“The advance continued to the final objective in perfect formation the light now being good; positions in diamond formation were easily maintained” wrote the report in the War Diary, “the final objective was taken in a rush under the barrage except on the extreme left by Zonnebeke church where the morass coming out of the lake crossed the village and formed a serious obstacle.”
As the barrage passed the church, an enemy machine-gun barked into life. With covering fire given by Lieutenant Davall and a party of Lewis gunners, Lieutenant Harrison and a section of ‘X’ Company rushed the position and with skilful use of rifle-fired Hales Grenades; two of which were fired directly though the positions loophole, the position was silenced.
Consolidation began shortly after 8.30am. ‘Y’ Company on the right, along the ‘Blue’ line by the lake. ‘W’ Company on the right in support around the brick kiln. ‘X’ Company on the left around the church and along the lake near the ‘Blue’ line. ‘Z’ Company were in reserve along the ‘Red line. On the right, ‘Y’ Company were in contact with the Australians.
Close to ‘Anzac’ a position on the right flank, Battalion HQ was established. The Adjutant, Captain ‘Val’ Russell, got the Battalion Flag fixed up outside the remains of the dug-out so that the Signallers and the Runners could see where it had been established. “A number of the enemy feigned death” wrote the after-action report, “but on no occasion did they have an opportunity of doing damage. Mopping up was complete and good.”
That evening, the Germans launched a counter-attack, but the Battalions new positions were such that “the Support companies were able to deliver murderous fire into it from L.G. (Lewis guns) and rifles while it was forming up, and during the counter attack.” The German attack was mostly confused with a large proportion of their first wave, veering off course and ending up in the lake. The day was one of success” as the War Diary modestly stated: “The Battalion took part in an attack east of Ypres, gaining all its objectives, complete success.”
Valuable lessons were learnt after the attack. It was established that the 170 rounds of ammunition that the men carried (120 in their pouches, 50 in an additional bandolier) was sufficient for such a size of attack, however it was estimated that almost 16000 rounds were fired during the enemy’s counterattack that evening (even though that approx., 16-20 rounds per man). Bomb supplies were insufficient, although rifle-firing Hales grenades were more effective than Mills Bombs and it was recommend to increase the supply of sandbags from two per man to four.
The training of the new form of movement certainly paid off. “Well worth the time spent and would continue to use it in all similar operations” wrote the CO, adding that “the leading sections should be extended so as to completely cover the front with a view to aiding direction.”
At 1.00am on 26th September 1917, at the same time as their counterparts in the 4th Battalion were attacking along the Pilkem Ridge, 2nd Suffolk assembled in the forward areas for their forthcoming attack against the village of Zonnebeke in Belgium.
The new CO, Lieut.-Col. J.L. Likeman, who had taken over from Lieut.-Col. G.C. Stubbs in July, organised that the men got as far forward as possible so that they would have the least distance to travel in the final advance. Marching through the remains of the Menin Gate, they arrived in positions near Hanebeck Wood, where they hated before the final short distance to their assembly trenches. The stores and supplies needed to continue the advance were also brought as far forward as possible by GS Wagon and ‘Maltese Cart’, and when they would eventually be required, they were close at hand for use.
“The creeping barrage was excellent in every way” wrote the after-action report “and no improvement can be suggested.” The advance began at 5.50am in thick mist where inevitably, a certain amount of confusion occurred. As in the past, the Battalion was advancing too quickly and soon they became mixed with other Battalions on the flanks. On the left, confusion was multiplied by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers veering right into the Suffolks left Company. Quickly this was spotted and their route was corrected. Touch was maintained with the Australians on the opposite flank, but the time a message was received for them to continue the advance with 2nd Suffolk, they had already started to consolidate at the ‘Muhle’ line. 2nd Suffolk therefore continued on advancing with the barrage alone.
However, the Battalion too were starting to veer off course as the CO later wrote; “It was found at this juncture that the Battalion was moving left incline and the Company Commanders of the leading companies with great skill effected a half right wheel which brought them square to their front” It was a brilliant piece of battlefield manoeuvring that put them back on track.
Captain Murray-Walker, commanding ‘W’ Company was already wounded, and his Second-in-Command, 2/Lieutenant Major, performed the right wheel to keep the Company on course. Just past the ‘Muhle’ line, a conference was held with the Suffolks and the King’s Own Royal Lancaster’s, who had come up in the Battalions rear. Here, they organised the Lancaster’s consolidation along this ‘Muhle’ line and the Battalion pressed on. The Australians remained where they were.
Soon the ‘Red’ line close to the village, was reached and the mist began to dissipate. The ruins of Zonnebeke church and the lake could be seen and the brickyard and its kiln were just in front. Seizing the initiative, the leading Company (‘W’) rushed the yard and captured it. Consolidation began and the barrage continued onwards. As the barrage halted at the ‘Red’ line, a quick reorganisation of the jumbled Companies began before they pressed onwards to their final objective.
He Preferred To Sit Leaning Up Against A Broken Bit Of Concrete Looking Like A Sphinx With Shells Falling All Around Him"
The CO of 4th Suffolk, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Charles Copeman, watched the chaos and the slaughter from a pill-box in which the Middlesex had made their Battalion HQ.
He knew what was left of his men who hadn’t fled, his were being slaughtered out in front and he didn’t want to be away from them; “The ‘Old Man’” wrote Gibbs, “didn’t like being sociable so he would not even visit them (the Middlesex HQ) let alone take a few minutes refuge. He preferred to sit leaning up against a broken bit of concrete looking like a sphinx with shells falling all around him. There is no doubt that it gave him satisfaction to feel and to show he could stick more than anyone else. Anyhow, it pleased him when I said I was going to spend a few minutes in the Middlesex dug-out to pull myself together ‘I am staying here’ he said. “The suns come out.”
At noon, the Suffolks at the strong-point were on the verge of retiring, when elements of 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers passed through their positions. Here an orderly arrived from Battalion HQ to request them to remain and hold this position, which they did.
As the day wore on, the CO tried to establish contact with his platoon commanders. Several platoons had not gone forward past ‘Lone House’ and had remained in the numerous shell holes around ‘Verbeek Farm’ Some had under heavy fire, retired close to ‘Glencorse Wood’ where they had remained, not knowing where Battalion HQ was. A tank had run out of petrol near the Middlesex pill-box, and for the want of a few gallons it could have turned the tide of the battle. As the light was failing, Gibbs toured the frontal positions as safely as he could, to see what could be done to further the advance. Every wrecked pill-box he came across was crammed with wounded and no-one could come out to get them.
It was again, not a day of success for the Battalion. The weather and the extreme enemy shelling were certainly contributing factors to their lack of success, but found had been taken. Some sighted that Copeman’s poor leadership was to blame and that there were too many inexperienced officers in the leading platoons; a view that Gibbs later shared; “I do not blame anyone from running away, it was more than many people could have endured” but there is something that can never excuse running away of you leave men behind. Officers did this and they showed how the standard of officer had fallen since the Somme took so many of our best".
“We Both Had Charmed Lives. The CO’s Revolver Took One Piece Of Shell That Would Have Killed Him And I Got A Clod In The Back That Knocked Me Down, And That Was All"
At 5.30 am, 4th Suffolk who were standing ready on the parapet in their line, had to take cover due to the increased enemy barrage.
4th Suffolk's advance was delayed for almost 15 minutes due to the Battalion on the left not being ready. When they finally set-off, it was 5.40am.
By 5.45am the Battalion was able to go but by then the “Shelling became intense” as noted the War Diary “and heavy casualties were suffered".
In desperation to get his men going, the CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Copeman, decided that starting on the left flank, he would send one platoon at a time forward from the two frontal Company’s. Colonel Copeman, walked along the parapet with the Adjutant, Captain C.C.S. Gibbs, in an attempt to steer the men in the right direction. It was a gallant, but risky initiative. “The heavy shelling, thick mist and darkness caused confusion” wrote the Gibbs in the War Diary, “and it was impossible for the men to keep in touch but platoon rushes were made and some platoon made progress.” In his own words, written after the war he elaborated; “When dawn came things did not pan out as they should have done if the generals had had their way, First no-one was ready except ourselves. The Middlesex had lost their way and arrived an hour late, the other battalion got quite lost and never did arrive at all. Our barrage opened as planned and immediately the enemy put down a counter barrage of such intensity that its effect was quite unimaginable.”
The officer of the second platoon on the left was wounded and so the message to go, failed at that point. Other platoons got up from the parapet and went forward without command. It was like High Wood 13 months before, all was turning to chaos.
“The small fragments that moved forward did well” continued the War Diary, “they reached a line running north and south-west east of Lone House, and the next line, Black Watch Corner-Carlisle House, appearing unoccupied, they, after communicating with 4th King’s Regt., moved into it and did not have any casualties till they reached it from snipers of a force to the right front, who looked at one time as if they would turn them out.”
Captain Lake, commanding ‘D’ Company, with about 20 men from a number of platoons, made progress and reached the German line near ‘Black Watch Corner’ in a final rush. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued during which Lake was shot through the wrist. Captain Scrimgeour commanding ‘B’ Company pushed on valiantly and had advanced far enough to be out of the harm of the enemys barrage, but it soon became clear that with no support on the flanks, any further advance was futile. A strong-point which had held up the advance of 4th King’s, was overrun by 4th Suffolk with the result that 2 machineguns and 11 prisoners were taken. 2 prisoners had already been taken in their final advance to the German front line. They yielded valuable information.
The CO went forward in the wake of the last platoon as Gibbs recalled; “We both had charmed lives. The CO’s revolver took one piece of shell that would have killed him and I got a clod in the back that knocked me down, and that was all. In fifteen minutes, one regrets to record ther were only two officers left with their men.”
At 10.45am, when he moved Battalion HQ forward close to Fitzclarence Farm. A fair number of his men were over 500 yards in front and soon, but several men and either shelter close in shell holes or had in some cases, run back through the rear positions as Gibbs later wrote; “The rest had simply run away and were found in the transport lines two days later, some being court-martialled. Half the men had gone similarly and most of the rest were dead. In one place where there was a small piece of unbroken trench I found six men leaning against the side in life-like positions but quite dead and quite untouched. The detonation of a shell had killed them simply by blast.” Soon too, the first of wounded were filtering back past Battalion HQ.
Out in front, 4th Suffolk hung on valiantly. Further advance to Carlisle Farm was now pointless in view of the terrain and the weather. The units on the flanks had gone to ground and communications were not yet established with Battalion Headquarters. Runners were bravely running the gauntlet of fire to get messages back. The men went to ground in whatever cover they could find.
On 25th September 1917, 4th Suffolk were in front line positions to the east of ‘Clapham Junction’ along the Menin Road to the east of the Belgian town of Ypres. They occupied a section of the front line that ran between ‘Glencorse Wood’ in the north, and ‘Inverness Copse' in the south.
At around 7.00pm, the CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Copeman was called away to a conference at Brigade HQ where he received orders to attack as soon as possible in co-operation with 5th Scottish Rifles (Cameronians) to relieve 1st Middlesex and 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who were holding a section of the front line thought to be between ‘Lone House’ and ‘Verbeek Farm’. He was to move his Battalion into positions near ‘Fitzclarence Farm’ from where they would advance as soon as possible.
Fitzclarence Farm was a name only. It had long since been destroyed by enemy fire. Only an old German concrete dug-out remained. Within its two rooms, the CO found many wounded from previous attacks and the F.O.O. (Forward Officer Observation) who was trying in the failing light to see what was happening out in front. The CO used the F.O.O.'s binoculars to view the area across which he was to travel between ‘Black Watch Corner’ in the north and ‘Carlisle Farm’ in the south and beyond, to ‘Lone House.’
Just before midnight, the CO made contact with 5th Cameronians south of Glencorse Wood. Lieutenant-Colonel Copeman had already been to their positions around an hour before, but had fond their CO not there. On the way back, he met him coming back from near ‘Black Watch Corner’ and they started to plan for the forthcoming attack. Copeman informed him that he would be ready to attack at 2.00am, but in the following minutes, the situation changed.
However, “the situation rapidly became worse” wrote the War Diary “the moon was gone and the shelling more regular, and a thick mist rose (or fell). About 3.30am orders or permission to advance were given if O.C. 4th Suffolks would be responsible for the whole of the 1st Middlesex and 2nd A. & S. Hrs front”
This was a big ask of the Battalion. It would involve them being spread more thinly over the line of advance which fanned out from 250 yards between ‘Verbeek Farm’ and ‘Lone House’ to over 500 yards between ‘Black Watch Corner’ and Carlisle Farm’. Whilst he was deciding, around one and three-quarters Companies of 5th Cameronians arrived from Glencorse Wood and it seemed that now with these additional men, the attack could now proceed along the lines of the original plan.
However more “terrible delays occurred” to push back the start time of the attack. Communications between the Suffolk Companies was difficult due to the terrain and the mist. Start times were fixed, only to be delayed, and in the meantime, the enemy’s shelling became a full barrage.
Since 9th July, 2nd Suffolk had been commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J.L. Lineman.
The old CO; Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Stubbs had been appointed an instructor at the School for Senior Officers at Aldershot and had departed in early July. Stubbs had gained valuable knowledge during his front line service and it was that knowledge that the Army were keen to impress upon its officers. He had pressed hard to leave his desk job as a staff officer and managed to get command of the Battalion he was first commissioned into when it needed a new CO. Reluctantly, he accepted the position, knowing that he would have to leave his beloved 'Suffolk' and his men, though, he would return to command them again during the last year of the war.
The new 'Old Man' was a "gentleman ranker". He had worked his way up from the ranks starting his Army career in 1898, just before the Boer War. John Longhurst Likeman enlisted into the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers and went with the Battalion to South Africa in 1899, taking part in the actions at Colenso, Spion Kop and later the Relief of Ladysmith. Remaining in Africa after peace was signed, he transferred to a job as a Quartermaster in Transvaal Repatriation Department, before in 1904, accepting a job in the British East African Police, where he was given the rank of Inspector.
Leaving the African Police in 1908 her returned home and was married. At the end of the year, John and his new wife, started their journey to Australia for a new life down under. Though the years in-between are unknown, he must have joined the Australian Army around 1914 and most probably came with them to Europe in 1915. His Inspector rank in the Police and previous service in the British Army most probably enabled a swift commission. He was to lead the Battalion through a tough, but successful time over the summer and winter of 1917.
On 21st September 1917, the Ipswich Evening Star published the news that a man of the Borough had been awarded the Military Medal for actions in France in the previous weeks.
The ninth of twelve children, James Jordan was born in Ipswich in 1888 and after a start as a sanitary dray labourer with the local council, he decided that the Army was for him and in 1907 enlisted into the Suffolk Regiment.
After initial training at Bury St. Edmunds, Woolwich and on Salisbury Plain, he embarked with the 1st Battalion for Malta on the 'SS Dongola' in 1908. A keen swimmer, he was a member of the Pioneer Platoon, being good with both chisel, axe and a sewing needle.
He returned home in 1914, a few months after war was declared and with the rest of the Battalion, he embarked for France in the cold January of 1915.
Wounded by shrapnel in late April 1915, his wound was most probably a blessing for him for, within a fortnight, virtually all of his Battalion had been either killed, wounded or captured when the Battalion's positions along the Frezenberg Ridge were overrun on the afternoon of 8th May.
After a complete recovery, Jim was posted to the 2nd Battalion in July and therefore avoided being sent to Macedonia with his old Battalion at the end of 1915. Wounded a second time, this time after convalescing, he joined the 7th Battalion, and was in action with them on the Somme and later at Arras in the spring of 1917.
It was some time during this campaign that Jim won the Military Medal and was wounded for a third time. In the weeks that were to follow, he would recover and again return to the fight. His Battalion would be in action again soon, but would his luck hold?
With grateful thanks to Dave Keevil for the above clipping and autobiography of his relative, James Jordan MM.
In early September 1917, Company Sergeant Major J.J. French of 1/5th Suffolk was promoted to acting Regimental Sergeant Major of the Battalion.
His promotion had been in recognition of the gallant leadership he had displayed at the Second Battle of Gaza, earlier that year, when he had been Mentioned-in-Dispatches. When the R.S.M. fell ill, French assumed the position.
Though John James French was not a regular soldier, his entire adult life had been connected with the volunteer movement. Born in 1871 in Hackney, East London, he had by 1901, moved to Sudbury in Suffolk where he and his wife Rose, were living at the Freemasons Hall. Soon after coming to Suffolk, he joined his local company of rifle volunteers; 'D' Company of 2nd (Volunteer) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, but was just too late to join the draft the Town sent to South Africa for service in the Boer War. French was however, most active in weekend parades and shooting days, when he could afford the time away from his job as a stationary manager for a large printing works in the town.
French was a crack shot and his skilful use with a rifle was recognised in October 1910, when he was presented with a handsome silver cigarette case from the 'Sudbury Territorial Shooting Committee'. The case would be carried by him throughout the Great War and can be seen today, somewhat battered and scratched, in the Suffolk Regiment Museum.
Being of such seniority, when the 5th (Territorial Force) Battalion was created in 1908, as a result of the Haldane Reforms, he was allotted an early service number of '108'. French went with the Battalion to Gallipoli, landing there with them in August 1915.
He would continue to show much gallantry being awarded further awards before the end of the war.
"A Giant Czeck Whose Notions Of Squad Drill Were Somewhat Bizarre And Whose Practice Of Bayonet Fighting Was Unorthodox And Very Blood-Curdling"
As the good weather of the English summer drew to a close, at Felixstowe another batch of recruits were being moulded into shape by the 3rd Battalion. Once young officer who had been commissioned into the Suffolk Regiment in April 1917, was training his daft for overseas service which it had been highlighted would be imminent.
"On 26th April 1917" wrote Victor Farmer "I became a temporary gentleman and a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Reserve Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, in Felixstowe, Suffolk. As newly gazetted subalterns" he continues "we were put under the direct command of the Adjutant, but, apart fromm one or two swsultory Adjutants Parades, we were soon given routine duties. I was attached to 'C' Company under Captain Ellis, and later, Captain Campbell who had successfully escaped from a prisoner of War Camp in Germany. My duties were mainly those of recruit training. During my first few months at Felixstowe the Battalion increased in numbers to about 3,ooo men, most conscripted soldiers but containing men who had been on an active front, had been wounded or otherwise made unfit and were sent to us for re-training."
Joining straight from school, Victor Farmer has been a member of the Artist's Rifles before he was given "leave pending commission" in early 1917. He had been posted first to an officer Cadet Battalion at Gidea Park in London, before receiving his commission in the Suffolks. His rag-tag bag of recruits came form all walks of life.
The 'Military Service Act' of March 1916, saw the drafting into the forces of all able-bodied, unmarried men between 18 and 41 years old. Included in this were former refugees who had become nationalised citizens as Victor found; "Amongst the recruits in my Company was a giant Czeck with white hair and whiskers whose notions of squad drill were somewhat bizarre and whose practice of bayonet fighting was unorthodox and very blood-curdling. He professed to a great hatred of the Germans, and a desire to get into the fighting line as soon as possible" However such enthusiasm came with some shaky consequences, as Farmer soon discovered. "One day my sergeant, who shared a billet with this man, told me that in the evenings he talked to the soldiers, and suggested strongly to them that they should disobey their officers and take things into their own hands. I passed this news onto the Major who was Second in Command to the Battalion and shortly afterwards he was taken from the billet and I never hear of him again"
For Victor, he would remain at Felixstowe until early October, seeing numerous German air raids on the nearby air station and just over the estuary at Harwich, the naval dockyard where a light cruiser squadron was based. On countless occasions in September, they would be turned out of their barracks on the cliffs and sent to positions of safety along the railway line but one bomb did fall close as he later recalled; "We experienced other air raids, but the nearest I got to a German bomb was when one fell into the sea about fifty yards off shore and fifty yards from the pier."
The training continued.
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.