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World War One

warmemorial.jpg (179232 bytes)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 

There were signs of tacit agreements to 'live and let live' as soon as trench warfare began in November 1914. At various points, soldiers on both sides wrote about lulls in the fighting, especially at breakfast time, and also during the evening when the rations were brought up to the front line. 

Yet even though informal truces had occurred in almost every major campaign since the Peninsular War, the extent of the fraternization between British and German troops during Christmas 1914 was surprising. Contemporary accounts by officers and ordinary soldiers alike suggest at least two-thirds of the British-held sector was involved. The French and Belgians had similar experiences. 

Christmas Eve was a beautiful frosty moonlit night, made still more beautiful when the Germans lit candles on small Christmas trees and propped them on the parapet "like the footlights of a theatre" as one British soldier described them. There was carol singing ("I don't think we were so harmonious as the Germans"). Then came cries of "Hello, Tommy!", and "Hello, Fritz!" 'Enemies' took tentative steps into No Man's Land, shook hands, lit each other's cigarettes, and exchanged gifts of German sausages and cigars, Maconnochie's tinned stew and Wills' tobacco, family photos and London newspapers. 

The truce lasted at least until the end of Boxing Day. At several points it continued until New Year and on into January. But in other sectors the war went on as usual. The situation could differ every 200 metres, depending on the attitude of the battalion commander. Wherever the truce happened, both sides took the opportunity to bury their dead and to improve their trench systems. http://www.inflandersfields.be/english/home/index.html 

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: 

Second Battle of Ieper 

On 22 April 1915, at 5 pm, a greenish-yellow cloud rose slowly into the air from the German lines at Steenstrate. This was chlorine gas. The French and Algerian soldiers in the front line fled to the rear, yet many of them would never reach safety. In a few hours' time, the Germans had moved forward four kilometres towards the Ieper-IJzer Canal. The speed of their advance surprised even them. The German troops were given the order to dig themselves in. 

Following the gas attack, the Allied commanders realized that Ieper was now in danger. The Canadians therefore launched a counterattack to cover the flanks of the retreating French. They were joined the next day by the British, Indians and Belgians. This marked the start of the Second Battle of Ieper. The fighting would last five weeks. 

The threat was greatest to the north of Ieper, where German units had crossed the Ieperlee Canal in two places. Inch by inch, French and Belgian troops managed to drive them back. However, heavy German shelling and renewed gas attacks claimed many lives. The positions at Passendale, Zonnebeke and Polygon Wood were all cleared. 

To the east of Ieper, the Germans were confronted by British troops. At Hill 60, Sanctuary Wood and Hoge, there was fierce fighting for every inch of ground. 

The civilians who hadn't already fled from Ieper were now ordered to evacuate. Even Camille Delaere, the enterprising priest of St Peter's, and Geoffrey Winthrop Young, the head of the voluntary Friends' Ambulance Unit, were told to leave the city. Only the military remained. Although Ieper was still in British hands, it was by now little more than a deserted ruin. 

The Second Battle of Ieper drew to a close at the end of May, due to lack of ammunition and manpower. The Germans had succeeded in pushing forward several kilometres across a large part of the Ieper Salient, thereby advancing ever closer to the city. Five weeks of fighting had taken a heavy toll. The Germans had lost 35,000 dead and wounded, the British 60,000, the French 10,000 and the Belgians 1,500. 

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 Somme The long-drawn-out fighting at Verdun was progressively exhausting the French army. At the request of the French, the British therefore launched a huge diversionary attack further west. This would become known as the Battle of the Somme. 

The United Kingdom was the last of the major protagonists to introduce mandatory conscription, which it did in early 1916. As the Battle of the Somme claimed more lives, conscripts were drafted in to take the place of the professional soldiers and volunteers. 

1 July 1916, the first day of the Somme, was a disaster. For an entire week, the British artillery had fired off more than 1.5 million shells. The British firmly believed that nothing would be left of the enemy. But the Germans were so deep underground that most had survived the bombardment. Moreover, the British shells were of very uneven quality. The result when the British emerged from their trenches was sheer slaughter. In one single day alone, they lost more than 57,000 dead and wounded. 

On 15 September, at Flers, the British unveiled a new weapon the tank. However, 31 of the 49 tanks used during the attack succumbed to mechanical difficulties. 

The Battle of the Somme did not end until mid-November, with the approach of winter. By this time, the British had lost 400,000 (dead, missing, wounded or prisoners-of-war). The Germans had lost an equal number, the French half that figure. These enormous sacrifices had won the Allies barely 12 kilometres of ground. 

The Somme was to the British what Verdun was to the French. The losses of 1 July were especially traumatic, and helped to dispel forever any remaining illusions about the invincibility of the Empire. After the disasters of Verdun and the Somme, no-one knew how to go on. The German Prince Max von Baden wrote: "1916 ended in bitter disappointment for both sides. Both we and our enemies had spilled the blood of the best of our manhood, yet without coming a single step closer to victory." http://www.inflandersfields.be/english/home/index.html

 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

goodwingrave2.jpg (187828 bytes)It is unknown how many men returned to Herringswell from WW1. Gunner Arundel e o Goodwin came back wounded and died from those wounds in 1921. He was buried in Herringswell Churchyard. 

walter small.jpg (76981 bytes)The young man Walter Nunn (pictured here) returned to work on the estate as a gamekeeper, clearly, as these records show, so many men from such a small village did not.

Information, unless otherwise marked, is taken from Lieutenant Colonel C Murphy. The History of the Suffolk Regiment 1914 - 1927. Hutchinson 1928.

A Forest Heath District Council (Suffolk) Project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Millennium Festival 2000 Designed by ArtAtac