The days of the 2nd/3rd October were not ones of success for the 1st Battalion at Loss - unlike those of their counterparts in the 9th Battalion just a few days before.
The Battalion, which had been in the Ypres Salient until three weeks before, were still going through a process of rebuilding following their costly battles at Frezenberg and Bellewarde in May but, with the failure of the British offensive at Loos, they were rushed hurriedly into this sector and almost immediately pushed into a desperate attack again a heavily fortified German position named the "Hohenzollern Redoubt."
On the morning of the 1st October, an order was received to proceed to the front line support trenches in front of the ‘Hohenzollern Redoubt’ to cover an attack being made by 1st Welsh and 2nd Cheshires. This defensive ‘redoubt’ was made up of a series of trenches around an old coal pit, known as ‘Fosse 8’ with the two western trenches being affectionately known as ‘Little Willie’ and ‘Big Willie.’ Attacks were made by each unit of the 28th Division in turn, all meeting with little or no success. Soon the Battalion knew, it would be their turn.
On that afternoon, Lieutenant Parsons and Owen, took 70 men from B Company to the area in front of ‘Big Willie’ trench to support an attack by the Northumberland Fusiliers. At around 10.00am, Battalion Headquarters, complete with the CO; Lieutenant-Colonel White, arrived with A Company in an complex of British trenches known as the ‘Central Keep’ C and D Company’s remained in support trenches to the rear, whilst B company moved up to support A Company.
They were however not called to advance that afternoon following the Fusiliers unsuccessful attack that morning and shortly after lunch, Major Sinclair- Wilson went to the dugout that housed Battalion headquarters where he received his orders to attack ‘Little Willie’ trench that evening at 8.30pm.
The 1st Welsh who had attacked earlier that day had been driven out and it was now decided that 1st Suffolk would attack again at sunset. The time was chose so that reinforcements and supplies could be brought up as quick as possible in the darkness that followed. Wishing to find out what confronted them. The C.O and 2IC went down the line to a sap, where they could crawl forward and view the trench through their binoculars. Satisfied that they knew the lay of the land, they returned from their reconnaissance at about 4.30pm.
Back at Battalion HQ, the orderly clerk wrote out the Operational Orders complete with very basic sketch maps for distribution to each of the four Company commanders. Within half an hour, they were ready and the orders were issued shortly after 5.00pm.
As the attacking Company’s moved up for their rear line positions, they came upon trenches clogged with the dead and wounded of the morning’s attack. Despite their best efforts, the men, carrying picks, shovels and bombs in boxes, just couldn’t get through the jam. Progress was so slow that by 7.30pm, none of the attacking Company’s were even in the front line. Some were still stuck in clogged communication trenches many yards behind the line. One Company Commander sent word back by a hand written message in a chain from man to man to ask that in view of this chaos, whether the attack could be postponed for two hours (it would now commence at 10.30pm) so as to give him time to get up to the front line. His request was granted.
But as darkness descended, the chaos got worse as men bumped into one another in an effort to keep moving. The darkness was so black that men had to hold onto the straps of the pack of the man in front for direction. By10.00pm, the situation was starting to get out of hand. Again word was sent back for a further postponement to the attack. In desperation, Brigade HQ granted an further hour and a half, making the attack now scheduled for midnight.
By now the element of surprise was slipping away. Noisy clanking and much swearing and chatter in the chaos, caused the enemy to prepare itself for an attack that they knew would shortly come.
By 11.50pm, just one Company - A Company, were in position ready for the attack. The others, though close behind were almost there. One Platoon Commander in A Company could not even be found - Lieutenant Gales was lost amidst the chaos. In his place, the Platoon Sergeant assumed command of the Platoon. The CO was still not happy and using a telephone in a front line dug out, he asked Brigade HQ for a further postponement. A curt reply was received in the negative and he was forced with greatly reduced numbers, to attack as soon as possible.
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.