On the morning of 22nd January 1916, the world literally collapsed for 2nd Suffolk.
At "The Bluff” overlooking the German lines along the Ypres-Comines canal, the Germans detonated a large mine which disintegrated the British front line, causing many casualties.
The Bluff was a large man-made earthwork that straddled the canal. It was formed by the spoil which had been dredged from the canal where the road from Zillebeke to Wijtschate passed under it. By late 1915, the tunnel under canal for the road had gone and a single wooden plank bridge was lying in its place.
The Bluff was originally covered by trees, but 15 months of war had resulted in it becoming a muddy desolate mound of earth, devoid of any cover and a dangerous place to be seen on. Its height however successfully shielded British activities in bringing up troops to the front line via the nearby Ravine Wood. Late in 1915, the British started to tunnel into the Bluff itself, making progress in creating underground accommodation for newly arriving troops, before they exited into the front line. The Flanders water table however prevented them from going deep, so most of the tunnels were at ground level and above.
2nd Suffolk had been in the front line trenches along the foot of the Bluff since November 28th. Their stay here extended over Christmas, which passed quietly, and into the New Year. At 2.00am on the morning of the 22nd January, the Germans detonated their deadly mine.
Estimated to be the equivalent of almost seven tons of gunpowder, it had a deadly effect on the Battalion above. “A terrific explosion occurred. The ground shook violently and an immense column of earth shot up in front of the Bluff carrying away the south-eastern face of it. The explosion was not followed by any bombardment or attack and for the moment no one realised what happened. Men in the trenches next to the canal were buried several feet deep; ammunition boxes were hurled hundreds of yards; and all the surrounding trenches upon which the Battalion had spent so much labour, as well as the systems of tunnels within the Bluff, collapsed completely.”
Dazed and confused, command was quickly regained. The War Diary noted that "the garrison of trench 28 immediately opened rapid fire" as the men awaited the counter attack they felt sure would come. Lieutenant Dix, finding none of his men had survived the explosion, took what men he could find and immediately manned the right hand lip of the crater against attack. They waited for the enemy, but thankfully, they nor their artillery came.
The official figures for killed wounded or missing that day will probably never be known. The official figure now, is 45 Suffolk men killed that day; all of whom were privates and NCOs. No officers of the Battalion are recorded as being killed that day.
The Battalion received a special commendation for their actions that night by the commander of 3rd Division; Major-General R. Haldane, who described their actions in a Divisional Memo which was typed out and pasted into the War Diary by the then Adjutant; Captain H.C.N. Trollope. It concluded: "The conduct of the Battalion under these trying circumstances , was excellent, all ranks behaving in a soldier-like manner, so that their position, which might easily have become serious, was never in danger."
Of all the amazing incidents that occurred that night, perhaps the tale of No. 4142 Sgt Harry Bragg was probably the most courageous. The Regimental History modestly recorded his award of the DCM as being "for conspicuous gallantry" but the truth was far more amazing. Bragg and his men were manning the front line just yards from where the mine was detonated. Initially blown upwards, they were subsequently buried under almost four feet of earth. Bragg succeeded in digging his way out, then single handedly dug out four of his comrades; one of whom was wounded. They then manned the crater for the remainder of the day and what was describes as "hot fire."
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.