Whilst the majority of attention was focused on the fighting units at the front, those left at home, were often forgotten. Their job may not have seen hand-to-hand fighting with the Bosche or the Turk, yet their role in the war was equally valuable.
in the case of the Suffolk Regiment, several Battalions remained at home engaged on Home Defence duties, in the Reserve Garrison Battalions, whilst others were involved in the training of the newly called-up conscripts. Of the latter, the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, spent it's war at Felixstowe, training draft upon draft of men for Battalions of the Regiment serving at the front. However, on the night of the 16th June, war came sharply home to these men in their hutted camp at Old Felixstowe.
In the early hours, gun fire could be heard from across the river in Harwich. A turn-out was ordered by the Guard Commander and the men were roused from their beds. As the pitch black sky was lit up with anti-aircraft fire, high up, the silhouette of a German airship; a dreaded Zeppelin, could be seen passing through the clouds.
The airship; L48, was one of four zeppelins that had hours before, attacked London. Moving northwards, they followed the coastline, up around Southend, then onto Clacton, before picking out the dockyards of Harwich, where they dropped a second wave of bombs. The Captain then turned the airship eastwards and headed for home.
Unbeknown to the crew in the gondola below the ship, the compass was frozen and they were being pushed westwards by the prevailing wind. They were now back over land and not the sea as they though and had just passed over the experimental air station at Orfordness. From here, she had been observed and aircraft had now been launched to intercept her. Veering wildly off course, now flying approximately over Wickham Market, she was fired on by more aircraft who had joined in the pursuit from both Norfolk and Suffolk airfields.
By 2.00am on the 17th her fate was sealed. A BE2c fighter aircraft succeeded in starting a fire in her highly flammable gas tanks. As the airship listed nose-down at a angle of 60 degrees, she plummeted to earth in flames. She came to ground in a field near the small village of Theberton, just north of Leiston. Some crew had miraculously survived the impact, but most had perished with the wreckage, but by morning, a crowd of onlookers and souvenir hunters had arrived, all eager to have a piece to take home with them. The town photographer from Leiston; Mr J.S. Wardell, came too on his bicycle with camera and tripod over one shoulder, to record the scene.
The crowds had come from far and wide a soon the local police called in the Army for assistance in restraining them. From nearby Leiston, came first, a detachment of the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion, who threw a cordon around the site with men guarding a ring around the wreckage at ten-yard intervals. In due course, elements of the 3rd Battalion arrived from Felixstowe, to relive them.
The powers that be sifted through the wreckage and took away what they deemed important; most being taken back to nearby Orfordness, for evaluation. The remainder was collected by cart and sent away to scrap, but not before the local church had procured a sizeable piece for their porch, where it remains to this day.
In the days that followed, both Suffolk Battalion's provided, together with men of the Royal Flying Corps, the funeral cortege for the coffins of the sixteen members of the crew that died in the crash. With full military honours, they were conveyed to the village churchyard at Theberton for burial. Though there was much disgust in the press for the Zeppelin and the way it waged war, within the ranks of the R.F.C., there was still a great deal of chivalry between these modern-day knights of the air.
The crew remained interred here until after the Second World War, when their bodies, together with those of another airship that had crashed at Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, were reinterred in the German Military Cemetery at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. The original marker was replaced with a simple plaque stating; "Here Were Buried 16 German Airman Crew of Zeppelin L 48 17th June 1917 "Who Art Thou That Judgest Another Mans Servant" Rom. XIV-IV"
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.