Since war was declared, men from the county of Cambridgeshire were being directed to the Depot at Bury St. Edmunds to enlist.
Cambridgeshire had no central administrational centre for it's own regimental affairs and, since it was an exclusively territorial unit, it's permanent staff and instructors were furnished by their sister Regiment in Suffolk.
As the numbers swelled, the Depot informed the Cambridgeshires that it was becoming impracticable to keep sending men onto Bury and it was instead, to make its own arrangements regarding their accommodation.
The Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely Territorial Association were tasked to take on the challenge and to find accommodation for the new recruits. From 5th September, the City’s Corn Exchange was used to billet the men, with locals providing food and drink for them. As the numbers continued to grow, it was becoming clear that even larger premises were needed and on 30th September, Melbourne Place School was used instead to house the recruits.
By 2nd October, strength of the Battalion was reported in the local press at 290 all ranks. Officers were predominantly recent graduates and undergraduates, then at the University. There was still a long way to go to attaining their ‘War Establishment’ strength of 1100 men, but they were well on their way.
Within days, their new uniforms would arrive; a dark blue version of the issue service dress, and within weeks they would be officially titled the 11th (Service) Battalion (Cambridgeshire), The Suffolk Regiment. It was in the loosest sense of the word, a ‘pals’ battalion, with in the early days, an exclusive content from Cambridgeshire.
The prefix of ‘Cambridgeshire’ remained associated with them till the end of their soldiering.
On Tuesday 13th October 1914, Private S.T. Fuller, a new recruit of the 8th (Service) Battalion, noted in his diary; "received my first "uniform" - one of the blue serge suits, - about two sizes too large. I measured 36 inches round the chest - the coat 42 inches. This allowed for quite a lot of future expansion!"
The day before, he had noted that "rifles were issued for the first time to the whole of the men. They were old "Long Lee Enfields" like the ones issued at Shorncliffe. Most of them were minus safety-catches. Mine (No. 155), had an 'odd' bolt."
The photograph left, taken from Fuller's Diary, shows some of his colleagues on the firing range with their newly issued rifles.
On Sunday 11th October 1914, men of C Company, 5th Suffolk - who were then stationed at Colchester, were granted 48 hours leave.
C Company's recruiting ground was the area around Hadleigh and Bildeston and their local paper noted how upon their return to the town, that "one could not fail to be struck with the marked improvement in their physique and their smart soldierly appearance. Their healthy bronzed faces and general alertness showed them to be fit and well."
The Battalion had been stationed at Mile End near Colchester since September. It was here that they were asked to volunteer for service overseas. It came as somewhat of a surprise to some who had assumed that the actual fighting would be confined to the regular battalions, leaving themselves for home defence. However, over 75% volunteered immediately, with almost all of the remainder volunteering in the following days.
With their homes less than 10 miles away, most men wasted no time in getting home for a few hours to see their families and loved ones. Those of the Company who went home, left Hadleigh station on the evening of Monday 13th October to return to Colchester. The station was packed with relatives and well wishers who came to wave them off, and it was noted in the local newspaper that at the station, "fog signals were discharged in their honour" as the train departed.
The Battalion was to remain in Eseex for some weeks to come before they moved to Thetford to train en-masse with their colleagues from Norfolk as part of the 54th (East Anglian) Division.
Whilst the conflict on the continent was occupying the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions, and had brought about the creation of the 7th, 8th and now, 9th Battalions of the 'New Armies,' thousands of miles away, the 1st Battalion still remained on Foreign Service in Khartoum.
The first news that the conflict was larger than feared, was in early September when Major Clifford was recalled to England to become the commanding officer of the much depleted 2nd Battalion.
Much saddened by his loss, the men were joyed when in late September, news came that the Battalion was to return to England to play it's part in the Great European War. The Battalion embarked on 3rd October at Port Sudan and reached Alexandria a few days later. Here 'C' Company joined them from Garrison Duties in Cyprus, and within hours, the entire Battalion; whole again, were steaming for Gibraltar. Now under the command of Major D'Arch Smith, the Battalion arrived in Liverpool on 23rd October and disembarked immediately for Lichfield.
Their time at Lichfield was one of great enthusiasm - of getting up to speed with training, and one of great loss. Five of the Battalion's most senior sergeants received emergency commissions, leaving the Battalion desperately short of senior NCOs. Former sergeants, now newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenants Biggs and Harrison, remained with the Battalion, whilst 2nd Lieutenants Eighteen, Garvey and Mumford went their respective ways to the Ox and Bucks L.I., the Norfolks and the Wiltshires.
It would not be long before the Battalion would be home again in Suffolk; the first time for several years.
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.