On 30th December 1915, the 9th Battalion were once more back in the front line trenches in the village of St. Jean.
recovering from their heavy casualties of the previous two weeks, a draft had a arrived after Christmas to bring the Battalion up to strength. After spending a relatively quiet Christmas in the town of Poperinghe or "Pop" as the soldiers called it, they were back in the line on the 27th. After a 'relatively quiet' day on the 30th, the Battalion were once more relived. Back in Camp, the Adjutant filled in the War Diary noting "Relief completed without casualties at 8.30pm. Casualties O.R. Killed 1, wounded 2." The one other rank killed that day was Private Last.
15058, Pte Albert Victor Last came from a military family. His father, William, had served with the Welsh Regiment and Albert was born into an Army family in Cardiff in 1897. After his military service, Alberts father returned to his home village of Burgh near Woodbridge and took over the running of the village post office.
When war was declared, Albert enlisted aged just 17. After training at Shoreham near Brighton, he went with the Battalion to France at the end of August 1915. He had only turned 18 some months before.
A victim most probably to artillery fire that day, Albert was buried in the "White House" cemetery at the south west corner of the village, behind the British lines. The photograph above from a local newspaper, reported that Albert was a Signaller in 'D' Company when he died, yet the Commonwealth War Graves commission listings, record him as serving in 'B' Company. Both Company's were in the front line that day. Perhaps we shall never know.
With thanks to the Suffolk Branch WFA Monthly newsletter for the above.
At La Neuvelle on the Somme, Christmas gifts came late to the 8th Battalion of The Suffolk Regiment.
At midday, the different Company's were paraded in order and were requested to hand in the 'old' pattern "Smoke Helmets" and receive instead, the new issue "Tube Helmet."
The 8th Battalion, being at that stage in a quiet section of the line, were amongst the last to receive the new form of protection against gas. Their counterparts; the 9th Battalion, had been issued with them in later November, just in time for the massive phosgene attack that was inflicted upon them at St. Jean on 19th December 1915.
The previous version known as the "Smoke Helmet" or "Hypo" hood, was a single layer of natural undyed flannelette, with a small 3x2' mica window. When worn, it was tucked into the collar of the service dress tunic to stop gas being drawn in when breathing. Although very much a stop gap measure, it served the British Army well on the Western Front for over 7 months for some units whilst the P Type helmet came on-line.
The 'P' Type (seen above) which stood for phenate, was an improvement on the hypo hood. It now had two layers of flannelette and a one was exhaust valve. By gripping a tube between his teeth, the wearer could breath in through the layers of impregnated cloth and breath both through the one way valve. It also featured separate eyepieces which could be replaced where needle without having to discard the helmet as was the case with the mina window of the smoke helmet.
With the wake of the use of the use of phosgene in December, hypo-sulphate was added to the mix with phenate. It would be the new year before all units of the Regiment would receive theirs, with the exception of the 5th out in the Egyptian desert who would not be issued with them of a few months to come.
Boxing Day 1915, found the 9th battalion being sent back into the front line in the village of St. Jean. They had spent a quiet Christmas Day resting, following their ordeal in the phosgene attack the week before. That day also, a draft of 110 other ranks arrived from base, bringing the Battalion back up to strength.
Back in England however, the penultimate Service Battalion to be formed, were making ready for war. The 11th Battalion (The Cambs Suffolks) were spending their Christmas Day at Sutton Verny near Warminster. The CO; Colonel Somerset, who had taken command a month after they were formed at Cambridge and had seen them through their training up in Yorkshire in the spring, and later on Salisbury Plain, in the summer of 1915. The men were in fine spirits.
Late in the autumn, they were informed they were to join the 34th Division under the Command of Major-General Ingouville-Williams, or "Inky Bill" as the men knew him. Ingouville-Williams started his career in the Buffs (3rd of Foot), serving in the Nile Expeditions and later at Khartoum. he served with distinction in the Boer War, being present at the relief of Ladysmith. He was a Brigadier-General at the outbreak of war.
On the 13th December, the Division was mobilised for war, receiving instructions to proceed overseas for service in Egypt. It looked as if they would soon be joining their counterparts in the 5th (T.F.) Battalion to take the fight to the Turk in the desert, but soon there was to be a slight change of plan...
Blown to the floor by an exploding shell in the centre of the village of St. Jean, Second Lieutenant Harvey Frost, looked down at his feet to be greeted by the face of Jesus Christ.
“Head of “Christus” from the way-side Calvary at the entrance to the churchyard at St Jean. This fragment was found lying in the middle of the road after the bombardment during the Gas Attack of December 19th 1915”
The small plaster head of christ, which has been blown from its roadside position, was picked up by Frost who put it into his pocket and kept it with him as a good luck charm for the remainder of his war service.
Frost would later to transfer to No. 5 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, and was later shot down by the famous German ace, Max Immelmann, who later presented him with a souvenir pipe which is also displayed in the Suffolk Regiment Museum.
In December 1915, the 9th (Service) Battalion were holding positions in the village of St. Jean, north-east of the town of Ypres.
On the morning of the 19th, at 5.30am, the Germans launched a gas attack against the Battalion, inflicting upon them for the first time, phosgene gas.
A and B Company's bore the brunt of the initial gas casualties, causing C and half of D Company to be brought up immediately from the positions in reserve, to reinforce the front line. The gas attack which lasted for half an hour, was followed immediately by a heavy bombardment on the front line trenches (which ran through the village). It continued for the remainder of the day.
One young officer in C Company who emerged from the Company HQ that morning was Second Lieutenant Harvey P. Frost. Wearing his macintosh against the cold and his gas helmet as protection against the acrid yellow gas - which rolled through the village, he stepped out to join the fight.
Frost was a prolific collector. Starting from a young age, he'd collected medieval coins, but he also kept all the souvenirs from his First World War service and when he gave them to the Regimental Museum in the 1960s, he annotated each and every item. Today, his pock-marked raincoat is still displayed along with his 'P' type gas helmet that he wore that day.
His caption reads; “My Burberry overcoat, holed by a whiff of shrapnel on emerging from “C” Coy HQ Dugout in the baker’s kiln at St Jean at the commencement of the Gas Attack on December 19th 1915" and “Gas Helmet worn by me during the Gas Attack at St Jean on December 19th 1915”.
But as he exited the dugout, a shell blast threw him to the floor. The next souvenir to his collection lay at his feet...
Upon their evacuation form Gallipoli, the 1/5th Battalion were stationed on the island of Mudros in Portiano Rest Camp.
The first task of the Medical Officer was to establish for the Battalion Commander, the strength of the Battalion.
The stasticics were not good, only 22 officers and 308 other ranks were of a class fit for active service. 23 of these men were graded as Class C (fit for light duties), 242 as Class B (suitable for front line service) and 43 who were Class A (untouched by wound or disease). However the figures were slightly biased in that of those 308, 48 were newly arrived, so that perhaps those who were really Class 1 was just 5 men. It was a far cry from the 1007 officers and men who left Liverpool six months before.
The short rations and scarcity of clean drinking water on the peninsular, made such luxuries as fresh vegetables, eggs and oranges, much welcomed on Mudros. Quietness from the constant boom of guns was perhaps the most difficult thing to get to grips with.
But the quietness was short lived. Just three days after arrival on the island, they were off again to Egypt. They were a long way from the fresh, confident Battalion that had embarked less than four months before, whose confidence was seen in the cartoons of one young officer, Lieutenant H.C. Wolton (above) but like all fighting Battalions, the change was an evolution that would eventually see them achieve victory.
Sydney Fuller, 8th Battalion in his diary, Saturday 11th December 1915:
"My 21st birthday. Packed up early in the morning, and got to Buire about 8.00am. Handed in my bike into the stores and joined C Company"
For the 8th Battalion, the days of early December had been ones of instruction. The Battalion having been in the front line for some months, now took over the training of others in the basics of trench warfare. At Albert on the Somme in late November, the Battalion trained elements of the 16th and 19th Lancashire Fusiliers for periods of 24 hours in trench warfare.
For Sydney, the proceeding days had been ones of deep discomfort in the front line trenches. The onslaught of the winter weather had set-in making the trenches, in Sydney's words "sticky."
He had to draw a pair of gum boots from trench stores to enable him to move along the muddy trenches. His nights were spent in a rainy, leaky dugout, so it was a blessing when on 2nd December, the Battalion was withdrawn and Sydney was detailed as "Cyclist Orderly" running messages between the Battalion and Divisional Headquarters.
His first errand was not altogether that successful for after drawing a cycle from stores. he discovered it had two flat tyres and no pump. He had to walked to Div HQ pushing his bicycle, where after delivering his message, he met a fellow cyclist who lent him a pump to get back to the Battalion.
By the time of his 21st birthday, Sydney had happily returned his cycle to stores and was once more back to his normal role of a signaller.
And so it came to an end. After just four months the 5th Battalion left Gallipoli. Although it had not been there from its beginning, the Dardanelles campaign had cost the 5th Battalion many dead and missing and scores more wounded or ill of disease.
In military terms, the campaign may not have achieved much, but for the 5th Battalion, it was a training ground for the battles that were to come. They had arrived to be forced straight into battle, suffering their largest amount of casualties during the entire campaign. From here, they held the line around one of the most important positions in the peninsular; Hill 60, before finally being withdrawn to the island of Mudros on the 6/7th December 1915.
The Battalion lost its commander within a few days of landing, and many of its officers fell with wounds and disease. A few who came through unsaved, such has Lieutenant Hubert Wolton, were invalided to Malta with extreme heat exhaustion at the height of the campaign. The Battalions Padre and shown such gallantry as to win himself the Military Cross.
Walton's comments upon leaving the peninsular for a period of recuperation in Malta were prophetic "It is absolutely wrong to say that the morale of the Turk is gone. He is a fine fighter.. but our chaps are splendid. During the advance we went along cracking jokes as if we were on peace manoeuvres."
The Battalion would still be fighting the Turk in the months and years that were to follow. Sand would remain in their boots until the wars end, for they would remain in the Middle East until 1918.
In the last few days of November, the 1st Battalion set foot in Macedonia as part of the newly created British Salonika Force (B.S.F.)
In this curious and often overlooked backwater of the war, the British with their French allies, joined a Greek and later Italian force, in assisting their ally Serbia.
The Serbians, who were first to be attacked in the conflict, fought gallantry and became a thorn in the Austro-Hungarian's side. Despite continued attempts to defeat them, the Serbians fought on.
On the Serbians flank was the Bulgarians who held the important buffer zone of the mountainous region between them and the Austro-Hungarians. Bulgarian and Serbia had never been friends in living memory. Two major wars before the outbreak of the Great War had seen Bulgaria victorious and then defeated. Their battle against the Serbs was unfinished business.
In the autumn of 1915, just as the Allies were contemplating their attack at Loos on the Western Front, the combined might of Germany, Austro-Hungary and Bulgaria, attacked Serbia, causing the Serbs to be overrun in a matter of weeks. In a desperate, and altogether late gesture, the Allies mustered an expeditionary force to be sent to the region to bolster the Serbs.
It came altogether too late to prevent Serbia's fall, but did allow what was left of the Serbian armies, to escape into Greece. Behind their withdrawal, the allies established a 'stable' front line against the central powers, though for the majority of the campaign, the main enemy of the Allies would be the Bulgarians.
The front line stretched from the Adriatic in the south to the Struma Valley in the north and for the next three years, the 1st Battalion would linger here in a bitter, hot, dusty fight against the Bulgars. Like Philip of Macedon; killed by his bodyguard in 336BC, many an old Suffolk soldier viewed his new allies with suspicion and just a little caution.
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.