-The 11th Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment

(The Cambs Suffolks)

The First Three Months

 11th Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment recruits in 1914  - Melbourn Place School, Cambridge

The story starts with an application submitted to the War Office by Mr Almeric Paget on 10th September 1914. The application was for the formation of a Cambridgeshire Battalion formed from volunteers. This application was quickly sanctioned and on the 2nd October, the Cambridge Independent Press was able to report a strength of 290 men. The officers were chiefly recent graduates or undergraduates of the university. Initially, recruits were sent to the depot of the Suffolk Regiment in Bury St Edmunds.

Details of the new Battalion, as listed in the application, were as follows.

Bandsmen of the Cambs Suffolks

As the numbers swelled then the War office asked the Territorial Forces Association at Cambridge to form an army relief camp. In turn, the Association asked Col.C.T.Haycock. V.D. of the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps (C.U.O.T.C) to undertake the formation and command of the Relief Camp. Colonel Haycock chose Captain G.L.J. Tuck, who was of the same Corps to help him in the work. On Monday, September 6th, recruits, instead of being sent to Bury, were retained in Cambridge. They were lodged in the Corn Exchange and fed by local effort. The available ex regular N.C.Os attached to the C.U.O.T.C. and certain others living in retirement in the town were called in as instructors.An experienced second in command was formed in Major A.S.W.Stanley. A number of O.T.C. cadets, who were awaiting commissions, offered their services. They were employed as squad leaders or additional instructors, and rapidly earned and acquired the status of officers, though as such they could not yet be fully recognised.

On the 30th September 1914,  permission to use Melbourn Place School was granted (Now Park Side College) and on the same day Colonel C.W.Somerset, M.V.O. arrived to take command. The men were fed and billeted at the school and drilled on Parkers Piece during the day. Major Stanley and Captain Tuck became automatically 2nd-in-Command and Adjutant.

The Battlion conducted its own recruiting campaign. Specially selected officers and N.C.Os accompanied by drummers, buglers and reruiting sergeants, made excursions to Ely, March, Soham and Wisbech. Neare home the companies marched out to find recruits and marched in with replenished ranks.A shilling was offered to any man who could secure an acceptable recruit from his native village or elsewhere on a weeks leave. The sight of a soldier returning from the station on a Sunday evening with a civilian in tow became familiar.

By the 23rd October 1914, the Cambridge Independant Press was reporting that 520 men had joined and by the end of the following week another 60 had swelled the numbers to 580. Following the enlistment of 115 men in one week, the proposed Battalion strength was raised to 1,200 men. By the 4th December 1914, 1,150 men were in place. The numbers continued to swell with 87 men enlisting in the week ending December 1st 1914.

Prior to the end of 1914 the Battalion paraded for the first time. This event was reported thus.

"Practice Inspection held on Parkers Piece on Thursday. Several thousand watched. The Battalion, 1,100 strong, drew up in line facing Park Terrace. The line stretched from the University Arms to Parkside. The saluting base was on the Park Terrace side - opposite Camden House. Colonel C.W.Somerset arrived at 3:15 pm and the Battalion formed 4s and marched to the sound of the Cambridge Town Silver Band. The band played "British Grenadiers" and the 2nd and 3rd Companies marched particularly well. The men returned to the strains of "Red, white and blue", "John Peel" and "The Englishman". On the return the 1st and second Companies marched particularly well. The men then marched around town".

At the end of December four company commanders and 50 other ranks, were the only individuals who had first hand experience of soldiering.

The Battalion suffered it's first loss on Friday, 4th December 1914. Private Sidney Shepherd 16392 (son of George Shepherd of Leverington). Aged 17 years, having stated his age at 19 years in order to enlist in November 1914. Private Shepherd, who died from pneumonia is buried in Leverington Churchyard. Although his name appears on Commonwealth War Grave records, his headstone is a bespoke one (see pictures Below).


 Pte Shepherd's grave

 The headstone

Leverington War Memorial

 On the 11th December, 1914 the strength had reached 1,191 and the required headcount had been raised to 1,350. This included 250 as the core of a new depot company. The previous week 41 men had joined. Meanwhile the War Office had approached the Territorial Force Association on the subject of the Regiment to which the Cambridgeshire Battalion should belong. A choice between Norfolk and Suffolk was offered and Col. Somerset chose the latter. Major Stanle had previously served in the Suffolk Militia.

On the friday after the 11th December the Battalion moved to new hut barracks on Cherry Hinton Meadow. Most officers remained billeted in their rooms at University or in University lodging houses. The officers mess was in the hall of Kings where 8 officers had lived in studied.

So ended 1914. It was to be another 13 months before the Battalion moved overseas and 18 months before its day of tragedy on the Somme battlefield.

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