The history of the Suffolk Regiment was a rich and varied tapestry of military service in all four corners of the globe over the 274 years it was in existence. It's men heralded from every corner of England and elsewhere, yet the reputation it gained over it's years of service was one of steady soldiering. It was in the twilight of its life, considered as a Regiment that could be relied upon to complete the job with the minimal of fuss. It was this reputation and an almost modest shyness of it's achievements, that has meant that today, its achievements have always been overshadowed by other regiments. As one Suffolk officer wrote in 1984 of its achievements in Normandy, "there were always other battles going on which attracted more attention." "Stabilis" meaning steady, was the personal motto of Colonel Scipio Duroure, who commanded the 12th Regiment at the Battle of Dettingen. So proud were the Regiment to bear this most appropriate of accolades, that serval times in their existence, they formally requested that they be allowed to bear it upon their Colours. The honour was however, never bestowed upon them. Below is a brief history of the Suffolk Regiment from its creation in 1685, to its eventual amalgamation in 1959. For those wishing to find out more about a particular period of Regimental History, please contact us and we'll try steer you in the right direction to hopefully find what you're looking for.
The First Years
The Suffolk Regiment can trace its proud heritage back to 1685, when King James II, ordered the Duke of Norfolk to raise a unit of men to protect the country against the threatened Monmouth Rebellion. ‘Henry, Duke of Norfolk’s Regiment’ started its life stationed in the eastern counties. At first companies were garrisoned at Great Yarmouth and Felixstowe. It was later moved to various towns in the south of England and took part in the King's annual review of the Army on Hounslow Heath. The new Regiment, which had a large proportion of Norfolk and Suffolk men, encapsulated a company at then on garrison at Windsor Castle. This company at Windsor, had origins dating back to 1660 and had already seen active service in Virginia in 1676. In 1688, command of the Regiment, which had by now switched to the Earl of Litchfield, after Henry resigned. Litchfield took the Regiment abroad for the first time; two company’s being sent to the Channel Islands, and four company’s to Windsor. It was whilst here that they were specially selected to support the fledgling King James II in his campaigns in Ireland. The Regiment, possessed a large amount of Catholics within its ranks, however when at Windsor, rather than present arms to show their support, they grounded arms instead to show their disgust. It was the catalyst that turned the Army against the King and drove him to flee to France. The following year, ironically, the Regiment was in Ireland fighting against him. The Regiment played a decisive role in the storming of the castle at Carrickfergus and at the Battle of the Boyne when James' forces were ultimately beaten. It was the first real ‘battle’ that the Regiment were involved in and gained them a reputation of strong, steadfast, reliable soldiers. Over the next few years, the Regiment, now known as ‘Colonel Brewers Regiment’ as a whole, served on the continent in Flanders. In an unfortunate episode in the history of the Regiment, they found themselves surrounded in the fortress of Dixmude. Facing complete defeat, the fortress surrendered. It was the only time that the Regiment was forced as a complete unit to surrender.
Wars on the Continent
After garrison duties in Ireland, the Regiment proceeded in 1701 to the West Indies, remaining there for some time. In 1704, Colonel Brewer retired and was replaced by Colonel Livesay. The year 1706, saw them return to the UK for garrison duties before embarking again for the continent in 1708, as part of the Duke of Marlborough’s forces. Following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britain was granted the colonies of Gibraltar and Minorca, and in 1718, the Regiment left for garrison duties in Minorca. In 1713, Queen Anne, grant the first twelve foot regiments prescience in the lineage of the Army based upon the dates of their creation. "Colonel Phillips Regiment," as it was then known, was granted the title of XIIth Foot. In 1722, the Regiment departed Minorca for the UK, being stationed here until 1742, when it once again departed for the Continent. In 1743 it moved, with its new Colonel, Scipio Duroure, to the Germany and on June 27th shared in the victory over the French at the Battle of Dettingen; the Regiment’s oldest Battle Honour borne upon his Colours. It was in this battle, that for the last time, an English monarch, King George II, led his men into battle. The Xllth Regiment held the centre of the leading line and the King placed himself directly in front of them. Such was this display of courage that later, the regiment in commemoration of this event, would always decorate its Colours, Drums and the headgear of all ranks with roses on the Sovereign's birthday and when the Sovereign is present (in person) on parade. The Colours carried that day, bore the Colonels personal family motto of "Stabilis," meaning “steady.” It did and has, always remained an unofficial motto to the Regiment and has served as an inspiration to all ranks during the years that followed. Also serving that day with the Regiment, was a young Ensign called James Wolfe. He would later achieve fame as the man who captured Quebec in 1759. The Regiment remained on the continent, where in 1745, the Regiment took part in yet another famous battle at Fontenoy, in Belgium. It was here that Colonel Scipio Duroure was mortally wounded. The European campaign continued, but the Regiment came home, went back to Holland and then home again, before going again to Minorca. In 1751, it came home again to go back to the continent. In 1759, the Regiment served at Minden, where a combined force of British and Germans, defeated a vastly superior force of French including a large proportion of cavalry. Here, six British Regiments, including the XlIth, threw the whole of the French Army into a state of chaos, which routed their forces and decided the day. So the story goes, as the men marched in to battle that morning, they plucked roses from gardens and wore them in their hats. Today this custom is still in operation, when on 1st August, the Regiment wears roses in their headdress.
The Great Siege of Gibraltar
In 1769, the Regiment left for a 14-year tour of duty in Gibraltar. The Regiment took an active part in the Great Siege when Gibraltar was besieged by a mixed force of Spanish and French. Between 1779 and 1783, the Regiment, then under Colonel William Picton, formed the main bulk of the garrison that on 17th November 1781, broke the siege. They would however still not fully defeat the Franco-Spaniard forces until 1783. In recognition of its services in the Great Siege, the Regiment added the illustrious name “Gibraltar” to it’s Battle Honours on it’s Colours and later, the arms of Gibraltar was taken as the Regiment’s Crest. The Castle and Key, with the motto “Montis Insignia Calpe” (The arms of the Rock of Gibraltar) were added to the Colours. The Castle and Key, was first formally seen on the Regiment's badges in 1843, when it was incorporated into the design for a new pattern of breastplate worn by the Regiments officers. Upon its return to England in 1783, the Regiment by now formally linked to the county of Suffolk, were given the title of “East Suffolk” giving then a permanent spiritual home that were to stay with them until amalgamation. Whilst back in the UK, it was stationed at Windsor again where, King George III showed such satisfaction at having a distinguished Regiment guarding the Royal Household, that he reviewed them twice - which was until then, he had never done before. Whilst here, a detachment were seconded to the Army Ordnance Department, to clear the ground for the first base line for the new Ordnance Survey which ran across what is now Heathrow Airport. Thus it can be claimed that the 12th started modern mapping as we know it today.
India & Seringapatam
Following the Great Siege of Gibraltar, the Regiment, served again at home. Time was spent in the north and Scotland before going again to the Channel Islands in 1788. After time spent in Ireland, in 1794, they arrived in Barbados in the West Indies. However after a brief service in Martinque, they were back onto their troop transport to be hastily sent back to Flanders, to reinforce the Duke of Yorks troops who had been routed near Tournay. It was to remain on the continent for a further two years serving amongst other places, around the Dutch towns of Nimegen and Arnhem, where they would fight near to again some 150 years later. In 1796 it set sail for India, the first of many visits that the Regiment would make to the sub-continent. Almost immediately upon its arrival in India in 1799, the Regiment was involved in a campaign to overthrow they tyrannous local warlord; Tippoo Sultan, the ruler of the state of Mysore. Tippoo had waged a campaign of terror against the British forces and his own people in the province for almost 10 years. In an attempt to oust him from power once and for all, the British stormed his stronghold at Seringapatam on 4th May 1799. The Regiment played a major part in the battle that day, which lasted all but a few hours and added another honour to their Colours. It is still believed that Tippoo himself, was killed by Private Johnson of the XIlth Foot. For the next ten years the Regiment was engaged in a series of operations in South India. These included some severe fighting against the troops of the Rajahs of Travancore and Cochin in the course of which one party of 34 men of the Regiment were cruelly massacred. The Regiment's services in India from 1797 to 1809 were recognized by the award of the Battle Honour India, even though this had been refused first, the Army claiming that the award of ‘Seringapatam’ outranked it.
Mauritius, South Africa & Australia
In 1810, the Regiment took part in the capture of the islands of Mauritius and Bourbon, later to be renamed Reunion. It remained here until 1818. During this time, a second Battalion of the Regiment, was formed. It took part in the march on Paris in 1815 but was later moved to Ireland where in 1818 it was disbanded. Although it saw no service, it had a checkered career in Paris, when it discovered Napoleons wine cellar! The Regiment spent time again in Gibraltar from 1823 to 1834, and again in Mauritius in 1837. Its role as an overseas peacekeeping regiment was born in these days. By 1851, the re-formed second or ‘Reserve’ battalion was sent to South Africa to bolster British forces there during the Kaffir Wars. Operating in open dry terrain against the rebellious natives, their job was not an easy one, but they earning much praise from their superiors, earning them another Battle Honour of “South Africa 1851-2-3.” It was during this campaign that a draft of new men, came out from England on the Troopship HMS Birkenhead. The ship, which was wrecked off the Cape, went down with very few losses. Such was the discipline of the Suffolk soldiers on board, that they paraded on deck allowing the wives and children off first. Their heroic actions that day, coined the phrase ‘women and children first,’ and won them the admiration of the world. The Reserve Battalion became the Second Battalion in 1858. The First Battalion went to Australia in 1854 and assisted in the suppression of a diggers revolts at the ‘Eureka Stockade.’ It spent time briefly in Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane. In 1860, it went to New Zealand. What followed was six years of hard campaigning against the rebelling native Maoris. It was here that the Regiment learnt to fight in the dense jungles of New Zealand. 100 years later it would be doing the same in Malaya. They succeeded in containing the rebelling natives and left in 1867 for the UK. It won for its services here, the Battle Honour “New Zealand.” After time in Ireland, and around the UK on garrison duties, the Second Battalion went to Ireland again in 1864. After many years it returned to the UK in 1878. During its time abroad, Edward Cardwell, who was then Secretary of War, had re-modelled the Army. When they returned they found that a new Regimental Depot was being built for them in Bury St. Edmunds. Three years later they ceased to be the 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment, and became instead, The Suffolk Regiment. They remained as such until amalgamation in 1959.
India, Afghanistan & The Boer War
The First Battalion was soon on active service in the Second Afghan War and took part in much campaigning and fighting in that inhospitable country. Another Battle Honour was won “Afghanistan 1878-80.” It was to return to Afghanistan seven years later, when it took part in a arduous and hazardous expedition across the Black Mountains on the North West Frontier. These actions would win those involved, the clasp of “Hazara” for their India General Service Medals. In 1892 the Battalion returned to UK. Whilst in India and Afghanistan, the Second Battalion served in various places such as the Channel Islands and Ireland. In 1889 it was posted to Alexandria in Egypt and in 1891 from there, to India and subsequently Burma. While stationed in Burma, one company had been on detachment in the Andaman Islands at the penal colony looking after the prisoners. It returned to Great Britain in 1907. When the South African, or Boer War broke out, the 1st Battalion was at Dover and mobilized immendiately for Active Service. The Regiment also called up its reservists. Out of 514 on the books at the Depot, 512, rejoined for overseas service. Of the two abstainers, one was in prison and one in India, who later joined them in the Transvaal. Within a month, the Battalion were in South Africa. In January 1900 the first major battle was to assault a hill near Colesberg. The Regiment suffered many casualties, including the Commanding Officer, Colonel Watson, whose last words were reputedly “Remember Gibraltar My Boys.” A glorious defeat was turned in the British media, into a glorious victory. The hill was subsequently renamed ‘Suffolk Hill’ by the Boers in recognition of the courage during the assault. What followed three years of arduous campaigning, with the assistance of many local units. By 1900, militia units from Cambridgeshire and Suffolk had volunteered for active service and were assisting their regular counterparts in the Cape. The Battle Honour “South Africa 1900-02” was won and carried by both the later formed territorial units: The 4th Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment and the 1st Battalion, The Cambridgeshire Regiment. Units too of mounted infantry, volunteered for service overseas too and many men of the Loyal Suffolk Hussars, joined the Suffolk (43rd and 44th) Battalions of Imperial Yeomanry. The early years of the twentieth century saw the creation of the Territorial Force, later the Territorial Army, in which The 4th and 5th Battalions were created from the old volunteer Battalions. The Militia became the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, and later a combined Battalion of Essex and Suffolk Cyclists, would later become the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion.
The Great War
The Suffolk Regiment played a major part in all theatres of the Great War, expanding from six Battalions at the outbreak of war, to twenty-three at its height. Later, the 2nd and the 4th Battalions served as part of the Army of Occupation in Germany. For those wishing to know more about the actions of the Suffolk Regiment in the Great War, please visit our 'Operation Legacy' mini-blog that was updated throughout the centenary of the Great War (2014-2018).
Reduced back to three Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment was to spent the inter-war years on Foreign Service, with the 4th (Territorial) Battalion remaining in the county. The 1st Battalion came home to railway strikes in 1919, and then departed for Foreign Service at Jubbulpore in India, and later saw an active part in Malabar Rebellion of 1921-22. They came home via Gibraltar in 1924, meeting the 2nd Battalion there in 1926. Returning home from Gibraltar in 1927, the 1st Battalion embarked on a recruiting march around the country. From here they were posted to Blackdown near Aldershot, and then to Crownhill Barracks, Plymouth, before in 1937, they departed for Foreign Service in Malta. After just two years, with war clouds gathering, they were returned home to UK just before war was declared. 2nd Suffolk served briefly in Ireland in the early twenties, at the height of the Civil War, before returning to the UK in 1922. In 1926, they departed for Gibraltar, and then onwards in 1927 to China to become part of the Shanghai Defence Corps. In 1929, they were sent to India, serving first at Trimulgherry, then Madras, before at the outbreak of War being sent to the hill station at Razmak on the Northwest Frontier.
The Second World War
In October 1939, the 1st Battalion went to France as part of the BEF and was later evacuated from Dunkirk. Later after retraining and re-equipping in the UK, they landed on D-Day as part 3rd (British) Infantry Division and fought through to Bremen, where the war ended. In between they had several bitter and costly actions, most notably at the Chateau de la Londe, at Tinchebrai, at Overloon and Venray and the Advance to Brinkum. The 2nd Battalion was engaged in Internal Security operations at the outbreak of war, and after a period operations in the Tochi Valley, they served in the second Arakan campaign in 1943. The following year, they were part of the push to force the Japanese out of India and fought to take two heavily fortified hilltop positions near Imphal. Later they were with drawn to the other side of India to Lahore, where civil unrest was starting. The war ended for them there. The 4th and 5th Battalions were part of the ill-fated 18th East Anglian Division that was captured at Singapore. For three and a half years the men of these Battalion suffered greatly at the hands of their Japanese captors, resulting for 80% of the deaths of the Battalion. After many months of recuperation, these men came home in late 1945-46. The 5th Battalion was never reformed.
After the Second World War, the 1st Battalion were sent to Palestine, serving as part of the 3rd and then the 1st Infantry Divisions, before being withdrawn from Jerusalem in May 1948. Later they served in Greece before being sent in 1949 to assist the civil powers in Malaya. For over three and a half years, the Battalion waged a highly successful campaign against the Chinese communist terrorists, resulting in almost 200 being eliminated at the cost of nineteen men of the Battalion. The award of two DSOs, nine MCs, and three MMs give a good example if the success of the Battalion that time. Upon its return form Malaya, it was sent briefly to Trieste to be part of a combined UK-US force responsible for keeping etc waring Yugoslavs and Italians apart. From here they joined the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) at Wuppertal in Germany, where they remained until 1956, when they came home to the UK, albeit briefly, before being sent to Cyprus to combat the threat of EOKA terrorists. Here in 1958 it was announced that the Regiment would amalgamate the following year with the Royal Norfolk Regiment in Germany, and after a brief homecoming to Folkestone, they went to Germany in September, where amalgamation took place. The 2nd Battalion were continually run-down to a cadre in 1947, when the Colours were returned and the regiment placed in suspended animation. The 4th Battalion continued until 1961, and was greatly bolstered by many of the young National Servicemen that served in the Regiment, who had to remain on the reserve after their regular service. In 1961, it merged with its neighbours in Cambridgeshire, to form the 'Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Regiment (TA).' The 8th Battalion served briefly in Jamaica in 1946-47, before being brought home to be disbanded.
Thus ended 274 years of loyal service of an infantry regiment that had for over two centuries proudly bore the county name of 'Suffolk' upon its Colours.
Main Picture: Men of A Company, 8th Battalion, Suffolk Home Guard, c.1944