“...and You’d Better Bring Your Shovel!”
As with all research, no sooner do you put the files away when suddenly, you get sent another excellent piece of the jigsaw that adds another perspective to the campaign.
I had been corresponding with the family of a Suffolk Regiment officer who served in NW Europe who died early last year, and this week his grandson sent me a copy of his memoirs, typed many years ago on a word processor, but written very truthfully about his service with 1 Suffolk between 10th June 1944, and his service into Palestine in late 1945.
In it, one amusing but important anecdote showed the differing viewpoints of Battalion Commanders, based on their past experience and service. This young officer, who had been with the Battalion since their time in Le Mesnil Wood in June 1944 and had commanded his Company once already in action, returned from two-days leave in early September 1944, to find the Battalion resting and training at Farceaux near Les Andelys on the River Seine. In his absence, the new CO; Lieutenant-Colonel Craddock, had arrived and had issued an order that no officers were to carry shovels in action.
This young officer, quite rightly refused this order to his Company Commander, and was told that ‘you haven an entrenching tool for that’ but upon being summoned by the CO that evening before dinner to explain himself, the young officer pointed out that an officer must be like his men and must have the same tools as them to dig in as quick as them. “There’s no possibility of command under shell fire if the men are half was down and the officer is scratching about on the surface” retorted this young officer, ”he has to be part of a two man team with his batman.” Thinking long and hard about it, the CO saw that dinner was nearly ready and replied that they must go and that ‘...you’d better bring your shovel!”
Common sense and practicality prevailing, this young officer would go onto win the Military Cross for his actions attacking a wrecked, water-logged castle in Holland some three months later. Lieutenant-Colonel Craddock would be wounded at Venray the following month, when he trod on a Schu-mine going forward in action with his men. In 1 Suffolk, shovels were carried right up till the end of the war by officers and men alike.