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Suffolk WW1 war diaries


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I am researching a soldier [William Robert Shute b 1896] who died as a PoW in June 1918. Red Cross files show he was captured at Wancourt but was that not a year earlier? Would he have survived that long? He is buried in Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery

I have some mad facts to go with all this though as he enlisted in Guildford in 1916 with the Queens but ended in the 2nd Suffolks; further, if he was a PoW in 1917 how does he come to be on the electoral roll for Oatlands in 1918?

Suffolk war diaries are held in the Bury St Edmunds office and now of course, that is firmly shut

Anyone any ideas as I am stumped? many thanks

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that's mad because when I looked yesterday it clearly said that the records were not available and they clearly are now, thank you

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The War Diary is also available on Ancestry if you subscribe.


3 hours ago, Hilary1559 said:

I am researching a soldier [William Robert Shute b 1896] who died as a PoW in June 1918.


The man recorded by the ICRC as 38047 William SCHUTE - https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/en/File/Details/2402329/3/2/

is shown on the report received from the German Army on the 15th July 1918 and numbered PA29345, (where he is listed as William R Shute!) as captured at Wancourt  on the 28th March 1918 and "Nicht Verw." (Not Wounded).


The second report, PA37875 is then his appearance on the "Totenlisten" (Death Lists). Cause of death is shown as "Infolge Nierenentzundung" which Google Translate tells me means "As a result of kidney inflammation".


It also says he died at a War Hospital at Montigny. As that is almost certainly Montigny in Belgium it seems likely he was one of many prisoners of the spring offensive who were retained in the combat area, (in contravention of the Geneva Convention) and used as slave labour on directly war related working, (also in contravention). Malnourished and exhausted a not insignificant number died both during this time and then later when they were moved to PoW camps in Germany and Poland from July onwards.


28th March 1918 – Battalion War Diary


At 3 a.m. a heavy bombardment of the back areas was opened and at 4 a.m. on the front and support lines with heavy T.M. from the wood and low ground just W. of WANCOURT. At about 6 a.m. this Bombardment was increased being supplemented by a number of 5.9 Hows. A report was received from the K.O.R.L. at 6.30 a.m.  saying their line and the Bn. on their right was intact and no sign of the enemy. Ours and to the left was intact also. At about 6.45 a.m. the right Bn. of the 15th Div. was seen to get out of their trenches on the front and support lines and walk back to a rearward position and within 5 minutes the enemy barrage on our left flank lifted about 200 yards and the enemy were seen advancing on the front of the 15th Div. in large numbers, several lines being seen and the perspective then becoming confused. The hostile advance was continued under heavy L.G. fire until he was past our left flank when O.C. Y. Coy decided to occupy MACKENZIE TRENCH in O.16.b which was successfully done. The enemy however continued to advance past our left flank. By about 8 a.m. the enemy had worked round to the rear of the Coy and were also attacking his left in the trench. Shortly after he decided to withdraw and gave orders to that effect Lt. Rae taking charge and moving over the top through X. Coy. (left support) which together with 2 remaining guns of the M.G.C. covered their withdrawal. O.C. Y.Coy. went personally to see O.C. Z. (right front) to report what he was doing, but was wounded and did not return to his Coy. He was afterwards seen with the remnant of Z. Co.


The withdrawal was observed from Bn. H.Q. but owing to heavy hostile M.G. fire it was impossible to get messages to the front line but Lt. Rae reported the situation to Bn. H.Q. after withdrawal and was ordered to occupy a line of bivouacs parallel to the sunken road in O.15.b. As soon as the rearward movement was observed the Adjutant Capt. V.C. Russell was sent to collect the several groups of men which he did along the line of the road crossing the old railway track about O.15.c.6.9. These groups were sent forward again to the line of bivouacs occupied by Lieut. RAE.


About 8.15 a.m. the K.O.R.L. were forced out of the front line on the right of the Bn front and the enemy bombing down to our left and working up in the dead ground occupied the road running from the cross roads at O.22.a.0.9. N.of WANCOURT Cemetery and enfiladed the line of bivouacs occupied by Lieut. RAE also cutting off the line of withdrawal of Z. Coy. X.Coy having in the meantime withdrawn from the left support into the trench running through O.15.a. ultimately succeeded in gaining touch with elements of the 15th Div. at about O.9.c.4.5. and closed in that direction. Owing to the enfilade fire brought to bear on them Y. Coy. moved into the trench running through O.15a. W. Coy. having its right turned and left flank in the air was ordered to move into the same trench and the line was organized there by Captain Russell assisted by officers on the spot, and then ran through the old Bde. H.Q. at O.15.d.2.4 where touch was maintained with the K.O.R.L. continuously through O.15.d.b. & a. & o.9.c. to the junction with the 15th Div. The situation round Z. Coy. (right front) had been very obscure for some time and large numbers of the enemy were in both our original front and support lines but fighting appeared to continue till about 9.30 a.m.  At about 9.45 a.m. 2nd Lt. Coete and 2nd Lt. Wainwright reported at Bn. H.Q. that fragments of Z.Coy had been captured but that he with 3 N.C.O.s had managed to escape. Dgt. SMITH, Bn. H.Q. went out and reconnoitred the whole of the line of Z.Coy front crawling from shell hole to shell hole under heavy fire and though wounded through the leg by a rifle shot at 30 yards returned with a report that there was no one in either original line except Germans.


The situation was reported and the position held until about 2 p.m. when the K.O.R.L. reported the enemy to be in their position within 50 yards of our right and at the same time enemy was observed on the duckboard track about O.15.c.7.3. moving across our rear. They were also in the trench at old Bde. H.Q. within 50 yards and the remainder of the trench being enfiladed by a .77 battery firing with open sights from about the NEST. The whole position was under a heavy 5.9 barrage and the enemy advancing on the left. I decided to withdraw and at the same time orders were received to hold the ARMY LINE.


The withdrawal was intended to be carried out from the right along the line of the position but the trench was blocked with shelters and this was impossible sp parties of 6 were sent off over the top by Major Morgan, K.O.R.L. Captains Russell and A.S. Baker the movement being covered by a bombing party of the K.O.R.L, on the right and by L.G. on the front and left. The withdrawal was carried out successfully with very few casualties, the rear parties just getting away, but one at least of the L.G. teams could not reach the NEUVILLE VITASSE Switch and had to remain in front owing to M.G. fire until dark. On arrival near the ARMY LINE O.C., G.H. reported that he was unable to hold the switch with the numbers of men he had there as they had had heavy casualties. I consequently sent back about 40 men under Lieut, GARDNER and 2nd Lt. EMENEY to reinforce that line. This was carried out and the line of the switch organized. About 2 p.m. the troops on the left carried out a further retirement which left the left of the switch in the air and a portion of the G.H. withdrew. Seeing this Lt.Col. Wolfe Murray advanced with two coys. and reformed a line in close proximity to the switch. At about 5.30 p.m. the K.O.R.L. and G.H. in the front of NEUVILLE VITASSE in the switch were forced in and the enemy obtained a footing in the village. The Battn, was holding the GREEN LINE N. of the railway and in touch with the G.H. on the right and the 15th Div. on the left. Considerable Bomb fighting ensued but the enemy obtained a footing in the front and support lines where continued bomb fighting was in progress and a heavy barrage of 5.9 on the whole line. The situation remained unchanged until dark when at a conference of myself Lt.Col. Wolfe Murray and Major Morgan it was decided to reorganize with the Suffolks on the left, G.H. centre and K.O.R.L. right (as a number of the K.O.R.L. were in the South of the village); and to hold a line along the GREEN line to the village; then to enclose the enemy by a line of posts just W. of the village. This was in progress when orders were received from Bde. H.Q. to hold the line and information that the R.Fs were ordered to close the gap between our right and the 9th Bde. This situation remained unchanged all night.


From 'The History of the Suffolk Regiment 1914-1927' by Lieut.-Colonel C.C.R. Murphy:

Pages 263 - 265


On the 24th the 9th Brigade relieved the 76th and the battalions moved back to the old German trenches north of Neuville Vitasse. The 25th and 26th were spent in digging a new switch line from Telegraph Hill to Ficheux. On the 27th the battalion again went into the front line overlooking Wancourt. The relief was not completed until late, and the companies had no time to settle in before being attacked. Unluckily, that very morning the battalion had received a heavy Easter parcel mail which, as events turned out, fell practically unopened into the hands of the Germans. It will be appropriate here to mention that the reserve system had been traced out some weeks beforehand, the trenches being dug about seven feet wide and six inches deep – sufficient to expose the chalk – and then left. These had all been carefully photographed by the enemy. Except for a little work done by the 9th Brigade during the night of the 25th – 26th, this was the state of the front line when the battalion moved in on the 27th. Nowhere were the trenches as much as three feet deep in the front line, and in many places they were not joined up. The battalion, setting to work to improve the new trenches, reflected regretfully upon the good ones they had vacated.


Work had only just begun when, at 3 a.m. on the 28th, a violent bombardment opened on the back areas, falling an hour later on the front trenches, which was swept with such a tornado of shells and mortar bombs that it seemed impossible for anyone in the battalion to survive. This continued until about 6.45 a.m., when the barrage lengthened and fell on a line just in rear of battalion headquarters. The enemy were seen attacking in great strength along the rivers Cojeuil and Scarpe on the front of the 3rd and 15th Divisions. At the moment the attack fell on the front of the battalion the 15th Division was observed to be retiring, closely followed by the enemy. The Company, under Captain L.J. Baker, on the left of the front line was immediately outflanked, and although that officer succeeded with great skill in forming a temporary flank to the left, his men were soon very hard pressed. By this time the 15th Division had been forced back still further, uncovering the whole of the left of the battalion. The left support company, under Captain T.S. Wynn, was ordered to form a flank to the left, and as many as possible from battalion headquarters continued the line round the rear of the battalion, the reorganisation being supervised by the Adjutant, Captain V.C. Russell. About 11 a.m. the enemy succeeded in penetrating the front of the battalion on the right and, pressing forward, were stopped by the right support company within a hundred yards of battalion headquarters. The two front companies, under Captains W.L. Simpson and L.J. Baker, were now outflanked and fighting desperately. Several attempts were made to get into touch with them, but the runners sent up never returned, nor did any arrive from the companies. From battalion headquarters small parties could be seen still holding out, and these were supported as far as possible by machine-gun fire. The enemy now brought two batteries into action, one on either flank, enfilading the position at point-blank range, and knocking out one after another of the machine-guns at battalion headquarters.


Deprived of covering fire, with their supply of grenades exhausted and their Lewis guns knocked out, and with no ammunition save such as they were able to collect from the dead, the two front companies were eventually surrounded and forced to surrender, but not before they had so mauled the enemy on their front that he had no heart to attempt a further advance, though a large gap now existed between the two support companies who, with sorely reduced numbers, were fighting one on either flank.


By two o’clock in the afternoon the situation had become extremely serious. The general line of the 15th Division was some two thousand yards in rear of Telegraph hill, the enemy filling the breach on the left and in rear of the battalion despite the excellent shooting of the left support company. On the right the neighbouring battalion had been beaten back, and the enemy were fast approaching Neuville Vitasse. The two front companies had ceased to exist; a gap of about three hundred yards lay between the support companies, and the enemy were pressing heavily on all sides. No support was available from any direction. Moreover, the artillery was being mainly employed in counter-battery work, from which the infantry only derive indirect assistance.


About 4 p.m. orders were received to withdraw to a line north of Neuville Vitasse. The remnants of the battalion, already being fired on by machine-guns from behind, only accomplished the withdrawal with extreme difficulty, the adjutant with the last party shortly before dusk being almost cut off. A new position was taken up in what was known as the Army Line, in loose touch with the rest of the brigade in rear, but not with the 15th Division on the left.


With its right resting on the village of Neuville Vitasse, which the enemy had already occupied, and the left still in the air, the outlook was far from promising, but the Germans had been so roughly handled that they were in no condition to take advantage of the state of affairs, During the night grenades were seized from the brigade reserve dump in Neuville Vitasse, which was in the hands of the enemy, and with this help he was balked in his half-hearted attempts to extend his position.


3 hours ago, Hilary1559 said:

if he was a PoW in 1917 how does he come to be on the electoral roll for Oatlands in 1918?


The 1918 Representation of the Peoples Act, now more famous for extending the vote to some women, had the bigger impact at the time of introducing universal male suffrage for men over 21 - over 18 if in the armed forces. It received Royal Assent in February 1918 The last electoral register had been prepared in 1915, so not only did the electoral officers have to update the existing records but also add the millions of additional voters granted by the act. For those serving, even in the UK but away from home, the information would have come initially from family when they updated their own electoral register information. So his presence on the 1918 Register is simply a matter of timing.


Hope that helps,


Edited by PRC
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