As the final days came, news reached the 4th Battalion of the great flu pandemic that was sweeping the world. The 'plague of the Spanish Lady' was coming dangerously close to the Suffolk Regiment.
For 4th Suffolk, they were dangerously close to an outbreak of it as Captain C.C. Stormont-Gibbs, the Adjutant of the Battalion recalled: "A message had come that there was a bad 'flu outbreak at a village two miles away and could we send a doctor. The Doc had refused to go and I said he ought to and we had our only row. I left him thoroughly fed up".
As the Medical Officer, Captain Gaston set off, little did Gibbs know it would be the last he would see of him. "Some days later I heard from Pip when I was in Rouen. The Doc, he told me had taken a dangerous short cut from the Aid Post to the Mess to avoid being late for lunch and being cursed by the 'old man'. A shell had caught him and taken off both legs. His last request was not to be tied up but allowed to die quickly."
In the twilight of their fight, the loss of the M.O. was a bitter blow. James Gaston was a pre-war doctor in Cloughmills, Co. Antrim, but when was broke out he was in practice in Durham. He gained a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps in December 1915, and went to France the following May, attached to the 5th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (K.O.Y.L.I.).
Wounded in France in September 1916, upon recuperation he was transferred as M.O. to 4th Suffolk where he was awarded the Military Cross in January 1917. His citation noted that: "He attended five other units besides his own throughout the day. The next day, he led a party out in front and recovered twelve more wounded who were lying out. Throughout he set a splendid example to all".
The loss of Gaston was bitterly felt by Gibbs, especially since it was but days from the end of their war. Gibbs, who later became a teacher, recalled to his biographer, Richard Devonald-Lewis, how affected he was in later years at the loss of Wilfred Owen, the war poet who was killed the dat before (4.11.18). Lewis, who spent much time with him in his later years, noted that: "whilst he talked of Owen, I am now sure that he was thinking equally of his friend James Gaston".
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.