Whilst one Suffolk Battalion had gone over in the first wave of the attack, another stood by in reserve in case they were called upon.
The day had dawned early for Sydney Fuller and his chums in 8th Suffolk. At 2.15am they were roused and issued with an additional 50 rounds of .303 ammunition in a bandolier and two extra Mills bombs which were stuffed into trouser pockets. The final tell tale sign that something 'big' was on that day was the tot of rum issued by the CSM at 5.30am.
The artillery had been pounding the German positions all of the night. As the dawn broke at around 4.15am, the artillery fire quickened. The dawn brought a fog that enveloped the Suffolk positions and settled on no mans land. The Germans, sensing that an attack might be imminent, began at first light to rake the fog with machine gun fire. At 7.30am, the fog lifted and Fuller noted "Our men went over. We being in reserve, stood to and awaited orders."
Fuller, as a Battalion Signaller was far to the right of the Suffolk position in a sap just out into no-man-land. From her he could see the French advancing near Maricourt, their "bayonet glittering in the sunshine" It was not long before the first of the walking wounded and prisoners began to appear in the Suffolk lines. "Smiling cheerfully at the prospect of a spell away from all this" wrote Fuller, then the prisoner emerged, as many as 20 at a time. Most bore the shoulder straps of I.R.190, I.R. 62 and I.R. 6. "
At 10.45am, the failure of the battle was evident and 8th Suffolk received orders to move up. The Brigade was held up infant of a redoubt and the Queen's Own Royal West Kent's were making no progress. 8th Suffolk were move to the rear of their positions and stand by. Moving out into the recently gained ground in a spread-out "Artillery Formation" the casualties began. An order was given to "Open Order" and spread out further, which did much to reduce the casualties; the majority of the shells and bullets firing in to the gaps between the men.
Keen to reach the safety of a trench, the men jumped down into a front line trench in the wrong position. No sooner were they in under cover, than they had to vacate the trench an mount the parapet again to get into a nearby communication trench. "We were greeted with a storm of enemy bullets, and had to get across in short rushes, lying down for a few seconds, rushing a few yards, down again, and so on until we reached Princes Street. We were now near our original front line, and immediately we got out of our trench and started across the open to the proper one, we were greeted with a storm of enemy bullets and had to get across in short rushes - lying down for a few seconds, rushing a few yards, down again, and so on before we reached Princes Street."
The fire was immense and Fuller was hit my several shards of shrapnel that took chunks out of his steel helmet. A fellow comrade was shot eight times through the buttocks as he lye low in a shell hole. A German sniper made a concerted effort to shoot at his exposed body, yet despite this he still made the front line.
In the early afternoon, the enemy shelling decreased, allowing 8th Suffolk to move along the line to the left into a section that had been shelled continuously since early morning. "We passed along one of those "assembly" trenches. It had been heavily shelled by the enemy, apparently during the morning. Several of our men were lying dead in it, killed by the enemy's shells. In one place a man was kneeling, as if in prayer, his hands covering his face. Lying in the trench behind was another man, face downwards, half buried in the earth thrown into the trench by the shells. A short distance away was another man sitting on the fire-step buried to the knees, and looking as if he had been suddenly turned to stone. A little further along the trench I slipped on something, and looking down saw a piece of a man's backbone, and pieces of flesh strewn about the trench. Hanging down from the parapet, in the corner of the traverse, was a mass of entrails, already swarming with flies. And so on, here and there, along the trench, wherever shells had dropped in."
As afternoon wore into evening, the enemy retracted its heavy guns and shelling became more spasmodic. The Royal Engineers came forward to cut through the wire and obstacles to get a road as close to the front as possible. Still the wounded and prisoners came on, but now in fewer numbers as the day came to an end. News gradually filtered through that the allies had taken Montauban and Mametz that morning, so there was some call for celebration that the attack as far as 8th Suffolk could see in their sector, was partially successful.
As the night turned "fairly quiet" the Battalion snatched what sleep they could. Tomorrow they would move forward into the newly won ground. Was the day theirs? perhaps not in their eyes, but their sector had been one of the few success stories in a day marred with defeat for others.
It was however, the beginning of a long road that would eventually lead to an allied victory.
(I.R. = Infantry Regiment)
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.