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Suffolk Regiment – 6th Cyclists

Under the 1908 Territorial Forces Act an Essex and Suffolk Cyclist Battalion was formed, which in 1911 became the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment under the command of Lt Col W T Pretty.

At the outbreak of World War One the battalion was in camp at Pakefield Cliff on its annual training. During the early months they garrisoned coastal stations between the rivers Deben and Waveney.  The main war station for this unit was at Saxmundham and until other cyclist battalions arrived, they defended the whole of the Suffolk Coastline. The battalion did not serve abroad as a unit but provided drafts for the other battalions on foreign service. However, at the outbreak of war all the men of military age in the battalion volunteered for overseas service.

Although the men were on the home front, they were not entirely safe. Part of the 1/6th stationed at Corton came under fire from a German cruiser on 25th April 1916, which caused twenty or more casualties. Another section at Southwold were caught in a bombardment by a German destroyer on 25th and 26th January 1917. Also another war related episode they were involved in was the crash of the Zeppelin which came down in flames at Hollow Tree farm in Theberton on 17th June 1917.

The battalion was comprised almost entirely of Suffolk men but did not always stay in this county, they patrolled coastal areas in Louth, Grainthorpe, Marshchapel, Skegness, Chapel St Leonard and many other coastal towns.

The drafts that were sent to France distinguished themselves in the conflict and won several medals. An extract form Battalion orders commented:

“The 7th Suffolks were filled up by drafts from the Suffolk Cyclists Battalion. They arrived in the middle of operations (Somme 1916), and are considered the best men they ever had, well trained, with great hearts in them.”

The Suffolk Regiment collection is held at the Bury branch.  The catalogue (ref GB554) can be searched here.

Jean Deathridge

Searchroom Assistant

Bury St. Edmunds Record Office