On 17th November 1914, the 4th Battalion, who were newly arrived in France had a solemn duty to perform.
Colonel Frank Garrett; the Commanding Officer of the Battalion, took a detachment of 20 NCOs and men to a Memorial Service in St. Omer for Lord Roberts who had died on November 14th whilst visiting the Indian Brigade in France.
'Bobs' Roberts was a respected and venerated commander. For those older ranks who had served with the Volunteer Company's in South Africa, his passing marked the end of an era. Some saw it as the end of the old world coming to an end. From here onwards, warfare would be very different.
The 4th Battalion (T.F.) had arrived in France on 9th November, joining its counterparts; the 2nd Battalion in taking the fight to the Kaiser. Leaving Southampton on the S.S. Rosetti, they arrived in Le Havre and two days later they found themselves in St. Omer; the General Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force.
The first few days after their arrival in France were a time of swift learning. When the Battalion left England, they were armed with the old 'Long' Lee Enfield rifles. Although converted to charger loading some months before, they were sighted completely differently to the shorter SMLE (Short rifle, Magazine, Lee Enfield) that they were now issued with.
The Adjutant, Captain Cockburn, who was later to become the Chairman of the Suffolk Territorial Association in the 1930s, converted a neighbouring gravel pit into an impromptu rifle range and the men practiced daily in getting their musketry to an acceptable level.
The men were all in fine spirit and ready to go, but they knew that they still had a hard few weeks of intensive training before they were ready for front line service.
News came to the 4th Battalion in early November that it would soon be "on it's way."
For many in the Battalion, the prospect to serve overseas and a chance to have a crack at the Kaiser, was a tempting thought. It came however with one condition.
Active Service overseas could only be possible if a sufficient percentage of the Battalion signed the Imperial Service Obligation. Before the war, the uptake to volunteer had not exactly been successful.
In the 1913 Territorial Force returns for the county, there we just some 38 men and 1 officer, who were prepared to serve overseas if it was demanded of them. The situation had however somewhat changed in the following 18 months and, with the declaration of war and the fighting in France, it was happily noted that "to their everlasting credit, the great majority elected for overseas."
Suddenly the pace quickened. At Severalls, near Colchester; the Battalion's temporary base, they set about getting ready for service. The men, busy with preparations, had precious few spare hours, but when a respite came, many waisted no time in getting into town to get a last photograph taken to send home to their families and loved ones. On 2nd November 1914, Private Fisher (above) did just that.
One of those soon to be departing for France with the Battalion, was a young Lieutenant called J.G. Frere. He had, in the time he had spent in Essex, penned the Regimental Poem "Stabilis" coined from the old watch-word of the 12th Regiment, meaning "Steady." The words of the second verse were particularly poignant at the time in the wake of the Regiment's first major battle:-
A hundred odd years take, and again it's touch and go,
The Suffolks guards the British right not far from Le Cateau,
When, though all hope had vanished, and the shells were falling fast,
They remember the old motto and are "steady" to the last.
Within days, the Battalion would be on their way to war...
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.