At 1 am Major Turner, second in command of the 4th Battalion awoke in his billet. He had only his mackintosh and not his greatcoat or waterproof sheet and was bitterly cold. He got up around 3.00 am and went to the cross roads at “Windy Corner” around a quarter of a mile away to wait for the rations to come up for the Battalion. He hoped that his greatcoat would come too.
At 12 noon, the Battalion who were still in billets in the Rue de Berceaux, received orders to move up to the recently taken German trenches in front of the French village of Neuve Chapelle. Although there had been amazing success the previous morning, the enemy’s artillery was still much in force in the area.
Because of this, the Battalion took a circuitous route via several villages to the north, joining the main La Bassee road at the southern end of the village. When the Battalion came within yards of the newly taken positions, they ducked down into the ditches alongside the road.
In order to move from here to the newly gained positions, they had to run out in the open over a period of some twenty yards. The trenches were not deep and the sandbagged emplacements that had been built above aground were only partial with large gaps in between. Rather than risk the entire Battalion, small groups of men were sent forward into the front line in rushes, darting over the exposed ground. Once under cover again, they could skirt up the front line north past the area known as ‘Port Arthur’ and into their new section of front line opposite a raised parvee roadway from the south, behind which was the dark and looming Bois de Biez, which had until the day before, been lined with German artillery.
In their new forward positions, the Battalion waited expectedly. The forward company’s under Majors Turner, Payne and Row, waited expectantly. At 12.45 pm, the advance went in but the Division upon their left made very little progress. Wearing greatcoats against the cold, they carried full equipment with large packs upon their backs. The enemy fire was steady and constant, taking its toll on the Battalion. From the front line trenches, one platoon from each Company advanced first.
This was no mass effort, but a calculated and well planned offensive. By limiting the men that could potentially be lost in the first attack, the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Cruddas, could sent forth further Platoons from the Company’s in the rear as reinforcements to those out in front, should the attack falter.
Out in front, the men reached the raised roadway, and paused below its cover. Only 18 inches off the ground, it did at least afford some protection. Communications via wire and field telephone were unsuccessful, and on their left, it could be seen that the attacking division had floundered and were bogged down in front of the northern edge of the Bois de Biez. At 5.00 pm, the War Diary noted that “no further advance was made” and as dusk descended, the Battalion withdrew back to their front line trenches. Shortly afterwards came an order to retire and return to their billets in the Rue de Berceaux.
Believing this to be ruse-de-guerre (a fake) Major Turner sent a runner back to Brigade HQ behind Port Arthur to confirm that it was indeed genuine. The runner confirmed it was.
It was a second day of disappointments. The failure of their counterparts on the left to advance, had seen them once more being denied the battlefield. The lack of heavy ordnance to pound the front line German positions, and pave the way for a further advance, all added to the failure that day. As the Battalion got back into their billets, the losses of the day soon became apparent.
One officer had been killed, two had been wounded. 19 NCO’s and men had been killed and over 100 had been wounded. It was the first great losses to be incurred by the 4th Battalion since they arrived in France four months before.
One man lost that day was Captain Stephen Garrett. Commissioned into the 1st Volunteer Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment in June 1902, Captain Stephen Garret was the younger brother of Colonel Frank Garrett and heir to the Richard Garrett & Sons Engineering Company in Leiston. He died of wounds he received that day at Neuve Chapelle whilst leading his men into action against the Bois de Biez. Although he was able to be extricated from the fight, his wounds were such that he did later in an impromptu dressing station between Neuve Chapelle and Port Arthur. He was 36 years old and left behind a wife in Eastbourne.
Frank Garrett, his older brother, who had previously commanded the Battalion, and had been invalided home after a complete breakdown in February, never forgave himself for Stephens’s loss. A forward thinker, Stephen had installed electric light at Garrett’s Leiston foundry for the benefit of his workforce, and had brought the first two internal combustion engine lorries, which the company used for deliveries. His would have risen high within the company and taken it onto great things.
Private Todd penned his last diary entry for the Great War; "Went into trenches. 2nd day Neuve Chapelle. Got hit in leg about 1.30 Friday dinner time." For the foreseeable future, Todd's war was over.
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.