The 11th Battalion Suffolk Regiment

(The Cambs Suffolks)

1st July 1916 - Part Two

The following data was culled from the war diary of the 11th Battalion Suffolk regiment at the Public Records Office (PR0) - Reference WO95 2458. There are also quotations from soldiers from "The First Day On The Somme" by Martin Middlebrook - a book which I unreservedly recommend.

Quotes from Pte W.J.Senescall, The Cambridgeshire Battalion

Early Morning 1/7/1916 "A shot went off some yards away. A fellow had shot himself right through the knee.He had pluck, I think.It was a strange sight seeing him being carried away on a stretcher under arrest,with a man at each side of him with fixed bayonets. I often wonder what happened to him".

"Now the first of many silly things happened. They had laced the tea with rum. The rum out there was the goods, real thick treacle stuff. I had one sip and,whoa, I wasn't going to make myself muzzy for the job we were going on. Some chaps drank and had some more, they were soon tiddly. Two of them lay on the floor competely out. A Sergeant Major was kicking them both as they lay there to bring them round,although to no purpose".

Quote from Pte W.Gathercole, The Cambridgeshire Battalion

Early Morning 1/7/1916 "It started to rain so we got our dixies out and let the rain run into them from our tin hats. The rain didn't last long but we caught enough to quench our thirst".

Excerpts from the War Diary 1st July

1/7/1916 "At 7.28am the mine exploded".

Lochnager Mine Crater - 1916

"Followed the 10th Lincs Battalion into Sausage Valley and across to the German lines. Owing to the failure of 102nd Brigade on the left to capture La Boisselle we suffered very heavy machine gun fire. 11 Suffolk pushed on but few men reached the German lines".

Quotes from Pte W.J.Senescall, The Cambridgeshire Battalion

7.40am 1/7/1916 "The long line of men came forward,rifles at the port as ordered.Now Gerry started.His machine guns let fly. Down they all went. I could see them dropping one after the other as the gun swept along them. The officer went down at exactly the same time as the man behind him. Another minute or so and another wave came forward. Gerry was ready this time and this lot did not get as far as the others".

Pte Senescall was ordered to take a drum of signal wire forward.......

"Well I suppose this is where the old discipline comes in. I dare not stop. I was not wounded.,so forward I had to go. I could not carry the drum myself (his four companions had been killed or wounded) so I did the unforgiveable thing and left my rifle behind. Well I pushed the drum along as well as I could and I had to negotiate corpses, shouting wounded men and large lumps of earth. Puffing and panting, I kept this up for a long time, as I was crawling along and progress was rather slow. At last I thought, I must have a look round. I had got some thirty yards from Jerry's trench. I could see the German hats moving about their trench top. That settled it - no use taking the wire to them".

"Then during the afternoon Jerry started shelling nomans land in a zig zag fashion to kill the rest of us off. As each shell landed they gave a burst of machine gun fire over where it fell, to catch anyone who should jump up. As they worked towards me I knew when my shell was coming. Sure enough it came and landed a few yards behind me. Over came the bullets as well but I kept perfectly still".

"A very large shell fell some yards to my left. With all the bits and pieces flying up was a body. The legs had been blown off right to the crutch. I have never seen a body lifted so high. It sailed up and towards me. I can still see the deadpan look on his face under the tin hat, which was still held on by the chin strap. He kept coming and landed with a bonk behind me".

Later as the light faded.......

"At long last evening came and the light began to fade. I ventured a look forward and there was Jerry out of his trench moving among the fallen. Now,I thought, I am going to Berlin too soon. That decided me, I jumped up and ran as best I could, for I was stiff. I kept treading on wounded and they called out to me for help. Jerry let me have a few more shots as I ran, but the light had now gone.Anyway he couldn't hit me that day in daylight, could he?"

Quote from Private John Garner (11th Battalion Suffolks) of Lambs Yard, March. Private Garner was wounded and wrote this account from Killingbeck War Hospital, York Rd, Leeds. The text was published in the Cambridgeshire Times.(Thanks to Cliff Brown for supplying this quote).

"I do not want to experience hell again. I am sure I was mad. The charge was the worst ever made by the British and they were still going forward. There were thousands of dead and wounded and German prisoners. It is quite easy to take them prisoner, for some are only boys. The worst type of the Germans, they fire at you at a distance and when you get close to them they drop their rifles and cry for mercy. We started at 7:30am on July 1st and I was wounded at 4 o'clock and lay in a shell hole until midnight. I was shot while holding my bottle to a wounded Scotchman (sic) when the bullet entered my wrist and came out at the elbow."

Quote from Corporal R.Harley (11th Battalion Suffolks) of March - Letter from Warrington Hospital published in the Cambridgeshire Times.(Thanks to Cliff Brown for supplying this quote).

"On July 1st the 11th Suffolks were on the right of Albert when at 7:30am we left our trench to tell Mr Germany that it was time to get moving. A great many of our Brigade not being bulletproof fell before they reached the German line, for the Germans were mowing the grass with machine gun fire. I managed to cross the enemy's front line, when I halted and looked around for my comrades. The nearest of them were about 50 yards away, so I thought I would wait for the reserves to come up. As I was standing there I felt something hit my left-hand top pocket, which reminded me I'd better move. I did so and a few minutes later a bullet passed through my left wrist."

Cambridgeshire Times 14-7-16

Pte Frederick Spendelow, 11th Suffolk Regiment, second son of Mr Frederick Spendelow, of High Street, March, is unofficially reported to have been killed in action. The report is forwarded from his brother, who says: "We have been in the trenches again and were there when the great advance came off. I am pleased to say I came through all right, but regret to that poor little Fred got killed. We have heard nothing of him, but one of our fellows saw him lying on the field. H Chapman was killed too. I can tell you it was a dreadful sight. It was Saturday July 1st. I shall always remember it. The Germans are cowards and there are a lot of old men amongst them. I am pleased to learn we are coming back for a rest."

Cambridgeshire Times 14-7-16

Private A. Ransome, 11th Suffolks, now in hospital in Brighton, suffering from five bullet wounds he received in the great advance early this month. In a letter to his wife, Private Ransome says that when they made the big move and it took every man to do it, he was told to carry a bundle of wire and as soon as he got on top of the trench he was knocked down, four bullets entering his left arm and one in his chest.

Excerpts from the War Diary  2nd July 1916

12:15am "A message was received by 101st Brigade HQ from Captain O.H.Brown of the 11th Suffolk Bn. In Wood Alley with 20 Suffolks' and 200 men from other units. Browns' action enabled cover to be given to the 21st Division Bn HQ."

"Bn HQ assisted in the retrieval of wounded to our lines".

Excerpts from the War Diary 4th July 1916

"11th Suffolks relieved after clearing the battlefields."

"Other Ranks --- Killed (148) Wounded (387) Missing (75)"

Memo from GOC 101st Brigade to 11th Suffolk Bn CO

"Dear Colonel Somerset....their courage was magnificent as in spite of wave after wave of being mown down they fearlessly pressed forward towards their troops could have done better....go down in posterity as one of the gallant actions of the war."

Memo from GOC 34th Division to 11th Suffolk Bn CO

"well done....mourns deeply for absent comrades."

Memo from GOC 4th Army to 11th Suffolk Bn CO

"whilst regretting heavy casualties.....I commend their determination and gallantry."

Within the Battalions' orders for the 1st July 1916 there is a line that reads "no water to be drunk in Contalmaison until the source has been confirmed". In the event this difficult issue was not one that the assaulting troops would have to contend with..... 

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