In late January 1918, a photograph on the front page of the Daily Mail showed a group of recently escaped Prisoners of War who had successfully eluded capture and had made it back to England. One of those pictured was Sergeant Thomas Bloomfield.
Born in Norton near Woolpit in 1887, No. 7789 Sergeant Tom Bloomfield joined the Suffolk Regiment in 1908. Captured at Frezenberg on the 8th May 1915 with the majority of the 1st Battalion, Bloomfield had valiantly fought on, rallying those around him until he was hit by shrapnel in the shoulder. Getting up to shout to a fellow NCO, he was shot through the ribs. Left alone, badly wounded and loosing blood fast, the line fell back in retreat. As the shrapnel rained down, he suffered a broken arm to the barrage before minutes later, he was taken prisoner.
By train, the Germans coveyed him to the Military Hospital at Remschield where he was operated upon no fewer than six times. It was not until early August, nearly four months after the was wounded, that he was passed fit enough to leave and was taken immediately to Friedrichsfeld Prisoner of War Camp.
Situated at Wessel around 25 miles from the Dutch border, it’s close proximity to the neutral country of Holland made escape a tempting prospect. However between the camp and Holland was the formidable river Rhine, and with every bridge guarded, any would- be escapee would have to find a different route to freedom.
Senior NCOs like officers, were not permitted to work under the Geneva Convention, however the men had to. NCOs however, had to escort the men to work in the various factory and lumber mills in the vicinity of camp and it was on these numerous visits out, that Tom started to study the locality and plot a route of escape.
On the 7th January 1918, with the assistance of an chum, Sergeant Davis of the Border Regiment, their made their break. “We walked out of the camp at 7.30” wrote Bloomfield “dressed in a pair of black trousers from which we had taken the yellow stripes and put in red stripes. The Germans gave us overcoats with the buttons cut off. We had two of these coats and we got German buttons put on and made epaulettes. We had two Broderick caps which are very like German caps, and we forged a couple of passes. We showed the Germans our passes and walked on. They though we were German censors, for their was a party in the camp”. Amazingly, they were out.
Moving fast the first night, they covered over ten miles on foot, through mainly marshy conditions. Heading due north, they used a compass they had traded from a fellow prisoner to circumnavigate the town of Bocholt. Travelling by night on the third day, they crossed the Dutch border south of the town of Winterwijk and into freedom.
Sent to a temporary camp at Didam, here they remained for twelve days whilst they were given new clothes and theirr passage to Rotterdam was organised. During this time, a representative from the British Embassy in the Hague arrived with Money for them and the news that they would be taken with a destroyer escort to England in the next few days.
Safely back in the England, they basked in the media attention of their exploit. In 1919, Tom extended his service and was allocated the new Regimental number of 5819210. In 1920, he was officially gazetted with the award of a Military Medal "in recognition of gallant conduct and determination displayed in escaping from captivity."
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.