On 26th August, the 11th Suffolk attacked towards the German trenches that ran north to south in front of the German fortified position around Malakhoff Farm, just northwest of the village of Hargicourt.
The front line had been advanced earlier that year around 'Cologne Farm' to the south and a small factory in between. A precipitous sap had been dug due north to connect the line with the Hargicourt –Bony road. However the use of this trench, nicknamed ‘Redan Lane’ was dangerous as movement was observed from the still heavily defended system of trenches around Malakhoff Farm to the east.
A defensive perimeter had been dug by the Germans in front of the farm, known as ‘Malakhoff Trench’ and behind it, a redan of two further trenches sealed its ruins on three sides. It was this section of line that the Battalion had been ordered to take and hold, linking up with other units to the north in ‘Rifle Pit Trench’ and to the south in ‘Sugar Trench.’
At 1.00am on the morning of the 26th August; three years to the day that the 2nd Battalion had fought so gallantly at Le Cateau, the Battalion moved into position. By 2.30am, the Battalion was ready, but the wind was howling and the men were ‘very cold before starting off.’
At 4.30am the attack commenced. ‘A’ Company on the left, ‘B’ in the centre and ‘D’ Company on the right. ‘A’ Company advanced well and found that ‘Rifle Pit’ trench was unoccupied. In the centre and to the right, the enemy were well dug in and large in number. At the junction between ‘Malakhoff Trench’ and ‘Sugar Trench’ there was tough fighting. The war diary noted that “There was hand to hand fighting and bombing, the machine gun here caused a few casualties but the crew were soon killed. The second wave pushed on to find the objective.”
‘Triangle Trench’ to the southeast was strongly defended, but the Company Commander, Captain Wright, decided to seize the initiative and press on to capture it. He was successful, but not before two of his platoon commanders; 2/Lieutenant’s Cavaliero and Gentle, had been wounded. Over 30 prisoners were taken and consolidation began.
'B' Company in the centre, under the command of Captain Sheepshanks, made ‘Malakhoff Trench' and pressed on beyond it into the ruins of the farm. The going was tough above ground, rubble, uneven tracks and numerous shell holes caused the men to slip and slide in the muddy conditions. 'Malakhoff Support Trench' which lay beyond the ruins was reached, but the forward platoons were taking fire from both the north and the south. To make the position safer and to press onwards, the bombers now came to the fore to start their work.
The drill was now enacted. A bombing section, under the command of Lance Corporal Day, halted and bombs were lobbed over. In the smoke of the explosion, the party went forward, covered by riflemen. For 30 yards they pressed on, until north of the farm ruins they halted at the junction of 'Malakhoff’ and ‘Malakhoff Support’ Trenches, just south of the Bony road.
As they paused and took care of the wounded, Day pressed on alone, ken to make contact with their neighbours on the left flank, Running the gauntlet of fire over the above-ground area along the road, he reached the other side and was soon in contact with elements of the 16th Royal Scots on the left flank.
After he had relayed the message that they were in position on the other side of the gap he returned to start back to the Suffolk positions. Upon reaching the other side of the road, no sooner had he got his breath to tell his officer of the link-up, when a German stick grenade landed just inches from his feet. Day instinctively seized the grenade and hurled it back over the parapet where it immediately exploded. His gallant actions undoubtedly saved the lives of the men around him.
It was clear that the enemy were still very close and their forward position would become untenable unless they were supported. In an attempt to silence the enemy who must have been just yards from them, Day took a party of bombers south along ‘Malakhoff Trench’ to see if he could get around behind them.
Finding a small, disused German sap, he was able to get into a position from where they could lob bombs into the enemy’s frontal positions. Here, with six other men, he was to remain for a staggering sixty-six hours, harassing the enemy, until with all bombs gone, and fearing a retreat, reinforcements finally arrived to relieve them.
For 11th Suffolk, the day was a success. Objectives had been taken and initiative had been seen. Co-operation within units was excellent and although casualties were heavy, the farm was finally in Allied hands and 11th Suffolk had an unrestricted view down the valley to the east; the first time they had commanded the high ground here since they arrived.
The battle would continue, but the actions of ‘B’ Company, and in particular, those of Lance Corporal Day and his bombing section, were pivotal in the line being advanced and held. For his gallantry in those difficult hours, he was to receive the second, and final, Victoria Cross awarded to a soldier of the Suffolk 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.
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