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Bury church service to remember the first of many Suffolk Regiment losses

2 Btn Suffolk Regiment assembled on the Curragh in Ireland immediately before sailing for France. Within a month a third would be dead.
Picture Suffolk Regiment/Suffolk Records office BRO/GB554/C9/23c ANL-140521-153358001

2 Btn Suffolk Regiment assembled on the Curragh in Ireland immediately before sailing for France. Within a month a third would be dead. Picture Suffolk Regiment/Suffolk Records office BRO/GB554/C9/23c ANL-140521-153358001

If you are related to the Flack or Bass families of Whepstead, the Royal Anglian Regiment wants to hear from you.

The regiment, successors to the Bury St Edmunds based Suffolk Regiment, is planning a special service at the town’s St Mary’s Church on August 23 to mark the death of Pte William ‘Willie’ Flack who was probably the first of the regiment to die in World War One.

Maj Dick Gould, assistant regimental secretary, said: “We would love to have anybody on either side of his family to the service.

“We also suggest that anyone who lost relatives in World War One might want an opportunity in Bury to commemorate their loss.”

Willie was born in 1875, the son of William and Selina Flack of Whepstead. Selina married George Bass in 1881 after Willie’s father died. Willie had two sisters, Rose Matilda born in 1865 and Emma Kate, born 1870, and a brother John born in about 1878.

There is also a second cousin removed called William Flack who was also born in 1875, but in Rede.

Willie was in the regiment before the war, but seems to have rejoined in 1914 and been sent to 2Btn in Dublin, from where they sailed to France, arriving on August 17

Gwyn Thomas, curator of the Suffolk Regiment Museum, says they cannot prove he was the first to die, but it cannot be disproved.

“If you look at the regimental diary it records that three soldiers were killed in the action,” he said. “It names them, which is unusual in itself.”

The war diary says that on August 23 1914, the residents of the Belgian town of Mons were going to mass as usual when two companies of 2Btn Suffolk Regiment were ordered to reinforce the East Surrey Regiment along the Mons-Condé canal. They pushed forward under artillery fire.

It says: “Cpl G M Page and Ptes W Flack and S G Goddard of the 2nd Battalion were killed, the first representatives of the Suffolk Regiment to give their lives in the Great War.”

It is known that Cpl Page actually died of wounds a few days later.

Maj Gould said: “Willie is certainly the first Bury-area soldier killed.”

But it was only the start. Three days later, as the battalion tried to hold against a strong German advance at Le Cateau, a third of its strength were killed and another third captured.

The service will be at 11am. Willie’s relatives can contact Maj Gould on 01284 752394.

 

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