max temp: 15°C

min temp: 11°C


First World War: Less than a fortnight after Britain declared war on Germany, The Second Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment found themselves in France

12:40 05 August 2014

Corporal Sidney James Day, of the Suffolk Regiment, who was awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.

Corporal Sidney James Day, of the Suffolk Regiment, who was awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.


Le Cateau, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres, the Somme, the Menin road, Passchendaele… The Suffolk Regiment was at the heart of the action during The Great War. And, as Steven Russell learns, it began early.


For many East Anglian families, The Great War began as soon as Germany was told its military aggression would not be allowed to continue. For when Britain declared war on August 4, 1914, the Second Battalion of The Suffolk Regiment was mobilised immediately.

By the 17th of August it was in France, with the British Expeditionary Force taking the fight to the Kaiser’s army.

Earlier that month, the battalion had been at the Curragh in Ireland – at an army base on the vast plain in County Kildare. War soon had it on the move.

In France, confrontation came quickly. The 2nd Battalion was in action near Mons. Later, on the 25th, there was fighting at Le Cateau, after British and French forces retreated from Mons and established defensive positions as the German advance continued.

“There the decision was taken to stand and fight,” explains Eric Lummis in his overview of the regiment’s history, produced in the late 1990s. Along with other British troops “they fought against overwhelming forces for nine hours before being overrun. Losses were over 700”.

Ron Murrell, a heritage officer with St Edmundsbury council, is giving a talk on Monday about the lead-up to the war and the Suffolks’ involvement.

He says: “The commander of 2nd Army Corps, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, wrote a forward to part of the History of the Suffolk Regiment (1914-1927), in which he praises highly the units who held the German advance at Le Cateau, including the 2nd Suffolks; crediting the action as crucial in allowing the units time to reorganise themselves and possibly a major contribution in preventing the advance of the Germans on Paris.

“Certainly the casualties the Suffolks and other units in the rearguard action suffered saved far larger numbers in the BEF.”

The Second Battalion wasn’t the only Suffolk Regiment body to be involved in the early months of the war. The First Battalion – which had been in both Malta and Egypt – was in Khartoum that summer. It was dispatched to the Western Front, arriving in France in 1915 and becoming involved in heavy fighting in the Ypres area.

In the May, Eric Lummis states, it was nearly wiped out, having taken more than 400 casualties. “After further service in France it was moved to Macedonia, where it saw service until the end of the war.”

Meanwhile, the 4th (Territorial) Battalion was in France before 1914 was out. Neuve Chapelle marked its first major battle, in 1915. There were many more to come before peace was declared in 1918.

The 5th Battalion went to Gallipoli in 1915, followed by Palestine. “Also in Gallipoli and Palestine was the Suffolk Yeomanry, which became the 15th Battalion of the regiment in 1915 and went on to serve with distinction on the Western Front.”

In the spring of the final year of the war, the 2nd Battalion suffered badly at Wancourt – the first Battle of Arras, in France – during a German army push that March.

Eric writes: “Two companies, commanded by Captain WL Simpson MC [awarded the Military Cross, which was given for “exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy”] from Bury St Edmunds, and Captain LJ Baker MC from Lavenham, fought desperately, holding the German attack up in an action described by The Times: ‘There is a story, such as painters ought to make immortal and historians to celebrate, of how certain Suffolks, cut off and surrounded, fought back to back on the Wancourt-Tilloy road.’”

Two Suffolk Regiment soldiers who fought in The Great War received the Victoria Cross – the highest military decoration, given for valour “in the face of the enemy”.

Sergeant Frederick Arthur Saunders, of the 9th Battalion, received his for action at Loos in the autumn of 1915. Despite injuries that cost him a leg, his bravery allowed a badly-wounded lieutenant to survive, become a general, and live past 100!

Corporal Sidney James Day, meanwhile, was recognised for his bravery near Peronne two years later. In charge of a group clearing a maze of trenches held by the Germans, he killed two machine-gunners and took four prisoners. Not long after, a stick bomb dropped into a trench. He grabbed it and hurled it out, where it exploded – thus saving the lives of the men in that trench. Day also stayed at his post for 66 hours, enduring intense enemy fire.

“Five other battalions of the regiment, all raised in wartime, served in France,” Eric Lummis points out. “Eight battalions were involved in the Somme campaign of 1916.”

So many major, bloody, military confrontations…

“The eighty-one Great War battle honours, from Mons to Palestine… show their range.”

For more on the First World War commemorations, visit our special webpage



Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Ipswich Star visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Ipswich Star staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Ipswich Star account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Sharon Halls and Daniel Compton's baby, Evie

An Ipswich couple have launched a desperate online appeal to raise at least £184,000 for the care of a premature baby born 12 weeks early in the Dominican Republic.

Accident near Hintlesham causes delays.

There are delays on the A1071 near Hintlesham following an accident involving a car and motorbike this morning.

Felixstowe's Martello Tower P, in Langer Road, open as part of Felixstowe's Heritage weekend.

A project to restore a defensive fort dating back to the Napoleonic era has received a £50,000 boost from a heritage funding cash pot.

Anne Humphrys and Bec Jasper have set up PACT support group for parents and families of children with disabilities.

Huge increases in the number of children in Suffolk suffering from mental health problems were today laid bare - amid major concerns about the quality of services youngsters receive.

B&Q in Anglia Retail Park will close by 2017.

Home improvement giant B&Q is set to close one of its biggest Suffolk stores - at Anglia Retail Park on the edge of Ipswich, it can be revealed.

Web fire

A kitchen fire was extinguished in Walder Grave Way, Manningtree, this afternoon.

A two-year-old was freed from a car in Stowmarket today.

Police are keen to speak to the driver of a lorry who they believe can help with their enquires into a related incident on the A140.

An Accurist watch has been stolen in Ipswich town centre.

No further criminal action against police officer

No further criminal action will be taken against a Suffolk police officer arrested on suspicion of misconduct and breaching confidential data laws.

Most read

Most commented

Topic pages