At 12.45am on the morning of the 9th April 1917, 2nd Suffolk left their comfortable billets in the chalk caves under the town of Arras.
Filing along the chalky passageways in the dim light, they piled their greatcoats into a heap and joined "Circular Trench" the main connecting pathway to the surface. In their prescribed order 'Y,' 'Z,' 'X' and finally 'W' Company's left to take part in the offensive later that morning.
Ahead of them underground in the passageways, were the 4th Royal Fusiliers, who would make the initial advance into no-mans-land, followed immediately afterwards by the Battalion. The access tunnels stretched far out into no-mans-land. Dug over many months and in great secrecy, New Zealand tunnellers had cut new tunnels through the medieval passageways that already existed there.
For over 500 yards underground the men walked in deathly silence and waited. Men carved the chalk around them with their jackknives and doodled on the plain white walls. Their graffiti (such as that above) remains there still. Ahead of the Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers had already prised off the boards at the end of the tunnels and were stealthily amassing their assembly trenches. Around 5.00am, the Allied artillery barked into life. The deafening and shattering series of explosions pounded the enemy front line, heralded the precursor to the attack. The chalk fell from the tunnel walls onto the helmets of men who were frightened that the massive vibrations would cause a cave in. A 5.30am they heard the whistles blow above them and knew that the attack commenced.
The Fusiliers rushed forward into no-mans-land through the valley they had to cross. Enemy artillery fire came down upon them, but their speed was such that it did not cause too greater casualties. A strong counter barrage was started by the Allied artillery, which then crept forward through the valley. The Battalion, kept up close behind and with magnificent discipline, the Battalion reached the German front line with ease.
Their objective was a salient into the German lines known as the "Harp" christened as such by its similarity to the instrument on aerial photographs.The Fusilers were to take the centre, 2nd Suffolk were to advance behind them and split to take north and east side of the position. Within minutes, the position had been taken and was being consolidated. By noon, it was thought safe enough to move Battalion HQ from the caves, out into the Harp itself.
The War Diary was brief to the point of bluntness; "The Battalion took its objectives with complete success." The Regimental History too, paid a glowing tribute to the Battalion's action that day; "The day had been an unqualified success and, as is so often the case in similar circumstances, the casualties were comparatively light, scarcely exceeding a hundred all told."
The first day of the Battle of Arras and been a monumental successful for 2nd Suffolk. Failures in battle since Le Cateau, marred the prestige of this proud Battalion. Here was the first true day of success they had experienced since war began.
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.