Two members of the family served in the
Somerset Light Infantry during the Great War. These were
William Sutton whose sister Irene
married Cecil B Tubbs, who also served in the Somersets. The Regiment's
nickname was The Light Bobs.
Will was a regular soldier, in 1st
Battalion. Prior to the war the two regular battalions served overseas in turn,
so Will spent many years with the Somersets in India.
They were back in the UK at the outbreak of
war in August 1914 and were overseas almost immediately. By this time Will was
The information readily available to me
prior to this year was mostly from the history of the regiment in the war by
Everard Wyrall. I have Cecil’s copy and it has been
reprinted but inevitably it is not exhaustive in its information, and one
omission in particular was very obvious.
A second source, now missing, was an
account made by Will of the Christmas Truce of 1914 which Wyrall
passes over without mention. Wyrall was also a
class=GramE>soldier and his account of the war is always more impassive
than the agony should have brought out, and rarely if ever critical of the
conduct of the war.
The third source was Cecil’s two sets of
audio memoirs, the first made for the Imperial War Museum which is online at
and the second was a personal account
recorded by Elise Tubbs, his second wife. Both recordings were made in the
1970s at a time when the survivors were rapidly diminishing in number, memories
were fading and the reluctance of many survivors to talk of their service
experience had not been overcome, so we are exceptionally fortunate to know as
much as we do about Cecil’s war.
The truce became infamous, and was rapidly
condemned by the high command, not to be repeated and not to be
publicised. Fraternisation across
no-man’s land was regarded as likely to have unfortunate consequences. Will’s
original account in manuscript was found by Martin Tubbs (my father) when he
was sorting the affairs of the last survivor of the Sutton siblings, Dorothy,
who died in 1973. MCT was
her executor and I assisted in the task of clearing the house of
of piles of newspaper some of which had been used as cat
litter. MCT sold Aunt Dot’s moped for £10, transferred a
large number of the Reverend Sutton’s books to an ecclesiastical library
in York, and eventually handed the correspondence of Geoffrey Sutton to me.
Geoffrey was in The Artist’s Rifles, a territorial battalion which he had had
joined (part-time) before the war. I have written extensively about these,
which can be browsed at tubbspubs.org.uk. Dot generously left me £25 which I
mis-spent, no doubt.
lang=EN-US> I also had a copy of Will’s obituary in The Light Bob, the journal
of the regiment.
My sister Carolyn remembers typing the
account up for Dad, but no copies seem to have survived. I was therefore very
pleased to see that a very full account of the Somersets in the war has been
published as Chronicle of the Somerset Light Infantry in the Great War by Nick
Kellett, whose detailed interest in the regiment began as he toured the
battlefields in the 1990s.
I am pleased to say this massive volume
does included the official war diary entries for the
Christmas and New Year period, and reprints a personal account from another
member of the regiment.
Kellett reprints a summary of Will’s very
distinguished Great War career.
21st August 1914 – Embarked for France as
the Battalion Adjutant
24th February 1915 – Promoted to Captain
18th June 1915 – Article in the London
Gazette referring to his mention in despatches.
22nd June 1915 – Mentioned in London
Gazette for award of Military Cross
11th October 1915 – Appointed as Brigade
Major to the 143rd Brigade
31st December 1915 – Another reference in
London Gazette to being mentioned in despatches
5th February 1916 – Posted to 56th Division
as D.A.A (Deputy Assistant Adjutant) and QMG (Quarter Master General)
1st January 1917 – Mentioned in London
Gazette on promotion to Brevet Major.
4th January 1917 – Report of 3rd Mention in
11th December 1917 - 4th Mention in
29th December 1917 – Promoted to Temporary
1st January 1919 – Award of Distinguished
Service Order mentioned in London Gazette.
His obituary noted that he served with the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the early post-war years.
Mention in Despatches
is the first level of recognition for gallantry or distinguished service. It is
recognised by Oak Leaves on the ribbon of a service
medal. The Military Cross was at that
time awarded only to officers, the Military Medal to other ranks. The DSO is
recognition of conduct of an exceptionally high order, and
is ranked between the MC and the Victoria Cross.
In early August 1914 the Battalion was
based at the garrison town of Colchester.
On 8th August mobilisation
was completed. On 17th August they moved by train to Harrow and were encamped
on the School playing fields in the 4th Division.
On 21st they travelled by train to Southampton.
At 8.30 a.m on 22nd they sailed on SS Braemar Castle
and landed at Le Havre. By the end of 1914 just 4 officers and 266 of those men
were still alive.
The story of the retreat from Mons, the
Battles of Le Cateau and the Marne and the onset of
trench war are widely reported elsewhere, and I will concentrate on the events
at the end of 1914.
By that time the 1st Battalion was in the
line at the infamous killing ground of Plugstreet
Wood as it was known to the men, properly Ploegsteert
25th December 1914 – from the Battalion
There was much singing in the trenches last
night by both sides. Germans opposite us brought up
their regimental bands and played theirs and our National Anthems followed by
Home Sweet Home. A truce was mutually agreed by the men in the trenches. During
the morning officers met the German officers half way
between the trenches and it was arranged that we should bring in our dead who
were lying between the trenches. The bodies of Captain Maud, Captain Orr and
2/Lt Henson were brought in and those of 18 NCO’s & men. They were buried
the same day
The Germans informed us that they had a
captured wounded officer and this was thought to be 2/Lt KGG
Dennys who commanded one of the attacking
platoons of B Coy on the 19th
There was a sharp frost last night which
continued during the day and the weather was very seasonable. Not a shot or
shell was fired by either side in our neighbourhood;
and both sides walked about outside their trenches quite unconcernedly. It
afforded a good opportunity of inspecting our trenches by daylight. The enemy’s
works were noticed to be very strong. A very peaceful Day.
The truce continued on
the 26th and 27th and there does not seem to have been much activity before the
New Year though work on the trenches was carried out and replacement officers
were brought in from the London Rifle Brigade.
On New Years Eve
a message was received from the Germans
Dear Comrades I
beg to inform you that it is forbidden us to go over to you but we will remain
good comrades. If we shall be forced to fire we shall
fire to (sic) high. Please tell me if you are English or Irishmen. Offering you
some cigars. I remain yours truly camerade (X.Y).
None of this was recorded in the regimental
history, probably because the official line was to ignore it and pretend it did
On 31st December they also had an visit
after dark by
General Officer Commanding 11th Brigade.