Saturday 28 February 2015

The Canadians Join the Fray

5th Canadian Battalion cap badge

Sunday 28th February 1915: The Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion tells us that the Canadians have arrived at the Front Line. On 1st August last, three days before this country declared war, the Governor General of our gallant Dominion, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (Queen Victoria's third son) and Lord Kitchener requested that Canada form an infantry division for war service on 7th August. The division arrived in France on 15th of this month and is now being introduced into the trenches.

The 2nd Battalion are currently in front line trenches south-west of Fleurbaix. Officers of the 5th (Western Cavalry) and 7th (1st British Columbia) Canadian Infantry Battalions were shown round the billets and the four company commanders of each battalion went into the trenches to familiarise themselves with them. No doubt when it comes time for the regiment's own service battalions, currently training in England, to go to France later this year they will go through the same procedure.

Source: X550/3/wd

Roll of Honour 28th February 1915

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion

  • 9198 Sergeant John Henry BARLOW, 28, husband of M A Boulton (ex Barlow) of 95 Soho Street, Six Ways, Smethwick [Staffordshire] (Bailleul Communal Cemetery)

Friday 27 February 2015

An Attack Signalled in Advance But Not Delivered

Saturday 27th February 1915: A curious incident has been reported to us by the adjutant of the 1st Battalion which is about to move back for a rest to Bailleul but has been in the front line near Wytshaete. They received a message from the Brigade headquarters that a lamp had been spotted in the German front line signalling that an attack was to be made at noon. The Battalion took precautions to receive the attackers but none came.

Whether this was the enemy's idea of a joke or not is unclear. It might have been that a traitor in their lines was discovered and the intended attack cancelled. Alternatively there could have been a mistranslation of the message when observed by our men. Or it could have been a German plan to get our men to pack the forward trenches so an artillery bombardment could be brought down on them to kill as many as possible. If so, no such bombardment seems to have taken place. So the incident must just be put down as another of those curious episodes with must take place in any great human endeavour.

Source: X550/2/5

Roll of Honour 27th February 1915

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: trenches at Bus Farm, Cooker Farm etc., Wulvergem
  • 3/8456 Private Charles Alfred SMITH, born Hitchin [Hertfordshire], resided King's Walden [Hertfordshire] (Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres)

Died of Wounds

2nd Battalion

  • 9981 Private Ernest Thomas DAVIS, son of Ada Kate Davis of 16 Maitland Street, Bedford (Boulogne Eastern Cemetery)

Thursday 26 February 2015

Bedfordshire Prisoner of War

Sergeant Brown

Friday 26th February 1915: Sergeant William Brown of the 1st Bedfords wrote home from a Belgian hospital in October last stating that he had been wounded in the arm. Nothing further was heard from him for some time. It has now been ascertained that he has been taken prisoner. His wound has healed and several cheerful communications have been received from him. He is among the prisoners of war at Gardelegan(1).

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 19th March 1915

(1) In Saxony-Anhalt where a massacre of prisoners took place in the dying days of World War Two perpetrated by the SS.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

More News of The East Anglian Royal Engineers

Thursday 25th February 1915: Sapper P A. Greenway, from Stuart Street, Kempston, tells us: “We have quite a number of our chaps in hospital; out of our section(1) alone we have one wounded, home in Kempston (Ashpole), another Kempston fellow here, two with some bodily ailments, one in Huddersfield Hospital and another one of whom I don’t know his whereabouts. Then we have lost our Section Officer. In the place where we are now billeted there is not a house now standing which has not been damaged in some way or other. Some have no roofs on, others have no sides left up and there is no end of cattle left with no owners. In fact I can hardly describe the condition of the places. We had some tiles knocked off our house today by shells. I don’t want to alarm you but there are dozens of shell holes round about our home. We are working at nights again now and when I return home I shall have books full of news”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times, 26th February 1915

(1) About ten men.

Tuesday 24 February 2015


Trench mortar at the Imperial War Museum

Wednesday 24th February 1915: The Adjutant of the 1st Bedfords, currently in the front line near the Belgian town of Wyschaete has spoken to us of a fire-fight which has taken place today.

In conjunction with the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, which is in the same brigade (15th) as the Bedfords, they fired mortars and rifle grenades at German trenches on the Wytschaete Road(1). Unfortunately one of the mortars used by the Norfolks burst, injuring an officer in the Royal Engineers, killing one and injuring one soldier.

The adjutant reports that most of the bombs fell short as the range these weapons have is quite limited. One or two appeared to find a target, however. The Germans then replied with heavier bombs, wounding two of our men. This sort of tit-for-tat exchange is typical of the sort of thing which goes on daily, along with sniper fire and shelling from artillery pieces stationed some way behind the lines. It means that even on quiet days the British army loses quite a number of men killed and wounded. For example, we understand that yesterday, just one such "quiet day" the army lost 2 officers and 48 other ranks killed in action across the whole front line.

Source: X550/2/5

(1) Rifle grenades were grenades on long sticks which were put down the barrel of a rifle then fired from it. They were comparatively new in British service. 

Roll of Honour 24th February 1915

Killed in Action

2nd Battalion: trenches south-west of Fleurbaix

  • 13260 Private Henry George PATEMAN, 19 son of W and Elizabeth Pateman of 42 Ivy Road, Luton, born Dunstable (Rue-David MIlitary Cemetery, Fleurbaix)

Monday 23 February 2015

Corsets for the Front?

Tuesday 23rd February 1915: A week or so ago Messrs Pollard and Holton, Bromham Road, Bedford, had occasion to order from a London house a pair of corsets of an outside size. By some means a postcard referring to the order and asking for the corsets, size 34, to be sent by return, found its way into a mail bag bound for the front. It might be said that an order for corsets ought not to go into a mail bag at all, but the strange part of the story is that this particular postcard went over to France in the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment’s mail bag. Let Arthur W Joyce of the 2nd Bedfords finish the narrative

“To Messrs Pollard and Holton. Dear Sirs. The enclosed was found in the Headquarters mail of the 2nd Battalion of the Bedfords. As it falls to my lot to sort out this mail I naturally came across the postcard and take the first opportunity of returning the same. It was delivered to the trenches, which are within 160 yards of the Germans. Re your order, I am deeply sorry we cannot oblige as we have no use for corsets, having nothing to place in them and we do not keep that size. But could you send in return size 34 of chocolates as they would fit any one of us out here and be very acceptable, or cough sweets, size 32. Thanking you etc. P. S. – How proud you must be in Bedford of all the Beds, especially of the 7th Division”.

It is perhaps hardly necessary to say that Joyce will re-joice when he hears from Messrs Pollard and Holton.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 26th February 1915

Sunday 22 February 2015

More from the East Anglian Royal Engineers

Monday 22nd February 1915: Sapper Alf Warton, at Cuinchy east of Béthune, tells us: “We are very busy, some part of our Company on day work and some on night. Of course one job is as good as another. The party I have been with has been on night work for fifteen nights at a stretch, but of course we get plenty of rest in the day time. Our work consists chiefly of barbed wire entanglements which are made in the daytime and put in front of the trenches at night and I can assure you they are a fine obstacle for the Germans. We can soon get a hundred yards of wire in front of our trenches when we get it there. Of course infantry take it for us and we do the fixing. You can be sure we are in the midst of it, considering we have only been out here two months and have had six killed and about twelve wounded. Last Saturday was our worst day, for while taking part in an attack we had quite a number of casualties. There are rumours about that we are shortly going to have a rest and I think the Company has thoroughly earned it , considering we do the same work as the Regulars(1)”.

“The Company is now split up in sections and billeted indifferent empty houses, only a thousand yards from the firing line, and our billet is rather lucky for it has not been hit by a shell yet. It is much more convenient being in an empty house, for with a good cook like Alfy Mayhew we very often get roast beef and of course that is a change from the stew, or shackles as we call it. We are quite comfortable in my room. I can assure you when we get in the blankets we are as happy as sandboys and take no notice of the roar of the guns”.

(1) 1st East Anglian Field Company, Royal Engineers was a Territorial Army unit.

Saturday 21 February 2015


Sunday 21st February 1915: At the recent petty sessions(1) Privates George Partridge and Frederick Brown, Bedfordshire Regiment, were charged with being deserters from the 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment at Landguard since February 2nd. Inspector Bliss said that these men had deserted and tramped across Essex, giving themselves up on the 5th to the Leicesters at Bishop’s Stortford, where Brown came from. They were escorted to Bedford Barracks, from which they escaped.

P. C. Darrington said that on arrest Partridge produced a piece of paper torn from a small notebook and on which was written in pencil the words “This gives Private Partridge permission to go to Bletsoe to visit his parents”. Brown, when arrested and asked for his pass, said he had one like Partridge but lit his pipe with it. The Chairman said: “That is about all it was worth”. Both were remanded to await an escort.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 19th February 1915

(1) Today called the Magistrates Court

Friday 20 February 2015

The East Anglian Royal Engineers in Combat

Sapper Barcock

Saturday 20th February 1915: We have received news of an attack by 2nd Division on a position known as the Duck’s Bill in front of the town of Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée in northern France. The 1st Field Company of East Anglian Royal Engineers are attached to 2nd Division and took part in the attack. The attack intended to discover whether the Germans were mining towards the British lines. It is the habit of both sides to dig underground galleries towards the opposition lines and, when they believe they are under the front line, lay a large amount of explosive which, when detonated blows the enemy fortifications up, killing men and making a gap for an attack to go through.

The commanding officer, Major Wilson tells us: “To put it shortly the scaremongers said the Germans were mining us and said they heard a drill going and pointed out a steam pump just showing some vapour over the top of their parapet. The General determined to rush their trenches and blow their mines up, so two small columns of infantry were formed, 25 strong each, followed by Lieutenant Humphreys and twelve sappers as blocking party and again by Lieutenant Langley with twelve sappers as demolition party, carrying mines and with some infantry supports, kept in our trench and eight more sappers in reserve. At 5 p.m. our guns gave the Germans a tremendous pounding. At 5.20 the columns kicked off. Unluckily a big shell fell into our right blocking party and buried Corporal Button and three men but (less these) they pushed on and got into the German trenches. Langley found no trace of a mine but only an old cooking stove pipe! Sapper Barber was shot getting over the Germans’ parapet and Corporal Newbury was last seen shouting “Come on boys” and charging down the German trenches. Humphreys was knocked down by shrapnel at the start but recovered and led his men into the German trench and saw red and was tearing up and down trying to find someone to kill. Sapper Rust was shot as he was returning and also Sapper Barcock”.

Sadly this man was Sapper Reginald Barcock, who we spoke to on 24th January. Another Bedford boy, Sapper White has told us: “I am very sorry to say that poor Reg was wounded in a charge. I got him into safety but he died after. We had a hard time, but we gave them something to be going on with. There were five of our Section went into this struggle and we lost two. It was like hell on earth while this battle was on the go. It has properly upset men on hearing of the two gone, but I am getting over it a bit now”.

Sapper Barcock was the eldest son of Herbert Barcock of 1 The Grove, Bedford. He served his apprenticeship as a painter, decorator and plumber to his uncle A. J. Barcock of Sharnbrook and during the seven years he lived at Sharnbrook was a member of the church choir and, for several seasons, of the football club. He is described as of a most cheerful disposition, good-natured and well-liked by all. He had also worked in Bedford for E Smith. One brother was the late Walter Barcock, well known as a boy soprano singer and athlete and another is serving in Egypt.

Major Wilson went on: “All told it cost the Company three killed, one missing and eight wounded, or just over a third of our party. I am awfully cut up at losing my men but our fellows have shown themselves the true men that they are and I know you are proud of them. And I can tell you that every unwounded sapper reached the German trenches. The infantry lost one officer and four killed and, I think, twelve wounded, a smaller proportion than ours. The attack was successful and the General was very pleased. I am too tired to say any more”.

We have also just heard from Corporal A. Ames of the engineers: “I am proud to be an NCO on the Company. Of course we had casualties. I saw a Bedford lad jump the enemy’s trench and cry out “Come on, Bedford Boys”. What we did tonight the town of Bedford can be proud of. My bedfellow went under, poor fellow. He died fighting like a hero. I believe Kempston has lost three lads but it’s nothing to be alarmed at. I have said my prayers a good many times but tonight was, I thought, the last chance but, thank God, I am alive and in the best of health”.

Sources: WO95/1332/1 [at The National Archives]; Bedfordshire Times 5th March 1915

Roll of Honour 20th February 1915

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: relieved from trenches at Bus Farm, Cooker Farm etc., Wulvergem
  • 3/6173 Private Charles Arthur PAYNE, son of A Payne of Wyboston (RE Farm Cemetery, Ypres)
  • 4/7321 Private Charles TOMLIN, son of C Tomlin of The Orange Tree, Sunnyside, Hitchin [Hertfordshire] (RE Farm Cemetery, Ypres)
Died of Wounds

2nd Battalion
  • 5832 Sergeant Joseph CLIBBON, born Ware [Hertfordshire], resided Luton (Merville Communal Cemetery)

Thursday 19 February 2015

The Work of the Royal Engineers

Sapper Overhill

Friday 19th February 1915: Rumour has it that the 1st East Anglian Field Company, Royal Engineers may go into action for the first time over the next few days. Meanwhile we have heard from Sapper A Overhill of Bedford recognising the trials and troubles of a soldier on active service, but he bears his burden with a light heart: "Since we left England on Christmas Eve we have travelled some miles of France and seen some strange sights. Within eight days of landing in France we were near the firing line. The first few days we started work at 9 am and the Germans used start shelling us at dinner time so after that we had to start at 6 am and finish at dinner time. Following this we went on night work, repairing trenches and making them something like habitable for the infantry. In some trenches the men have to stand 48 hours up to their waists in water; it is a marvel how they have stood it all winter. It is bad enough having to wade about in trenches for four or five hours. Three weeks ago we moved almost to the extreme end of the British line, where heavy fighting is continual(1). Here we have had various jobs such as putting up wire entanglements in front of the trenches, trying to drain the trenches into the canal, fortifying houses, or rather, the remains of some of them. It is terrible to see the way the places have been demolished by shells. Nothing is spared. A church in front of our billets is almost shelled to the ground; all that remains is part of the tower. Sharp, out of the Fitting Shop, also Marshall, are billeted with me. We are all well and hope to make a safe return to the Fitting Shop"(2).

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 5th March 1915

(1) Annequin and Vendin-lès-Béthune, north-east of Béthune.
(2) 1308 Sapper Albert Overhill died of wounds on 22nd April 1915 and is buried in Bedford Cemetery

Roll of Honour 19th February 1915

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion
  • 7524 Private John Henry MORBY, born Fenny Stratford [Buckinghamshire], resided Bletchley [Buckinghamshire] (Bailleul Communal Cemetery)

2nd Battalion

  • 3/6777 Private George DEAN, born Sutton, resided Biggleswade (Ploegsteert Memorial)

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Dogs at the Front

Thursday 18th February 1915: Private Harold Chamberlain of 2nd Bedfords has spoken to us about a pathetic sight: "We saw a rather remarkable sight near where we were stationed. There was a very large house which had been ruined, and in the back yard were two dogs - a large black collie and the other a terrier. On their faces one could see that they fully understood the situation, and nothing would induce them to give up their guard of the ruined house. Of course we fed them when we had anything to spare. The dogs were evidently waiting for their master to return, but probably their wait will be in vain".

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 12th March 1915

Roll of Honour 18th February 1915

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: trenches at Bus Farm, Cooker Farm etc., Wulvergem
  • 8101 Private Arthur Benjamin NOAKES, born and resided Chelmsford [Essex] (Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres)

2nd/5th Battalion
  • Second Lieutenant Joseph Charles Edward Mary John Reginald WATERTON, killed in a motorcycle accident near Newmarket Cemetery when he collided with a car (Campton and Shefford Cemetery). His brother John Edward Mary Claude Pius Augustine Waterton died with 1st/5th Battalion 29th November 1917 and is buried in Ramleh War Cemetery.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

A Wymington Sergeant's Story

Sergeant Fuller

Wednesday 17th February 1915: Sergeant H. Fuller (New Wymington) of the Bedfords has paid a five days' visit home from the Front. In conversation with a newspaper representative he said "I ought to have hit a few Germans, but it is impossible to say. You see, there is no real fighting being done at present. The snipers are the only chaps very busy with the rifle now. It is impossible to get a move on as things are, on account of the bad condition of the roads. But just recently the weather has been very nice and we haven't hurt a bit. There is plenty of food, including fresh meat, which can now be brought right up to the trenches. Very few of the men seem to be suffering from colds or rheumatism".

"I left my billet which is about two miles from the firing line on Monday night and I arrived home on Tuesday evening. From this fact you will realise how near the Germans are to England, but in my opinion they have got about as near as they ever will get. When I came away, practically all that was taking place in the nature of fighting was artillery fire, and it has been like that for two months past. It has been almost impossible to engage in any other sort of military operations owing to the sodden state of the ground. Out there, there is mud enough and to spare. Before proceeding to the Front, I had seen two years' service in Pretoria, South Africa. I arrived in England about the middle of September and after two weeks in the New Forest, was sent straight to the Front with my Regiment. We landed at Zeebrugge in Belgium, which, as you know, is now in the occupation of the Germans. From Zeebrugge we went to  Bruges and from thence to 'Wipers' (Ypres). We saw this place before the Germans started dropping their shells into it and it was then a fine town but is now, I understand, a mass of ruins".

"The German gunners are destructive devils and will shell anything they see just for the sake of doing it. If they spot a barn they will not rest content until they have set fire to it".

"On one occasion I got the fragments of a shrapnel shell through my pack, which was on my back, and on another occasion a bullet passed through my cartridge belt and shattered five rounds of ammunition which were in the clip ready for insertion into my rifle magazine. Some of the bullets were carved out of the edge of the cartridges and the others were cut clean in two. Fortunately, none of the cartridges exploded, and so far I have come through with a whole skin, although I have seen chaps struck on either side of me".

"The men play football within the range of the enemy's guns. As a matter of fact a league has been formed in my division (the 7th) and league matches are being played. My regimental team has played a couple of matches. The first was a draw and the second was proceeding when I came away, so I shan't know the result until I get back"(1).

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 19th February 1915

(1) 8420 Sergeant Herbert Fuller of 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, was killed in the Battle of Festubert on 16th May 1915 and has no known grave, being commemorated on the le Touret Memorial.

Roll of Honour 17th February 1915

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: trenches at Bus Farm, Cooker Farm etc., Wulvergem

  • 7396 Private James Nathaniel HUDGELL, 29, son of Frederick and Annie Hudgell of 41 Rochford Cottages, Stanstead [Essex], born Thorley [Hertfordshire], resided Takeley [Essex] (Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres)
  • 10312 Private Harry WHITE, born and resided Luton (Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres

Monday 16 February 2015

A Woburn Man and the Germans

Tuesday 16th February 1915: Lance Corporal Sturgeon of the 2nd Bedfords tells us: “The weather is still rough and cold. We shall be able to go to the North Pole when this war is over, as we have been in all weathers out here. The nights seem long to us”.

“We are having another few days rest; that is when we find out what day it is. My bed is a little straw drawn up a lot, not too warm, but we are used to it now”.

“We are about three hundred yards from the Germans’ trenches. Some of our chaps shouted and asked them when they were going to chuck it up and one shouted back: “When we have done you all in”. Then we asked if they thought they were going to win. They shouted: “Yes, we have destroyed London and you are not in Germany yet”. Then they all shouted: “Hooray” but they will get a ‘hooray’ from us as soon as the weather is a little better”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times, 26th February 1915

(1) Sadly Lance Corporal David Law Sturgeon never got the chance to go to the North Pole as he was killed on the Somme on 3rd July 1916. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and the Woburn War Memorial.

Roll of Honour 16th February 1915

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: trenches at Bus Farm, Cooker Farm etc., Wulvergem
  • 8152 Acting Corporal George Henry COLE, 28, son of Alma Cole of Bramford Lane, Ipswich [Suffolk], born Sutton [Suffolk] (RE Farm Cemetery, Ypres)
  • 3/7028 Private John GARDNER, born Great Barford, resided Bedford (Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres)
Died of Wounds

1st Battalion
  • 8896 Private Roger CAIN, born and resided Kimpton [Hertfordshire] (Boulogne Eastern Cemetery)

6th Battalion

  • 12007 Private Leonard KIFF, son of J Kiff of Temple Villa, 75 Harwoods Road, Watford [Hertfordshire], born Two Waters [Hertfordshire] (Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery)

Sunday 15 February 2015

With the East Anglian Royal Engineers

Men of the East Anglian Royal Engineers February 1915

Monday 15th February 1915: Sapper Charles Chesher, near Cuinchy, east of Béthune, tells us: “We have had four days away from the trenches, but expect to be back again tomorrow. I can tell you we are in a very warm place just now, but we have been lucky so far this month, and have not had one casualty. Our new officer has just joined us in place of Lieutenant Munby(1) and if he is as good he will be all right. It was a very sad death. His section had just finished their work for that night and he went into an old house to get a cup of coffee when a shot came through from somewhere – a kind of mystery – and he died almost at once. He was hardly in the house and we had been there several nights but never saw any danger there. But all our casualties took place within about four hundred yards of one another”.

“One place we go through here will be in the history of this war, for not one brick remains on another. The first afternoon we arrived here, an attack took place within an hour of us being in the line. About two thousand shells went over us. Some of our infantry have blood poisoning from the lyddite which was in the German trenches(2). They(3) were all new troops and most of them ran away and we heard some most amusing tales but the shell fire was the heaviest we have had for about four months. All their clothes were new and they were holding a most important position but it all went in about two hours”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 19th February 1915

(1) See the entry for 30th January 1915

(2) Also known as picric acid. It was a form of high explosive used in shells.

(3) Presumably the Germans from whom the trenches were captured, the two thousand shells being British. This is probably one of the attacks at Cuinchy on 1st or 6th of February. 

Saturday 14 February 2015

The Peacemakers

Sunday 14th February 1915: An officer of the 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment has told us how his regiment acquired its name of The Peacemakers. It was in the early summer of 1815, the war with the Americans(1) having just been concluded that the regiment, then known as the Sixteenth, was ordered to return to Europe. Napoleon's overthrow at Waterloo occurred while the corps was on its voyage homewards. The Bedfordshire was the only regiment to join the victorious troops after Waterloo and remain until the conclusion of the peace. Hence the ironic nickname "Peacemakers".

In the present campaign the 1st Battalion of the Regiment has been through it all from Mons to Givenchy. Their brigadier(2), in a letter to the commanding officer said: "Only eye-witnesses could appreciate the dogged courage with which the battalion has not only faced the enemy at close range, but has sat tight under heavy shell fire and borne every sort of hardship - cold, wet, mud, serious losses, exhaustion, nerve strain and insufficient clothing - without a murmur. There is only one word to qualify the conduct of both officers and men - it has been magnificent and the Brigadier is proud of having the honour to command them".

In the first fortnight's fighting around Ypres the 2nd Battalion, a unit of the glorious 7th Division, had more than six hundred casualties and lost all its officers except three. At one time the Germans were no less than nine to one against them, and all the 2nd Battalion's original 1,100 that eventually came out of the firing line were one officer and three hundred men.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 12th March 1915

(1) The so-called War of 1812 essentially a drawn conflict in which American invasions of Canada were defeated, the White House burned by British troops and Wellington's brother-in-law defeated at New Orleans after the official peace was signed but news had not yet reached the combatants.

(2) Count Gleichen

Friday 13 February 2015

Pig Sticking and the Hazards of Flying

Private Harry Parker

Saturday 13th February 1915: Private Harry Parker, currently serving with the 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment at Languard Camp near Felixstowe has seen service overseas with the 1st Battalion. He has been speaking with one of our correspondents.

"I killed quite a number of Germans. At Ypres I was in two bayonet charges and at la Bassée in another one. At the latter place we were shelled out of the trenches  and although we made three charges to retake them we were not successful(1). Of course, such charges can be made only at night and you might be within a few feet of a German. It is bayonet for bayonet then and if you don't get your man he will have you!"

"As early as the retirement from Mons I got two slight wounds in the legs and more recently I was wounded in the hand at la Bassée in one battle about midnight. In addition to that I had got frost-bitten feet and had to be taken from the trench on a stretcher".

"We can never safely venture into the open to take German prisoners. If they show a white flag it means treachery more often than not. I saw from a distance the 'white flag business' played on the Northamptons. We were on their right and saw them cut up, but were too fully occupied ourselves to go to their assistance"(2).

"We cannot tell how the general thing is going on as we are limited to our own range of vision".

"Conditions now are a great deal better. At the first we had to stay in the trenches as long as 21 days at a time. But now only three days and three nights are necessary. That is quite bad enough when you are up to your knees in mud and water. A 'Jack Johnson' is like an iron foundry coming along!(3) The French howitzers seem quite as powerful. They are like tree trunks flying through the air".

"It is nothing unusual to see soldiers in their spare moments charging with bayonets the pigs in the farmyard. Once he is got to bay, the porker is stuck and a piece is sliced from it and cooked, the remainder being left. The peasants who are plucky enough to keep to their homes within the war zone sometimes walk around after the scraps".

"I saw an English airman chase a German and fetch him down and I have seen one of our own brought to the ground. The pilot and his passenger were dropping smoke bombs and revealing the enemy's position. The Germans fired on it and the aeroplane made a dive towards the earth. Just before it touched one of them fell out and the machine was soon one mass of flames".

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 5th March 1915

(1) 13th October 1914.

(2) This may have been in late November 1914 when the 5th Division was in the line with the 8th Division, which included 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment.

(3) A 150mm shell which burst with a lot of black smoke, Johnson, an African American, was world heavyweight boxing champion.

Thursday 12 February 2015

A Fortess Completed

Friday 12th February 1915: the Adjutant of the 2nd Battalion tells us that it is now possible for the first time to move all along the trenches occupied by the Battalion by day. The Battalion is south-west of Fleurbaix, itself south-west of Armentières, at the moment where the ground is almost completely flat. This gives the enemy a clear view making it suicide to be seen out in the open.

Up to this point part of the front line, presently occupied by Captain Shearman with C Company, has been isolated from the remainder, with no safe, deep, trench between them. This, of course, has rendered them very vulnerable to an enemy attack which, fortunately, has not taken place. Now, with better, drier weather, it has been possible to dig a trench of sufficient depth between the two points to give a continuous front line.

Source: X550/3/wd

Wednesday 11 February 2015

French Cigarettes

Thursday 11th February 1915: Writing to his foster-mother Mrs G. Mobbs, 43 Westbourne-road, Queen’s Park, Bedford, Driver D. Deane, East Anglian Royal Engineers, says: “I have been down with a bad cold and I do not wonder at it. People call this sunny France, but I have seen little sun; they must mean muddy France, as we are up to our shoe-tops in it. But for that and the snow I have enjoyed myself out here and I think the worst of the weather is nearly over. I have seen several of the Bedford boys out here but we don’t get much news, the papers being three or four days old when they arrive. We are working under heavy shell fire. I used to jump every time I heard a big gun go off, but I don’t take much notice of it now. If one is near when they fire the jar nearly lifts one off one’s feet. The only thing we crave for is an English cigarette; the French ones nearly choke us. We are hearing good news out here just now”.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 5th February 1915

Roll of Honour 11th February 1915

Killed in Action

2nd Battalion: trenches south-west of Fleurbaix

  • 9011 Private John SPILLER, born and resided Aldershot [Hampshire] (Rue-David Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix)

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Shrapnel Bullets as Souvenirs

Wednesday 10th February 1915: The Senior Bible Class at the Wesleyan Chapel (East) Kempston, have up to the present supplied thirteen members of His Majesty's Forces, a fact of which Mr. A. J. Riddy (head of the class) is proud. Sapper F. Greenaway of the 1st Field Company, East Anglian Royal Engineers, a member of the class, spoke to Mr. Riddy today from the Front and, after thanking friends for letters and presents said: "We are now having a five days' relief rest, which I think we have well deserved. We take it in turns, as you will see, for the Company is made up of four sections, two go in the trenches or do the work which we Engineers have to do, while the other two sections have a rest. The last day or, rather, I ought to have said the day before, we started on our rest, we had quite a hundred German shells over where we were working, but I am glad to say the majority of them went begging. I picked up some of the shrapnel bullets, which were quite close to us, and shall keep them as souvenirs. I have seen quite a number of flying machines get fired at, but have not at present seen one brought down. The other day I counted thirty shots in one minute at an aeroplane, but they never fetched it down. I wish to be kindly remembered to all members of the Class, and tell them I am always thinking of them".

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 19th February 1915

Monday 9 February 2015

"I Have Not Seen a Bed Since I Left Home"

Tuesday 9th February 1915: Private Wright of Riseley, serving with the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, in writing to friends at Riseley says: - "Last time we came out of the trenches we were marched about seven miles, to a place I am not allowed to name. There we went to a lovely greenhouse and had some of the finest grapes you could wish to see. I have not seen a bed since I left home in August. We sleep in barns or anywhere for shelter so long as we are in the dry. The other day in the trenches  the Germans started shelling us and one dropped about five yards from where I was. Nobody was hurt, but the next shell got three of our fellows. One has died since, and the other two are getting on fairly well. We get it always like that when we are in the trenches. This is not war, it is murder left and right. These last two or three days about 20,000 have gone with a bang(1). Do you people think for a minute that the Germans will get to England? No fear, unless they come as prisoners - that is about the only chance they have got. I am writing this by a nice fire, with a nice drop of cocoa. We are having to make up for lost time. Don't worry, we pass the time out of our trenches having a route march to keep us in good trim, ready to push the finishing touch to the Germans".

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 19th February 1915

(1) Clearly an exaggeration but indicative of the man's state of mind.

Roll of Honour 9th February 1915


2nd Battalion

  • 3/6300 Private John COX, 29, son of John and Annie Cox of 9 Ealing Terrace, Rushden [Northamptonshire], resided Wymington, a native of Northampton (Merville Communal Cemetery)

Sunday 8 February 2015

Another Clapham Casualty

Sapper Smith

Monday 8th February 1915: Just over a week after his death, on 31st January, we have learned that, for the fourth time since the war broke out, the sad news arrived of a Clapham man falling at the Front. The latest soldier to lay down his life for his country is Sapper Frank Smith, eldest son of Mr and Mrs F Smith of Fairfield Cottages, Clapham, and eldest grandchild of Mrs R Smith, who has for so many years kept the "Fox and Hounds" at Clapham Folley. He was also a grandson of Mr Bailey of Park Hill, Ampthill. A comrade who writes to Sapper Smith's parents on February 3rd says: "Dear Mr Smith - I am writing to say how very sorry I am to tell you that your son was killed in Saturday last, while doing his duty. He was the best man in my Section and I am sure everyone in the Company will miss him. I am sure you must have been proud of him as a son, and more so now he had died for his King and country - Yours sincerely A. J. Berry".

"A second letter, from his cousin, William Smith, to his parents, says: "Cousin Frank has been killed by a shot through the head and died instantly; he did not even murmur. We were carrying sandbags at the back of the trenches at the time of his death, walking in single file. I was third, and as soon as I saw him and the next two drop, I dropped. Then I thought I saw a flare go up. I looked, and when I saw how he laid I know in a minute what was the matter. I ran to him but he was quite dead. Poor Frank! Everybody in the Section thought such a lot of him; he was such a nice chap, and the sergeant said he would rather have lost any one man than Frank, because he was a chum of his. We lost an officer on the same night; he was shot through the head too".

Parishioners of Clapham and friends have shown the greatest sympathy with Mr and Mrs Smith and family in their sad trouble. The deceased soldier, who was twenty two years of age, was a member of the Church choir for several years and also a bell-ringer. Very fond of cricket and football, he was always respected by his comrades in sport and was elected captain of the cricket team for two seasons. Kind hearted, yet firm in his manner, he was one of those young men a parish could ill afford to lose. After he had finished his education work at the Modern School, Bedford, he was apprenticed to Messrs Kilpin and Billson, High Street, Bedford(1) and joined the East Anglian Royal Engineers about four years ago, leaving with them for the Front on Christmas Eve. Under the leadership of Mr. R. Shimmans, a muffled peal was rung on Tuesday in honour of their late comrade by the Clapham team of bell-ringers(2).

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 12th February 1915

(1) Wholesale, retail and furnishing ironmongers, electric light and hot water engineers, according to Kelly's Directory for 1914.

(2) He is buried at le Touret Military Cemetery, Richebourg-l'Avoué.

Saturday 7 February 2015

What Happens at Night in the Trenches

Sunday 7th February 1915: Units only spend so long in the front line. Every so often, more often in winter, they are relieved by another unit. Private L. A. Wise of the 2nd Bedfords, whose mother lives at 22 King’s Place, Bedford, describes what happens: "We relieve another Regiment as soon as it gets dark, and then begins the sport. The other night my chum and I carried a plank with us from our billet and before we had time to get down in the trench the plank floated away from us and after all that trouble we went into our knees in mud. We had to laugh, although we had to swear a bit”.

“When it is our turn in the dug-out which runs our section during the day, because we are on duty at night, we get some wood and coke, which we have issued to us, and make a good fire to thaw us a bit and dry our boots and legs, because we have to stand all night, and when it rains we cannot get under cover. My trousers have got two holes in them where my knees knock together because we get so cold. We are well provided with gloves and scarves, which we have sent out to us”.

“We get plenty to eat considering the times, so we have not much to crib at, but every soldier cribs because we think it is a part of our rations. Tell the boys at home that there is plenty of room in the trenches where I am”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 5th February 1915

Friday 6 February 2015

Roll of Honour 6th February 1915


4th Battalion

  • 3/8519 Private Horace MEAD, born and resided Piccots End [Hertfordshire] (Harwich Cemetery)

News of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry

Postcard [Z1306/75/16/53]

Saturday 6th February 1915: Judging by the look of things the Bedford Squadron will soon be leaving the little Essex town [Hatfield Peverel] where it has been quartered for some months and be en-route for “somewhere abroad”(1). This conclusion has been arrived at on account of the deal of attention devoted to the Squadron lately. New rifles have been issued to the members and for the past two months patrol work has formed the chief part of their duties. This is probably what our Yeomen will have to do when acting as Divisional cavalry abroad.

At the end of last week the regiment was inspected by the Inspector-General of Cavalry (General Milner) and the following morning’s orders contained some complimentary observations. For instance: “The Inspector-General of Cavalry has intimated his complete satisfaction at the very smart appearance and steady drill of the Regiment. The Commanding Officer (Colonel Peel) wishes to congratulate all ranks on the high standard of efficiency which they have attained after several months of hard work”.

The gun team had a night out last Tuesday. The members left their headquarters at 11 a. m. on Tuesday and returned at 11 a. m. the following day. About six hours out they were joined by another regiment and the sham fight commenced at 1. About 5.30 rain poured in torrents and made matters unpleasant. The men are however, none the worse for their soaking, and are looking forward to another nocturnal outing. The people in the vicinity of the fighting said they really thought the Germans had come when they heard the guns at 2 a.m.

On Friday the town in which the Yeomen are quartered saw more soldiers than it had ever seen before on one day, for the inspection of the whole of the South Midland Division took place, the Inspecting Officer being General Sir Ian Hamilton. Between 20,000 and 25,000 troops were on parade. The “march past” was led by the Bedfordshire Yeomanry.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 12th February 1915

(1) In fact it did not arrive in France, as part of 9th Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division until June 1915.

Thursday 5 February 2015

The East Anglian Royal Engineers and the Rats

Friday 5th February 1915: Sapper F Parker of the 1st Field Company, East Anglian Royal Engineers serving with 2nd Division tells us: “We have moved further along the firing line, shifted yesterday. There has been some very severe fighting about this part recently, so it seems as though we are in the thick of it now”. We gather they are at le Quesnoy.

“Our Company has relieved some more Royal Engineers who are going back for a rest. We are having better weather now, thank goodness. I very often sit in my abode of love and think about you all at home and wish I had a bottle of good old English beer by my side. The stuff we get out here is rotten trash, like weak water. Most of us as a rule drink coffee with a dash, and the French know how to make it. It’s very good”.

“Our batteries are always around our neighbourhood sending over presents for the Germans, souvenirs as the French say. It’s a fine sight on a dark night to see the flash and the illuminating rockets going up. We had some visitors last night in our “bedroom”, some nice sized rats. You can hear them skipping round and feel them when they run over your feet, but we don’t object to that, as long as they keep off our faces. I am thinking of training some of them. I give you my word they are very active, so don’t be surprised to see me appearing on the stage at Bedford with my wonderful long-tailed pets”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 12th February 1915

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Six Months of War

Instruction in bayonet fighting [X550/1/195/1]

Thursday 4th February 1915: Six months ago today this country declared war on Germany. In the 185 days that have passed since then the local units have suffered many casualties. Of these men 453 have made the ultimate sacrifice. The great majority of these have been men of the 1st and 2nd Battalions who have been killed in action or died of wounds. However, men have also died from accidents and disease, including 21 from units which have not yet left for the front. These mens’ deaths are every bit as tragic as those falling in battle and we mourn them all.

The numbers break down as follows:

  • 1st Battalion: 289
  • 2nd Battalion: 140
  • 4th Battalion: 2
  • 5th Battalion: 7
  • 6th Battalion: 1
  • 7th Battalion: 7
  • 8th Battalion: 1
  • 10th Battalion: 1
  • Bedfordshire Yeomanry: 2
  • East Anglian Royal Engineers: 3
We estimate that between two and three times this number of men have been wounded, though these figures are much more difficult to garner. This suggests that around 1,500 men, a full battalion and a half in other words, have become casualties during the war so far.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Still Living

Wednesday 3rd February 1915: “He is not dead. I left him last Thursday morning alive and well in the trenches”.

Such was the remarkable statement made by Private Thomas George Wood of Bailey-street, Luton, who is serving with the 2nd Bedfords and who returns from Luton to the front tomorrow. The remark refers to a comrade, Private W. Boon, who was last week reported killed. The statement of Private Wood has caused much mystification, and his mother, Mrs Boon of 28 Saint Ann’s-road, Luton, is anxiously waiting for further news from her son. It was thought that there could be no doubt as to Boon’s death, for it was reported by the chaplain at No. 6 Clearing Hospital, who wrote that he was with the young fellow when he died. A letter, posted on the same day as the chaplain’s letter, was received and in it Boon complained of rheumatism, and said he would like to get home for a day or two. It was thought the letter was found on the dying man, but now that a mistake is suspected, it is surmised that the posting of the letter on the same day as that sent by the chaplain is purely a coincidence(1)

Private Wood said that he came out of the trenches last Thursday at 4.30 a.m. and he then spoke to Boon, with whom he had attended Surrey-street Schools, Luton as a boy. Last Friday he was home on leave and on going into a hairdresser’s shop in Bailey-street he saw an authoritative intimation in the “News” of Boon’s death. Wood added that he thought it was a case of mistaken identity and he will speak to Boon about it when he gets back to the trenches on Friday.

Private Wood has had some narrow escapes whilst at the front. Yesterday, detailing some of his experiences Private Wood said “One day in October we carried out a charge at Ypres and half my bayonet was blown away by a shell. My rifle was also smashed and I had to discard it. Another, in December, at Bailleul, when we went out to take some prisoners, a bullet entered the back of my coat and slightly grazed my skin. It was a miraculous escape. Two days later I was out on patrol and we were nearly all captured in barbed wire entanglements. The Germans were dropping shells all the time. Our officer told us to escape the best way we could but the Germans had all but surrounded us. I and another man from London managed to slip out and we jumped one of the barbed wire fences. I thought I was in a Marathon race, but we got back to our headquarters all right”.

“Another day I was on outpost duty and the force was so strong against us that we had to retire under machine gun fire. A bullet went through the butt of my rifle but did not touch the mechanism and I have fired out of it since. My skin was grazed, however”.

Private Wood has evidently led a charmed life and his friends in Luton wish him a safe return to their midst again.

Source: Luton News 28th January 1915

(1) A Private Edgar Boon of the 1st Battalion, who came from Saint Neots, died of wounds on 10th January and is buried at Bailleul

(2) Sadly 3/7361 Private William Boon, from Luton, was killed in action with the 2nd Battalion on 17th May 1915 during the Battle of Festubert. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the le Touret Memorial