The Suffolk Regiment dates back to 1685, when it was first created by the Duke of Norfolk, incorporating men from Suffolk and Norfolk. In 1751, it was given a county association, as the 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment of Foot, and in 1881, having been merged with the West Suffolk Militia and The Cambridgeshire Militia, became The Suffolk Regiment.
The 1st Battalion had been serving in the Boer War prior to 1914, whilst the 2nd Battalion had been stationed in India.
The regiment was split between Khartoum in Sudan and Curragh in Ireland when the Austro-Hungarian empire declared war on Serbia in 1914. The consequent cascade of further declarations across Europe saw the regiment called upon once again.
In the war, which would last 1,566 days, cost 8,528,831 lives and 28,938,073 casualties or missing on both sides, the Suffolk Regiment raised a total of 23 battalions. Posted all over Europe and the middle east, the regiment received much recognition for its valiant action. To see a detailed outline of the regiment’s movements click .here
The Battle of Le Cateau
One of the battles featured on the regiment’s colours, Le Cateau exemplified the 2nd batallion’s 20 years of peacetime training in India. The soldiers undertook a fierce rear-guard defence, out manned and out gunned by superior numbers of the enemy. They held their position, despite losing the commanding officer, Lt Col C. A. H Brett D. S. O, and second in command, Maj E. C. Doughty, who was severely wounded when taking ammunition forward to the hard-pressed battallion machine gunners.
After eight hours of incessant fighting, the battallion was almost totally decimated, but would not surrender, despite the Germans entreating them to. The men were eventually overwhelmed from the rear, and those remaining alive were taken captive by the Germans, spending the next four years as Prisoners of War.
720 men of the 2nd Battalion roll call of some 1000 were killed, wounded, or captured. The fight-to-the-last-man defence at Le Cateau was later recognised as a key factor in preventing the German Occupation of Paris.
The regiment received innumerable honours for its services in the war, several of which are borne on the Colours, such as Le Cateau, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres 1915, 1917 and 1918, the Somme 1916 and 1918, Arras 1917-18, Cambrai 1917-18, the Hindenburg Line, Macedonia 1915-18 and Gaza. For a full list of the regiment’s battle honours, see here.
In addition, a number of men won The Victoria Cross while serving with the Suffolk Regiment, two of whom were Suffolk Regiment Soldiers.
Sgt Arthur Frederick Saunders of the 9th (Service) Battalion was awarded the cross for gallantry at Loos, on September 26th, 1915:
“For most conspicuous bravery. When his officer had been wounded in the attack, he took charge of two machine guns and a few men and, although severely wounded in the thigh, closely followed the last four charges of another battalion and rendered every possible support. Later when the remains of the battalion, which he had been supporting, had been forced to retire, he stuck to one of his guns and continued to give clear orders, and by his continues firing did his best to cover the retirement”.
Cpl Sidney James Day of the 11th (Service) Battalion, was awarded the cross for more conspicuous bravery on August 26th, 1917:
“Cpl Day successfully commanded a bombing section detailed to clear enemy trenches, killing two and taking four prisoners. Where the trench was levelled, he went on alone to contact flanking troops. On his return, a stick-bomb fell into the trench where there were five wounded. He seized the bomb and threw it out, where it exploded harmlessly, saving the lives of the wounded. He completed the clearing of the trench and remained in an advanced position for sixty-four hours under constant fire. His conduct throughout was inspiration to all”.
You can visit The Suffolk Regiment Museum in Bury St Edmunds, open on the first and third Wednesday, and the first Sunday, of each month, 9.30am – 3.30pm.
The Suffolk Regiment Museum was established, in the Officers Mess, for the 250th Anniversary of the Regiment in 1935, holding a collection of badges, medals and uniform items. In 1968 the Museum moved to its current location in The Keep. Since that time, the collection had grown considerably.
Sources: suffolkregiment.org; wikipedia; Forces War Records