Kitchener’s New Armies were gathering pace both in training and in spirit, but arms and equipment were still not forthcoming.
By late September, those men of the 7th Battalion, who were to form part of the first New Army, known as K1, received as far a possible the last remaining stocks of khaki serge from Depots and stores. The 8th Battalion, who were to form part of the second New Army (K2) were by the end of October, clothed in the simplified ‘Kitchener Blue’ uniform and in parallel, the 9th Battalion who were part of third New Army (K3) were dressed the same. By the time the 11th (Cambridgeshire) Battalion were issued uniforms, as part of fourth New Army (K4) they were issued with uniforms of the same style as traditional service dress but in dark blue cloth. Khaki would still not arrive for at least another few months but at least they men were all dressed alike.
Rifles were is short supply. Old antiquated Japanese Arisaka’s were pressed into service with the 2/5th Battalion, then based at Newmarket, whilst units of the 2/6th Battalion at Ipswich received Martini-Henry rifles from the 1880s.
Equipment too was a problem. The two manufactures of cotton webbing; the Mills Equipment Company and M. Wright and Sons, were flat out, producing their quota of 20,000 sets per week but with over a million men now under arms (and most still housed under canvas), it would be several months before enough sets could be issued to all recruits.
In desperation, the War Department turned to Britain’s leather industry which had become largely redundant when it came to military equipment to help them through the crisis. The result was the '1914 Pattern' leather equipment, which took attributes of the 1908 webbing equipment and the older 1888 buff leather equipment to make a 'stopgap' set that would serve the army well throughout the conflict.
Originally it was issued in a variety of shades and finishes. The 11th Battalion were issued theirs in unvarnished natural leather, and quite often incomplete. The 7th got their belts came first, with the other pieces arriving later. Thus on 31st December 1914, an Army Council instruction decreed that all sets of leather equipment would henceforth be dyed an even shade of 'London Brown.'
The photograph above of Private Fred Borley from Tostock, is a clear indication of the equipment shortfalls of late 1914. He was yet to receive a bayonet, entrenching tool or waterbottle. His rifle has no sling but at least his uniform is khaki. The tunic being the newly introduced 'simplified' pattern; designed to cut back on expensive manufacturing. Fred’s mottled and incomplete appearance was typical of the many new recruits into the Suffolk Regiment at this time.
In addition to the ludicrous Gor Blimey cap, the Army had other immediate clothing issues for it's men in the front line.
British industry was flat out trying to mill as much khaki serge as it could for service dress. The slightly heavier weight cloth required for greatcoats was also in great demand. However, it was ruled that service dress came first and greatcoats would have to come second. Therefore a quicker and cheaper alternative to a woollen greatcoat had to be found quickly - until supply could be be restored.
The solution was found in France to manufacture cheap animal skin jerkins and jackets from goatskin. The French Army ate goat meat so skins were readily plentiful. Thus, the B.E.F. placed contracts with the local inhabitants to 'run-up' these urgently needed winter garments for the men at the front.
Remarkably effective, they were both warm and comfortable. They could be worn without restricting movement and they were often worn on top of greatcoats by those lucky enough to have them. When soaked and sodden with rain, they became heavy and retained the smell of a wet dog. The smokey atmosphere of a trench brazier stuck to the fur as well earning these garments the nickname of 'stinkers'
The winter of 1914-15 was one of the coldest on record.
In an attempt to ensure that the men at the front received as much protection from the elements as possible, the Army designed a new form of service dress cap. Designed to be worn firstly as a cap, but when required, as a balaclava as well.
Thus in mid-November 1914, the first 'Caps, Winter Service Dress' began to be issued to the men of the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Regiment's.
Unsightly in their appearance, they were a complete break-away from the traditionally smart style of headdress worn by the British Army till that time. Hugely disliked by many of the recruits of Kitcheners New Armies, who had the misfortune to be issued with them, they marked one out as a 'newbie.' Quickly this novel form of headdress became known as the 'Gor Blimey' due it was said, to the exclamation of the first Sergeant-Major who saw one on parade for the first time.
By March of 1915, their manufacture had ceased and they became limited to being issued only to troops proceeding overseas. For No. 2633 Private George Sutton (above) who enlisted in the Cambridgeshire regiment in November 1914, he was issued with just such a cap. The Army had a problem too regarding the rest of it's winter clothing...
Christmas Day dawned just like any other for the men of the 2nd and 4th Battalions in the front line on the continent.
A routine of trench duties had begun some months before when static warfare began. Luckily enough for the 2nd Battalion, Christmas Day saw them in billets in the Belgian village of Westoutre.
At home, the 3rd Battalion were having a slightly more festive time. After breakfast, the entire Battalion, then some 800 strong, marched behind the Band of the Battalion to a church parade at St. John’s Church, Felixstowe.
At lunchtime, the CO; Lieutenant-Colonel Massey-Lloyd, accompanyied by his second in command, Major F.S. Cooper, toured the dining halls of 'C,' 'K,' 'L,' 'O' and 'R' Company’s, before paying a visit to the newly created Suffolk Soldiers Rest Home in the town (above) where two of it's inhabitants were recovering from wounds received at Le Cateau.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was the presentation to Mrs Massey-Lloyd of a diamond and gold brooch in the style of the Crest of the Regiment by the Warrant Officers and Sergeants of the Battalion. After Dinner, the message from H.M. the King was read aloud to all ranks. “It evoked a very hearty outburst of loyalty and devotion from everyone" wrote the Bury Press, "the predominant note being one of absolute confidence in ultimate and complete victory.”
The sentiment for victory was still there after five months of being in the back foot. The men hoped that 1915 might bring them victory.
At La Quinque Rue on 22nd December, Captain (Temporary Major) W.O. Cautley of the 3rd Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for conspicuous gallantry. It was one of the first in a series of awards for gallantry to be awarded to the Regiment over the forthcoming four years of conflict.
William Oxenden Cautley originally joined the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment (Cambs-Suffolk) in 1894. He received in 1897, a commission with the 3rd (King's Own) Hussars, serving briefly with them until the outbreak of the Boer War.
Requesting a transfer back to his old unit in 1900, thinking that they would be sent to South Africa, frustratingly, they were sent instead to the Channel Islands and to Alderney, to be placed on Garrison Duties for the duration of the fighting. Cautley remained with 3rd Suffolk though the Haldane reforms of 1908-09 being on the reserve list in August of 1914 when War was declared.
Rejoining the Colours, he was granted the honourary rank of Major and for a short while, he was in charge of the fort at Landguard near Felixstowe. Volunteering for service overseas, he left the Battalion in October for France, being first attached to the Royal Sussex Regiment, and then later to the 1st Battalion, the Northamptonshire Regiment; who had lost many of their officers during the fierce early battles of 1914.
Throughout the rest of 1914, Major Cautley saw a great deal of severe fighting. His Company of the Northampton's distinguished themselves greatly during the furious German attack on the night of 22 Dec., around their section of front line trench near Givenchy.
Following the action, a Special Brigade Order was issued by General C. B. Westmacott. It read as follows: "The Brigadier-General desires to take this opportunity of congratulating D Coy., 1st Battn. Northamptonshire Regt., on its gallant and steady behaviour during the action of 22 Dec. The manner in which, under the command of Major Cautley, of the 3rd Battn. Suffolk Regt., it resisted the counter German attack, and the steadiness with which it finally withdrew in face of superior numbers and eventually occupied a position in the rear to cover the gap made in the line was worthy of all praise."
A keen amateur cricketer, Cautley was mentioned in Wisden that he was as "A very fair fast-medium bowler of his day; a very unsafe, though at times a brilliant, field; has no idea of batting; handicapped much by ill-health.”
Cautley would see out 1914, but would his luck hold in the New Year...
As Christmas approached, the men of the 9th (Service) Battalion still resided at Shoreham-on-Sea.
The last days of October saw a deluge of heavy rain causing the tented encampment to flood dramatically. The rain continued for several days causing the mens morale to plummet. The planned wooden huts that were slowly cropping up across the camp were kicked up a gear to get the men undercover fro the winter.
Writing home to his family, Ned Goodchild from Grundisburgh wrote; "I expect we are going into the huts on Sunday, they have nearly done them now. We have had some rough weather here lately, and it is very hard getting about here now. We shall be alright in the huts."
As the men moved into partially completed huts, they tried to dry out, but the continual rain and the never-disappearing mud, meant that drastic action had to be taken. In mid-December the decision was taken to move the Battalion from Shoreham to Brighton, some ten miles away.
The government realised that it was essential to keep the morale of this new citizen army high, and putting them into civilian accommodation for a week or two whist their camp was completed, was a sound idea and the hotels, guest houses and homes of Brighton opened their arms to these broad-speaking Suffolk men. Ned Goodchild wrote home of his new accommodation; "three of us, we have a nice bedroom to ourselves, a chest of drawers for our clothes … not so much mud here as at Shoreham! we can walk about clean and dry."
The officers faired well too, being billeted in the seafront "Hollywood Hotel" where they could early in the mornings, parade the men on the sea front promenade and march them to the nearby "Preston Park" for their daily lectures and training.
Leave was now in the offering and the men awaited their turn to spend a few days at home with their families.
The New Year would bring travel, adventure and tragedy.
At 2.45am on 14th December 1914, the 2nd Battalion marched out from their billets in the village of Kemmel, to wait in Brigade Reserve to support a joint Anglo-French attack that was planned for later that morning.
At 8.00 am after a massive British and French artillery bombardment, the 8th Brigade; The Gordon Highlanders to the right, the Royal Scots to the left, attacked the German trenches along the high ground south of a small wood known as 'Petit-Bois' It's commanding position on the battlefield ensured that the Germans had a 'birds eye view' over the British-held section of the line.
The Royals Scots succeeded in capturing a large section of German trench to the west of Petit-Bois and captured almost 40 prisoners including an officer. But the morning's action was not without considerable loss; 6 officers and 160 other ranks. The Gordon Highlanders, faired much worse. They were unable to reach the German trench on the right flank and suffered the loss of 7 officers and 253 other ranks. The French who were supposed to attack on the left, and thus divert attention from the main attack, did not advance, thus escalating the British casualties to the south. As the situation grew worse, and the attackers were running out of steam, late in the afternoon, 2nd Suffolk were called up to support the Royal Scots.
'A' Company, under the command of Captain Temple, went forward to relieve the Royal Scots in the portion of German trench they had recently captured. Around 4.50pm, Captain Temple, moving from one section of the trench to another, was shot in the head. He fell back into the arms of Private Gibons; his batman, who was standing immediately behind him. Gibons would, in tragic quirk of fate, be killed in the exact same spot the following day. It was a sudden wake up call to the dangers of enemy snipers.
Arthur Hilliard Williams Temple was born on 12th January 1875 at Thorpe Morieux, Suffolk. Educated at King's School, Canterbury and later at Ely, he was gazetted into the 1st Battalion in 1898, and joined the Battalion in Malta. He served with them throughout the South African War, latterly commanding the 28th Company, Mounted Infantry. In the years following the Boer War, he served on secondment to the King's African Rifles in Somaliland, and was posted to the 2nd Battalion in India upon his return from Africa in 1904. He was promoted to the rank of Captain in April 1905, and later in 1909, was appointed Adjutant of the newly created 5th (Territorial) Battalion. Retiring in February 1913, he remained on the Reserve List of officers and, in 1914 when war was declared, he was called back to the Colours, and crossed to France with the Expeditionary Force following the Battle of Le Cateau.
A soldier of his Company wrote the following his death to Captain Temple's sister:-
"It was in the trenches that we lost our beloved Captain Temple. He was loved and respected by all, those who served with him in South Africa and in this campaign. The kindness he showed our company when they came from the trenches, sodden wet through, giving us new socks and other articles of clothing which his wife had sent out to him for his company, we shall never forget. I have seen him when meeting refugees put his hand in his pocket and assist them. No one knew what he gave. He did not believe in show.
A shell burst in the trenches in which I was lying, and the Captain came up and enquired if anyone was hurt. His cheery remarks always gave us inspiration, and when word was passed round that he was wounded, and subsequently that he had died, there was grief among all-officers and men. He was fearless, brave and self-sacrificing under all condition, and was never satisfied until he had done his very best for all. He will be missed by all who came in contact with him."
The Regimental Gazette of 1916 noted that Captain Temple's grave lie in a meadow near Kemmel 'marked by a wooden cross, with his name, Regiment and rank' Sadly his grave was subsequently lost to the heavy fighting that the 'Salient' around Ypres was to experience in the years to come. Today, he is remembered on the Memorial to the Missing at the Menin Gate, in the Belgian town of Ypres.
The month of December opened with a formal parade for the men of the 2nd Battalion.
In the rear of the front lines at Scherpenburg near Westoutre, the newly arrived CO; Lieutenant-Colonel H.F.H. Clifford, paraded the entire Battalion for an inspection by the Corps Commander; General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien.
Two days later, the Battalion again were designated to act as a guard of Honour, but this time it was for none other than His Majesty, King George V.
The Battalion completely lined the Locre-Scherpenburg road as the King travelled past in his motor car accompanied by General Smith-Dorrien and the Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Bowes. Later the King visited the Scherpenburg Hill which although behind the Allied line, gave a good view of the front line and the enemy positions which beyond it to the south of the Belgian town of Ypres.
After the King departed, the Battalion left to march to Kemmel to take over front line trenches from the Royal Scots. The routine of trench warfare and all that it entailed, had well and truly begun.
When the 4th Battalion arrived in France, it’s Adjutant, Captain Cockburn was shocked to see that it has brought with it a fair number of younger soldiers.
In 1914, for the Regular British Army, and it’s Territorial Force counterparts, you had to be a minimum of 19 years old to serve overseas. For many younger members of the Battalion who had joined the Territorial Force at its creation in 1908 as young drummer boys and musicians, they now faced a dilemma. They were not of an age to go overseas, but they didn't want to miss the big show.
Thus, in the evening before the Battalion was due to sail from Southampton, as the Adjutant and the individual Company Commanders completed the last of their embarkation paperwork, many young members of the Battalion ‘celebrated’ their 19th birthday's. In the morning, they would wake, aged 19 and ready to serve overseas with the Battalion.
In those patriotic days of 1914, and with the thought that they must get some action in before it might be too late, many a Company Clerk turned a blind eye to such falsifications on the men’s forms. The Battalion was like many in the Territorial Force one of friends, family and work colleagues, and nothing would stop them not serving together in the forthcoming fight. Later on, such things would be strictly enforced and administered.
However, in France, these youthful men were an asset to the Battalion. With training underway to learn the new tactics and equipment of a modern war, these eager young men learnt quickly. They carried none of the traits of an old soldier and threw themselves wholeheartedly into all they were asked to do. As December came and the first of the cold weather descended, not even this could dampen their spirits. For the ‘old sweats’ who'd seen it all before, there was much grumbling but it was nothing new - old soldiers always groused about something!
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.