deep gullies and gorse filled ravines, the words went back; "no smoking, no talking, Johny's just over there"
As they reached a small plateau, they fanned out and knelt in the long grass and scrub. The bracken, akin to holly which was lovely to eye, yet painful to touch. It was christened 'Turkish Oak' and its jagged thorns ripped the khaki drill uniforms causing numerous painful stratches. These were however nothing compared to the unseen enemy that lay low in the shadows. Turkish snipers, of which it was later estimated there to be around 30 in the vicinity, worked their deadly fire in these first early hours, yet miraculously no one was killed. The crack of a rifle, followed by the fizz of a bullet spiralling into the scrub, sought to remind these newly arrived crusaders that they were now on the saracens soil.
Despite the offensive in the Dardanelles being almost three months old, there was not much to show in terms of ground gained or victories won. The advance had been all but a few miles and still close to the beach, pockets of Turkish resistance and defensive outposts remained. Like the Western Front, the two sides were just yards apart.
Up on the plateau, work began in to build a line of trenches. With their counterparts of the Lancashire Fusiliers, they set to work linking up a line of sangers with trenches. The soft sandy soil was great for digging deep into, not like the hard soil of Thetford where they been on exercise just a few months before. The gorse was hacked out and piled high, so men could get deeper and as daylight arrived once more, the men felt a little safer a few feet underground.
It was a far cry from a fortnight before when Lieutenant H.C. Wolton recalled in his diary of their leaving Watford station, how "the girls insisted on carrying the heavy kitbags of the men." There was no such patriotic feeling now. War had come quickly to 5th Suffolk.
Quietly in the wings another Battalion of The Suffolk Regiment had slipped quietly off to war.
The 5th (Territorial) Battalion, formed like its counterpart the 4th, as a result of the Cardwell Reforms in 1908, had been training in earnest since the New Year. The Battalion joined their territorial counterparts from Norfolk, to form the Norfolk and Suffolk Infantry Brigade, which was to be part of the 54th (East Anglian) Division.
Following their move from the Colchester area in January 1915, they went first to West Stow for field firing exercises before spending some months at Thetford. In May, they moved once more to Watford, where they remained for some weeks.
Here in mid June, news arrived that they would be sent not to the Western Front but would instead be sent to the Dardanelles. With days, they were deprived of their khaki serge uniforms, for more needy men in the new service Battalions, and issued instead with lighter weight khaki drill and cork 'wolseley' pattern sun helmets. In the warm English summer they were much appreciated although they'd soon experience a climate much hotter than of Watford.
By the end of July, the Battalion along with the other 6000-odd other members of the 54th Division, assembled in Liverpool for the journey to the Mediterranean via the Troopship Aquitania. She was Cunard's answer to the Titanic and Olympic vessels of the White Star line, but had only completed her maiden voyage in May of 1914, before she was taken over for too transport shortly after war was declared.
The troopship arrived on the island of Mudros, on 6th August. They were around 35 miles from the Gallipoli peninsular which was to be their ultimate destination. After a brief stop on the sistering Island of Imbros, late on the 9th August, they received news that they would be departing the following day for Gallipoli.
Having received no formal tropical training, nor acclimatisation to the stalemated world of trench warfare that they would son inhabit, the Battalion were unsure as to what lay ahead for them. In a night of mused emotions, the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Morris Armes, called his officers together and tried to allay their concerns. For many men such as Bill Farrow, a pre-war member of the Battalion, they contemplated on what they following day would bring.
In the warm sun of a mediterranean evening, another Suffolk Battalion went quietly to war.
After one whole year of war, The Suffolk Regiment had changed almost beyond recognition.
From the two Regular, three Territorial, and one Battalion of Special Reserve that had existed when war was declared, they had been supplemented by four new Service Battalions, a Reserve Battalion and a further four Battalions of second and third line Territorials.
The two Regular Battalions that had existed in 1914, had ceased to exist. They had been reduced to a mere handful of survivors each following great battles in August 1914 at Le Cateau, and May 1915 at Frezenberg. Like a phoenix from the flames, within a month of their destructions, they were once more effective fighting units, even if their ranks were not all true 'Suffolks.'
1914 was a year of myths trashed and of a professional pre-war army learning to take on the mass ranks of a conscription-led German Army - and be severely beaten by it. 1915 saw the Territorials exposed as an enthusiastic but undertrained organisation and its battles made the General Staff start to comprehend that raw recruits pressed into front line service without a period of acclimatisation, was futile. The 'learning curve' of the B.E.F. had well and truly begun.
1915 had seen new weapons such as gas come to the fore. It saw greater reliance of fortified, entrenched positions to hold the line and brought the importance of and reliance upon, the machine gun, to the eyes of the General Staff. The year too saw civilians made into soldiers and put to the test in battle with varying results.
1915 was rapidly slipping away, with no sign of an Allied victory in sight. Would it come this year?
Minden Day 1915 was celebrated by the 1st Battalion in "Arcadia" Dug-outs in the front line near Kemmel in Belgium.
The War Diary noted that "The Battalion wore roses in commemoration of the day, as far as these emblems were available." The days festivities were short, and not of the usual splendour they had been in pre-war days. There was no formal parade or Battalion sports day, and there was definately no beer! but it was a great Regimental day all the same.
In the afternoon, orders came to proceed to the Kemmel shelters, where they would rest for a couple of days. Although, they had remained on the alert in the line, the first Minden Day of the Great War had at least been celebrated. It must have been a sight to see the men of the reborn 1st Battalion, manning the front line with roses tucked into their service dress caps. Later Minden Day's would be spent in steel shrapnel helmets where no roses could be pinned. The Regiment had already won many honours in this conflict that would eventually rank beside the great honour from 1759.
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.