Eric Sucksmith – Killed in Action 1916

Eric Sucksmith headstone
CAMBRIN CHURCHYARD EXTENSION, Pas de Calais – France
Table Of Contents

Eric Sucksmith served with the 1st battalion of the Queens Royal Regiment (West Surrey Regiment). Eric was killed in action at Cambrai on 6 May 1916, aged just 19. He was the son of Thomas and Hannah Sucksmith, of 46, Promenade, Southport. He is buried in the Cambrin Churchyard Extension, Pas de Calais, France.

Private-Eric-Sucksmith-CWGC-Certificate

His great pal Joe Clegg wrote to the family that Eric had died ‘the Death of a Hero.’ Before the war he was one of the Corporation Tramway staff. The Last Post memorial letter was sent to his address.

German mine explodes at “Auchy Left” on 6 May 1916

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On 15 December 1915, the experienced regular unit, the 1st Battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), transferred to the newly arrived 100th Infantry Brigade of 33rd Division. Shortly afterwards, the division took over a sector of the front line south of the  Aire-La Bassée Canal in an area that had seen heavy fighting in the Battle of Loos in September-October 1915. Like Givenchy on the opposite side of the canal, it was gaining a notorious reputation as a place of intensive underground mine warfare. For the infantry, it meant the ever-present danger of death from explosion below. It also meant that if a mine was blown, both sides would try to seize it – for the rim of the crater that resulted could give important tactical advantages to the occupier. Numerous mines were exploded in the sector held by the  division during the first months of 1916, and many casualties resulted from the “crater fighting”. Nowhere was this form of warfare more intense than in the sub-sector known as “Auchy Left”.

After dark on 4 May 1916, the 1st Queen’s returned to the trenches of “Auchy Left” for another turn of duty, relieving the 16th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Their previous spell in this location, of four days 26-29 April, had been quiet with just one man killed and five wounded.

255 Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers was working below them. Sadly, no war diary of this unit exists for this period.

6 May 1916

Diary notes of Eric’s battalion for date of his Death.

QW00119160501

At 5.55am enemy mine blown S of Baby Crater; 2 men buried in sap head in Eastern Twin crater. Barrage of 77mm and 4.2 inch shells for half an hour, and again after an hour. Party of B Company occupied lip at once, and prevented enemy from leaving his trenches by rifle fire and bombs; 2/Lt Crichton, 8867 Sgt Elderkin, 8814 L/Cpl Wyber and 981 L/Cpl Harding did very well, 2/Lt Crichton being slightly wounded ([remained] at duty) by shell fire. 2/Lt Crichton recommended for Military Cross, the other three ranks for Military Medal. Work on saps all day. Light shelling and heay minnies [minenwerfer] about mid-day and in afternoon; heavy bombardment with LHV, 4.2 inch and minnie for an hour at dusk. Day’s casualties 4 killed, 8 wounded (2 at duty), and 2/Lt Crichton wounded (at duty). New crater called Queen’s Crater.

Those killed in action

The three men listed below lie in adjacent graves (row M, graves 25-27) in Cambrin Churchyard  Extension

Pte G/1553 Henry O’Neill
A resident of Baltinglass, Wicklow, Ireland.

Pte L/8301 William Sergant
Born in Streatham, lived in Brentwood.

Pte G/5411 Eric Sucksmith
Lived in Southport (see below). Aged 20.

This man has no known grave and is commemorated at the Loos Memorial

Pte G/3986 George Sidney Mills
A resident of Upper Kennington.

All were named in the War Office casualty list printed in the “Times” of 24 May 1916.

Press Announcements

Liverpool Daily Post and Mercury 15 May 1916 (British Newspaper Archive)

From a May 1916 Southport Visiter:

We regret to announce the death which occurred on Saturday last, while in action at Camrai, France, of Private Eric Sucksmith of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, eldest son of Mr and Mrs T Sucksmith, Baden House, 46 Promenade. The sad news was received by the parents of the deceased soldier on Thursday evening, the information being contained in a letter sent by a chum, Pte Joe Clegg, also of Southport, and this was confirmed by a subsequent communication by an Army Chaplain. Private Sucksmith joined the colours on the 17th April 1915, and landed in France in August of the same year. Prior to enlisting he was a member of the Corporation Tramway Staff, and had also served his time as a pastry cook at a local confectioners. He only attained the age of 19 in April last, and his early death will be greatly mourned and regretted by the large number of friends among whom he was popular and so greatly liked. Pte Sucksmith was connected with the Mornington Road Wesleyan Church. The funeral took place with full military honours at Cambrai Cemetery on Sunday last, the service being attended by members of the deceased’s regiment. Both his chum, Pte Clegg who enlisted with him, and the Army Chaplain, state that Private Sucksmith died “The death of a hero”.

The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment

The Regiment paid a high price for its commitment in the First World War; 8000 men were killed out of the twenty-five battalions/thirty-one units formed and The Regiment gained five Victoria Crosses (VCs). In the 1st Battalion alone, five commanding officers, two majors, sixty-one company officers and 1,133 NCOs and men were killed in action. (Each battalion was about one thousand strong and was organised into an Headquarters Company and four rifle companies).

The first battalions to see action in the First World War were the Regulars. The 1st Battalion arrived in France in 1914, as part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division. The 2nd Battalion joined the British Expeditionary Force in September 1914 and joined the 22nd Brigade of the 7th Division. The scale of casualties in both battalions was horrific; by the end of the first week of November 1914 there were only thirty-two survivors out of a total of 998 men from the 1st Battalion. The 2nd Battalion had suffered 676 casualties. Their ranks were to be filled by Territorials, men from Kitchener’s “New Army” and then Conscripts.

The 1st Battalion fought at Mons, on the Marne and the Aisne, Ypres, the Aubers Ridge, Loos on the Somme, Festubert, The Hindenburg Line, Bellecourt, Broodseinde, Passchendaele and Arras. When it came out of the line in November 1918, only seventeen men were left out of the all ranks, who had gone to France in 1914.

Personal Life

Eric Sucksmith was born in Apr 1897 in Oldham, Lancashire, England to Thomas and Hannah (nee Field) Sucksmith At the time he had an elder sister, Hilda, born in 1893.

On the 1891 UK Census on 5 Apr 1891, his parents were living at Travis Street in Crompton, Oldham, Lancashire, England. His father was a Cotton Mule Spinner and his mother a Weaver Cotton.

He was age 3 living with his parents and two other siblings in the 1901 UK Census on 31 Mar 1901 at 117 Chester Road in Southport, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England. Another brother, Wilfred, had born in Oldham in 1899.

He had five siblings born later in Southport. These were Emma born in 1901, Alice Nield born on13 Dec 1902, Mildred born on 18 Jan 1904, William Nield born on 13 Feb 1905 and Ernest born on 3 Jun 1909.

He was a Apprentice To Confectioner in 1911 in Southport, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England. He was age 13 and a servant in the household when they appeared in the 1911 UK Census on 2 Apr 1911 at 451 Lord Street in Southport, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England.

His father was a Motorman Tramway in 1911 in Southport, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England living at 27 Stanley Street in Southport, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England. His seven siblings were still living with his parents.

He served in the military Regiment: The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment); Rank: Private; Service number: G/5411 enlisting on 17th April 1915. Prior to enlisting he was a member of the Corporation Tramway Staff, and had also served his time as a pastry cook at a local confectioners..

He died on 6 May 1916 at age of 19 years and was interred in Cambrin Churchyard Extension, France.

His parents continued to live in Southport, and were living at 38 Gordon Street, Southport, together with three of his siblings in 1939 Register. They were Alice Nield (Haberdashery Shop Assistant), William Nield(Cinema Attendant) and Ernest (Dental Mechanic). His parents both lived until they were 92 and they are buried with Eric’s brother William Nield.

Census records

Grave Details

His war grave details can be seen here.  This links to the Commonwealth Grave Commission’s website.

Grave details

The grave photograph was taken by the War Graves Photographic Project. A copy of this photograph can be ordered from their website.

Remembered in Birkdale Cemetery.

Eric is remembered on his parents headstone in Birkdale Cemetery – Section I

FATHER IN THY GRACIOUS KEEPING
LEAVE WE NOW OUR LOVED ONES SLEEPING
IN LOVING MEMORY OF OUR BELOVED SON
WILLIAM NEIL D SUCKSMITH
DIED JANUARY 6th 1948 AGED 48 YEARS
ALSO DEAR FATHER OF THE ABOVE
THOMAS SUCKSMITH
DIED JUNE 4th 1957, AGED 92 YEARS
AND DEAR MOTHER OF THE ABOVE
HANNAH SUCKSMITH,
DIED JANUARY 19th 1961, AGED 92 YEARS.
ALSO OF OUR BELOVED ELDEST SON
ERIC SUCKSMITH QUEENS REGIMENT
KILLED IN ACTION MAY 6th 1916
AGED 19 YEARS

Cemetery Details – CAMBRIN CHURCHYARD EXTENSION

Cambrin is a village about 24 kilometres north of Arras and about 8 kilometres east of Bethune, on the road to La Bassee. Cambrin Churchyard Extension is on the south side of the main road, 200 metres from the Mairie. The Commonwealth plot will be found behind the church.

At one time, the village of Cambrin housed brigade headquarters but until the end of the First World War, it was only about 800 metres from the front line trenches. The village contains two cemeteries used for Commonwealth burials; the churchyard extension, taken over from French troops in May 1915, and the Military Cemetery “behind the Mayor’s House.” The churchyard extension was used for front line burials until February 1917 when it was closed, but there are three graves of 1918 in the back rows. The extension is remarkable for the very large numbers of graves grouped by battalion, the most striking being the 79 graves of the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 15 of the 1st Cameronians (Row C), the 35 of the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers and 115 of the 1st Middlesex (Row H), all dating from 25 September 1915, the first day of the Battle of Loos. Cambrin Churchyard Extension contains 1,211 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 8 being unidentified. There are also 98 French, 3 German and 1 Belgian burials here. The cemetery was designed by Charles Holden.

You can view the details for this cemetery on the Commonwealth Grave Commission’s website here.