Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 17:14 UK
Suffolk Regiment's role in WWII
Medals from the Far East campaign
Medals from the Far East campaign which included action in Malaysia and Burma

A guide to Suffolk Regiment landmarks has been produced for Bury St Edmunds.

It coincides with the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939.

More than 1,500 members of the Regiment were killed in action or as prisoners of war in Dunkirk, north Africa, Italy, Burma and elsewhere.

The Regimental museum is based at The Keep in Bury St Edmunds, which is also the headquarters for the modern-day Royal Anglian Regiment.

The Suffolk Regiment was founded in 1685 and over the next two and a half centuries its soldiers served in Ireland, the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Year War, Gibraltar, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Afghanistan and the First World War.

Nazi Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and war was declared by Britain and France two days later.

The next few years were to see a rapid growth in the number of men serving in the Suffolk Regiment which was based at Gibraltar Barracks on Newmarket Road in Bury St Edmunds (now known as The Keep).

At the start of the war there were two regular battalions of full-time infantry of 800-1000 men each (the 1st and 2nd Battalions) with a further two battalions of territorials (the 4th and 5th) - the equivalent of today's Territorial Army.

During the 1939-1945 conflict a further two battalions of conscripts were created (the 7th and 31st).

The regulars

The 1st Battalion became part of the British Expeditionary Force which was sent to France.

Outflanked by Germany, they were involved in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 and spent three years training back in the UK before being sent back to France in the D-Day landings and heading onwards to Bremen in Germany.

"They were caught at Dunkirk but they went back as part of the first wave on D-Day in 1944," said Gwyn Thomas, curator of the Suffolk Regiment Museum.

"Probably the single most meritorious action was the taking of the Hillman bunker near Caen.

Gwyn Thomas
The museum curator Gwyn Thomas never served in the armed forces himself

"The men of the 1st Battalion captured what was thought to be an impregnable stronghold and a man called Private 'Titch' Hunter won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his attack.

Any given Battalion never acted on its own, it was always part of a bigger unit, but each Battalion would have its own set of objectives.

"Breaking out of Normandy in the first couple of days saw some of the most intense fighting experienced by the Suffolks in the Second World War.

"There were 161 casualties in the battle to capture the Chateau de la Londe which was also near Caen."

The 2nd Battalion were already in British India in the North West Frontier Province in 1939 (modern day Pakistan). They were sent east to defend Burma from the Japanese.

From weekend soldiering to full-time horror

The 4th and 5th Battalions of Territorials were sent to the far East, but their active role in the war lasted a mere 10 days. These men ended up as Prisoners of War working on the infamous Thailand-Burma railway.

"When war came they were called up. After initial training they went out in 1942 and were diverted from India to Singapore to defend the naval base against the Japanese.

Japanese POWs
Many British veterans are loathe to talk about their experiences as Japanese POWs

"They, along with thousands of other Territorials, became prisoners of war after the surrender - mostly on the death railways. There are some still living locally - some are not willing to talk about their experiences at all and you can quite understand that.

"Their experience was horrible. The Japanese didn't observe the Geneva Convention and they were used as slave labour.

"Those experiences have stayed with them for the rest of their lives."

The freshly-recruited 7th Battalion became part of the Royal Armoured Corps fighting in tanks. They saw service in north Africa and Italy.

The 31st Battalion didn't see active fighting - the soldiers were involved in more general duties such as preparing the defences of the UK and communications and looking after POWs in north Africa.

The tourist trail

The Suffolks ceased to be an independent regiment when they were amalgamated with the Royal Norfolks in 1959 to form the 1st East Anglian Regiment.

The process was completed in 1964 when the three East Anglian Regiments combined to form the modern-day Royal Anglian Regiment, whose headquarters is still at the Keep.

In 2009, the Suffolk Regiment Museum and St Edmundsbury Borough Council launched a trail around Bury St Edmunds.

It takes in the Regimental Museum at The Keep, the Regiment displays at Moyse's Hall Museum, the chapel at St Mary's Church, the Suffolk Record Office, the Boer War Memorial on Cornhill, the street war memorial on St Edmunds Place, memorial windows in the cathedral and St John's Church, the Suffolk Regimental Homes for ex-servicemen and the Borough Cemetery.

The Keep, Bury St Edmunds
The Keep houses the Royal Anglian Regiment's headquarters and the Suffolk Regiment Museum

"It's an aspect of local and national history and it's important to preserve a record of what happened in the past and to be aware of what they did and what they sacrificed in the interests of the country," said Gwyn.

"For the Suffolks, the establishment of the Royal Anglians was sad in the sense that the unit had been in existence and had evolved for nearly three centuries, but the name survives in B (Suffolk) Company of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.

"The Royal Anglians still recruit locally, so there's also continuity there."

The Suffolk Regiment Museum is open on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays and 1st Sunday of each month, 01284 752394.

Details of the Suffolk Regiment trail can also be found at the Bury St Edmunds tourist office 01284 762754.




OTHER RELATED BBC LINKS


BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific