World War One
Most of the Herringswell men who signed up in the First World War joined the Suffolk Regiment, the majority of them in the second battalion. The 2nd Battalion, numbering about 1000 men, had been in Ireland just before the War, things had been tense when officers had been asked if they were prepared to take action against local people, they were given the choice of resigning their commissions without pension. They were bitterly opposed but in the end they did not have to make that decision, the 1st WW intervened and the Battalion sailed for France in early August 1914. A week later they were in action making a stand at Le Cateau. The Battalion was clearly told to make a stand "with no thought of retirement" despite the difficult and exposed position they were meant to defend. Subsequent orders to retreat from Mons seemed to pass the Battalion by as others retreated they were over run and surrounded. Being attacked from all sides 720 men were killed. The Suffolks clearly needed replacements.
On 3rd Dec 1914 a detachment of the Suffolks were present at a medal ceremony presentation by King George V in France with the Prince of Wales, Edward the 8th. Whilst none of the Suffolk men were decorated this was the first time in nearly 600 years, since the Black Prince, that an heir apparent to the throne had been present on the field of battle.
The Christmas Truce
The 2nd Battalion continued to suffer dreadful conditions in the Somme from the start of 1915, Murphy reports that "men had to undergo periods of prolonged crouching in water sometimes waist deep". Periods of prolonged waiting ensued with March reported as starting quietly, however despite not being sent 'over the top' there were still 140 casualties one of whom was believed to be the first Herringswell soldier to lose his life, Harry Addison from Hall Farm Lodge. Private Addison is remembered in the church, a plaque states he was 'amongst the first to volunteer, the first to fall'. His official record with the war graves commission states he died 2 years later, however it is believed by village people that their record is correct. The commission has been contacted with this new information to try and get his records corrected.
Unusually the 1st and 2nd Battalions met up with each other in April 1915, potentially giving the opportunity for Herringswell soldiers to great each other for the first time since they joined. This was just before the 1st Battalion fought in the Battle of Ypres at St Julien. For the first time they suffered horrendous gas attacks, by the end of April another 400 Suffolk soldiers had been killed. Before dawn on 8th May 1915 Captain Balders toured the trenches and warned all ranks that an attack was expected at any moment. His message was that the Battalion was being relied upon, once again, to "yield no ground, but to stand to the last". At dawn a violent shelling began. At 10 am the attack was launched with gas and by the end of the day there were another 400 casualties, presumed to include the death of Charles Scott, (noted as Lance Corporal on the official war graves Ypres (Menin Gate) memorial and as Private on Herringswell's village memorial). The war Commission's memorial on the road to Menin "bears the names of men who were lost without trace during the defence of the Ypres Salient".
The War Commission writes:
An A. Hunt, believed to be Private Alfred Hunt of Herringswell died on 30th September 1915 and is buried at the Perth Cemetery East of Ypres near the great communication trench known as the Great Wall of China.
At the end of the year 1915 the 9th Battalion was still in Ypres. They had suffered gas attacks before Christmas but fared better than previously with the proper use of their simple but effective gas masks. In January most of the 9th's casualties were caused by shelling and on the 15th Arundel Goodwin died. He missed what was described as the "welcome change of equipment from leather to webbing".
The 8th Battalion were fighting on the Somme in July 1916. Private Orlando Murton died on the 18th. The battle at this time is described as "at midnight on July 18/19 the brigade was unexpectedly launched at very short notice and with no reconnaissance in a most unenviable counter attack designed to clear the village (Longueval) and wood. By the time the brigade was assembled and the necessary orders had been issued it was already dawn. The 2 miles of open country had to be traversed in broad daylight with every available German gun trained on the assaulting troops". The attackers were described as "they moved forward with courage". The attack was felt to be largely unsuccessful, eventually gaining just 300 yards.
The 2nd Battalion was also involved in the renewed attacks on Longueval and Delville wood. "The 2 Suffolk companies in the forward line moved in double lines of platoons with a front of 140 yards each". Private Percy Sparkes died on the 20th July following "much bitter fighting which, though indecisive locally, enabled another division to gain a footing".
The War Graves Commission writes the following
The end of March 1918 saw a great German Offensive in the Sensee Valley. The hill where Private Edwin Frost is buried had been captured by the Cavalry Corps in October 1914 and was held throughout the Battle of the Lys despite the 9th Battalion having to withdraw from their position with heavy casualties. Their new positions continued to see "heavy fighting with the Suffolk Battalions overwhelmed". Both battles saw over 700 casualties, Private Edwin Frost died on the 19th April.
Other Herringswell men who died included Captain Leslie Balance of the Kings Royal Rifles who died at the Somme on 27th September 1916. A church plaque states "whilst performing a dangerous duty for which he had volunteered". And Private Henry Nunn of the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers who died 31st March 1917
Information, unless otherwise marked, is taken from Lieutenant Colonel C Murphy. The History of the Suffolk Regiment 1914 - 1927. Hutchinson 1928.
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