Another casualty of 2nd Suffolks attack on Gomiecourt on 23rd August 1918, was Lieutenant Davall.
A young man of remarkable character and said to have lived a charmed life like a cat being given nine lives, Cecil George Davall was wounded first at Polygon Wood, though not seriously. He was back with the Battalion within days. We was wounded again in the right forearm during the Battalion's successful attack on the Belgian village of Zonnebeke. Here, he commanded No.5 Platoon of ‘X’ Company, and after recuperation, he returned once more to the Battalion in January 1918 where he assumed the role of the Battalion Machine Gun Officer. Wounded again on 24th May whilst on a trench raid near Annezin, north east of Bethune, he recovered but sadly his luck gave out on 23rd August when he was killed by shell fire between the villages of Gomiecourt and Bucquoy.
Born in Ipswich in 1897, Davall's parents were both dead before 1909 and he was living with his sister at the house of a local engineering manager, into whose business, George was to enter. The family of Davall had over two hundred years before before, been displaced protestant cloth merchants from France who had settled in Spitalfields in London. They moved out to Suffolk in early Victorian times.
Today, Cecil lies beside his comrade, Peter Layard in Douchy-les-Ayettes cemetery. The photograph above, was taken on 13th August 1918: less than two weeks before his death and shows men of Davall's platoon in training. Not seen here is the detail of those around him. Very few of those captured by the camera exhibit anything more that two years service, yet nearly all men have a brass wound stripe visible on their lower left sleeves - some men even have as many as four; a testament to the tough fighting since the March Offensive that the Battalion had borne.
Image courtesy of Steve Farrant.
Of the many gallant actions by members of 2nd Suffolk, at Courcelles-le-Comte and Gomiecourt, perhaps none more so exemplified just how far the British Army had evolved than the award of the Military Cross to Lieutenant W.M. Lummis.
"For conspicuous gallantry and good leadership. Through thick fog he led his company, under complete control, to the objective. He personally rushed an enemy machine gun position and killed the crew. Later, he led his company forward with great determination, in the face of very heavy enemy fire. He set a splendid example determined courage to those under him."
Lummis, then commanding it is believed 'Y' Company, had risen through the ranks of the Army. From a humble county clerk in his home village of Coddenham near Ipswich, in 1904, he enlisted into the 11th Hussars (Price Albert's Own) - a regiment still very much recruited from Suffolk and the eastern counties. Promotion came rapidly to the model soldier who by 1911, a Lance Sergeant and responsible for the composition and setting of their regimental gazette.
Upon the outbreak of the Great War, Lummis, who was only 28 years old was the Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant; the youngest man of that rank in the British Army and with them he went to France in 1914, fighting at Mons, and its subsequent retreat. In 1916 he was offered a commission and opted for his country regiment of Suffolk, joining the 2nd Battalion in March 1916 and remaining with Battalion until the Armistice.
Lummis was typical of many a 'temporary gentleman' brought up through the ranks to a commission, much swifter in wartime that in peacetime soldering. He was a man who learnt upon the job and saw the Battalion evolve much in the time he served with it between the battles at Longueval and Serre onto Somme, through the successful battles of Zonnebeke, and into the bitter defeats of the March Offensive. By the time he won his MC, the Battalion was by far, in its finest fettle. There were by a handful of men who were still serving with it the, that has been at Le Cateau, but many such as Lummis himself had joined it in the time in-between and had helped shape it into the fine fighting unit it had become by late summer 1918.
Within weeks, Lummis himself would be taking its command as the Battalion was to fight its last major battle upon the Western Front.
The attack against the village of Gomiecourt was successful for the 2nd Battalion, but it came at the cost of every officer, bar two, being either killed or wounded.
The village was at the apex of a deep salient in the German front line. The defensive ring of fortifications that the Germans had placed around the village, showed that they valued its commanding position high up on a cup-shaped valley, from where they could see for a considerable distance back into the Allied lines behind the railway line.
The position was considered by some to be impregnable, but as the Suffolks came close to the fortifications, the Germans, seeing that the situation was hopeless, started to turn and run, but not before some held on to the bitter end; keeping their forward machineguns firing against their attackers.
Of those two unwounded officers, one was Lieutenant Peter Clement Layard. He was tragically killed by a sniper when on his way back to bring more men forward.
In a small privately published memorial volume of his life, his father recorded the details of his tragic end: "Then at the moment of victory, the village captured and five hundred prisoners taken, came the end. Having rounded up his men, he came across a wounded German. Worn out with fighting as he was, he stooped to bind him up. That was the moment chosen by a German sniper to shoot him through the heart. Just four words he spoke: "I can breathe now" - and he was dead."
It was a unfortunate circumstance of war that his final letter home that had been written the day before, arrived with his parents the day after they received the official telegram notifying them of his death. It was a cheerful note explaining that he had lost his sponge bag and razor, and not to worry to send him another as he thought he could get one when next out of the line. The covering letter, sent by a brother officer, told of their son's end and of how they knew that the battle that claimed him, was a "desperate affair" and that "the odds in favour of death were enormous."
The C.O. wrote that: "He was killed after a successful capture of a village in which hw led his men with great gallantry. He was killed instantaneously while binding up a wounded German." The Adjutant wrote also that: "We were attacking Gomiecourt on the 23rd August, and the attack was extremely successful, and we were consolidating the positions won; your son was carrying on with re-organization of his platoon. He went back to see if he could find any more more, and on his way back he came across a wounded Bosche, whom he bound up and was talking to when he was hit through the heart by a sniper."
"Pete" Layard lies now in Douchy-les-Ayette cemetery. The dedication in his memorial volume was to his mother - "For of all people in the world, he loved her best."
Image courtesy: IWM.
For 2nd Suffolk, the 22nd August was spent in rest and refitting, before at 9.30 pm they were ordered back into the line to the positions they had vacated the previous day. Now they were to assemble along the railway for a forthcoming attack towards the village of Gomiecourt.
In the darkness of that night, the C.O., the Adjutant; Captain Burman and the Intelligence Officer, went out to reconnoitre the enemy positions. The Germans had counter-attacked that day, and the positions were slightly altered from those they had left earlier, so Colonel Stubbs decided to remain and to direct the battle from the front.
At 4.00 am on the 23rd, the Battalion advanced once more. Advancing on the right flank with 8th K.O.R.L. (King’s Own Royal Lancaster) on the left. 1st Gordons were behind the Battalion in support. For the advance to Gomiecourt, eight tanks had been brought up half an hour prior to Zero Hour (4.00am) and were just about in position when the Battalion moved off.
“‘X’ Company advanced on the right, ‘Z’ Company on the left, with ‘W’ Company behind ‘X’ and ‘Y’ behind ‘Z’.” Almost immediately after they had advanced, the C.O., Lieutenant-Colonel Stubbs, still out in front, received word from the tanks that they could not proceed due to heavy fire from the Germans opposite the village.
Stubbs was therefore forced to move further northwards and attack the village from the northwest, rather than directly from the west as planned. He therefore swung a half-left, and crossed the railway below Courcelles, before regaining his original direction. The Battalion was now having to move fast over their new route as the barrage was creeping forward at 100 yards every four minutes, which was heavy going fully laden troops.
“The barrage was excellent” wrote Stubbs “and after a certain amount of MG fire from right rear in the initial stages, the advance was made unchecked and village taken and line ordered consolidated”. By 11.00 am as the Battalion dug-in to the southeast of Gomiecourt, other units were passing through the Battalion’s positions, pressing onwards towards to the east. The advance towards Bapaume was off to a good start.
Shell fire was intermittent and not particularly that heavy during the advance, but it was the machine guns and snipers along the railway line and in the ruins of Gomiecourt itself that caused the majority of the casualties that the Battalion suffered that day. 25 men were killed, 149 wounded and 5 missing.
On 21st August 1918, 2nd Suffolk moved off to attack the village of Courcelles.
Advancing at 4.55 am in an artillery formation, within minutes, all communication was lost between Company’s and the C.O. Lieutenant-Colonel G.C. Stubbs, due to thick mist. The C.O. decided therefore that he would instead advance in column of route and split platoons up at 50 yards intervals when advancing. This way they could just about see each other, but were far enough apart to cause any serious casualties to the shelling.
The village was reached without difficulty and consolidation began. “Here smoke barrage added to the confusion and it was necessary to keep to the village in order to keep direction” wrote Stubbs, “it was found that the village was still being mopped up. The Battalion on getting through the village turned south to get on its objective line where it found elements of 9th Inf. Bde some of whom were reported on the railway, but there was still a good deal of MG opposition”. When the mist lifted, at around 11.00 am, these machine gun positions were quickly dealt with.
Keeping in close touch with the other Regiment’s out in front (King’s Liverpool’s and the Northumberland Fusiliers) Stubbs now moved Battalion HQ forward. By now he had three Company’s along the railway line (running north to south) and one on the left flank, but as the Germans were still in number on the other side of the railway to the south, it made any further movement difficult.
Casualties that day included the Reverend G.C. Danvers M,C., C.F., (above) who had led the famous church service on Easter Sunday 1917 just before the Battle of Arras. He had gone forward with units of Battalion HQ and had been wounded in the process. He had done the same back in March at Wancourt when the great German Offensive broke their line. There he had won himself the Military Cross, his citation recording the bravery of the Battalion's padre: "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in caring for the wounded and collecting and burying the dead, and organising stretcher parties under fire. When owing to heavy casualties amongst them, no bearers were available, he went forward through a heavy barrage dress a man's wounds and thereby saved his life."
The Battalion remained on the western side of the railway until 9.00 pm when it was relived.
On the 18th August 1918, 2nd Suffolk were out of the line in a rest area at Sus-St-Leger. It was a Sunday and day had been like many in the rear areas, with an open air church service in the morning, followed an hour of relaxation, before the Battalion paraded for the presentation of medals by Brigadier-General Porter.
After the General had departed, a period of calm, before the training programme commenced once more in the early evening. The weather was fine at this time. That evening, the recently arrived young officer, Lieutenant P.C. Layard wrote an letter home to his mother.
"Still in rest, but I don't know how long this Elysium will last. I have spent a gloriously lazy afternoon - it being Sunday. I stopped writing this at about 3.15; then I lay on my bed and read to 3.30; then I slept till 4.30; then I couldn't fag to walk 3/4 mile to tea, so I made them, give me some bread and butter and coffee, and I scrambled two eggs myself - and your honey, which isn't finished yet, put the finishing-touch of joy to my tea. It is now 6 p.m. as I write, and when I finish this I shall read "Mary Barton" until 7.30 p.m. when I go to mess."
Layard had served previously with the 4th Battalion and had been wounded on or around the 18th June 1916 in a trench raid in front of the village of Bazentin-le-Petit, and it had taken almost 18 months to recover. Almost two years to the day, he was ordered back tot the front to serve this time with the 2nd Battalion.
Two days later, he wrote again to his mother that "We go into the line to-night, I believe. Our rest has been too lovely and welcome for words. We've had sweltering weather lately, but to-day has been dull, with an occasional drizzle..."
For the 2nd Battalion, a large attack was now imminent and they had been hastily withdrawn from the training camp and placed back in the front line ready for the next big offensive.
In parallel with their colleagues in the 11th Battalion, the 15th Battalion were also participating in the great new offensive.
The 15th (Suffolk Yeomanry) Battalion were a little to the north of the 11th Battalion, still maintaining the same positions they had occupied for some days in the Haversquerke-Amusories defensive line to the east of the village of St. Venant. On the 7th August, a warning order was received as the Adjutant recalled: "On the 7th a warning order was received that the two front line battalions were pushing forward their line in conjunction with the 229 Brigade on our right that we were to prepare to move a moments notice."
In due course, the Battalion moved forward to the village of St. Floris, from where two Companies went into the Haversquerke Line and Battalion HQ was established at 'Home Farm'. "Here we remained for two days" continued the Adjutant "on the evening of the 9th we received orders that the 230th Bde. would take over the whole Divisional front and become Advance Guard Bde." After dark on the 10th August, the Battalion marched our from their positions and from Home Farm to be relived by the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry.
Since their time in Palestine, the 15th Battalion had been a part of the 74th (Dismounted Yeomanry) Division who wore as their insignia on the right sleeve, a broken spur in affectionate remembrance of their mounted past. On the other sleeve, the Battalion wore a diamond shaped patch of Regimental Colours of red and bottle green.
Since mid-June 1918, the 11th Battalion had occupied the front line in the St. Floris sector. Casualties had been slight in July with just 2 Other Ranks killed and 3 wounded, however for all this stagnation, the enemy was still very much active.
The dark days of the March Offensive behind them, the Battalion had been in and out of the line the previous weeks, occupied in much training. The War Diary noted a routine of training and fatigues, intermingled with 'recreational training' Lewis gun drills and 'forming up at night.'
By the 6th August after a farewell Church Parade at the training camp at Linghem, they were back in the line behind the village of La Lacque, north west of Bethune. Upon their arrival, they remained in Divisional Reserve, but all around them, the front line was buzzing with activity. Something was going to happen soon.
The intent training of the previous weeks was the preliminary stage to the next great Allied offensive on the Western Front. Upon arrival in the front line, the brigade bombers had already pushed out on reconnaissance and had established the enemy strength on the left of the village. Soon orders were received for them to move in the early hours of the 8th August into their frontal positions.
"Surplus personnel" were left behind in La Lacque as at 2.ooam, the Battalion moved from the Assembly Point to form and advance guard to the 61st Division. Reports duly came in from the bombers that the enemy appeared to have retired from their positions but they could not accurately confirm this. The Battalion now waited for the order to advance.
At 6.20am, the Battalion set off. "Bn. proceeds 'over the top'" wrote the entry in the Battalion War Diary, "to get in touch with enemy, going through the 2/6th R.Waricks. The lads occupied the enemy front line . Le Sart occupied without resistance at 7.30am. D Coy and A Coy on the right established a line approx. K32 - K27 (map references) C Coy and B Coy on left held line approx. K27 - K28. Loxton Farm was occupied by enemy"
Here the enemy chose to fight. B Company tried unsuccessfully to press forward to take it, but it was hopeless without artillery support. 7 Other Ranks were wounded and despite a supporting barrage that lasted for seven minutes, the enemy held firm. "Touch was kept with the emery throughout the day but he did not retire further. No counter attack by enemy. Active patrolling by all Coys and 2 Coys of the 9/N.F. (Northumberland Fusiliers) who had relieved B and C Coys during the night."
The enemy were still holding their sections of the line between 'Loxton House' and 'Flagon Farm' and there was much movement on the road towards 'Loxton Farm', but just after midnight the Battalion was relieved by 2/8th Worcesters.
The first day of the battle was not one of great glory for the Battalion, but they had continued in a long line of tradition in 'being there' on the first day of yet another great offensive. Here, and along the British front line, the Allies, now well recovered from the hammer blow of the German offensive, started that day in their final great push to defeat the German Armies in the field.
This was the first day of what would be later called the "Battle of the Last Hundred Days" - a campaign where more ground would be taken, more prisoners be captured and more Battle Honours be awarded than in any other campaign in the history of the British Army.
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.