The 11th Battalion Suffolk Regiment
(The Cambs Suffolks)
1st July 1916 - Part One
The following data was culled from the war diary of the 11th Battalion Suffolk Regiment at the Public Records Office (PRO) - Reference WO95 2458. There is also additional information taken from various other sources.
11 Suffolk remained at Cambridge until 19th May 1915. It's strength was 47 officers and 1,404 other ranks. The Cambs Suffolks joined 101 Brigade of 34 Division and crossed to France on 7/8 January1916. It fought in the trenches in 111 Corps Sector (Armentieres) in February 1916 moving down to the Somme in May 1916.
The group shot on the left above was taken during the time that the Cambs Suffolks were based in Ripon, Yorkshire. Amongst the men featured are Private H.W.(Billy) Disbrey (seated second left), Pte Billy Barker (standing fifth right) and Pte Claude.H.Reading (standing far right). The picture on the right features 'Billy' Disbrey who was killed in action on the 1st July 1916 along with Claude Reading who is mentioned above. Billy Disbrey had two brothers serving with the Cambs Suffolks (Tom and George), both of whom were wounded on that same day.
These pictures were provided by Stuart Disbrey. As well as those relatives mentioned above, Stuart has two ancestors on his paternal grandmother's side who served with the Battalion. Daniel & John Jacobs. On the 1st July 1916, Daniel remembered being hit in the face by a bullet and being spun around - falling back into the trench he saw the sun reflected off the Golden Virgin on the steeple at Albert. Daniel's brother, John, lost a leg,also on that fateful day - July 1st 1916.
Excerpts from the War Diary prior to 1st July
19/5/1916 "Moved forward to be part of Brigade reserve - Albert area."
24/5/1916 "9.2 inch howitzers fired effectively at La Boiselle....enemy machine guns more active...incoming aerial torpedoes."
25/5/1916 "Relieved by the 10th Lincs Bn. Two Companies billeted at Dernancourt. A Co. NW of church. D to SW. Remaining two Companies to be billeted in Becourt wood. Minimum of two Lewis guns to be held in the wood."
3/6/1916 "To Divisional Reserve at Bresle. Attacks simulated against flagged trenches for the coming advance between Albert and Contalmaison."
15/6/1916 "Whole Battalion to Becourt wood - several wounded."
21/6/1916 "Gas cylinders brought up to the front line."
23/6/1916 "New assembly trenches cut - New Cut A, New Cut B and New Kingsgate - latrines every 100 yards."
24/6/1916 "Artillery bombardment commenced."
26/6/1916 "Battalion orders of attack received."
27/6/1916 "Up to Becourt Wood and Maxse Redoubt in battle order."
28/6/1916 "Attack postponed. Battalion HQ and 1 Company moved up to RE dugouts in Becourt wood."
30/6/1916 "Whole Battalion assembled in Becourt Wood with HQ in Chateau. Four other ranks wounded."
Excerpts from Orders for the 1st July 1916
"Each Battalion will attack in 4 waves with 3 Companies. One platoon from each Company in each wave. 11 Suffolk will be known as D Battalion."
"D Battalion will pass through 10th Lincolns within two minutes of the barrage lifting. C Company will advance through Bailiff Wood along with B Co. C Company will consolidate Suffolk Redoubt and will call on D & B Co. if necessary. The remainder of the Battalion frontage will be consolidated along the German trench with Lewis guns at the fore. Cambridge Redoubt will be consolidated by one of the platoons of A Co. Selected men to push forward to see if Contalmaison has been evacuated."
"A mine will be exploded (Lochnagar - my note) - All ranks to be warned that the concussion will be considerable."
Wave 1 & 2 in Kingsgate Street and New Kingsgate Street.
Wave 3 & 4 in Dundee Avenue and New Cut B
Each Platoon to have 100 yard front
Bn HQ will be at the junction of Abroath Street and Dundee Avenue.
Aid post at Grieff Street
The first two Bns (15th Royal Scots and 10th Lincolns) will creep forward into nomans land under cover of the barrage ready to advance at zero hour. D Bn (Cambs Suffolks) will follow at 150 yards distance.)
Battalion HQ to be established in Bailiff Wood, machine guns to be established in Suffolk and Cambridge Redoubts.
All men to carry the following :-
Rifle and equipment
2 extra bandoliers of SAA
2 Mills bombs
1 Iron rations
1 Day rations
1 Gas helmet and pair of goggles
1 Gas helmet pinned to shirt
A box respirator (for those who have one)
A yellow triangle (inverted) on haversack
1 Pick or shovel
Oil can and bottle
No papers or orders apart from a 1/5000 German trench map
Officers will carry a rifle and not a stick. Also a very pistol.
Provision for the wounded
"Too much credence should not be given to the opinions of wounded men."
The wounded should assemble at (a) Rue de Bapaume (end of Northumberland St) (b) Albert tram station at Albert cemetery. Dressing stations will be eastablished at (a) Ecole Superior, Albert (b) Moulin Vivier.
Major WA Farquhar
Captain GLJ Tuck
Lieut. NB Bagenal
2nd Lieutenant COF Jenkins
Captain OH Brown (Wounded)
Lieut. PV Emrys Evans (Wounded)
2nd Lieut. HA Shaw (Wounded)
2nd Lieut. WM Fiddian
Captain OW Wootton (Wounded)
2nd Lieut. JD Weston (Missing)
2nd Lieut. AA Mclean (Killed)
2nd Lieut. S Thomas (Killed)
Major PF Morton (Wounded)
Lieut. RQ Gilson (Killed) - See Details Below
2nd Lieut. AW Mcgain (Killed)
2nd Lieut. FC Shaw (Wounded)
Captain CL Morgan (Wounded)
Lieut. GR HAttersley (Wounded)
2nd Lieut. AB Wright - See Details Below
2nd Lieut. DJ Darley (Missing)
N.B. Fate of relevant officer on 1st July is shown in italics.
Captain JV Fiddian
"All officers to dress like the men. Badges of rank to remain and all must wear putties."
Oh and a few other supplementary orders...
"The use of the word "Retire" is forbidden in 101 Brigade. If given it must never be obeyed unless it is in writing from an authorised person."
"Any officer,NCO or other rank found in possession of souvenirs will be liable to court martial. Arrangements will be made afterwards to collect and distribute souvenirs"
"Assisting a wounded man to the rear is a court martial offense."
Killed in Action - Lieutenant Robert Quilter Gilson
Becourt CWGC Cemetery
The picture on the left is reproduced from John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War, 2003, with permission of the author and the estate of R.Q.Gilson. I thoroughly recommend John Garth's excellent book which tells a lot of Gilson's story, derived from his personal letters. It provides the most detailed and up-to-date account of the 11th Suffolks on the first day of the Somme in print.
Lieutenant Robert Quilter Gilson was a gifted artist and very close friend of J.R.R.Tolkien. They both attended King Edward's School, Birmingham where Gilson's father was Headmaster. He studied at Trinity College Cambridge and joined the Cambs Suffolk following the outbreak of war in 1914. On 1 July 1916 he was leading his soldiers forward "perfectly calmly and confidently" as if on parade when he and his Sergeant Major, Brooks, were killed by a shell burst. His body was recovered and buried in the beautiful War Graves Cemetery at Becourt Wood. The picture "Lisieux" was from one of his sketch books and used in a card of acknowledgement sent by his parents to "Warmly thank you for sympathy in a great sorrow."
Survived - Lieutenant Andrew B.Wright
Sir Andrew Wright, KCMG, CBE, MC was one of the few officers to emerge unhurt on 1 July 1916. He was awarded an immediate MC at Hargicourt in 1917 and a Bar to it at the Battle of the Lys in 1918. He had shared huts and billets with Gilson for 18 months and in a letter to Gilson's father wrote "It was the final but not the first triumph of determination over his sensitive nature - he alone is brave who goes to face everything with a full knowledge of (his own) cowardice." Sir Andrew was Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Cyprus from 1949 to 1954 and contributed most of the earlier history of the 11 Suffolk in "The History of the Suffolk Regiment 1914-1917".
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