War history: The 9th Suffolks were praised by the king then were off to France for The Big Push

The 9th Suffolks. In June, 1915, with every man desperately needed in Flanders, the 9th were itching

The 9th Suffolks. In June, 1915, with every man desperately needed in Flanders, the 9th were itching to see action. By August, they were camped in barns in France. Photo: Friends of The Suffolk Regiment - Credit: Archant

Mike Peters last week wrote about the summer of 1915 and the birth of ‘Kitchener battalions’. Today, Galloway’s resident military historian follows the march to war.

We left the redoubtable men of the 7th Battalion The Suffolk Regiment marching towards the front line 100 years ago to prepare for The Big Push. As I explained last week, there were a number of other volunteer battalions raised from across Suffolk, all looking to join the Regular and Territorial battalions who wore the same cap badge.

This week we pick up the trail of two more of our county battalions, the 8th and 9th Suffolks, both of whom in 1915 were destined to serve on the Western Front.

The 8th Suffolks were actually raised at the Shorncliffe Depot in Kent in late September, 1914. They did not remain on the south coast for long as, within a month, they were moved much closer to home at Colchester.

The new battalion joined the 53rd Division alongside the 8th Norfolks, 10th Essex and the 6th Royal Berkshires. The brigade was part of the 18th (Eastern) Division under the command of Major General FI Maxse, an officer who many of today’s historians regard as an exceptional trainer and an officer ahead of his time.

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Training for the 8th Suffolks was described as strenuous. The battalion was involved in numerous training exercises outside Colchester, over the chalky fields of Salisbury Plain and at nearby Codford. Some months later, in July, 1915, the 8th embarked for France, landing from troopships at Boulogne.

The 18th Division then moved toward the small town of Albert in what was known as the Somme sector. This was an area of Northern France with which the men of the 18th Eastern Division were destined to become very familiar. We will return to them and the Somme later in the series.

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Shorncliffe was clearly a busy place during the autumn of 1914. Not only were the 8th Suffolks mustering at the Kent garrison, the 9th Suffolks were also forming their new battalion at Shorncliffe.

The 9th filled its ranks with men from all over Suffolk. The Suffolk regimental history mentions a number of recruits were already known to the regiment; they had served in the Suffolks before.

The 9th were allocated to a different brigade and division to the 8th. They joined the 24th Division as one of the battalions in an East Anglian formation known as the 71st Brigade, comprising the 9th Norfolks, 8th Bedfords and the 11th Essex.

During the first few months, training took place ? living under canvas ? under the direction of two successive commanding officers from the Indian Army. The daily running of the battalion was administered by the second in command, Major WF Coleman, and a former adjutant of the regiment’s Regular 2nd Battalion.

As the winter of 1914 closed in on the tents the 9th called home, heavy rains made their camp untenable and they moved to drier billets in Brighton.

The expansion of the army presented huge logistical problems and the 9th did not exchange their temporary blue serge uniforms for full-blown khaki until March, 1915. Training escalated in its complexity and seriousness as the weeks passed by training around Cissbury Ring, Reigate and finally Blackdown.

In June, 1915, with every man desperately needed in Flanders, the 9th were at full strength and itching to see action. The king, accompanied by Lord Kitchener, inspected the battalion and the monarch congratulated the Suffolks on their smartness and physique.

The battalion now adopted its own field patch: a Cambridge Blue triangle stitched below the rear of every man’s collar for recognition.

Finally, on August 30, 1915, the battalion paraded and boarded troop trains for embarkation at Folkestone. The bulk of the troops sailed from there to Boulogne; the heavy weapons and transport made a separate crossing from Southampton to Havre.

After a journey by rail and then route march, the 9th reached their new billets, where they found they were sheltering in barns. Here they stayed for three weeks through the August and early September, 1915, waiting for The Big Push…

• You can find out more about the Suffolks, and their experiences at the Battle of Loos, at an exhibition at Ipswich Town Hall, on September 25-26. Opening times are Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday,12noon to 5pm.

• Would you like to organise your own bespoke group visit to the Western Front? Visit www.travel-galloway.com/ww1centenary to find out more. You can also follow a battlefields feed on Twitter @GallowayBattles and find battlefield tour reports on the Galloway Travel Facebook page.

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