Monday, 13 October 2014

The 1st Bedfords under Attack

Tuesday 13th October 1914: Today has seen the 1st Battalion, at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée, which they occupied yesterday, come under attack. Our contact with the battalion brings us the exciting details: “Violent shelling began at 6 am and continued all day, the church being the chief aiming point. About 12 noon the house Second Lieutenant Shippey and Lieutenant Gledstanes were sitting in had a shell through it and smothered them. They were sitting close together drinking milk when the shell came in through the roof and burst between then. They both emerged, covered with white plaster and looked perfectly ridiculous. Shippey was badly hit in the inside and we raised a stretcher and I conducted him to hospital which was in the village school at the rear of the village. He knows he won’t recover but is most plucky over it all and I stopped with him until 12.30 pm”.[1]

“A Company at this time called for help from the orchard on the left of B Company, that is on the left front of the village of Givenchy and we were going to make an attempt to reach them. The shell fire was so impossible in the village that we couldn’t get through and had to give it up”.

“We then had orders to prepare to evacuate the village as the 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment had retired on our left and our left flank was being turned and the position precarious”.

"The hospital was promptly evacuated and Shippey taken out and went off in the ambulance at a gallop. The ambulance was hit by a shell on the way and poor Shippey was killed [2]. The shelling got decidedly worse and the village was crumbling to pieces over our heads and as Monteith and I walked around were nearly hit several times by houses falling on top of us".

"The Dorsets then retired on our right and we began to be enfiladed from both flanks and the order to go was given. We had to retire as best we could by the roads and were well shelled all the way until we got back on to the edge of the road Festubert la Grande Rue and Rue du Marais [3] to the Béthune-la Bassée Canal. here we got down and dug in by the side of the road; it was then about 4 pm".

"We had lost both our machine-guns which had been buried in the village. Lieutenant Stafford [see 29th September and below] and Shippey had been killed, Major Thorpe, Lieutenant Downes [see 17th September and 20th October] and Second Lieutenant Goff were wounded. The latter two could not be found and were presumed captured [4]. Thorpe came down through us very cheerfully hit on foot, balancing on a bicycle as well as he could to get to hospital for a dressing".

"It was very misty and the gunners could do nothing and everyone was rather in the air. I then got orders to take over command of B Company as all their officers, with the exception of Edwards, had been knocked out. The Company has had an awful time and only about 80 are left [5] but luckily Sergeant-Major Sharpe and Company Quarter Master Sergeant McGinn are still going strong".

"I then got orders from the Colonel to get back to le Plantin where the Battalion had orders to take up a position. On the way back I met an infuriated Norfolk major who told me that we were running away! I told him more than I thought of him and nearly got put under arrest, especially when I asked what he was doing all alone where he was and what his Battalion were doing. The Battalion finally took up a position at the Rue Neuve with Headquarters in an estaminet near some cross-roads".

The adjutant summarises the day's events as follows: "There was a heavy bombardment of our trenches and the village all day. About midday this cannonade became terrific. Practically every house has been damaged and the neighbourhood of the church was continually shelled. Our front trenches, in continuation of Dorsets, were unable to hold on in the afternoon after the Dorsets were enfiladed and withdrew. Smoke of shells and the dust of falling houses made it impossible to see clearly what was going on to the flanks. The enemy attacked the front and flanks and the Battalion retired about 300 yards in the rear of the village and reformed on a new line holding the road to Pont Fixe in continuation of the Dorsets. The Norfolks are on our left. Losses have been 7 officers and 140 other ranks".

Lieutenant Charles Claude Stafford, serving with the 1st Bedfords, from whom we had a communication on 30th September has, sadly, been killed in this fighting. The late Lieutenant Stafford was an enthusiastic athlete. Two or three seasons ago he was elected Captain if the Bedford Rowing Club, and his appointment was marked by a new lease of vigorous life to this old borough institution. He took a very keen interest in improving its prospects and training the new material, and under his captaincy several new boats, notably an eight, were obtained. His other sport was Rugby football. As a three-quarter he played many a sound game for the Bedford R. U. F. C. being particularly strong in defence. However big the man against him, Claude Stafford could be trusted to do his best to bring him down. He retired rather early from the game, owing to the impossibility, for business reasons, of both his brother "Dick" and himself getting off on a Saturday afternoon, and the way he stood down for his younger and brilliant brother from a game to which he was so devoted, was finely characteristic of him[6]. He was at the Modern School nine years from 1899 to 1908 and like his brother was a prominent and powerful supporter of East House. He was in the 1st XV in the three-quarter line and in his last year was captain of the 1st IV. He was also a fine runner, and in 1908 represented the School in the quarter mile inter-school race with Elstow School and won the race in 61 seconds.

Sources:X550/2/5; X550/2/7; Ampthill and District News 24th October 1914

[1] He died the next day and is buried in Béthune Town Cemetery. He was just twenty three and from Pietermaritzberg in South Africa.
[2] This seems to be a mistake as Shippey is recorded as dying of wounds the next day and the fact he has a grave also counts against the ambulance being hit by a shell.
[3] Probably what is now Rue Jean Jaurès which is an extension of Rue Grande Rue and leads to the canal
[4] They had been captured but were later recaptured by the Bedfords, though Lieutenant Downes died on 18th October.
[5] Out of around 220.
[6] Richard Calvert Stafford was a prop forward for Bedford who played four test matches for England in 1912. He died on 1st December 1912 aged just nineteen, from cancer of the spine.

No comments:

Post a Comment