At 1.00am on 26th September 1917, at the same time as their counterparts in the 4th Battalion were attacking along the Pilkem Ridge, 2nd Suffolk assembled in the forward areas for their forthcoming attack against the village of Zonnebeke in Belgium.
The new CO, Lieut.-Col. J.L. Likeman, who had taken over from Lieut.-Col. G.C. Stubbs in July, organised that the men got as far forward as possible so that they would have the least distance to travel in the final advance. Marching through the remains of the Menin Gate, they arrived in positions near Hanebeck Wood, where they hated before the final short distance to their assembly trenches. The stores and supplies needed to continue the advance were also brought as far forward as possible by GS Wagon and ‘Maltese Cart’, and when they would eventually be required, they were close at hand for use.
“The creeping barrage was excellent in every way” wrote the after-action report “and no improvement can be suggested.” The advance began at 5.50am in thick mist where inevitably, a certain amount of confusion occurred. As in the past, the Battalion was advancing too quickly and soon they became mixed with other Battalions on the flanks. On the left, confusion was multiplied by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers veering right into the Suffolks left Company. Quickly this was spotted and their route was corrected. Touch was maintained with the Australians on the opposite flank, but the time a message was received for them to continue the advance with 2nd Suffolk, they had already started to consolidate at the ‘Muhle’ line. 2nd Suffolk therefore continued on advancing with the barrage alone.
However, the Battalion too were starting to veer off course as the CO later wrote; “It was found at this juncture that the Battalion was moving left incline and the Company Commanders of the leading companies with great skill effected a half right wheel which brought them square to their front” It was a brilliant piece of battlefield manoeuvring that put them back on track.
Captain Murray-Walker, commanding ‘W’ Company was already wounded, and his Second-in-Command, 2/Lieutenant Major, performed the right wheel to keep the Company on course. Just past the ‘Muhle’ line, a conference was held with the Suffolks and the King’s Own Royal Lancaster’s, who had come up in the Battalions rear. Here, they organised the Lancaster’s consolidation along this ‘Muhle’ line and the Battalion pressed on. The Australians remained where they were.
Soon the ‘Red’ line close to the village, was reached and the mist began to dissipate. The ruins of Zonnebeke church and the lake could be seen and the brickyard and its kiln were just in front. Seizing the initiative, the leading Company (‘W’) rushed the yard and captured it. Consolidation began and the barrage continued onwards. As the barrage halted at the ‘Red’ line, a quick reorganisation of the jumbled Companies began before they pressed onwards to their final objective.
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.