By 4.00 am, ‘Z’ Company was reported to be on the other side and in their assembly area south of Knights Bridge. Shortly before 4.30 am, ‘W’ and ‘X’ Company’s moved off but whilst they were in the canal itself, the enemy launched a heavy barrage, causing casualties to these two Company’s in the bed of the canal and on the far bank, but by zero hour (5.20 am) they were both in position alongside ‘Z’ company awaiting the order to advance.
The two other battalions in the Brigade; 1st Gordon Highlanders and 8th King’s Own Royal Lancaster’s (K.O.R.L.) moved off first. ‘Y’ Company was to follow the K.O.R.L. in the south, and shadow them onto their objective which was the village of Ribecourt, whilst ‘Z’ Company in the north, were to follow the Gordon’s and head towards the village of Flesquieres. ‘W’ Company remained in reserve “ready to assist the attack on any part of the Brigade front”. They were to establish a position if possible, in Ravine Avenue, which ran between Havrincourt and Ribecourt, north to Flesquieres.
Considerable fighting was experienced by both ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ Company’s before they got to the Red line (mid-way between the old Hindenburg Line and the Hindenburg Support Line) and the K.O.R.L.s started to become fragmented.
Seeing that a large gap was developing in his sector, the commander of ‘Y’ Company; Lieutenant Cook, decided to split from the K.O.R.L.s and veer right south of the railway towards Ribecourt. “He therefore on his own initiative” wrote the C.O. “moved his company south if the railway and filled this gap and fought his way forward under the barrage to the western outskirts of Ribercourt. He advanced conjointly with a Company of the Royal Fusiliers which had lost all its officers and was very ably commanded by its C.S.M. These two company’s overcame heavy resistance all the way taking many prisoners and established themselves on the brown line, south of the railway”.
‘Z’ Company under Lieutenant Teverson, were up close to the barrage and were by now fighting their way through Flesquiers village and had reached Ravine Avenue Trench on the east of the village where they were halted by heavy enemy fire from Station Avenue Trench about 100 yard in front of them.
‘X’ Company, under the command of Captain Lummis, could by now see that ‘Y’ Company were heading off to fill the gap, and they moved northwards up behind the K.O.R.L.s who were heading towards Flesquieres.
Heavy fighting was encountered around the Hindenburg Support Line (south of the village), but reaching Ravine Avenue, they paused to re-group before digging in just beyond it. Behind them, ‘W’ Company were in the southern end of Ravine Avenue between ‘Z’ in the north and ‘Y’ Company in the south. As the majority of his Battalion were far in front of him, the C.O. Lieutenant-Colonel G.C. Carpenter (above), moved Battalion HQ forward to the crossroads at the west of Flesquieres following the route of ‘Z’ Company’s advance.
“At this time the Battalion was very mixed up” wrote Carpenter “but W. X. and Z Coys. were soon located although I could get no news of Y. Coy. At this time the enemy were still in Scull Support and Station Avenue and Flesquieres-Ribecourt road and vicinity was under M.G. and artillery fire. I then ordered Z. Coy. to clear Skull Support and station Avenue and try and get in touch with the Guards in Beet Trench”.
Carpenter believed that ‘Y’ Company were still complete and with the K.O.R.L.s out in front, but it was not until their C.O. appeared at Battalion HQ, that he learnt how scattered they were. Carpenter then issued verbal orders to him that he was consolidate his company in Station Avenue Trench. Battalion HQ was moved once more in the afternoon, to a new position at the crossroads west of Flesquieres.
Late in the afternoon, orders were received at Battalion HQ to move forward and consolidate Kaiser Support Trench with two Company’s and keep the other two back in Ravine Avenue. Later that evening, the Gordons relieved ‘Z’ Company out in front at 7.30pm.
Carpenter wrote later “It is difficult to estimate captures but several hundred prisoners were taken, one field battery and about 50 M.G. The material however is not inclusive to this Battalion owing to the mix up of units. The attack was carried out with very great dash and determination by all ranks who all pressed on irrespective of who they were with after they had lost their platoons. I am forwarding a list of recommendations for gallantry, but I wish to give special prominence to the very fine leadership and initiative shown by 2nd Lieut. Cook, Captain Lummis and 2nd Lieut. Teverson. I think these three Coys. played a very large part in the capture of the Brown Line. They were quite out of my command from zero and had to act entirely on their own”.
Image courtesy: The Adam Park Project (www.adamparkproject.com)
On 26th September 1918, 2nd Suffolk were positioned in a sunken lane on the west bank of the Canal du Nord. At 3.45am the following morning (27th) ‘Y’ Company moved off to cross the canal. “The bed of the canal was dry” noted the Regimental History “with steep bricked sides, which could only be negotiated with the help of ladders, and during the night, it was decided that this obstacle should be crossed before zero hour”.
Cannon William Lummis, then Lieutenant Lummis, was commanding 'X' Company. He recalled the preparations "The orders were that the Battalion was to be in position on the west side of the canal and cross at Zero hour. All the Company Commanders were strongly of the opinion that this was a mistake and liable to lead to disaster. Immediately the enemy realised it there would be a barrage of shells and m.g. bullets into the canal and near it, making it difficult and perhaps impossible to cross to the other side. We advocate that we should cross before Zero and line up on the opposite bank where there would be cover as well as giving a good starting point."
Agreeing to this, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Carpenter, ordered the first two Companies crossed into the canal. Unfortunately, just as Lummis was moving forward with his, the third Company, Zero hour came and down came with it the Allied artillery barrage. Within a minute came the counter barrage from the enemy.
“I got over with mu H.Q., but on looking back saw to my dismay that none of the rest of my Company had followed. In spite of the shells dropping into the canal and machine-gun fire C.S.M. Wiggett went back and brought the four platoons over, together with my only subaltern – 2nd Lieutenant Hunt, of the Hunts Cyclists – who was in the rear of the company. My men were mostly transfers from the South Staffords with 6 months service. Very good fellows, but it was their first taste of being in action. Also Hunt had only recently joined from England and had seen no service.”
For the 5th Battalion, awards came rapidly for their actions at 'Observation Hill'.
A Military Cross, a Distinguished Conduct Medal and eight Military Medals were awarded for the attack. For the Battalion Commander; Lieutenant-Colonel William Campbell, he added a Distinguished Service order to the Military Cross he had been awarded from his gallant escape from captivity in Germany the previous March. He also, as a token of esteem, was awarded the order of the Nile (3rd Class).
Perhaps however the finest honour bestowed upon not only the 5th Battalion, but the county of Suffolk as a whole, was the joint honour bestowed upon the Commander-in-Chief of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Allenby.
The victor of the Middle East campaign, Sir Edmund Allenby was promoted Field Marshal in 1919, and given a peerage. As 1st Viscount Allenby he was given later that year, the official title of "Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe in the County of Suffolk".
The whole county was pleased of such an association and after his death in 1935, the town erected a memorial garden in his honour. Though he maintained no great link with his titled town, it was a signal honour felt most proudest by those of the 5th Battalion who has served under him in the desert campaigns. Though the majority of 5th Suffolk men came from the south-west of the county (Hadleigh, Sudbury, Haverhill), all felt proud that such an honour had been bestowed upon their county.
Image courtesy: National Portrait Gallery
On 19th September 1918, the last major offensive by the British Army in the Middle East began; the Battle of Megiddo.
For 5th Suffolk, their principal task in the overall battle was attack and occupy ‘Observation Hill’ - a rocky outcrop, a lofty 650 metres above sea level. It was 1800 yards in front of the British lines. The hill was of such strategic importance since it commanded an uninterrupted view of the country around. However the route of the Battalion’s advance was not a straight forward one.
First, the Battalion had to advance down into a 500ft. deep ravine that ran 800 yards in front of their line. Then, up the other side for a further 800 yards, before they assembled, for the final attack upon the Turkish lines. To complete such an operation in daylight would have been difficult enough, but to perform such a task at night and in complete silence, was a tall order. To compound this, the Turkish front line was on a rocky lip about 400 yards short of the actual hill itself.
“The general attack on the whole front was timed to commence at 4.30 a.m.” wrote a commentator, “The moon was 4 days before full and consequently set at about 2.30 a.m. At 11.30 p.m, on the 18thSeptember the Battalion moved out from their bivouacs under cover of two strong patrols picking up Lewis guns, bombs etc. which had been dumped by the “nucleus” just inside our wire.”
“Scrambling down these rock sin the moonlight and attempting to move quietly was no easy work especially as it was advisable to avoid certain points which had been registered by the enemy’s artillery as night lines. However the deployment along a line previously marked with a broad white tape, and with wires leading to each flank was successfully carried out, and zero hour was impatiently awaited.”
With split second precision timing, at around three seconds to zero, the boom of heavy guns was heard and the Allied artillery was pounding the Turkish positions on the lip of the hill opposite. “The enemy’s lines were bombarded from Jaffa to Jericho and at the same moment the advance commenced.”
Five minutes later, the first Suffolk patrols went into action. Lieutenant G.G. Oliver at once rushed the Turkish frontal positions and secured them with little loss. The majority of wounds being caused by the dense plantation of cactus trees that the Turks had planted to supplement their meagre defences.
“The order of advance was not strictly in accordance with any drill book” wrote a commentator in 1924. As their guns thundered overhead, B Company, under the command of Captain Fox entered the ravine, followed immediately by C Company under Captain Kilner MC, and D Company under Captain Maris. “By this time the whole ravine was filled with smoke and dust and direction was most difficult to maintain.”
Now came the final advance. At the point of the bayonet B Company and D Company passed through and after scrambling up the rocks and pausing briefly to catch their breath, they pressed on and took the Turkish positions. C Company made a flank attack and caused a great many of the enemy to surrender, and many reinforcements being sent to bolster the positions, turned and fled. The whole attack had taken just over 25 minutes, with only the loss of 2 officers and 5 other ranks killed. 1 officer and 28 other ranks were wounded.
On the morning of the 18th September after a few days in reserve, the 15th (Suffolk Yeomanry) Battalion attacked once more towards the village of Templeux le Gerrard.
Heading for the “Green” line, ‘B’ Company were on the right, ‘C’ Company on the left, behind were ‘A’ and ‘D’. In a change of the tactics of previous Battalions in previous battles, all four Company’s were committed to the assault, with no reserve. Two platoons at a time, the leading Company’s advanced to the right of the village of Templeux le Gerrard, The advance was swift and well executed, though thick mist covered the ground. The moppers-up in ‘D’ Company kept up close with the assaulting Company’s to ensure that any enemy that remained, were taken quickly.
“Being entirely successful” wrote the War Diary “enemy surrender without much resistance but MGs nests held out determinedly. Dense fog, direction difficult to keep”. Within two hours the first object had been taken and consolidation began. Over 300 prisoners had been taken along with 30 machine guns.
The following days were spent in salvage collecting and the administration of prisoners. Called to support an further advance by the 10th Buffs on the 21st, the remaining days of September were in support or being called up to act as moppers-up for other Battalions advancing. Heavy enemy shelling caused nearly one hundred casualties, during their period in the line here.
Trooper M.H. Rushbrook was one of the casualties of the advance towards Epehy, dying of wound received on 17th September. As No. 320112, Mapes Harry Rushbrook was one of just a handful of men still serving with the Battalion who had landed at Gallipoli almost three years before (as No. 1617). Born at Witton, Norfolk, he enlisted at Hasketon. he remained with the Regiment until 1918 (when he was renumbered as 320112). Buried at Bronfay Farm Cemetery, he had been a domestic groom at Redisham Hall near Beccles before the war.
Image courtesy: Norfolk County Archives
“Letters Received From His Officers, Praise His Efficiency As A Soldier And His Death Is Much Regretted”
Onwards from Templeux la Fosse, the 15th Battalion continued their advance on 6th September.
At 4.00 am the advance continued again and in the dark night, the yellow line was finally reached and “occupied without opposition except from a few snipers”. Leaving the reserve Battalion, here, the Battalion pressed once more now aiming for the Red line. Less than an hour after the attack commenced, they had occupied it with a “few casualties.” remaining where they were until late afternoon, by which time, the reserve battalion had come up.
At around 4.00 pm, the advanced continued and by 5.00pm, they had reached their final objective. Immediately getting the men to consolidate, the C.O. pressed on with a personal reconnaissance, and established that the right-hand flank now looked virtually undefended. Passing this infomation back, 231 Brigade passed through them early the following morning advancing unopposed towards Epehy.
Their going was however slower than the Battalion’s the previous day, for they came across a maze of old and disused trenches and wire, with the ground much churned up by shell fire.
One of those killed as the advance continued was Trooper John Davey. He had been a member of the Loyal Suffolk Hussars since 1917, though he appears to have served before in the Regiment. He had not been drafted to join them in the Middle East but was killed on 6th September when the Battalion were advancing towards Epehy. The Bury Free Press noted of him that “Letters received from his officers, praise his efficiency as a soldier and his death is much regretted”.
In early September, the 15th Battalion found itself plunged for the first time, into a major battle on the Western Front.
Having been kept in reserve in the vicinity of “Hind Leg Wood" until the 3rd September, when they were moved into "Scutari Trench" to support 229 Brigade in the forthcoming attack.
On the 5th September, an attack was launched against the enemy between Templeux La Fosse and Curlu Wood in front of the village of Epehy. Two Company’s were moved up, with two remaining along the canal in Moislains.
“At 9.30 am the situation changed” recorded the War Diary, “and on receipt of a Bde Order, the Bn. was ordered to side-step behind 231 Bde, and take over from them on the southern half of the Div’n front”. At 11.30 am the attack began, but it was not until 1.15 pm that the Battalion moved off. “The advance on the 1st objective (Blue Line) was begun. The Bn. Passed through the 231 Bde, and pushed on. On approaching Larris trench, very heavy shell fire was experienced and met with a maze of barbed wire, causing a good deal of confusion”.
Larris Trench was occupied around 4.00 pm, and after the reserve Company’s came forward, the two leading Company’s pressed on and continued with the advance. Pressing onto their objective; the ‘Yellow’ line, “the whole of the line came under very heavy H.E. fire from the right causing a number of casualties in the leading coys. Shelling, H.E. and gas was also very heavy”.
However, running out of steam, the advance was slowing and the yellow line was not reached. The men were exhausted and suffering from the effects of an enemy gas attack. “The men were very tired” wrote the War Diary, “and wanted water badly." The C.O. decided to consolidate on line about 400 yards short of yellow line and try again after dark.
On the relatively few casualties incurred by the Battalion that day, was No. 320836, Private Bernard Mann. The son of Mr and Mrs Joseph Mann of Clapham Road, Lowestoft, he was killed on 5th September 1918 when the Battalion was attacking Templeux la Fosse. A Lewis gunner by trade, he was killed by shrapnel in the advance. He had previously been wounded during the advance to Jerusalem in November 1917. His officer wrote to his family “He did excellent work during our last engagement and his loss is keenly regretted by all of us”.
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.