Early in February 1916, news trickled home that the commander of the 4th Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Cruddas had died of wounds received in action.
Cruddas has arrived as commander of 4th Suffolk following Colonel Garretts departure in February 1915. He came from the 41st Dogras; an Indian Regiment in the Jullundur Brigade, to lead the Battalion through the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, and for the remainder of the year as they moved first south, then north, before returning to the Givenchy sector in the new year.
On the morning of 19th January 1916, the 4th Battalion were manning the line in the Loos sector when around dusk, the Germans detonated a mine front of their lines. Though casualties were slight, the men wasted no time in rushing forward over no-mans-land to capture the crater before the Germans could get there. Colonel Cruddas was absent at the time in the Field Hospital suffering from a "feverish cold," but upon hearing the news, he was anxious to get back to his men and to see what the situation was at the front.
Arriving after midnight on the 20th, fellow officers persuaded him twice not to venture out to the crater and that everything was under control, on the third attempt they were unsuccessful.
"The third time he went out" so ran a letter that was published in the Statesman "was about 3 o'clock when he went right across to the further side of the crater and in his usual absolutely fearless way, stood upright within 20 or 30 yards of the German front line and started giving instructions to the officer who was with him. He was evidently seen and machine gun and rifle fire was opened up on him and he was hit in the lower part of the stomach"
The Colonel crumpled to his feet. Captain Ling who heralded from Framingham, slung him across his shoulder and made off for the Suffolk trenches. He managed to get the still conscious Colonel onto a stretcher, where a cigarette was lit for him. The contemporary account above, described him as being "quite cheerful. On someone offering sympathy, he smiled and replied "C'est la guerre!" - a favoured expression of his" He died shortly afterwards.
Hugh Wilson Cruddas was 48 years old. He had already been wounded three times before and had recovered successfully from each injury to return to lead the Battalion. Such was his popularity amongst his men, they they insisted that they be allowed to bury him themselves rather than leave it to the usual Pioneers. "He was a wonderful man, and it is entirely due to his extraordinary personality that the Suffolks have been kept up to the mark these long months. The men all say that they would have followed him anywhere, and the reason they give is 'that he never asked anyone to go anywhere or do anything that he wouldn't do himself'"
Cruddas's passing, marked the end of the old world and the beginning of the new for 4th Suffolk. His second in command at Neuve Chapelle, Major F.W. Turner, then commanding the Reserve Battalion at Halton, near Tring, wrote a letter to the Leiston Observer which was published on 5th February;"England has lost many valuable lives during the present war; some known, other comparatively obscure. Among the latter, one of the most perfect soldiers the world has ever produced (I don't think I am putting it too strongly) is Lieut.-Col. Hugh Wilson Cruddas, D.S.O. His first thought when he joined us was to get to know the officers and men, and it was my first duty as his second-in-command to take him round the different company headquarters and introduce him to the officers. It was an anxious time for us because we might have got a very unsuitable man, but that first day relieved me of all anxiety, and within a very few days, he was one of us and every man in the regiment knew it, and loved him for it"
The article also carried a section of verse form a Leiston Boy serving with the Battalion Signals Section. It ended:
And now that he'd give to his last long sleep,
God grant that his soul in peace may keep,
And help us follow his noble lead,
To help our country in this hour of need.
With grateful thanks to Kelvin Dakin for the excerpts above from the Leiston Observer.
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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