Tuesday 30 September 2014

Fun and Games with 1st Bedfords at the Front

Wednesday 30th September 1914: Our contact with the 1st Battalion tells us: "Up at 4 am and I went up to Sergeant Nolais[1] who was in charge of Number 16 Platoon and were in Number 2 Section of the defence right up front. He had reported that there was a trench about 200 yards in front of him full of Germans and that they looked offensive".

"I had a look round but could see no sign of any such trench and it turned out to be all rot. I stopped there for some time and sniped at Magpies in the trees in front but simply couldn't hit them".

"We then set up a regular range on the left more or less in the open and clear of the wood. It was a splendid range and we amused ourselves on the 800 and 1,000 yards butts, sniping at the Germans as they came down towards their trenches carrying cups of tea into their front trenches".

"I then went back to our Section in Number 3 and sat alongside my dug-out and made out the mess bills. While I was doing this we suddenly heard a buzzing noise which got louder and louder and thought that an aeroplane was coming down on top of us. With a tremendous 'phut' something then landed in the ground somewhere near us. We then knew it was a bit of a shell and looked round for it. I found it buried in the ground about 18 inches deep and about two yards from where I was sitting. It was the base plate of one of our 5 inch shells which had burst back although it had actually burst on the Germans' trenches some 800 yards in front".

Source: X550/2/7

[1] Sergeant William John Nolais died of wounds on 8th December 1914 and is buried at Saint-Sever Cemetery, Rouen

Monday 29 September 2014

A Letter from the 1st Bedfords at the Front

Tuesday 29th September 1914: We have received a letter from Lieutenant Charles Claude Stafford, a 23 year old from Bedford serving with the 1st Bedfords in France near the River Aisne. He says: “We are right at the front now, and sleep in the trenches. We are 250 yards away from the German trenches. They cannot do much damage to us, as our position is very strong. I am in perfect health and get plenty to eat. I should love a bath or a good wash. Please send me some chocolate or cigarettes as we cannot get either. I have met several officers I knew before I came out. Hopkins was a master at Elstow School and is one of the best. All our letters are censored so that I can’t give you any news but shall have plenty to tell you when I get back. I hope to be home for a Christmas dinner”.

“We get plenty of excitement here. I think our people have just shelled the enemy out of some of their trenches. I sleep like a top through all the noise. I made my part of the trench lovely and warm with straw last night. It is very hot by day and cold at night. We got hold of sometime rabbits and some fowls which we bought”.

“The German artillery is very good but their Infantry is not so good. In fact it is bad. Of course we don’t mind that. I feel sorry for the inhabitants of the villages round us; they have had their houses blown to pieces. The airmen are very brave. They go over the German trenches and are shelled at hard, but manage not to get hit. We can see shrapnel bursting all round them. I have got quite used to shells and bullets flying about. We are all wondering where the Russians are. I have been over a good part of France, but, of course, not nearly so much as the rest of the Battalion. I shall be glad when we land in Berlin. We are all very unshaven but manage to get quite a lot of enjoyment out of everything. W. A. B. Walker, who used to be in the same form with me, is in the Regiment. It is no use sending the men clothing, as when we advance they will have to throw it away. We all carry as little as possible”.[1]

Source: Bedfordshire Times 9th October 1914

[1] Lieutenant Stafford was killed less than a month later – on 13th October when his unit was pushed back 300 yards by German artillery and infantry at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée. 7 officers and 140 other ranks in all became casualties. Sadly Lieutenant Stafford has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial. Second Lieutenant Walter Arthur Beaumont Walker died on 30th October 1914 and is buried at Bethune Town Cemetery.

Sunday 28 September 2014


Luton Corn Exchange [Z49/1030]

Monday 28th September 1914: The Mayor of Luton[1] has recently given a speech at an open air recruiting meeting outside the Corn Exchange. While speaking in praise of the number who had already come forward in Luton to enlist he spoke rather strongly of others who, he thought, ought to enlist, and Canadian gentlemen of high position also expressed the opinion that it ought not to be necessary to hold such meetings.

The gathering was described by the Mayor as one of the finest he had seen in Luton. The crowd was tightly packed from the Corn Exchange across the road to the Conservative Club. Supporting the Mayor were the Hon. Mrs. Stuart-Wortley[2], and a number of friends of hers from Canada, including Colonel Davidson of the Canadian Defence Committee and Colonel MacRae. There were also on the platform Major Martin of the 5th Leicesters[3], Captain Law of the 6th South Staffordshires[4] and Mr. H. Inwards[5].

The Mayor spoke of meeting about two hundred of the new Luton recruits out marching that day. He was surprised at the excellent way they carried themselves and he thought they were a great credit to those who had enlisted from the town. Many young men had enlisted, he said, but he was afraid there were some skulking in offices and shops who ought to come out and shoulder their burden in this day of crisis.

Captain Law said that he had just returned from his home, where he was sent to help recruit five hundred men for active service with his regiment. He had over two thousand five hundred men to pick his five hundred men from - (applause). Captain Law spoke of the response of manual labourers all over the country and made a special appeal to business men and clerks to come forward and help their country. "In Luton, as you go about, you will see business men - managers and clerks - standing in front of their warehouses, and I venture to predict that very few of them are coming forward here in the same way as they are doing in the Midland counties. These men who have had the advantage of a good education are the men who in a crisis like this should come forward, because with that education they are far easier for officers to train".

Major Martin of the 5th Leicesters who in private life manages a works in the Midlands which employs about seven hundred men, made a very telling speech. The business he is connected with has its Chairman, its managing director, its secretary and its assistant-secretary all serving with the Territorial forces as well as 80 to 100 out of 700 workmen. That, he said, was a great difficulty to get over, but they had made arrangements to carry on the business so that the weekly wages of the men who could not go would not be affected, and that wives and children would not suffer "What we have done others can do".

Mrs. Stuart-Wortley made a short speech. She referred to the presence of the four Canadian gentlemen who had come down to see the troops at work on the hills and who at her request had consented to come to the meeting.

Colonel Davidson, who was very heartily cheered, said he was very pleased with the work of the Territorials here[6], and no doubt they would give a good account of themselves when they went to the front. There was a song "It's a long way to Tipperary". It was a still longer way to Canada - (laughter), "but we are one with you and we love you and love the old flag, and it will be a great honour and pleasure to our men to fight side by side with the men I saw on the plains and hills around here this afternoon". We could count on Canada to the last man - (cheers).

Colonel MacRae said he did not believe that the necessity of holding meetings to call for volunteers should exist. If they in Canada, thousands of miles away across the water, were prepared to lay down their lives for the Empire were not we, with such homes as we had. It was one of the things that struck him hardest that he should be called upon, a Canadian, and a man so far from the scene of the action, to speak to them. It seemed that it should not be necessary. He would leave England happy if there would be no necessity for these meetings in ten days' time - (applause).

"If you young men can stand that and not enlist as Mayor of Luton, I shall be ashamed of you" said Mr. Primett. "We have done well in the past, but there are 300 or 400 young men wanted".

The meeting concluded with cheers for Canada and the singing of the National Anthem[7].

Sources: Luton News 1st October 1914

[1] Walter James Primett of 27 London Road, Luton

[2] The wife of the General Officer Commanding 46th (North Midland) Division which was billeted in the Luton area at the time. This man, Major-General Edward James Montagu-Stuart-Wortley (1857-1934) was sacked after the division failed in a diversionary attack on Gommecourt on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – 1st July 1916. His corps commander wrote: “"the 46th Division ... showed a lack of offensive spirit. I can only attribute this to the fact that its commander, Major-General the Hon. E.J. Montagu Stuart-Wortley, is not of an age, neither has he the constitution, to allow him to be as much among his men in the front lines as is necessary to imbue all ranks with confidence and spirit." The division contained no battalions of the Bedfordshire Regiment.

[3] 1st/5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment, 138th (Lincoln and Leicester) Brigade, 46th Division

[4] 1st/6th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, 137th (Staffordshire) Brigade, 46th Division

[5] Harry Inwards, straw hat manufacturer of 48 Bute Street, Luton who lived at Sunnyside, Hart Hill

[6] i.e. the 46th Division, which was a territorial formation.

[7] The rather hectoring attitude of the mayor, as well as that of Law and MacRae, no doubt encouraged by the mayor, demonstrates the feeling of the council and a slice of the governing class in Luton which would reappear after the war in the way they treated the veterans, resulting in the Peace Riot of 1919 in which the Town Hall was gutted by fire and had to be pulled down.

Roll of Honour 28th September 1914

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion

·        7837 Drummer Herbert Henry CHEQUER, 26, son of George R and Emma S Chequer of Croydon [Surrey]; he was mentioned in despatches (Les Gonards Cemetery, Versailles)

Saturday 27 September 2014

Panic at the Front

Sunday 27th September 1914: Our contact with the 1st Battalion tells us: “We were up at 7 am for breakfast. We heard that the 1st Division had attacked with success east of Condé, and then heard that the Germans had broken through and had forced the bridge at Condé and panic was caused in the rest billet line the other side of the river by a man who went rushing through the villages calling out that the Germans had broken through and were streaming across the river. All of this was completely untrue and the man was caught and Court Martialled and shot for causing alarm and despondency[1].

Source: X550/2/7

[1] Shot at Dawn by Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes make no mention of this incident or any soldier executed in these circumstances, so the source is probably wrong about the offender being shot. 

Roll of Honour 27th September 1914

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: at billets in Gorre
·        7691 Private George SMITH, husband of Elizabeth of Biggleswade, born Sutton (le Touret Memorial)
·        7080 Private William YOUNG, 37, husband of Florence of 7 Saint Andrews Place, Northampton (le Touret Memorial)

2nd Battalion
·        Lieutenant William BASTARD, 23, son of William and Helen Bastard; he was mentioned in despatches (Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres)
·        Private 3/6099 Jack Clarke YOUNG, 27, son of Frank Turvey and Elizabeth Seymour Young of Wellington Terrace, Dunstable (Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres)

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion

·        9840 Private Jack WEEDON, 21, son of Jethro and Sarah Ann Weedon of Luton (Bethune Town Cemetery)

Friday 26 September 2014

1st Bedfords in the Front Line

Saturday 26th September 1914: Our contact with the 1st Battalion in France reports: “During the night we heard several shots and once a tremendous yowling in front out in the open. It was some German who had been prowling about in front and who had been shot by his own side. So we fired in the direction of the yowls and evidently gave him his quietus as the yowling stopped”.

“The usual sniping continued on both sides and we could see the enemy plainly in front and had to observe especial caution going backwards and forwards through the wood. During the night we had erected some screens so as to cover our movements as much as possible.

“When the sniping got very bad we told the gunners and they plastered the enemy trenches with Lyddite[1] and shrapnel and we watched the effect with great joy. The shells burst only two hundred yards in front of us and it was most interesting to see it. It effectually stopped the sniping and we called out to the Germans that if they did it again we would tell the guns and put the lid on them! We then have had peace from them for the rest of the day!”

Sources: X550/2/7

[1] A form of high explosive using picric acid developed at Lydd in Kent, hence the name

Roll of Honour 26th September 1914

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion

·        9104 Private Edward William LANGFORD, 23, son of Lewis Edward and Elizabeth Ann Langford of Church Mews, Eastbourne [Sussex] (Eastbourne (Ocklynge) Cemetery)

Thursday 25 September 2014

Roll of Honour 25th September 1914


7th Battalion

·        16519 Private Jesse COOPER, 27, son of Thomas and L Cooper of 15 Church End, Redbourn [Hertfordshire] (Aldershot Military Cemetery)

An Old Soldier Tries to Re-enlist, the 1st Bedfords in the Line

Friday 25th September 1914: Ex-Sergeant A. Hardwick of Station Road, Oakley, presented himself at the Bedford Barracks but on account of dental troubles was not accepted. He served for twelve years with the Notts and Derby Regiment and then joined the 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment in which he did another twelve years, holding the rank of full sergeant. His foreign services included Chitral, 1895 and the Tirah, 1897[1]. He holds the medal and three clasps for these services. He is now fifty and has been for some years employed on the Duke of Bedford’s Estate.

Our contact with the 1st Bedfords has informed us of a sad circumstance: “Stood to arms in the trenches at 4 am and sniped and were sniped at all day long. While I was sitting on a biscuit box well under cover as I thought, talking to Drummer Chequer, a sniper plugged at us and hit Chequer, who was practically touching me, in the shin bone. It was a most extraordinary wound and took about six inches out of his leg. He didn’t think much of it at the time and was splendid about it although it must have been very painful bore it awfully well”.[2]

“We have been occupied in burying several men of the Manchester Regiment and some dead Germans whom we found lying about and some who were only half buried. We go back to meals at the farm and have to run the gauntlet between it and Battalion Headquarters in the wood, as German snipers are very active”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 25th September 1914; X550/2/7

[1] The Chitral Campaign and the Tirah Campaign were both fought against native tribes in the area of the Khyber Pass in what is today Pakistan.

[2] Drummer Herbert Chequer died on 28th September after having the leg amputated.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

1st Bedfords Back in the Front Line

Thursday 24th September 1914: Our source with the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment in France tells us that the battalion has gone back into the front line: “We heard that we were to cross the Aisne and relieve the troops holding the sector which we had left. In the afternoon the Company Commanders were sent off in advance to take over and see their respective sectors. The Battalion moved off at 6.15 pm”.

“We crossed the river in the dark by the same bridge and marched to the same old farm house we had been in at Sainte-Marguerite about 9 pm. D Company were allotted the forward trenches in the wood and I met a guide from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry who led us all wrong to relieve a Company of the DCLI in trenches which were only forty yards from the Germans”.

“We careered all over the wood with German searchlights playing on us which put the wind up us from time to time and eventually discovered the DCLI and carried out the relief. Number 13 Platoon was put into the most forward trench which was in easy hearing distance of the enemy, the other platoons being along a sort of natural ditch which ran at right angles to their position. We arrived about 11 pm and settled down to a rather uncomfortable night but quite peaceful one although we were expecting an attack all the time. All night the old German searchlight played on and all round us and we were sure that he spotted us”.

Sources: X550/2/7

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Recruiting at Shillington

C B Harmsworth MP

Wednesday 23rd September 1914: Shillington was one of the first of the villages to have a big recruiting meeting. This was held on the Green on Thursday evening, and the chair was taken by Mr. R. B. Lucas, of Shillington Manor, who was principally responsible for calling the meeting. For the convenience of speakers, a temporary platform was provided by a lorry drawn just inside a farmyard opposite the green and this was decorated with a Union Jack and the flags of the Allies. A large crowd was attracted to the meeting, and they had the pleasure of seeing on the platform gentlemen whose views on politics vary widely, but who are absolutely at one in their view of the European War and the justice of Great Britain’s participation in the conflict.

Mr. Lucas, who served with the Oxfordshire Yeomanry throughout the South African War, and who has a son receiving a military training at Sandhurst, said at the opening that he did not think there was any man, whatever his political views, who could say he was not satisfied with the great and good work done by the Government in this time of crisis.

The Chairman was followed by Mr. C. B. Harmsworth, M. P[1]., who said that his presence on the same platform as the Chairman and Mr. J. O. Hickman symbolised the great fact that in regard to the war this great nation was absolutely united. Mr. Harmsworth strongly appealed to his hearers to help build up the big fighting force Lord Kitchener was asking for, and said he was sure Shillington would do its duty by supplying its quota of men at this crisis – (applause)

Mr. Hickman vigorously backed up this appeal. He emphasised the difference between England and Germany’s regards for “a scrap of paper” and said men were badly needed to stop the progress of German “culture”, which meant homes burned, men shot and women ravished. Germany should be taught the world had no need for such “culture” and, if he might put the position simply, we had bitten off a large piece of tough German sausage, and wanted young teeth to masticate it. Mentioning that he was more fortunate than Mr. Harmsworth, in that he was not beyond the age at which a man who had previous experience could rejoin, Mr. Hickman said he had applied for a commission in the Territorials – (applause). All men who could come forward were wanted to crush the German viper.

“This is the chance of your lifetime”, said the Chairman, and this found some support from the audience. Pipers of the Seaforth Highlanders then entertained the audience, who were delighted by their performances as they marched up and down in the glare of a powerful motor headlight.

Mr. T. Keens[2] followed up the impression made by the other speakers with a forceful statement of the position and the need for volunteers and then Mr. Tom Simkins[3] was called on to the platform to give his view of the situation. In doing so, he touched on the duty of those who could not serve to look after those left behind, and he said he would be pleased to do all he could in this way. He was also open to drive 90 or 100 somewhere to enlist the next day – (applause)

Mr. Robert Long and Mr. James Simkins added their support, and the Vicar of Shillington, the Rev. L. Postgate, described the war as a holy war – a war against the hosts of evil as they were personified by the German Emperor and those who followed him. A hundred men had gone from Arlesey, and he hoped Shillington men would give the recruiting officer a busy time when he came.

The pipers gave a second performance, and before the meeting closed questions were invited. None were forthcoming, and the Chairman then said the right thing to do was to go into the fight without question.

A verse of the National Anthem was sung before the meeting closed, and it was stated that names would be handed in at once or the following morning.

Sources: Luton News 18th September 1914

Shillington Manor [Z50/103/2]

[1] Cecil Bisshopp Harmsworth (1969-1948) Liberal MP for Droitwich 1906-1910 and then for Luton 1911-1922 he was Under Secretary of State for the Home Department in 1915 and Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1919-1922. He was ennobled as 1st Baron Harmsworth of Egham [Surrey] in 1939. He was brother of Lord Northcliffe and a director of Amalgamated Press and chairman of Associated Newspapers.

[2] Thomas Keens, county councillor for Luton No. 1 District

[3] Of Bleak House, Shillington 

Monday 22 September 2014

Disaster off the Dutch Coast

HMS Cressy

Tuesday 22nd September 1914: We have today received intelligence of a great naval disaster off the coast of Holland. Three of our armoured cruisers of the same class, the Hogue, Aboukir and Cressy[1] have been sunk by a German submarine, known as a U-Boat. These armoured cruisers are obsolete and manned by relatively inexperienced crews and, given their patrol area is so close to lanes known to be used by German submarines, have been, with rather grim humour, known as the “Live Bait Squadron”, a name which has proved tragically prophetic. Over fourteen hundred of our sailors have been killed by this under-handed vessel of secretive destruction. That more did not perish is down to the humanity of neutral Dutch ships in the area which picked up as many survivors as they could as did a number of our vessels.

Sadly Mr. Alfred Charles Rowberry of Husborne Crawley was on board HMS Cressy and must be considered lost. No news has reached his wife and much sympathy is felt for her by the village. He was a Petty Officer Stoker and in civilian life was attendant at the swimming baths and waterworks in the village. He was a naval reservist called up on the outbreak of war. He was a fine manly fellow, highly respected in the neighbourhood. He left a wife and one child.

A strange coincidence is that Stanley Stapleton, second son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Stapleton of Husborne Crawley is on HMS Lowestoft, the ship that played such an important part in the rescue work of the survivors.

Source: Bedfordshire Times

[1] Weighing 12,000 tons and armed with two 9.2 inch guns and twelve 6 inch guns.

Sunday 21 September 2014

A Family at War

Monday 21st September 1914: Quartermaster-Sergeant F. Scott, who is a well-known figure in Luton, is one of nine relatives serving with the 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. Quartermaster-Sergeant Scott is in charge of the headquarters and stores of the South Beds Detachment at Park-street, Luton. On active service with the Battalion are Colour-Sergeant F. C. Scott, Sergeant F. Scott, Private E. Scott, Private F. Scott, Private McEwan, Private H. Scott, Private F. Rimmer and Private Holt. The younger men are chiefly nephews of the Quartermaster-Sergeant. About ten years ago there was a Scott occupying every rank in the 5th Beds”.[1]

Source: Luton News 1st October 1914

[1] The following members of the family died on active service: 4085 Private Frank Rimmer, killed 16th August 1915 and commemorated on the Helles Memorial; 200233 Quartermaster Sergeant Edward Scott, died 12th January 1918 and buried at Jerusalem War Cemetery

Saturday 20 September 2014

Still at Montgard Mill

Sunday 20th September 1914: The 1st Battalion are still at Montgard Mill. Our contact writes: “From the top of the hills we can get some very good views so we climb up them and can see Soissons and other places very well. We have taken the opportunity of the rest to send interpreters into Paris to get us different things which they were only too glad to of, so much so that one did not return for a long time afterwards”.

Source: X550/2/7

Friday 19 September 2014

The 1st Bedfords at Montgard Mill near Jury

The ruined church at Condé-sur-Aisne

Saturday 19th September 1914: Our contact with the 1st Battalion, still at Montgard Mill near Jury, has told us of an abortive shoot by our artillery against the enemy on the north bank of the River Aisne: “During the past few days we have collected a few of the stragglers that had got separated from us on the Retreat. At 5 pm we were ordered to leave the mill as the guns about us were going to bombard Sevres and Condé-sur-Aisne”.

“We left and went off to Jury and we warned the miller to leave also hoping that he would not return. He drove off with his wife and family in a great state of excitement but returned later all right”. We returned soon after and nothing happened”.

Thursday 18 September 2014

The 5th Bedfords at Home, the 1st Bedfords in France

Friday 18th September 1914: Inquiries at headquarters confirm that the 5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment for foreign service has been brought practically up to full strength. Slightly over the necessary 60 per cent volunteered for foreign service in the first instance and this number has been constantly added to, so that now about 70 per cent are prepared to go. Therefore practically 300 men were wanted to complete the Foreign Service Battalion. All the vacancies in the Bedford and South Beds Detachments have been filled by enlistment and many more men could have been got. There are a few vacancies in the Ampthill and Shefford district and the Biggleswade and Eaton Socon District Companies.

A Reserve Battalion has been formed which will be known officially as the 5th Reserve Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. As a nucleus the Battalion receives the 300 men who, for various good and sufficient reasons, no doubt, have not volunteered for the front. Recruiting commenced on Monday week and 250 have come in. This gives up to Wednesday a total of 550 out of the 1,000 wanted for the new Battalion – a very satisfactory result. There are vacancies in all the Companies which are to follow the territorial divisions in the original Battalion, and young men are urged to come forward at once. At the time of writing the officers are not gazetted but it is expected that the Hon. Victor Russell, the brother of Lord Ampthill, and cousin of the Duke of Bedford, will be in command. Many more applications than there are appointments have been received and they include many well-known names.[1]

Our contact with the 1st Bedfords reports that B and D Companies are occupying trenches south of the River Aisne alongside the road from Sermoise to Soissons[2]: “We had several rumours of spies running about in motor cars and had orders to stop and examine every car coming along the roads, so we placed a great barrier across the road and waited for them to roll into it. None came much to our disgust”.

“I went into the village of Sermoise which was practically totally destroyed by shells and fires. I, however, managed to secure five large ducks! Several of the houses were being looted by French civilians and they were most openly carrying away the booty in wheelbarrows. Those who remained complained to us and we were told that several of the professional class of burglar had arrived from Paris and were making a good thing out of it. We then started to stop them”.

“I saw a ladder against the remains of one house and told one of our men to mount the ladder and look in the window while I went into the house. I went in and on the upstairs floor found two men ransacking the room and picking up the bed. I asked them what they were doing and they said that the things were theirs and that they were taking them away. I told them to leave them alone and clear out and they began to be obstreperous when the face of the other man appeared at the window on the ladder. This decided them and they went off at once”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 18th September 1914; X550/2/7

[1] This Reserve Battalion did not go on active service. It was known as 2nd/5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment and joined 69th Division at Newark in January 1915 and spent the war in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. It was disbanded in March 1918. A 3rd/5th Battalion was formed in June 1915 and spent most of the war at Tring. It was merged with 1st Reserve Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment in July 1917 and spent the rest of the war in Sussex.

[2] Today’s Rue de la Renaissance.

Roll of Honour 18th September 1914

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion:
·        Captain Robert James MCCLOUGHIN or MCLOUGHIN (Vendresse British Cemetery)

·        8949 Lance Corporal Arthur George ROBINSON, 29, son of John and Matilda Robinson of Great Stukeley [Huntingdonshire]; he enlisted in the 2nd Bedfords in 1906 (Bécourt Military Cemetary, Bécordel-Bécourt)

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Lieutenant Downes’ Experiences at the Front

Aspley House in 1961 [Z53/3a/1]

Thursday 17th September 1914: We have had the following letter from Lieutenant Villiers Chernocke Downes of Aspley House, serving with the 1st Bedfords. He writes as follows: “We arrived in North East France, where we remained from 19th to 23rd August and took part in the Battle of Mons. We had to retire, but held the enemy in check for the whole day at le Cateau. We were in the firing line on each occasion and had thrilling experiences. I found it far less nerve trying than I expected. At Mons I was in a very hot corner for a few minutes, being shelled by shrapnel at close range, about 400 yards, with the German Infantry. Four men were killed around me and I got a bullet through my hat. That will make a fine trophy. Our Division[1] has since had no fighting, but have marched 20 miles per day. We are very fit in consequence. We are generously treated by the inhabitants who give to us freely of their best”.

Our other source with the battalion writes that the miller at Montgard is no better company than yesterday: “The old miller is still very disagreeable although we tried to help him with his milling which he had been ordered by the Requisitioning people to get a move on with as fast as possible”.

“While we were digging latrines in the farmyard, we dug up near the manure heap a jar containing all sorts of valuables which we presented to him. He, however, seemed more bored than pleased to get them back as he had, of course, buried them for safety”.

[1] 5th Division.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The 1st Bedfords at Montgard Mill

The church in Sermoise

Wednesday 16th September 1914: Today the 1st Bedfords have been resting in and around the mill at Montgard near Jury. Our contact writes: “The owner of the mill is a most objectionable old man with his wife and family and will not do anything much to help us and anything that we want to buy we are told that he either has not got it or that he wants an impossible price for it. However we managed to get some very good honey out of him at a fairly reasonable price”. The battalion can see the village of Sermoise on the south bank of the Aisne, just across from Missy, is on fire.

Sources: X550/2/7

Monday 15 September 2014

A Day in Missy

Tuesday 15th September 1914: The adjutant of 1st Bedfords reports that they have spent the day in Missy in support of the front line. They were heavily shelled with high explosives about midday and also came under rifle fire. One officer was killed, two wounded and around thirty five other ranks also became casualties.

Our contact with the battalion reports: “Up again at 4.45 am and managed with the faithful Drummer Chequer to brew some cocoa. We also shared some tobacco. I had none and Chequer had a few scrapings so we made it up with brown paper. I had never so longed for something to smoke so much before”. Making his way to Brigade Headquarters he reports: “They shelled and sniped us all the time and the General stuck his red hat on a stick and got it peppered!”.

“I went up to the front to see what was doing in an interval and was quite close to Johnnie Ker who was sitting on a bank. He got up and stretched himself and yawned saying that he was tired of it all and wanted a good sleep when a sniper shot him through the head and he died at once. Almost at the same time, if not with the same bullet, H. Courtenay was hit in the eye but not killed. It was an awful blow losing poor little Johnnie”[1].

“Sniping was getting pretty bad and the Germans very wily about it all, putting up their dead in position for us to shoot at and act as decoys. The battalion then held the line of the light railway and the edge of the village”. He went to the hospital to check on the wounded and returned to his command: “and was told in the darkness by some man that I had been killed during the day!”

“We then made arrangements to bury poor Johnnie and McCloughin[2] in the orchard, just south of the village and near the light railway. They were buried at 9 pm and the Brigade Interpreter, who was a Church of England parson in Paris, took the service”

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

[1] Hugh Courtenay would be killed on 23rd August 1918 as Lieutenant-Colonel, serving with the battalion, aged just thirty.
[2] This looks like an error as McCloughin did not die for another three days! Perhaps the other burial was Private Gibson, the other deaths with the battalion on that day having no known grave.

Roll of Honour 15th September 1914

KiIled in Action

1st Battalion: in support to the front line at Missy-sur-Aisne and heavily shelled
·        9472 Private Herbert Victor BURGE, born and lived in Hastings [Sussex] (la Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial)
·        8140 Private Herbert FENSOME, born and lived in Luton (la Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial)
·        7567 Private Frederick GIBSON, born in Bethnal Green [London] and lived in Bow [London] (Vauxbuin French National Cemetery)
·        Captain Cecil Howard KER, aged 30, son of G D Ker of Tavistock [Devon], husband of Dorothy Ker (Vendresse British Cemetery)
·        7789 Private Edward LAKE, aged 32, husband of Bessie West (formerly Lake) of Lathbury [Buckinghamshre] (la Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial)
·        7736 Private Thomas LAW, 32, born in Berkhamstead [Hertfordshire], lived in Bovingdon [Hertfordshire] brother of Alfred Law of Ashley Green [Hertfordshire] (la Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial)

·        8487 Private Percy MANN, born and lived in Blunham (la Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial)

Sunday 14 September 2014

Roll of Honour 14th September 1914

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion

·        9014 Private William SMITH, 25, son of T and A Smith of 38 Hartopp Avenue, Fulham [London] (Buzancy Military Cemetery)

HMS Carmania Sinks a German Ship and the Bedfords Cross the Aisne

RMS Carmania

Monday 14th September 1914: We have received a report of a victory at sea from Able Seaman Cheshire of Clifton Road, Shefford. He is a member of the crew of HMS Carmania. She is an ocean liner which has been fitted with eight naval guns of 4.7 inch calibre to help protect herself and other merchant ships against German commerce raiders. AB Cheshire has told me that today Carmania engaged and sunk a German armed merchantman, looking, I am told, suspiciously like Carmania herself, off the Brazilian island of Trinidade.

He says: “We met here off the coast of South America. The scrap started soon after 12 o’clock midday, and in one hour forty minutes  we put her down; a glorious victory as she looked a far superior ship to ours. Our gunnery was splendid, without any boast. I can tell you it was hot stuff whilst it lasted. Of course we did not get off scot free – we had a few shot holes. The worst part of the whole affair was that we caught fire but we got it out with a little hard work. We had nine killed and between twenty and thirty injured, which was a very small casualty list compared with the Germans[1]. We gave her a good rousing British cheer as she disappeared to the bottom. Our captain was splendid – as cool as a cucumber, smoking a cigarette”.

In France the adjutant of the 1st Bedfords writes: “We crossed the River Aisne by pontoon and raft and attacked Missy. We were heavily shelled and had about forty casualties”. Our contact with the battalion, as usual, adds some more revealing information:  “The battalion moved forward and began to cross the river at 2 am … The battalion crossed over in two rafts, being pulled from side to side by ropes and got over about 3.30 am”. The battalion made its attack: “The Norfolks had a pretty bad time on the ridge in front as they had advanced with our battalion and we had succeeded in practically clearing the crest when the British guns mistook them for the enemy and started shelling them. The Germans in the meanwhile put down a barrage behind them. In the confusion the Norfolks lost direction and charged their other half battalion with fixed bayonets in the woods. We all had to clear out of the woods and lost a good many men through it”

“Private Smith had been hit in the stomach on the way down and Drummer Chequer[2] and I looked after him. Poor devil, he was in agony and we had to take turns sitting on him to keep him from throwing himself about; we could do little for him but eventually managed to get him taken across the river and put in a cart and taken to hospital where he died the next day[3]. McCloughin was also hit that day and died in a house in Missy after the most awful agony”.[4]

Source: Bedfordshire Times 9th October 1914; X5502/5; X550/2/7

[1] In fact between 16 and 51 Germans are mentioned by various sources as having been killed. The rest, some 250, were rescued by smaller German vessels.
[2] Drummer Chequer would be killed on 28th September 1914.
[3] As can be seen from the Roll of Honour Private Smith is officially recorded as dying of wounds the same day.
[4] He died on 18th September.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Roll of Honour 13th September 1914

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: in the front line at Missy-sur-Aisne

·        8616 Lance Corporal Solomon BROWN, 27, son of the late George Brown and Elizabeth Sinfield (formerly Brown) of 68 Church End, Redbourn [Hertfordshire] (Cement House Cemetery, Ypres)

The 1st Bedfords at the River Aisne

A pom-pom on an anti-aircraft mounting

Sunday 13th September 1914: The adjutant of the 1st Battalion tells us that the Germans are holding the line of the River Aisne in force and that all day an artillery duel between the two sides has been going on. Some heavy shells fell near the battalion which was forced to move back somewhat. This evening it is anticipated that the 15th Brigade may try to cross the river at Jury. The battalion lost one man to shellfire during the day.

Our contact with the battalion is feeling better and praises the work of our gunners both the field batteries manning guns of smaller calibre and the heavy batteries. He has a curiosity to report: “A Pom Pom arrived and placed itself quite close to us and prepared for action. Some of us went off to look at it and discovered a lonely looking Gunner Subaltern in charge.  He told us that it was a Pom Pom mounted and fitted for Anti-Aircraft defence. He said that it was the first of its kind out of England and that when he arrived in France no one knew anything or seemed to care anything about him!”[1]

He went on: “We made up for the disinterest taken in him and thoroughly examined his weapon and asked him how he knew which aeroplane was Allied and which German. He told us that he had a Flying Corps specialist with him who knew the various makes and could distinguish between them. Suddenly an aeroplane sailed over head flying pretty high and his expert shouted in his excitement that it was a German. The gun team got very excited and the gun opened fire and loosed off about 150 rounds at it while we watched with our glasses. We soon saw that it had the French mark on it and the “expert” had to agree that it was French so the gun stopped firing! The gunner was quite disappointed but said that he had observed some bursts through its wings!”

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

[1] A pom-pom was a piece of ordinance named after the noise it made. The early pom poms were, more correctly, 37mm Nordenfelt-Maxim Guns or QF 1 pounder (QF for quick firing and one pound being the weight of the projectile)

Friday 12 September 2014

Roll of Honour 12th September 1914

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: advance to the River Aisne

·        7943 Private Isaac HAWKES, born and lived in Sheering [Essex] (la Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial)

Another Wet Day in France

Saturday 12th September 1914: It has been another wet day in France. The adjutant of the 1st Bedfords tells us: “Advanced. Weather again very bad. Roads a sea of mud”. 

Sadly our contact with the battalion is feeling unwell. He told us: “I woke up feeling very seedy indeed and was violently sick several times and could hardly move. I could not eat any breakfast at all and somehow managed to fall in and move off with the Battalion when we moved off at 5 am”. The act of throwing away his overcoat during the retreat has obviously resulted in a chill after being soaked in yesterday’s rain. He went on: “We marched through several small villages and I felt as if I were going to die all the time and had to several times fall out at the side of the road and be frightfully sick! After about five miles of this and after a long halt I gave up and did the next four hours in the mess cart and managed to sleep most of the time”.

The battalion has had a number of German prisoners with it which they have now surrendered to the authorities. Our source notes: "These prisoners were a most tame lot altogether and were very sorry to leave us and we were sorry to part with them as they had been most useful during our fatigue work. They could practically all speak English and one of them knew one of our men well and had actually worked with him in the Old Kent Road!”

Two companies of the battalion are billeted tonight on the River Aisne.

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

Thursday 11 September 2014

News of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry and a Wet Day in France

General Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton

Friday 11th September 1914: A message from a trooper in the Bedfordshire Yeomanry reads: “We now have to go through a stricter training than when we first left Bedford. Every morning we have riding school for two hours, which is as much for the benefit of the horse as for the man. The idea is to teach the horses the various drills. Some of them were very obstinate at first, but it is surprising what a difference the school has made to them. Each afternoon is devoted to musketry and a lecture by the officers. These lectures are very interesting and will by very useful to the men. On Thursday the regiment was inspected by General Sir Ian Hamilton[1], who was quite satisfied with our appearance. When we were on our way to inspection one of the horses dropped dead owing to staggers caused by the heat. Several people from Bedford visit us on Sundays. All the men are in good health and spirits”.

The 1st Bedfords have been advancing through the rain, going about sixteen miles. The adjutant reports tersely: “Weather abominable: drenched by torrents of rain”. Our contact with the battalion bemoans: “Having no Burberry – as I had thrown it away in the Retreat – I got absolutely soaked through”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 11th September 1914; X550/2/5; X550/2/7

[1] He is remembered today for presiding over the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign in 1915.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Chasing the Hun and a Tragic Death on His Way to Serve

Thursday 10th September 1914: Yesterday our contact with the 1st Bedfords anticipated close fighting in a dawn attack. In the event this did not happen. He reports: “Moved off as a Brigade in the good old night formation on the dawn attack at 3.45 am. Expected every minute to be heard in which case we should rush the position. Nothing happened, however, and very much to our “relief”!! found that the Germans had quietly and most discreetly retired”. The Bedfords have been advancing all day, chasing the Germans back the way they were forced to retreat by them only a few days ago. This evening they lie near the hamlet of Saint-Quentin in the Bois de Bourneville, an advance of some fifteen miles. The adjutant reports that the advance began before dawn “pursuing the enemy all day. The enemy is apparently demoralised and the country strewn with wagons, motors, bicycles, stores, hundreds of greatcoats, dead and wounded horses, Germans etc.” One wonders how German units reported their pursuit of our men in the past few weeks. A German convoy was captured by our forces as well as a considerable number of prisoners.

We regret to announce the tragic and untimely death of Mr. Ronald C. M. McNaughton, son of Mr. J. J. McNaughton of 61 de Parys Avenue, Bedford. He had recently joined the East Anglian Engineers and was given the rank of Lance-Corporal. Yesterday afternoon about 2.30 he left Bedford with three other Engineers en route for Bury Saint Edmunds to join the Engineers there. The party were riding motor-cycles and near the bend at Great Barford Mr. McNaughton’s bicycle skidded and he was thrown heavily. He was picked up insensible and brought to the County Hospital by Doctor Coates but never regained consciousness and passed away at 2 am this morning Mr. McNaughton was at Bedford Grammar School 1907-9 and was in the School Corps. He was articled at the Grafton Works and after serving his time there was for about a year with Messrs Saunderson and Mills. The funeral will take place from 61 de Parys Avenue on Saturday at 2.30.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 11th September 1914; X550/2/5; X550/2/7

Roll of Honour 10th September 1914

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion
  • 7894 Private Henry SHEAD, born and lived at Bishop's Stortford [Hertfordshire] (la Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial)

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Action on the Marne

Wednedsay 9th September 1914: Today the 1st Battalion, on the River Marne, has seen the first men killed since the Battle of le Cateau on 26th August. The two men were both from London – Privates Jackson and Stanford. The battalion crossed the River Marne at Saâcy and then moved north to Bézu-le-Guéry. En route between the two places the battalion was shelled by enemy and B Company, under Major Thorpe came under machine gun fire from a wood. The enemy's machine gun was then duly put out of action. The enemy's rear guard made a good stand but had to leave several guns behind. In all the battalion lost about ten men including the two men killed.

Our source with the battalion gives us more detail: “We marched on through a big wood[1] and passed 5th Divisional Headquarters by the side of the road. While we were marching still in column of route, half a dozen shells suddenly came buzzing over and burst on the road amongst the Norfolks[2] in front”.

“For a minute there was wild panic amongst them and half of them came running back on to and into the middle of us. We at once straightened things out and more shells arrived. The Brigade then halted and on a certain patch of road, between some trees, shells dropped with great regularity. That portion of the brigade which had passed this spot forged on ahead and we halted and were left behind. We got down at the side of the road and considered the situation. While we were halted and watching the shells burst about 100 yards away, Sir Charles Fergusson arrived and asked where Count Gleichen was[3]. He had gone on with part of the Brigade in front and was not to be found so he told us that we were to push on and join him as best we could. Colonel Cameron of the Black Watch also arrived (the General Staff Officer) and told us to rush past the shelled spot in lumps”.

“So we advanced by sections at the double and had to keep doubling for about three-quarters of a mile where a Battery was in action. When I went with a Section we caught one of these volleys of shells at the crucial point and one man near me was very badly hit. It was a rotten place to get through but once done we had a breather and could afford to sit and laugh at those coming after us, particularly the Transport. Our old Company Grey Horse “Tagalie” was slightly wounded in the process”.

“We pushed on to a hollow where we found the rest of the battalion and delivered General Fergusson’s message that the Brigade was to push on as hard as it could. We pushed along a barbed wire fence and ended up in the village of Bézu. Just prior to this we passed quite close to the Germans who were in some woods on our left and where some guns were which the Lincolns eventually captured[4]”.

“Bullets and a few shells were then buzzing about with fair regularity and we had a few casualties. B Company went on ahead and got within about one hundred yards of some German guns in a wood. D Company were more or less in reserve and we remained and dug ourselves in along a bank. I was then sent back into the village just behind with the Brigade French Interpreter to collect potatoes for the Brigade which we dealt out later”.

“When I came back the fight was still going strong but it had developed into a stationary fire fight only and I met George (in the Dorsets) being brought back on a gate, very badly wounded. I just spoke to him and he went on to the dressing station. He died a few days later[5]”.

“We then heard that fourteen guns had been captured and that the French were making a tremendous show over on our left. Where we were it was almost impossible to do anything, as we believed the Germans to be in fair strength and the ground was very difficult. We have been thinking of those old dawn attacks on the Fox Hills of Aldershot and now we have the prospect of the real thing before us tomorrow – and the order was the bayonet”.

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

[1] Presumably that just north of Méry-sur-Marne.

[2] 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, part, with the 1st Bedfords, of 15th Infantry Brigade.

[3] Although with a German name Count Edward Gleichen (1863-1937) was commander of 15th Infantry Brigade and later commanded 37th Division ending the war as Director of the Intelligence Bureau at the Department of Information. Sir Charles Fergusson (1865-1951) was commander of 5th Division, afterwards 9th (Scottish) Division then, successively, II Corps and XVII Corps. He was later Governor General of New Zealand.

[4] 1st Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment of 3rd Division.

[5] Lieutenant Athelstan Key Durrance George of 1st Battalion, Dorset Regiment, died on 14th September 1914 and is buried at Coulommiers Communal Cemetery.