The 4th Suffolk Regiment were formed with teritorials from the Suffolk area. After some basic training they were put on guard duty in Lowestoft, patrolling the dry docks where Allied submarines were serviced. A few days were then spent at Loddon before returning to the Waverly hotel, in St Olaves, returning to guard duty at Haddiscoe railway station. Further training took place at Langley Park, Loddon, where marching, and camp life were the order of the day. A farm at Cawston in Norfolk was the next venue, with the luxury of sleeping in a farmers barn but the training was increased. The next stage was from late July to the end of September doing guard duty near the harbour mouth at Great Yarmouth. The guard duty consisted of 24 hour stints, two hours on, four hours off, one day a week was a rest day.
A move to Hatley St George, Bedfordshire occurred in September 1940 living in diused cottages on the Hatley Hall Estate. Training was increased with long route marches. Just before the new year the battalion was moved to Stobbs Camp, Harwick in Scotland, and housed in Nissan huts, the weather was bitter. The training lasted till April.
The battalion was then bussed to Pilsmouth Bleach Mills, Bury in Lancashire where training continued. In August the battalion was moved again to wooden huts near Hereford , where training and farm work was carried out.
King George VI inspected the battalion in Hereford at the cathedral whilst the Suffolk Regimental band from Bury St Edmunds played.
Once more we were on the move - it was dark when we left Hereford. We knew we were going abroad, but not where. The battalion was then entrained to Liverpool, where the boarded the S.S. Andes, it was believed their destination was the Middle East.
The S.S. Andes passage was to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, across a very rough sea. The battalion then changed ship to the American liner ‘Wakefield’ and became part of the Convoy William Sail 12X. The convoy sailed to Trinidad and then on to Cape Town in South Africa, berthing on the 9th December for a three stay, shore leave was granted. The Japanese had invaded Malaya the day before the convoy reached Cape Town.
Up till now the destination of the convoy was the Middle East but with Japan entering the war, it became obvious that the 18th division would be sent to the Far East. At this point the convoy was split with one part going to Mombassa and then on to Malaya and the Wakefield going to India, arriving at Bombay on the 5th January 1942, then on by train to Ahmenager, which was inland from Bombay where more training took place for the Far eastern climate. The 54th Infantry, which included the 4th Suffolks stayed at Ahmenager for three weeks, then back to Bombay where the Wakefield had waited, sailing once again this time to Singapore arriving just as the causeway was blown between Malaya and Singapore.
Singapore by this time was under siege and the battalion found themselves in old tents in a rubber plantation. Orders to defend the Golf Course which was bombed directly it went dark.
Orders to retreat to the outskirts of Singapore were given just as they arrived at their destination on the 15th February 1942, Percival surrendered, just 18 days after the Wakefield had docked at Singapore.
The day after orders were given to march to Changi which was about 15 miles on the South West side of the island. The battalion was at first in Roberts barracks, but this was then used as a hospital so the battalion had to find what shelter they could.
As the British food supply ran out, rice was issued by the Japanese, who sent other battalions as working parties to Singapore to clear the streets of the dead and rubble.
Some of the battalion were moved on 9th May to Thompson Road, dismantling cars and lorries from the streets of Singapore, the Japanese wanting the engines for their own use. Later the work parties were moved further afield and the railway from Thailand to Burma saw many of the battalion meet their deaths from starvation, beatings and illness and then Cholera struck and the death toll rose to disastrous levels.
The railway was finished in November 1943 but this only bought further transportation to Japan and other Far Eastern countries, in ships which were renamed ‘hell ships’. The death toll of the battalion rose again when these ships were sunk by the Allies as the Japanese would not identify the ships as PoW Transports.