On the night of the 5/6th May 1917, 12th Suffolk; the Bantams, were in the front line close to the French village of Villiers-Plouich, about 15 miles south of the town of Cambrai.
That night the Battalion were to participate in a trench raid against the enemy trenches opposite near the hamlet of La Vacquerie. The morning and most of the afternoon had been spent relatively quiet, but in the still darkness, the men awaited the artillery barrage that was the precursor to their advance.
At 11.00pm, the barrage erupted and 'A' and 'D' Company's setting off to follow it across no-mans-land. No sooner had they advanced, than heavy enemy machinegun fire erupted from their front line. Leading 'A' Company forward, Captain Crump, was wounded in the thigh and foot and had to be evacuated by stretcher. Pressing onwards, 'D' Company also suffered heavily from enemy grenades. They had come up against a new form of wire entanglement that could not be cut with the cutters that they had. Like sitting ducks, they crouched behind it in whatever cover was available, but as they were within striking distance of the German front line, its occupants hurled grenade and grenade at them, causing terrible casualties.
Whilst the bulk of 'D' Company were held up by this wire, a party managed to find a gap to the right that had been cut by the artillery barrage, and pressed onwards to the German front line. Sergeant Lovell and a party of some 7 men, got into the German line and set about getting a few prisoners. A patrol of about six Germans were taken, but as the party set off back to their own lines with their haul, they became lost.
In the darkness, Lovell and his men could not find their way back though the wire. In desperation, a route was taken back through a sunken lane to the south east, working on a compass bearing rather than memory. On the way back, the patrol was accosted by an enemy sentry along the lane and he too was taken prisoner. Thankfully however, he agreed to show them the way back to a place where they could cross into the Allied lines. When they arrived back and handed over their prisoners for interrogation, someone pointed out to Lovell that he had been wounded. He had been shot twice through the arm.
Though not bathing themselves in glory, the patrol had successfully brought back a sizeable number of prisoners, much intelligence and a great haul of information. For Lovell, the award of the DCM would come in due course, being announced two months later in July, but the medal itself, was not officially bestowed upon him until Sunday 4th August 1918, when he was home on leave from the Front.
The Mayor of his hometown of Sandy in Bedfordshire, presented it to him along with a posthumous MM to another townsman's widow. Mr. E.T. Leeds-Smith J.P. made the presentation after Mr Mark Young, Chairman of the Parish Council, made an address. He stated that "This day four years ago, with no warning, the Germans marched their hordes through Belgium to attack France and expected to be in Paris within a few days. The battle of the Marne was fought and Paris was saved and Europe was saved thanks to such men as you see before you" He concluded by saying that if this had been a sermon, he would have chosen for his text "Remember and Rejoice"
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.