SUFFOLK BRANCH, 1915 TOUR, MAY 2015
Last August members of Suffolk WFA and of the Friends of the Suffolk Regiment travelled to Le Cateau to take part in the centenary commemorations of the Battle and, guided by Taff Gillingham and Mark Forsdike, to walk the ground on which the 2nd Battalion made their courageous stand. Having agreed then that we should like to continue our commemorations of the Suffolk Regiment throughout the centenary, a group of fourteen travelled to Ypres on 8 May this year to pay tribute to those of the 1st Battalion who were caught up in the massive German onslaught on the Frezenberg Ridge that day a hundred years ago. Mark explained the events to us as we walked the forward slopes of the ridge where 84 Brigade resisted two attacks but were finally overwhelmed, 1/Suffolks being left with only three officers and 27 men. In the evening we attended the ceremonies at the Menin Gate where a large contingent of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had also come to remember the Battle of the Frezenberg Ridge and to pay tribute to their predecessors.
The rest of our visit – two more days – was devoted to the other major actions of 1915 in which battalions of the Suffolk Regiment took part. We devoted a whole day to the actions of the three Suffolk units which took part in the Battle of Loos, following on the ground the advance of 9/Suffolks, the Kitchener 3 battalion which, along with the rest of 24th (and 21st) Divisions, formed the Army Reserve. On 26 September 1915 the battalion advanced under heavy fire, from a position in front of the former German support line near Bois Carré where they had dug themselves in the night before, to a point about two hundred yards beyond the Hulluch-Lens Road facing the heavily wired German second line. We remembered two acts of courage: that of Sergeant Arthur Saunders, who was to be awarded the V.C. for taking charge of two machine guns and covering the retirement of the Suffolks although severely wounded; and that of Captain Charles Packard who, along with two other officers from the battalion, was awarded the M.C. for his courage in remaining at the front and holding the position with a hundred men in case of German counter-attacks and who subsequently assisted wounded men back to safety. As we listened to Packard’s story, Taff produced for us not only a photograph of this brave man (old enough, at 46, not to have volunteered) but also his Military Cross.
We then travelled up to the site of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, where the 1st Battalion, was tasked on 2 October with retaking Little Willie Trench, an attack that, after constant postponements, finally took place amidst chaos and confusion in the early hours of the following morning and was a failure, although the battalion suffered 160 casualties. After a pleasant lunch in Loos, we travelled up the line again to the site of the Quarries where the 7/Suffolks fought on 13 October 1915, bombing their way along ‘The Hairpin’, two abandoned spurs at the front of the Quarries, and in the process losing eight officers including the young poet, Captain Charles Sorley; other ranks killed and wounded amounted to 150. We ended our day at Dud Corner, paying tribute to the men of the Suffolk Regiment, from all three battalions, who died in the Battle of Loos and whose bodies were never recovered.
On our third day we walked the route taken to the front line at Neuve Chapelle on 12 March 1915 by the 4/Suffolks, the territorial battalion which fought alongside the Indian troops of the Jullundur Brigade, and Mark and Taff recounted the circumstances which led to the inexperienced unit only numbering 173 by the time they reached the jumping-off point opposite the Bois de Biez. Our final stop before departing for Calais and home was at Pont-Du-Hem Military Cemetery, La Gorgue, to visit the grave of 2/Lieut Harry Akers Row, who died at Neuve Chapelle and who is, like Charles Packard, one of many Suffolk men whose stories are being recorded and relayed through the WW1 Memorial Project being carried out by the local history group of the Suffolk village of Bramford (www.bramfordww1project.org.uk), several of whom were on our tour.
Most of all, we are grateful to Taff and Mark, whose extensive knowledge of the Suffolk Regiment and deep passion for its history enables us to learn so vividly about all aspects of the regiment’s experiences from the details of their formation and engagements to the individual, personal and poignant stories of loyalty and courage.