Around 5.00 am on the 26th, the 9th Battalion were ordered to leave the positions they had dug during the night and fall back some 600 yards to the German second line, which they had passed over the previous night.
Here they remained and awaited orders. At 11.25am, Lieutenant-Colonel Brettell received down the line, a hand written order that they were to advance at 11.00am. Clearly late on the start, he rallied the Battalion immediately and ordered the advance. “Without hesitation each section mounted the parapet and began pushing forward under heavy artillery fire towards the objective of the previous evening.” The situation was however, one of chaos. The immediate departure had not allowed platoon commanders to keep an eye on their advancing men. It was impossible to organise the line since many platoons had rushed on ahead, only to be caught in the hail of shrapnel fire. Brettell shouted orders but to no avail. The Suffolk line was becoming fragmented and dispersed. “A” and “C” Company’s on the left had raced ahead, leaving “B” and D” on the right, lagging behind. The men had advance over a great distance, but were absolutely exhausted. The War Diary noted that a decision was made to ditch the men’s packs and these were taken off. One can only assume that the first 600 yards were completed with large packs upon their backs. No mean feat to advance at a rush for this distance, for an unfit, citizen battalion carrying everything that they had been issued with.
Packs ditched, the advance continued. At around 5.00pm when the leading Company’s were astride the Hulluch-Lens road, heavy enemy fire caused a second halt. Such was the ferocity of the fire on the right, the majority of which was coming from the area of “Chalk Pit Wood’ which
was still in enemy hands, that the Company’s here began to retire. On the left too, men were falling back. Heavy enfilading fire was reported from the area south of Hulluch and with the CO and his Adjutant, Captain Hedges, now wounded, a retreat was ordered back to the German second line - the spot from where they had begun their attack from that morning. Until the very last minute, a sergeant on the right flank kept a couple of the Battalions machine guns in action and rallied the men around him, Though wounded twice, Sergeant Saunders’ actions ensured that the majority of the Battalion could retire under covering fire. When the situation was hopeless, Saunders rallied the survivors and retired. His actions had temporarily, halted the enemy advance.
At around 7.00pm, what remained of the Battalion, which amounted to just 3 officers and 100 men, now under the command of Captain Packard, started to consolidate the old German second line against attack. The parados was raised and the parapet lowered. Around 8.00pm, Captain Packard also received news from another group of Suffolks who had survived the attack. A group of men under the command of Lieutenant Church were in another section of the German line to the north.
Another day had passed in the history of the Suffolk Regiment - one that had gained the Regiment that most coveted of accolades; A Victoria Cross.
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.