By 1.00am on the 22nd March, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Company’s were in the front line of the new positions along the eastern face of Henin Hill. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Company’s were immediately behind them in a hastily dug reserve line. Sensing that another attack was almost certainly to come, the C.O. made provisions to get all of the wounded away during the night and to remove all but essential ‘baggage’ from the front line positions.
At 5.00 am in a repeat of the previous morning, an intermittent enemy barrage came down across the eastern slopes of Henin Hill. Awaiting the infantry onslaught, at around 9.00am, the Battalion Pioneer Sergeant returned from a reconnoitre to Ipswich Dump in the north, and reported that the enemy were again coming on in strength. The troops in the north were already in the first stages of retirement.
“Almost immediately afterwards” wrote the C.O. in the War Diary, “parties of troops from the right were seen coming back towards Bn. Hqrs. These were stopped by Bn. HQ officers and sent to reform a defensive flank facing south east”. On the right, the 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers were forming a defensive flank against an enemy attack from the right. Sensing that the flanks might give way, Tuck brought ‘A’ Company forward from reserve and placed them on the right to bolster the Northumberland Fusiliers.
An enemy attack was launched against ‘B’ Company but it was gallantly repulsed. The Company Commander, Captain Redwell, was wounded during the fight as he fought hand-to-hand on the parapet with the advancing enemy. His Company were successful in beating the enemy back and contact was established once more with ‘A’ Company on the right. At 8.45am, another heavy enemy attack was fought off by Captain Reid and his men in ‘D’ Company’s positions, with Reid himself being wounded. Further attacks were beaten back and although the enemy came on again from the northwest towards ‘A’ Company’s positions, they were beaten off by Captain Harrison and his men dug-in along the base of the hill.
At 11.00am, ‘B’ Company moved into shell holes on the northern slopes of the hill, close to Farmers Lane Trench to ensure that a complete line was established. ‘A’ Company was now moved to overlook the dead ground to the north near ‘B’ Company in the shell holes. The shelling continued and through it, small groups of enemy storm troops pushed down into the valley from the west, but they were repulsed by rifle and Lewis gun fire from ‘B’ Company.
At around 1.00 pm, the units on the Battalion’s flanks came under attack. The unit on the right fell back, leaving the flank vulnerable. The Intelligence officer, Captain Bolton, went forward with a runner to ascertain how bad the situation was. He found only one officer and a party of around 18 men. The officer informed him that they were the last of the unit - the others having fallen back. He informed Bolton that he would soon be doing the same.
The shelling continued throughout the afternoon fragmenting the front line. Colonel Tuck sent the Signals Officer, Lieutenant Johnson along the line to ensure all was well. He reported back that all Company’s were still in their positions. A terrific bombardment came down on ‘B’ Company’s positions, followed by a large infantry attack. In the face of fierce resistance, the Company Commander, fell back into ‘A’ Company’s positions. Concurrent with their retirement, the Germans were pressing along the line from the south. Lieutenant Hall and a valiant few, immediately blocked their section of the front line and bombed them from behind the barricade.
“A block was formed by Lieutenant Hall who repulsed several enemy attacks with great coolness and determination being wounded and subsequently killed”. With Battalion HQ in peril, Tuck sent a platoon of ‘A’ Company to the right to strengthen the flank of ‘B’ Company’s new position. “At 6pm the enemy launched an attack in the south against the right of the Battalion. They were engaged by rifle, Lewis Gn. And Vickers Guns of the 34th M.G. Bn. and suffered very considerable casualties. The enemy however succeeded in working round to the SW of the defensive flank formed by Ban. HQrs personnel and two platoons of A Coy. After a sharp fight these two platoons and Bn. HQrs personnel withdraw to a bank running NW to SE under heavy machine gun fire from the S and SW of Henin Hill”.
The situation was now desperate. Every available man was turned-out from battalion HQ to man the line. The enemy were now attacking in force on ‘C’ Company’s positions. Behind a small bank, fire was brought to bear by any available man. ‘A’ Company’s positions were now also in danger of being overrun. The Germans were making a concerted effort to advance up the southwest slopes of the hill and by 7.00pm, all but one platoon of ‘A’ Company were still in action. Seeing all was lost, Tuck ordered a retirement. Starting first, ‘C’ Company and the remnants of ‘A’ Company were withdrawn by 8.30 pm, being covered by ‘B’ Company. The machine gun officer, Lieutenant Woods did well with his two remaining Lewis teams to hold back the enemy, but was subsequently killed and his gunners overrun. Battalion HQ fell back too and was in the third line behind the hill just minutes later.
The Battalion or what remained of it, came under the temporary command of 9th Brigade, until 2.30am in the morning, when they were withdrawn to safety behind the village of Henin.
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.
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