Late in the afternoon of the 18th August 1916, the 4th Battalion, still recovering from its costly battle at the Bazentin's the previous month, was once more thrown into the heat of battle.
Their objective was the dark, sinister and foreboding amass of shell-scarred trees known as 'High Wood.' This natural defensive redoubt, was criss-crossed with deep elaborate trenches which had been started in early 1915, by its defenders. At the height of the Somme summer, foliage and thicket covered these positions, camouflaging their occupants, and confusing the attacking forces as to the true strength of the enemy that lay within.
The plan of attack for 4th Suffolk was that ‘A’ and ‘D’ Company’s would go over first, with ‘C’ Company would be behind in the centre. ‘B’ Company was to be in reserve. They would advance with picks, shovels and trench building equipment as soon as the observers saw the frontal company’s reach the German front line.
The leading Company’s would advance from a section of jumping off trench which was in advance of the then front line. By doing this, it was hoped that the bulk of the enemy artillery (aimed at the advancing waves) would fall to the rear of them, allowing them to advance behind it.
From observation the previous day, the Germans fully expected an attack and had from mid-morning onwards put down a heavy barrage. In the early stage, it acted to the advantage of the Battalion in that it screened the leading company's as they moved into position, but it did however, cause a great many casualties to these Company’s before the attack had even begun.
Waiting in the front line with his men was 2/Lieutenant C.C. Stormont-Gibbs. The chaos of wounded dragging themselves in from the barrage around them, was causing a jam in the front line trenches. He recalled; “We got wedged in a traffic jam for some minutes and it seemed touch and go whether they (his men) could be kept in a frame of mind to follow on. Especially was this so when the result of the jam became evident in the shape of strings of wounded coming down from further forward. Amongst these was young Suttle with all the fingers of one hand hanging by shreds of skin. He held up his hand as he passed me with a grimace but he knew his wound had saved his life.” A month later Gibbs would see his photograph in the Daily Mirror under the inscription “This heroic young officer received seven wounds.”
Early in the afternoon, the men got ready to advance. They were ready and confident of a success, but they knew that it would not be easy.
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.