"His Lion-Hearted Courage And Pride Of Race Carried Him On To The Supreme End; A Gallant English Gentleman, He Died That The England He Loved So Well Might Rise Triumphant Over An Unscrupulous Foe"
Late on the 9th August 1917, almost 350 men of 7th Suffolk waited in their caves, ready to advance in a co-ordinated raid on the enemy trenches just north of Monchy le Preux near 'Infantry Hill'.
The 'raid' was the first large-scale experiment, which involved men from all Battalions in the Brigade. It had taken much planning and preparation and their consolidation on the battlefield was rehearsed many times behind the lines on a system of dummy trenches using highly detailed aerial photographs of the land they were to cross and that which they were expected to capture.
From first light, the Allied artillery had pounded the German positions in front of the Suffolk lines; the usual precursor to the infantry attack. The front line, was sparsely defended during this time with the majority of the troops concealed in their caves, ready to go when the time was announced.
7th Suffolk vacated their section of line early in the morning, just before the bombardment commenced. The Germans seeming to sense an attack, fire over several gas shells, crippling the last members of the Battalion to leave. Captain L.A.G. Bowen, and 2/Lieutenant A. Green, who were hurriedly pushing men back, were too late to don their respirators and caught a nasty breath of phosgene, which caused them to be hospitalised for several days.
"The bombardment will last 13 1/2 hours and will be intense between Stirup Lane and Bois de Aubepines" wrote the Battalions order for the attack. It continued "Towards the end of the bombardment, during daylight, under barrage of artillery, TM's (trench mortars) and MG's (machine-guns) infantry brigades will send strong parties into the enemy's trenches with a view to killing any survivors, obtaining identifications and destroying dugouts" There was to be no chivalry now in war.
The assaulting troops were to be "dribbled" into position section by section, making every conceivable effort to not alert the enemy to the amassing of troops opposite him. Bayonets were not to be fixed until everyone was in position. The barrage wound continue for another hour and a half after zero hour, when the troops had gone over the top. The barrage would however be held in a box pattern to shield the assaulting waves. The countersign was "whiskey". Despite the ferociousness of the barrage, the wire it was anticipated would not be completely destroyed and for the attack every single man involved carrier a pair of wire cutters into battle.
At 7.45pm, the men advanced and were within minutes filing from their caves out into no-mans-land. The plan was working magnificently. Rifle bombers on the flanks laid down the covering fire, the lewis gunners moved through and the riflemen followed behind. Those on the flanks, as per the plan kept the fire up and soon within minutes, the first prisoners were running through the Suffolk positions.
As the box barrage halted, the German first line was held. As it moved on Captain Morbey stood on the parapet and urged his men forward, a captured German Maxim gun was slung over his shoulder. No sooner had he spoken, a German fighter plane appeared out of the smoke, it's machine guns blazed. Morbey was killed and his Sergeant Major who stood beside him, was badly wounded.
Educated at Soham Grammar School and at Oundle, he was an excellent footballer, being the Captain and Treasurer or the Ilford Wanderers. Relinquishing his job upon the outbreak of war, he enlisted on 20th August and was commissioned the following year. Wounded at Loos, he recovered and returned to the front in July 1916. The Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel F.S. Cooper wrote to his family; "He had led his men in a successful raid in the enemy's trenches, and was returning to our front line, carrying a captured machine-gun, when he was hit; and he died a few minutes afterwards in our trench. He was a splendid Officer, full of courage and devotion to duty. He was very popular with Officers and men, and we shall miss him greatly."
After recuperating, his Sergeant Major wrote also; "I was his Co. Sergeant-Major, and a better Captain I shall never have. He was loved by all the men of his Company, and I miss him terribly. He was a soldier - one of the best."
His old school paid him the following tribute; "Captain Morbey's death was deeply mourned, not only by his relatives, but by many friends in Soham, where he was well known and exceedingly popular. He was of a most amiable disposition, kindness being one of his foremost qualities, and the warm appreciation of his comrades-in-arms was no surprise to those who had seen the manly promise of his boyhood. His soldierly qualities were most pronounced, and on no single occasion did the men under his charge have cause to mistrust him. His lion-hearted courage and pride of race carried him on to the supreme end; a gallant English gentleman, he died that the England he loved so well might rise triumphant over an unscrupulous foe".
With grateful thanks to the Soham Grammar School website for the above information.
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.
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