St. Mary's with St. Peter's

Bury St. Edmunds

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When the war came to Suffolk

St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds, the home of the Regimental Chapel of the Suffolk Regiment and its successor, the Royal Anglian Regiment, held a special service on Saturday 23rd August 2014, to commemorate the 6873 Suffolk Regiment soldiers who died in the Great War. August 23rd marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Private William Flack, the first fatality of the Suffolk Regiment in the First World War. Maya Price, the great great great great great niece of William Flack read a piece about his life.  The date is also significant because 93 years later on the 23rd August, the Royal Anglian Regiment suffered its worst loss in Afghanistan, when Privates Aaron James McClure, Robert Graham Foster and John Thrumble were killed in action, and some of their families were in church. The service included a rededication of the relocated cenotaph. The preacher was the Rt Rev Dr David Thomson, Acting Bishop of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

THE COLLECT OF THE SUFFOLK REGIMENT

O God, our Rock and Fortress,
uphold we pray Thee, Thy servants of the Suffolk Regiment,
that when we pass through the waters,
Thou wilt be with us, who art strong to save,
and will set us upon a rock in time of trouble;
for the love of Thine only Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

ABOUT PRIVATE WILLIAM FLACK

Although registered as Willie he was known to his regiment as William. He was born to William and Selina in Whepstead in 1875 and baptised in the Parish Church. He had two older sisters, Rose Matilda and Emma Kate, and a younger brother, John Walter, who was born in 1878.

That was also the year that Willie’s father died. He was 39, and Willie was only 3½. His mother, now looking after four young children on her own, remarried in 1881. Later that year she gave birth to Willie’s half sister, Laura Mary.
According to his army service number, William enlisted in 1894 when he was 19 years old.

Up to 1901, soldiers serving abroad did not appear on the ten yearly Census returns, so it is assumed he was serving with the 2nd Battalion stationed in India until 1906.

In the 1911 Census he is recorded as a 35 year old unmarried Private, stationed in the Mustapha Pasha Barracks in Alexandria, Egypt. He was released from the army in 1913, after completing 18 years service, but in just 18 months time, at the outbreak of the war, he would be back in uniform and with his former comrades in the 2nd Battalion.

The Battalion arrived at Le Havre on the 14th and 15th August and moved up to engage the German Army at the Belgian town of Mons on the 23rd. C and D Companies were ordered to proceed at once to reinforce the 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, who were holding a bridgehead North of the Mons/Condé Canal. At this point they came under heavy fire and Privates Flack and Goddard and Corporal Page were killed, the first men of the Suffolk Regiment to give their lives in the war. William must have been either 38 or 39, the same age as his father when he died.

Due to the heavy fighting and subsequent retreat, his body was not recovered, and in all probability was buried by the Germans in an unmarked grave.

He is commemorated on a memorial to nearly 4000 officers and men of the British Expeditionary Force who died in the early autumn of 1914 and who have no known grave.

Just as importantly he appears, together with twelve other Whepstead men, on the village memorial here in Suffolk.

William was one of four Flack cousins to die in the war.

Although his body may lie in “some corner of a foreign field” he is not forgotten.