The Bedfords: World War I

The Bedfordshire Regiment in World War One


An Infantry Regiment was, at the start of the war, divided into three battalions, two of them active service units and the other (3rd Battalion) a depot battalion, used to train new recruits which then moved on to one of the other two battalions for active service.

During the war the number of battalions fielded by infantry regiments mushroomed. The Bedfordshire Regiment, one of the smallest, had battalions as set out below. Some regiments had over thirty! Many of the additional battalions were for home service (as with the Young Soldier battalions of the Bedfordshire Regiment) or were Service Battalions, designed for active service for the duration of the war, after which they were disbanded.

Territorial Army battalions were first formed in 1908 and were made up of part-time personnel (referred to, rather scornfully, as Saturday afternoon soldiers) and were intended for home defence. They made up the 5th Battalion of a regiment. On the outbreak of war men with these battalions were asked whether they were prepared to serve overseas on active duty. Those who agreed became part of 1st/5th Battalion. In the Bedfordshire Regiment those who did not agree and would only serve at home were moved to 2nd/5th Battalion. In larger regiments this 2nd /5th Battalion was often also an active service unit. The Bedfordshire Regiment formed a further home service battalion, 3rd/5th during the war. In many regiments the 4th Battalion was also either a depot battalion or a territorial battalion but in Bedfordshire it was an Extra Reserve Battalion, being made up of men from the former militia. It, too, served overseas.

Infantry battalions of the same regiment rarely served in the same brigade [see below] except where that regiment had a large number of battalions – such as the King’s (Liverpool) or the London Regiment. The army tried, wherever possible, to avoid the practice as large casualties for a particular brigade would thus be felt very significantly in one small geographical area rather than sharing the burden. Each battalion had a headquarters, nominally of 99 men and four companies (A-D) each, nominally of 227 men, making a battalion at full strength 1,007 men. In the field battalions were usually much below this figure due to casualties, illness and men being away on courses and fatigue duty such as bridge guarding or assisting Royal Engineers. Each battalion was divided into four platoons each of four sections, making sixteen platoons in a battalion and sixty four sections. A Battalion was usually commanded by a colonel or lieutenant-colonel.

The battalions of the Bedfordshire Regiment were as follows, those in bold type being units which saw active service:
  • 1st Battalion (regular)
  • 2nd Battalion (regular)
  • 3rd Battalion (depot)
  • 4th Battalion (extra reserve)
  • 1st/5th Battalion (Territorial Army)
  • 2nd/5th Battalion (Territorial Army – formed September 1914, disbanded 18th March 1918, served at Newmarket, Harrogate, Darlington and Nottinghamshire)
  • 3rd/5th Battalion (Territorial Army – formed June 1915 served at Windsor and Tring, merged with 1st Reserve Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment July 1917 and served at Crowborough and Hastings)
  • 6th Battalion (Service – formed August 1914, reduced to a training cadre May 1918 with most men joining 1st/1st Hertfordshire Regiment, disbanded August 1918)
  • 7th Battalion (Service – formed September 1914, reduced to a training cadre May 1918 with most men transferring to 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment and disbanded July 1918)
  • 8th Battalion (Service – October 1914, disbanded February 1918)
  • 9th Battalion (Reserve – formed October 1914 as a Service Battalion and placed in 94th Brigade, 31st Division. It was reduced at a Reserve Battalion in April 1915 and served at Colchester. Absorbed into 6th Reserve Brigade in September 1916)
  • 10th Battalion (Reserve – formed November 1914 as a Service Battalion and placed in 106th Brigade, 35th Division. It was reduced at a Reserve Battalion in April 1915 and served at Colchester and Dovercourt. It was converted into 27th Training Reserve Battalion of 6th Reserve Brigade in September 1916 before becoming 53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion in October 1917)
  • 12th Battalion (Transport Workers – formed December 1916 providing men for docks and ports)
  • 13th Battalion (Transport Workers – formed March 1917 providing men for docks and ports)
  • 18th Battalion (formed January 1917 and served at Lowestoft)
  • 1st Garrison Battalion (formed December 1915 serving in India from February 1916)
  • 2nd Garrison Battalion (formed December 1916 serving in India from February 1917)
  • 3rd Garrison Battalion (formed January 1917 serving in Burma from November 1917)
  • 51st Battalion (Graduated –it had been 10th (Reserve) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment until September 1916, then 249th Graduated Battalion until October 1917. A training unit at Colchester until February 1918 after which it served in Norfolk)
  • 52nd Battalion (Graduated –it had been 10th (Reserve) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment until September 1916, then 252nd Graduated Battalion until October 1917. A training unit at Colchester until February 1918 after which it served in Norfolk)
  • 53rd Battalion (Young Soldier – the former 10th Battalion)
Four infantry battalions were amalgamated to form a brigade, usually of different regiments, for example, 54th Infantry Brigade comprised 7th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment and 12th Battalion Middlesex Regiment. Thus a brigade was, in theory about 4,000 men. A brigade was commanded by a Brigadier-General. Sometimes battalions were moved into or out of a brigade but in general the organisation remained remarkably stable throughout the war until the Spring of 1918 when a combination of losses and the government’s refusal to send large number of recruits from home resulted in one battalion in every four being disbanded and a brigade reduced to three battalions. In the case of 54th Brigade 12th Middlesex and 7th Bedfords were disbanded, though the 7th Bedfords were replaced by 2nd Bedfords.

Three brigades formed a division, which also had a pioneer battalion for digging and other manual labour, but which could also fight as well as artillery, machine gun, medical and other support units. The combat total was, nominally, around 12,000 men. A division was commanded by a Major general. Sometimes brigades were moved from one division to another but generally they remained stable, in the same way as the composition of a brigade. Some divisions earned a reputation as elite formations, such as Guards Division, 7th Division and 18th (Eastern) Division, whilst others such as 46th (North Midland) Division found a poor reputation hard to shake. They were held to have failed badly on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. However, they redeemed themselves in 1918 by their spectacular piercing of the Hindenburg Line.

From two to five divisions were formed into a corps. This was never a static formation and had divisions moving in an out on a regular basis as tired divisions were rotated with fresh ones during battles. A corps was commanded by a Lieutenant General. In 1914 the British Army on the western Front was divided into just two corps. By the Armistice there were eighteen British corps in France and Belgium in addition to others in ItalyGreece and Palestine. There was also a Canadian Corps and an Australian-New Zealand (ANZAC) Corps on the Western Front.

These corps were divided into a number of armies, two to six per army. The original British Expeditionary Force of 1914 formed one army. This became two armies in December 1914 and three in July 1915. A fourth army was created in February 1916. A Reserve Army was created in May 1916 and later renamed 5th Army. An army was commanded by a General.

The active service units of the Bedfordshire Regiment were divided into the following formations:

  • 1st Battalion: 15th Brigade, 5th Division from August 1914
  • 2nd Battalion: 21st Brigade, 7th Division from August 1914 until December 1915 then 89th Brigade, 30th Division until February 1918 then 90th Brigade, 30th Division until May 1918 then 54th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division
  • 4th Battalion: 190th Brigade, 63rd (Royal Naval) Division from July 1916
  • 1st/5th Battalion: 162nf Brigade, 54th (East Anglian) Division from May 1915
  • 6th Battalion: 112th Brigade, 37th Division from March 1915
  • 7th Battalion: 54th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division from February 1915
  • 8th Battalion: 71st Brigade, 24th Division until October 1915 when 71st Brigade, 6th Division until November 1915 when 16th Brigade, 6th Division

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