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1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment Battle of St. Julien (24 April – 5 May 1915)


Blue Dragoon
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Having some difficulty finding any accounts of the 1st Suffolks at the Battle of St. Julien (24 April – 5 May 1915) where 2nd Lieutenant Rowland George Prichard 3rd Bn attached 1st Bn Suffolk Regiment was killed in action.

I've found the 84th Bde Wars Diary but the Ancestry WD for the 1st Bn for this period seems to be lost?

Any pointers for any 1st Suffolks accounts very much appreciated

Yours

George

Edited by Blue Dragoon
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  • Blue Dragoon changed the title to 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment Battle of St. Julien (24 April – 5 May 1915)

Here it is on Ancestry: https://www.ancestry.co.uk/discoveryui-content/view/695142:60779?_phsrc=fGn110&_phstart=successSource&ml_rpos=39&queryId=02711dcc430a4e4e2755918fb7293dce. I assume you mean 2nd Ypres in 1915.

Acknown

Addition: Aha, I see what you mean, some April pages are missing!

Edited by Acknown
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yes that's the diary but 9th april-9th may 1915 is missing.  Yes Battle of St Julien in 2nd Ypres 24 April – 5 May 1915

Edited by Blue Dragoon
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In the past I've had cause to use excerpts from the "The History of the Suffolk Regiment 1914-1927" by Lieutenant Colonel C.C.R. Murphy in connection with writing up the final days of men on local war memorials. Unfortunately I no longer have access to the book, and I'm fairly sure the two chunks I have transcribed are not continuous.

Page 65 (end) - 68, (part)

The northern edge of the (Ypres) Salient, as far east as the St.Julien-Poelcappelle road, was held by a French Division, and from there to the Passchendaele-Beclaere road by Canadian troops. On the evening of April 22 the whole of the French division was suddenly put out of action by asphyxiating gas. For some time no one realised what had happened. Reinforcements were hurried to the north of Ypres, but throughout the 23rd the enemy continued to attack fiercely. On the night of the 23rd-24th the battalion, having been relieved in the trenches went back into brigade reserve between Frezenberg and Verlorenhoek. There were no billets, the companies bivouacking under hedges and in hastily constructed shelters. Battalion headquarters was in an estaminet also used as a dressing station.

The C.O. and Adjutant were late getting away from Zonnebeke as battalion headquarters – in a farm-house just in rear of the trenches – was being heavily shelled. They reached Frezenberg at dawn on the 24th and shortly afterwards Lieut.Colonel Wallace received orders that he was to command a mixed brigade consisting of the 1st Suffolks, 12th Londons, and 1st Monmouth Regiments. The two first-named battalions were already in the vicinity of Frezenberg, the other was to come up later. Lieut.Colonel Wallace was told to take up a defensive position facing north-east on the Frezenberg Ridge. He therefore handed over command of the battalion to Captain Balders and, having issued instructions as to the position to be occupied, went back to Verlorenhoek, where he had arranged to have his headquarters.

Captain Balders at once set the battalion to work digging themselves in on the ridge astride the Ypres-Zonnebeke road. No sooner had the digging begun than a staff officer from the 28th Division came up to Captain Balders and told him to take the 1st Suffolks and 12th London Regiments and advance northwards, attacking any bodies of the enemy he might meet. The staff officer added that the Germans had broken through on the northern side of the Salient, and that only these two battalions stood between the enemy and the town. Actually the situation thus described was one of the most critical in the war.

Naturally, Captain Balders did not wish to act without orders from his brigadier, but it was clear that there was no time to be lost as the Germans were already shelling the two battalions. On looking round he noticed a gun limber which had been hit by a shell and, as one of the horses was unhurt, he cut the animal free and galloped over to brigade head-quarters for orders. Here Lieut.Colonel Wallace gave him authority to advance and instructions to try and establish himself in the hamlet of Fortuin. He thereupon hurried back to the battalion, made the men dump their tools, and gave the order to advance.

As soon as the troops began to move, the shelling, which had been steadily increasing, became extremely heavy. It was, in fact, coming from every direction except the west.  On the way towards Fortuin a farm was passed in which a Canadian formation had established its headquarters. Captain Balders was called in and asked to take the 1st Suffolk and 12th London Regiments up to the Canadians, who were being very hard pressed. He explained, however, that his orders were to establish himself in Fortuin and that he must abide by them. Two Canadian staff officers accompanied him, maintaining that the reinforcement of this particular part of the line was a matter of supreme importance. Both of these officers were hit while conversing with Captain Balders, who now decided to send help to the Canadians, By this time the shelling had become intense, the battalion being also subjected to heavy rifle and machine-gun fire from the left. Captain Balders soon became aware that St.Julien, which he had been informed was held by our troops, was already in the hands of the Germans.

The C.O. of the 12th London Regiment having become a casualty, Captain Balders took over command of the two battalions which he now halted to give himself an opportunity of appreciating the situation. A wounded Canadian officer then came up and told him that the two battalions were being anxiously awaited, and that if they did not come up soon it might be too late, as there was already a wide gap on the left of the Canadians. Captain Balders thereupon ordered Lieut. Bradley, with “A” and “B” Companies, (about 150 bayonets), to reinforce the Canadian left flank, at the same time withdrawing the remainder of his two battalions about 500 yards and taking up a position covering Fortuin with his left flank thrown back, the 12th London Regiment being on the right.

The Suffolk companies, who were out in the open, dug all night, and by the morning had constructed a fire trench 4 ½ feet deep and complete with traverses – a remarkable achievement with only the small entrenching implement. This was gradually deepened to 6 feet and a fire-step added. ….

Page 68 part.

When the day broke on the 26th the situation looked so desperate that all maps and documents were destroyed. During the afternoon, however, the German shelling was lifted on to the ground behind, from which it was inferred that Allied reinforcements were approaching.

Page 69 (end) - Page 70 start.

On the 29th the battalion was heavily shelled while digging new trenches, which they occupied on May 2. The intervening days were miserably spent as the dugouts were half full of water and the hostile aircraft and artillery continually busy. On May 2 “A” Company, parading to occupy the new trenches, sustained thirteen casualties. On the 4th the battalion was bombarded with trench mortars, 2nd Lieut. F.E. Stantial being killed, and Captain R.W. Leach and 2nd Lieuts H.J.F. White and L.M. Charrington wounded. The next day the battalion was heavily shelled and its headquarters hit.

Casualties had seriously depleted the ranks of the battalion, the men were on the verge of exhaustion, and the rain, almost incessant since the middle of April, had converted the trenches into streams of mud. On May 6 the situation suddenly quietened down, but the peaceful stillness which hung over the line during the night of the 7th-8th seemed to forebode a great disturbance. Just before dawn on May 8 Captain Balders went round the trenches and warned all ranks that an attack was to be expected at any moment adding that the C.O, relied on the battalion to yield no ground, but to stand to the last.

(There is than a gap in the narrative whilst the 4th Battalion events of the same period are narrated.)

Hopefully someone else can fill in the gaps if needed,

Cheers,
Peter

Edited by PRC
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It may not be useful, but there's a blow by blow account of divisional activities, in which 1st Suffolks features, in the 28th Division WD: here and here (Ancestry).

Acknown

Edited by Acknown
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hey Peter, thats a very kind and a great spot, thanks

 

And Acknown, 28th Div!!  Another great spot, cheers

Edited by Blue Dragoon
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  • 3 weeks later...
On 16/04/2022 at 09:38, Blue Dragoon said:

Having some difficulty finding any accounts of the 1st Suffolks at the Battle of St. Julien (24 April – 5 May 1915) where 2nd Lieutenant Rowland George Prichard 3rd Bn attached 1st Bn Suffolk Regiment was killed in action.

I've found the 84th Bde Wars Diary but the Ancestry WD for the 1st Bn for this period seems to be lost?

Any pointers for any 1st Suffolks accounts very much appreciated

Yours

George



 

The war diary for the 12 London (Rangers) might be of some help, as they were attached to 1 Suffolks on 24 April. There is an account by a Lt. Hunter who was detached to try and find out where the German line was located (around Fortuin) which illustrates how confused the situation was on that date. Their diary (WO 95-128-2) is here:   https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/113cfde4fbf946a1b1f34879c5b1b9f8  and can be downloaded for free (at present).

Dave

 

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another great spot Dave, many thanks

 

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