Saturday, 11 October 2014

The 1st Bedfords Move to the Front

Sunday 11th October 1914: The 1st Bedfords have marched a further sixteen miles north-east from la Thieuloye, through the town of Béthune to a place called Essars. Our man with the battalion reports: “Blankets being distributed as we left and there were piles of varie-coloured ones at the side of the road all fresh out from home”.

The adjutant tells us that Béthune is filled with French soldiers leaving no room for the British Expeditionary Force. Our man adds: “We heard that twelve German cavalry divisions are advancing against us and are engaged with seven allied cavalry divisions to the east of the town”. Accordingly it has been decided to send the Bedfords and their brigade to help defend the village of Essars across the Canal d’Aire from Béthune and about a mile out of town. Our source reveals: “Our division had been hastily sent for to take over the defence of the town of Béthune from the French Territorials who were very shaky and old. The French commander had stated that he could not trust the place to them and had asked for the nearest English division to come at once and they (the French Terriers) seemed very relieved when we (the 5th Division) did arrive”.

“We had a great reception marching through the town and arrived at Essars at 3 pm and found it occupied by the 153rd Regiment of French Territorials. B and D Companies were ordered to take up a position with outpost from le Hamel to le Croix du Fere and we fixed our company headquarters at la Mottée”.

“I was sent off to find the French commander and went off to the left flank and on the way out with an orderly was nearly shot by a Zouave sentry who was half asleep at the side of the road. He was so frightened when he saw us coming that he nearly fired – it was the first time that any of them had seen khaki and they really did not know what we were!”

“I picked up a very capable French NCO who was less in a blue funk than the others and he showed me round and told me where I might find the commandant. I eventually found him and a few others and had a great consultation and tried to make him understand that the CO wanted to see him. The CO eventually came along but they all knew nothing and seemed most anxious to get out of the place as quickly as they could. They were all digging trenches in the most impossible places with the idea of defending the canal and the bridges and after a great deal  of discussion the Dorsets came along and took all the sector over from them and they cleared out”.

This evening our contact reported: “A long way in front we can hear a fight going on and can see flashes of guns”.

Sources: Z550/2/5; X550/2/7

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