“We Both Had Charmed Lives. The CO’s Revolver Took One Piece Of Shell That Would Have Killed Him And I Got A Clod In The Back That Knocked Me Down, And That Was All"
At 5.30 am, 4th Suffolk who were standing ready on the parapet in their line, had to take cover due to the increased enemy barrage.
4th Suffolk's advance was delayed for almost 15 minutes due to the Battalion on the left not being ready. When they finally set-off, it was 5.40am.
By 5.45am the Battalion was able to go but by then the “Shelling became intense” as noted the War Diary “and heavy casualties were suffered".
In desperation to get his men going, the CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Copeman, decided that starting on the left flank, he would send one platoon at a time forward from the two frontal Company’s. Colonel Copeman, walked along the parapet with the Adjutant, Captain C.C.S. Gibbs, in an attempt to steer the men in the right direction. It was a gallant, but risky initiative. “The heavy shelling, thick mist and darkness caused confusion” wrote the Gibbs in the War Diary, “and it was impossible for the men to keep in touch but platoon rushes were made and some platoon made progress.” In his own words, written after the war he elaborated; “When dawn came things did not pan out as they should have done if the generals had had their way, First no-one was ready except ourselves. The Middlesex had lost their way and arrived an hour late, the other battalion got quite lost and never did arrive at all. Our barrage opened as planned and immediately the enemy put down a counter barrage of such intensity that its effect was quite unimaginable.”
The officer of the second platoon on the left was wounded and so the message to go, failed at that point. Other platoons got up from the parapet and went forward without command. It was like High Wood 13 months before, all was turning to chaos.
“The small fragments that moved forward did well” continued the War Diary, “they reached a line running north and south-west east of Lone House, and the next line, Black Watch Corner-Carlisle House, appearing unoccupied, they, after communicating with 4th King’s Regt., moved into it and did not have any casualties till they reached it from snipers of a force to the right front, who looked at one time as if they would turn them out.”
Captain Lake, commanding ‘D’ Company, with about 20 men from a number of platoons, made progress and reached the German line near ‘Black Watch Corner’ in a final rush. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued during which Lake was shot through the wrist. Captain Scrimgeour commanding ‘B’ Company pushed on valiantly and had advanced far enough to be out of the harm of the enemys barrage, but it soon became clear that with no support on the flanks, any further advance was futile. A strong-point which had held up the advance of 4th King’s, was overrun by 4th Suffolk with the result that 2 machineguns and 11 prisoners were taken. 2 prisoners had already been taken in their final advance to the German front line. They yielded valuable information.
The CO went forward in the wake of the last platoon as Gibbs recalled; “We both had charmed lives. The CO’s revolver took one piece of shell that would have killed him and I got a clod in the back that knocked me down, and that was all. In fifteen minutes, one regrets to record ther were only two officers left with their men.”
At 10.45am, when he moved Battalion HQ forward close to Fitzclarence Farm. A fair number of his men were over 500 yards in front and soon, but several men and either shelter close in shell holes or had in some cases, run back through the rear positions as Gibbs later wrote; “The rest had simply run away and were found in the transport lines two days later, some being court-martialled. Half the men had gone similarly and most of the rest were dead. In one place where there was a small piece of unbroken trench I found six men leaning against the side in life-like positions but quite dead and quite untouched. The detonation of a shell had killed them simply by blast.” Soon too, the first of wounded were filtering back past Battalion HQ.
Out in front, 4th Suffolk hung on valiantly. Further advance to Carlisle Farm was now pointless in view of the terrain and the weather. The units on the flanks had gone to ground and communications were not yet established with Battalion Headquarters. Runners were bravely running the gauntlet of fire to get messages back. The men went to ground in whatever cover they could find.
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.