As the Kaiserschlacht continued, it was now the time for the 7th Battalion to join the fight. To the southwest, behind the town of Albert on the Somme battlefields, the Battalion, now came into the battle.
On 26th March they were rushed forward to form a defensive line to the east of Albert. By mid-morning the Germans looked set to advance and take their positions. They could be seen swarming down the western slopes of Tara Hill and the CO decided that a general retirement should be made. Within the space of an hour, the Germans had bypassed the town to the south and were now being stopped by 'A' Company on the west of the town along the Amiens Road. 'B' Company on their left, close to the railway station reported that the enemy were coming on in heavy waves, and that their position was becoming precarious. With their Lewis gun teams out of action, the German snipers caused terrible casualties. The situation was ‘obscure’ but by 6.00pm, it was clear that the Germans had by now obtained a strong footing to the north and had enveloped the town. A large attack around 6.00pm pushed 'C' Company back some 200 yards, where they dug in along the railway. Though as darkness descended the enemies fire rescinded, it was clear that at first light another large-scale attack would be launched upon them. They readied themselves.
In an attempt to stem the tide, a counter-attack was launched on their old positions in darkness at 11.00pm. They were successful in regaining their old ground, but it left a dangerous salient for them to occupy. Enemy patrols throughout the night were repulsed and at first light a large-scale attack was made by the 9th Division on the Battalion's right. The line held...temporarily.
By the March Offensive, good long standing NCOs with previous experience were few in number. Four years of war had robbed the Army of its old campaigners and Third Ypres took what was left. By early 1918, very few were left. In 7th Suffolk, the Kaiserschlacht robbed the Regiment of a great NCO. On the 27th March 1918, Company Sergeant Major William Bates.
Born in Enfield, Middlesex, No. 5373, Private William Bates enlisted into the Suffolk Regiment in August 1899 and within months, saw himself leaving for service with the 1st Battalion in South Africa during the Boer War. His terms of service ended in 1911 and William left the Army at the rank of Corporal.
In 1914, he re-enlisted at Hertford and was immediately given back his old number and shipped off to Shorncliffe at Folkestone, to start training recruits in the newly formed 7th Battalion. Going with the Battalion to France in 1915, when he was by then a Sergeant, he went all through until he was killed on 27th March 1918 fighting a desperate rear guard action behind the town of Albert. 250 men were killed, wounded or missing.
In the photograph above, the small child in the front is William's youngest child, Herbert. His grandson recalled in 2017 that “I remember as a small child a pocket watch pinned to my grandad’s wall (Herbert) which was William’s. It was broken and was never repaired. The time it stopped was apparently the time he was killed.”
William was most probably buried, but his grave was almost certainly lost in a subsequent action. The fact that his youngest child had his pocket watch, infers that his personal effects were sent home to his family.
With grateful thanks to the Ipswich War Memorial and Cenotaph website for the above information on William.
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.