On 24th May, the depleted ranks for the 1st Battalion were thrown back into battle against a determined enemy near the Belgian village of Bellewaarde.
The Battalion's objective was Bellewaarde Farm, a previously traditional square brick affair akin to a thousand Flemish farms but now almost totally destroyed by shell fire. The farm lay beyond a sunken road, covered on its banks, with hedgerows. However between this and the farm were approx. 200 yards of open fields with the fringe of a small wood partially covering the line of attack. The Battalion would have to cross this open ground before it reached the farmhouse; all in full view of the Germans who were deeply entrenched in front of the wood and in the farmhouse itself.
The two leading Company's moved up on the morning of the 24th into the sunken lane to attack the farm. Lieutenant Venning (on the left) and Captain Rushbrooke (on the right); both not long out from England, would lead the first wave, with Lieutenant Inskip and Captain Roxby following close behind. The Battalion was just over 400 in strength was still not fully reformed despite its decimation earlier in the month. Apart from the Battalion Commander, most of the officers had seen little or no combat experience.
All four Company's succeeded in getting into the frontal jumping off positions in the sunken road with the minimal of casualties was incurred during the move up. The Germans however, had been observing the Battalion getting into position and waited expectantly with their machine guns ready for an attack they knew would shortly come. The Battalion Commander, Major Maycock, satisfied that all was ready, ordered the men to fix bayonets, blew his whistle and gave the order to charge. No sooner had Captain Rushbrooke on the right started to hack through the undergrowth, than the Germans pinpointed his exit and poured forth deadly fire. The situation was similar along the entire frontage. Men desperately hacking through with shovel and entrenching tool became instant targets when they emerged. The machine gun fire was swathing from left to right, bringing down man after man. Maycock, wounded himself in the forearm, saw it was impossible and called off the attack ordering his men to retire to the cover of the sunken lane.
However, no sooner had Maycock had his wound dressed and the Battalion been consolidated, when the Brigade Commander, Brigadier-General Bols, arrived and ordered him in no uncertain terms, that Bellewaarde Farm was to be taken at all costs and 1st Suffolk must try again to take it.
Thus at midnight the Battalion again moved up once more to attack. Their start position had now been changed to the west of "Witte Poort Farm" - an attack from their previous positions would have been impossible as the Germans had it was believed, doubled their machine guns in this sector.
In the darkness, stumbling through a warren of bombed, waterlogged, unfamiliar trenches, Maycock found himself separated from both the unit on his left and his right. With no flanking troops, he was forced to extend his attacking frontage to about 400 yards, double that he had occupied the previous day. The Battalion were in the rear of their earlier starting positions but now had to get back into the sunken lane, which was now after the vicious machine gun fire of the morning now devoid of hedgerows.
The attack went in again. Two companies were put into the firing line on the extreme right, with the other two under the command of Lieutenant Venning, being held in support. "Again the order was given to charge, and the Battalion led by Major Maycock began to advance, but immediately came under a withering fire as on the previous occasion. Men fell in heaps everywhere, and within a few minutes the advance was definitely held. up. The attack, as a whole, failed"
Success came in a small part to Lieutenant T. Packard and C.S.M. Fred Pye, who with a corporal and six men managed to get to the sunken lane and dig in, but after their position became unsupportable, they were forced to retire.
Heavy shelling continued all day on the 25th so that by nightfall when the Battalion were relieved, they numbered just 3 officers and 181 other ranks.
Nothing was left of the "First Dozen" - in the space of a mere five weeks, the 1st Battalion had lost 1000 men.
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.