On Sunday August 23rd, the inhabitants of Mons were off to church as usual. Major Peebles was accosted by one local man who asked him whether in view of their being there, he should leave his cows out in the field! Peebles (left) reassured him and the man went on his way.
Early on in the morning, orders were received to reinforce the 1st East Surreys who were coming under enemy artillery fire along the bank of the Mons-Conde canal. Major Doughty took C and D Company’s from their position near Haine, across the canal, where almost immediately they came under heavy enemy artillery fire.
Upon arrival, Doughty reported to Lieutenant-Colonel Longley of the East Surreys who ordered Doughty over the canal bank to reinforce Captain Benson who was holding the bridgehead on the far bank. Sharp fighting was already taking place, with the enemy’s infantry coming on in greater numbers. Captain Benson of the East Surreys was killed shortly afterwards, along with Corporal Page and Privates W. Flack and S.G. Goddard; the first recorded Suffolk Regiment deaths in the “Great European War.” A Suffolk officer, Lieutenant Phillips, was wounded and subsequently captured, the first Suffolk Prisoner of War. All casualties in this first engagement belonged to C Company.
At this stage II Corps were holding the front line in parallel with the canal with the left-hand end; where the 5th Division were positioned.14 Brigade, of which 2nd Suffolk were part, were on the extreme left hand of the line in the area around Pommerouil-Thurlin. To their right were 13 Brigade with 15 Brigade in reserve around the area of Wasmes.
Around noon, Peebles, who had been constructing a bridge across the canal near Haine, came under fire from a German sniper. Although two men were wounded, none were serious. The sniper was a pretty poor shot! In the early afternoon, German artillery concentrated on the gap between the 3rd and 5th Divisions and having pushed them back, they were soon over the canal in strength in the centre of the action.
The Suffolks were ordered to retire from their positions on the far bank. Pulling back across the canal, they were soon in retreat. Destroying what bridges they could with their meagre demolition materials, they used an old iron footbridge near Hanin to get across. Throughout the retire, the Germans sounded retreat bugle calls, trying to fool the British that they were retiring.
By this stage of the action, Sir John French had already decided to abandon the offensive and instead commence the strategic withdrawal of the BEF that was later to be called the Retreat from Mons.
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.