Monday 30 November 2015

1st/5th Bedfords on the Move?

Tuesday 30th November 1915: We hear that the expedition to Gallipoli may be about to be brought to a close. The 1st/5th Bedfords are still at Finsbury Vale but have been ordered to move tomorrow closer to the beaches. They may be heading for a different sphere of conflict over the next week or so.

Source: X550/6/8

Sunday 29 November 2015

What the Engineers Have Been Doing

Monday 29th November 1915: We have heard from the 1st/1st East Anglian Royal Engineers about what they have been up to this month. They have been working near Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée, and thus in the vicinity of 2nd Bedfords, though with 2nd as opposed to 7th Division.

The have constructed of a new third line of defences from the Annequin-Auchy railway to the la Bassée Canal. They have been constructing new trenches, “dog’s legs”, machine gun emplacements, wire entanglements, dugouts and latrines and repairing existing trenches which were adopted as part of the line.

Source: WW1/WD3

Saturday 28 November 2015

Biggleswade Yeoman Signs On Again

Sunday 28th November 1915: Corporal A M Taylor of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry has returned to Biggleswade from France and is now enjoying a month’s holiday. He had completed his term of service with the Yeomanry but has signed on again for four years or for the duration of the war. In view of this he has been granted a month’s leave. Some time back he was not in the best of health but he now looks very well indeed.

Source: Biggleswade Chronicle 3rd December 1915

Roll of Honour - Sunday 28th November 1915

Killed in Action

2nd Battalion: relieved from front line trenches at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée
  • 17685 Private Leonard Ernest BECK, 18, C Company, son of John and Jane Beck of Potton Road, Hilton [Huntingdonshire] (Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy)

Died of Wounds

10th Battalion

  • Temporary Lieutenant George WALKER, attached 10th Nigeria Regiment, West African Field Force, (Zaria Memorial, Nigeria)

Friday 27 November 2015

Nights in the Trenches

Saturday 27th November 1915: Private Albert E Grummit of 8th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment tells us: “It is wet and cold here now and that makes it bad. The nights in the trenches seem a week long and when we get out for a rest they don’t seem two minutes. I don’t know if Charlie has got the best place in the Mediterranean, but I wish I had gone there, as it is warmer anyway”.

Source: Biggleswade Chronicle 26th November 1915

Roll of Honour - Saturday 27th November 1915

Killed in Action

2nd Battalion: front line trenches at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée
  • 18612 Private Arthur Walter WOODCROFT, 27, son of Arthur and Emily Woodrcoft, husband of Beatrice of 66 May Street, Luton (Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy)

3rd Battalion
  • Second Lieutenant Walter Victor MITCHELL, attached Trench Mortar Battery (Loos Memorial)


3rd Battalion

  • 22805 Private Arthur DENTON, born and resided Wootton (Wootton (Saint Mary) Churchyard and Extension)

Thursday 26 November 2015

A Biggleswade Sergeant and His Turkish Prisoners

 Turkish prisoner-of-war cage (from The History of the Fifth Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (TA))

Friday 26th November 1915: Sergeant W Franklin, who was badly wounded at la Bassée, while serving with the 1st Bedfords, and who is now serving with a Garrison Battalion(1) in the Mediterranean, tells us: “I am sure myself and Charlie Brown (another of the Brave Bedfords who was wounded in France) appreciate your kindness (in sending out newspapers). I am stationed some miles from him, but I send the papers to him first opportunity and am going to see him tomorrow, all being well. He is at present employed filling water barges that go to the different places for use of the troops”.

“At present I am employed as a mounted policeman and have to examine passports, not a bad job either. About two months ago I was guarding Turkish prisoners but they have now been moved somewhere else, so I have finished with that job. Perhaps it would be interesting to hear a bit about them. They seemed a sorry lot, very depressed at capture. They say they are all ready to surrender but are compelled to fight, of course you know who by. It seems as if this affair is going to be a long job, but one never knows what we have up our sleeve and we are prepared for all surprises”.

“I see the 5th Beds have been making a name and I am very glad to hear it. It makes one glad to belong to a branch of the service that proves itself in action. Give my best respects to all the boys at Biggleswade. I am pleased to see a few more have decided to shoulder arms”.

“We get good weather here on the average but it is a dusty place and the flies are awful when it is hot. Am about to go on duy”.

Source: Biggleswade Chronicle 26th November 1915

(1) Not in the Bedfordshire Regiment as the 1st Garrison Battalion served in India, 2nd Battalion in what is now Pakistan and 3rd Battalion in Burma.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

A Lively Time

 Ball Grenade

Thursday 25th November 1915: The 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, have been in the front line near Fricourt, on the Somme, since 21st of this month. Usually things are quite quiet but this tour of the trenches has been more lively. The adjutant told us: “The enemy shelled trenches more or less in enfilade(1) from the right front on most days, but did little material damage and caused no casualties. Officers' patrols went out on various occasions at night and examined the enemy's wire entanglements and threw bombs into their trenches, they also succeeded in dropping a number of grenades into their lines with catapults and 'West' bomb throwers(2).

Source: X550/2/5

(1) That is from the flank, the line must have made a turn at this point.

(2) West Guns were small spring fired ballistas invented in 1915 by Captain Allen West. They were more cumbersome than the catapult and operators, including West Himself, could lose fingers in the mechanism. It was replaced by mortars such as the Stokes Mortar in 1916.

Roll of Honour - Thursday 25th November 1915

Died of Wounds

7th Battalion

  • 16954 Private Oswald P DESBOROUGH, born Kimpton [Hertfordshire], resided Welwyn [Hertfordshire] (Saint-Sever Cemetery, Rouen)

Tuesday 24 November 2015

10th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment – A Short History, Part II

Wednesday 24th November 1915: Here at Colchester – where we form part of 6th (Reserve) Infantry Brigade – we completed our training and have sent out drafts as reinforcements to both 6th and 7th Battalions. One cannot help saying that these drafts have invariably been described by Officers Commanding the Rest Camps where they go prior to joining their new unit as the best they have had sent to them. Similar praise has been received from the Officers Commanding units they have joined and from officers who have returned from the front.

The majority of our men appeared to be Hertfordshire men, towns like Saint Albans, Hertford, Watford and Hitchin being well-represented while Harpenden, Radlett, Buntingford, Letchworth, Berkhamstead etc. have their representatives. Most of the Bedfordshire men come from Bedford and district and Luton but some come from Dunstable, Sandy and villages on the borders of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. Huntingdon was well represented and, curiously enough, there was a section from Bristol(1).

A large number of the officers are Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire men, Bedford Grammar School having four representatives and Saint Albans School three and these, not including many who live in the counties, but who were educated outside.

Four officers have been killed – Captain J A Tennant (a nephew of Mr Asquith), Lieutenant J T Adair, Lieutenant W A Leland and Second Lieutenant F C Casswell (who lost his life in the “Royal Edward” Transport)(2). Others from the Battalion have gone to take their places, to carry on the good work they have begun, and to maintain the glorious record which the Bedfordshire Regiment as a whole has earned for itself in this war.

Every encouragement is, and always has been, given to the playing of all games after parade hours. Last year we were unbeaten at hockey; this summer we lost only one match – the first of the season – at cricket, and we beat that side (9th Battalion, Royal West Kents) twice later on in the season. At soccer and hockey we are undefeated this year and although there has only been one rugger match to date the side shows promise of being a good one. It must not be forgotten that, owing to the Battalion being draft-producing, the personnel of the side is constantly changing.

Concerts and entertainments are frequently given in the evenings and they are very popular with all ranks.

The songs we sing on the march naturally change from time to time. At Dovercourt the favourite was, perhaps “Who’s Your Lady Friend?” but other popular ones were “Come on Tommy, Come on Jack” (sung to everybody we passed in mufti(3)), “Hold Your Hand Out Naughty Boy” (for which we had our own verses), “Are we Downhearted? No”. Others were added while at White City and now our repertoire is quite a big one. The song which is most popular with the civilian population is as follows:

We are the Bedford boys,
We are the Bedford boys,
We know our manners,
We spend our tanners,
We are respected wherever we go,
When we’re walking down the broadway lines,
Doors and windows open wide,
We are the boys to drink our ale,
Out of a pint pot or a pail,
We are the Bedford boys.

And then, Mr. Kaiser (to the tune of Mr Cupid) is a good second.

Mr. Kaiser, Mr. Kaiser,
He’s the cause of all our trouble,
Cause of all the crime,
When the Bedfords get to France,
They will make the beggars dance,
Oh! It’s all through Mr. Kaiser every time(4).

Source: Bedfordshire Times 26th November 1915

(1) Nine men from Bristol would die with the 7th Battalion alone during the course of the war.
(2) RMS Royal Edward was sunk on 13th August 1915 by UB-14 off the Greek island of Kandeloussa, 864 men were drowned; John Amherst Tennant died on 22nd August 1915 in Gallipoli attached to 1st Battalion, Border Regiment; John Thomas Adair died on the same day serving with the same regiment. Walter Alfred Leland died in Gallipoli on 4th June 1915 serving with 1st Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
(3) Civilian clothes

(4) 10th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment would move back to Dovercourt in March 1916 and on 1st September be converted into 27th Training Reserve Battalion, later 27th Young Soldier Battalion. From 27th October 1917 it would become 53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

Monday 23 November 2015

10th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, a Short History, Part I

Tuesday 23rd November 1915: We were born at Dovercourt, Essex, on 31st October 1914, by two companies of the 4th Bedfords being detached “in toto” to form the nucleus of a new Battalion. Most of the men had enlisted in the early part of September and so had undergone a certain amount of training. Some of the officers had also been attached to the 4th Battalion for some little time previous to the formation of the Battalion. We were a part of the Harwich Defence Force and before we left found some of the Guards etc. to relieve the 4th Bedfords. The Dovercourt days were strenuous, for we all were keen and worked hard, and so much useful training was done there.

On November 6th, Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. Piers of the Indian Army was sent to command us and from that day there has been no looking back. We were fortunate, too, in the fact that Lord Salisbury and Captain Wild, who were then the Officer Commanding and Adjutant of the 4th Battalion, were always ready to help us in every way.

The Battalion moved to the White City, London, in the heaviest snowstorm of the winter on January 22nd, 1915 to be with the other Battalions in our Brigade – the 106th Brigade(1). With us were 12th Essex , who also started their experiences at Dovercourt (being an offshoot of their 3rd Battalion). We have been brigaded with them ever since and have maintained the good relations of the Dovercourt days.

At the White City we quickly made an impression, and we were regarded as the show Battalion in our Brigade. We spent many pleasant days in field schemes, manoeuvres, etc. on Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common, Richmond Park etc.

We were all looking forward to going out as a Brigade – 11th Glosters, 12th Essex and 13th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were the other Battalions – and it was not until the closing days of March that we learned we were to be – like our parent the 4th Bedfords – a draft-producing Battalion(2). This decision caused much disappointment, but we quickly realised that some Battalions had to be Reserve Battalions and it was the fortune of war that we should be one of them.

On April 29th we bade farewell to White City – most of us without regret – and proceeded to Redhill [Surrey], where the men were very comfortably billeted, the officers taking an empty house and furnishing it. Here we again made an excellent impression and soon made friends with everybody. We came across 8th Battalion Bedfords, who were undergoing some instruction in trench digging there. They were only a few days with us, but long enough for us to see that they were a fine Battalion. Unfortunately, we had no sooner settled down than the order came to move. We learnt that the Brigade was going to to be split up and 12th Essex and ourselves were to go to Colchester. Accordingly, on 17th May, we bade “good-bye” – in the rain – to Redhill, this time with many regrets. On arrival at Colchester we were placed in huts and we had hardly settled down in them when we were moved into Assaye Barracks – used as married soldiers’ quarters in peacetime(3). From there, on September 18th, we were moved to Sobraon Barracks and here we understand we shall remain for the winter(4).

Source: Bedfordshire Times 26th November 1915

(1) 35th Division, later a Bantam division for men under normal height for military service.
(2) 4th Bedfords did see service at the front – with 63rd (Royal Naval) Division from July 1916 onwards.
(3) named after the Duke of Wellington’s first victory – at Assaye in Maharashtra over the Marathas on 23rd September 1803.
(4) named after the Battle of Sobraon (in Punjab) in which, on 10th February 1846, the East India Company under Sir Hugh Gough defeated the Sikhs 

Sunday 22 November 2015

The Death of Lieutenant Dann

Monday 22nd November 1915: The adjutant of 6th Bedfords tells us that they have lost an officer Lieutenant Ernest Dann. Lieutenant Dann was been severely wounded on 21st. He was out with a working party and received two bullets in the abdomen. He has died this morning and will be buried at Hénu near the Battalion’s billets at Pas-en-Artois(1). The Battalion is out of the front line at the moment but working parties behind the lines are still dangerous as this incident shows.

New attachments for rifles have been issued to the men. They are to assist in cutting enemy barbed wire and the men are being trained in their use today.

Source: X550/7/1

(1) He is still there, on the west side of the churchyard. He was an Australian, from Queensland. A Lieutenant-Colonel W R H Dann DSO served with 3rd and 8th Battalions and may have been a relative.

Roll of Honour - Monday 22nd November 1915

Died of Wounds

6th Battalion

  • Temporary Second Lieutenant Ernest DANN, 25, son of Rev George James and Hannah Dann of Patna [India], MA (Oxon) 1914, a native of Redland [Queensland] (Hénu Churchyard)

Saturday 21 November 2015

New Equipment

Sunday 21st November 1915: the adjutant of the 8th Battalion tells us that they are changing their equipment. They were supposed to receive 1908 pattern webbing for front line service but, as there has been a shortage, have actually gone to France with 1914 pattern leather equipment which imitates the 1908 pattern webbing but in a more easily manufactured form. The 1908 pattern is beginning to be issued today.

This webbing is made from woven cotton and is stronger and more durable than leather. Each man has: a 3 inch wide belt; two braces each 2 inches wide; ten cartridge pouches each holding three clips of five rounds (meaning a total of 150 rounds is carried); a frog for the bayonet connecting the scabbard to the belt; a water bottle and carrier; a haversack; a valise with two straps and an entrenching tool with separate carriers for the head and the haft.

The Battalion is currently at A Camp near Ypres and will be inspected by their general officer commanding, Brigadier C L Nicholson at 10 o’clock this morning.

The adjutant has just informed us that hostile aircraft have made a bombing run on the camp. No damage, however, seems to have been done.

Source: X550/9/1

Roll of Honour - Sunday 21st November 1915

Killed in Action

7th Battalion: front line trenches at Fricourt

  • 13658 Lance Corporal Frederick Walter PAGE, 25, son of John and Susan Page of Rose Tree Cottage, Chigwell Row [Essex], born Chigwell (Dartmoor Cemetery, Bécordel-Bécourt)

Friday 20 November 2015

Bedfordshire Training Depot

Ampthill Camp [Z1306/1/34/2]

Saturday 20th November 1915: To accommodate the recruits who have joined during the present month two large structures have been provided at Ampthill Park. The Wesleyan Church Council of Ampthill have most patriotically placed the large room of their Institute at the disposal of the Commanding Officer of the Training Depot for the accommodation of some of the men, and His Grace has gratefully accepted their kind offer. A similar offer was made by the Committee of the English Church Schools, but unfortunately it was found that the proffered accommodation was not quite suited to the purpose.

On Wednesday a visit was paid to Ampthill Camp by a number of staff officers of the 59th (North Midland) Division(1), who were anxious to see the various facilities for training that exist at the Depot. The squads under instruction at Machine Gun Drill (Maxim and Colt) were first inspected. Then the two rifles fitted with telescopic sights (the Aldis Telescope and the Gibbs Magnifier) were examined and aroused much interest, especially the latter, which, at a third the cost of the Aldis Telescope, appears to have equally satisfactory results. The staff officers next witnessed recruits at drill and physical training and then passed on to the Miniature Range, the Rapid Loading and Firing Trench and the Obstacle Course. Meanwhile the Signallers under instruction had been engaged in laying telephone wire with Buzzer instruments from the Orderly Room to the Entrenching Ground, a mile distant, whither the party now made their way. A Relief Party was in readiness of the Woburn road and directly the officers reached the ground, the relief of the trenches was carried out. The various kinds of entrenchments, as well as the loopholed parapet and entanglements were visited in turn, great interest being taken in the method used for extending the trenches by sapping. Several of the staff officers had lately been in the trenches at the front, and it was satisfactory to hear them say that, not only were the entrenchments thoroughly up to date in every respect, but in the matter of construction they were far superior to any trenches at the front.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 26th November 1915

(1) 59th (2nd North Midland) Division was a formation of Territorial Army units of the North Staffordshire Regiment, Leicestershire Regiment and Sherwood Foresters. It was sent to Ireland to quell the Troubles in 1916 and in February 1917 was sent to France.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Troops Attached for Training

Friday 19th November 1915: the adjutant of the 2nd Battalion tells us that officers and NCOs from a newly arrived unit, 19th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers(1), are being attached to the battalion for training in trench warfare and life on the front line.

They have been told that he training should include instructions in: -
(a) methods of forming up and assaulting from trenches.
(b) Use of grenades, rifle grenades, trench mortars.
(c) Method of holding the line and use of machine guns.
(d) Sanitary precautions in the trenches.
(e) Precautions against frostbite.
(f) Necessity for continuous and organised work in the trenches.
(g) Method of supply, and cooking in the trenches.

The orders received go on: “The Brigadier wishes Battalion Commanders to give their personal attention to the training of these new formations and to insist on the thoroughness of the instruction. Units of the new formations must be regarded as an integral portion of the units to which they are attached and equal solicitude be shown for their comfort and instruction”.

Source: X550/3/wd

(1) Also known as 2nd Public Schools Battalion; it was part of 98th Brigade of 33rd Division which originally comprised four battalions of Royal Fusiliers (1st-4th Public Schools), another brigade (99th) also having four Royal Fusilier Battalions (Empire, Kensington and 1st and 2nd Sportsman’s)

Wednesday 18 November 2015

2nd Bedfords to Change Armies

Thursday 18th November 1915: The adjutant of the 2nd Bedfords tells us that they have been told that towards the end of the month their division, 7th, will be withdrawn from I Corps, 1st Army and will join 3rd Army which was created in July under the command of General Sir Charles Munro and is now commanded by General Sir Edmund Allenby. The message received goes on: “Its place in the line will, in all probability, be taken by a new and inexperienced Division, who will have little idea of the difficulties of trench warfare in winter time. The General Officer Commanding hopes that no effort will be spared to hand over our present lines in such condition that our successors on arrival may start their campaign under favourable conditions”.

Source: X550/3/wd

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Armour Piercing Bullets and a Possible Attack

Wednesday 17th November 1915: the adjutant of the 2nd Battalion at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée tells us that they have been told that the War Office is very anxious to secure a small supply of the latest pattern of German armour piercing rifle ammunition for experiments in England against armour plate(1). If any of this German ammunition is available or becomes available in the future, it is to be forwarded as early as possible. As the adjutant remarked it is just one more thing the men will have to look for when patrolling or raiding enemy trenches.

The adjutant of the 7th Battalion tells us that at 8.10 last evening a verbal message was received from the 6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment on the battalion’s flank to “stand to” as an enemy attack was expected. The order tio stand down came twenty minutes later as no attack developed. The night was misty so the commanding officer took advantage by sending out men to inspect the barbed wire in front of their positions. This was found to be “none too good”.

Sources: X550/3/wd; X550/8/1

(1) This may have been due to the development of the tank which would go into action on 15th September 1916. The first tank - Little Willie, was demonstrated in August and September 1915 (and is still on display at Bovington Tank Museum)

Roll of Honour - Wednesday 17th November 1915


1st/5th Battalion

  • 3324 Private Herbert Alfred CROSHAM or CROSHAW, 21, son of Walter and Mary of 27 Britannia Road, Bedford (Pieta Military Cemetery, Malta)

Monday 16 November 2015

A Complaint by the Artillery

 A British 6 inch howitzer at IWM Duxford

Tuesday 16th November 1915: With some wry amusement, as there is often little love lost between infantry and artillery, the adjutant of the 2nd Battalion tells us that the divisional artillery has complained of their men using the la Bassée Road as far as a barricade at a certain point where there are artillery observation posts. Apparently this means the posts are liable to shell fire by the enemy, which cannot be tolerated so the infantry must go another way. Of course shell fire in their position is something the infantryman in the front line knows all about!

The adjutant of the 6th Battalion tells us that two inches of snow fell last night. In order to avoid the debilitating condition of trench foot, where men can lose toes or whole feet to gangrene, their socks are being sent out of the trenches to be dried and the men’s feet rubbed with oil. Later today the men are to go back behind the lines to bathe.

Sources: X550/3/wd; X550/7/1

Sunday 15 November 2015

Defending Givenchy and Cuinchy

Monday 15th November 1915: We have received the following defensive plans for the 2nd Bedfords, an extract from more detailed instructions for the whole brigade.  No doubt the Germans have something nearly identical for their own defences!

Action to be Taken in Case of Attack

(a) All Troops in the Sectors will at once stand to arms in fighting order.

(b) Battalion Commanders will
(i). immediately inform the Artillery
(ii). Inform Brigade Headquarters by wire and messenger.

(c) The front line will be held at all costs. Should any portion of the front line be occupied by the enemy the remainder will be held, and a local counter-attack at once made to expel the enemy from that part of the line which he has gained possession. The Support Companies may be used to reinforce the front line in case of necessity. A supporting platoon of centre and left battalions of both sectors will always stand to arms in the support trench in the vicinity of the craters, carrying picks and shovels ready to move forward at once should the enemy explode a mine. The reserve company will be moved up to the vicinity of the support line and kept in hand for offensive action.

(d) Should the enemy obtain a lodgement in our line troops to the right and left of the broken line will assist the local counter attacks by pushing bombing parties down the trenches on the flanks of the attackers.

(e) If something more than a local counter-attack by the troops actually in the front lines is required to dislodge the enemy, it will be organised and prepared by the Brigadier General Commanding. The success of the local counter-attack is dependent on the attack being launched at once before the enemy has had time to settle himself in any way in the captured portions of the trench.

(f) All the garrisons of keeps will, in case of an attack, stand to their posts and will in any event hold on to their posts tenaciously at all costs so as to form pivots to assist further counter-attacks.

(g) Brigade Headquarters will be established at Windy Corner(1),Divisional Headquarters at le Quesnoy.

(h) Action of Reserves. The battalions in le Quesnoy and Essars move up at once along North bank of the canal, Commanding Officers coming to the permanent Brigade Headquarters on Canal Bank.

(i) Artillery. Battalion Commanders are in close touch with the Officer Commanding Artillery, and Artillery Brigade Commanders with Brigade Headquarters.  Officers Commanding sub-sections will send the following message to Artillery "S.O.S. "B" 2 "B" 3 etc as the case may be, and will then keep the batteries informed of the progress of events.


The Officers Commanding battalions finding the garrison of the keeps will be responsible that they are kept in a good state of repair and in a thoroughly defensive condition.

They will see that a reserve of 300 rounds per rifle - two days rations and water and a supply of bombs are maintained. The posts will be visited by an Inspecting Officer daily and all will stand to their battle posts twice daily.

Source: X550/3/wd

(1) In Cuinchy, today the site of the Guards Cemetery.

Roll of Honour - Monday 15th November 1915

Killed in Action

1st Battalion: relieved from front line trenches near Fricourt

  • 10433, Private Harry GENTLE, born Saint Albans [Hertfordshire], resided Luton (Carnoy Military Cemetery)

Saturday 14 November 2015


Sunday 14th November 1915: The adjutant of the 1st Battalion tells us that memories of the atrocious conditions at the front last winter have been rekindled. The Battalion are in the front line on the Somme, near the village of Fricourt and the weather is bad. Landslides occur in the trenches due to the incessant rain and the parapets and trench walls collapse.

It has been found unsatisfactory to use sandbags to make revetments to shore up the trenches because the foundations subside causing the whole revetment to collapse which, of course, is dangerous for any man beneath it. Needless to say sandbags made on the spot should actually be called mudbags, they are slimy and slippery.

Source: X550/2/5

Friday 13 November 2015

Instructions to Commanding Officers

Saturday 13th November 1915: The adjutant of the 8th Bedfords tells us there was no attack yesterday. In fact the Battalion has been relieved and gone back to A Camp.

The 2nd Battalion adjutant has wired us the following memorandum from Field Marshal French to the commanding officers of all units on the Western Front.

1. The Army in France is entering upon a winter campaign in circumstances very different from those of a year ago. Then we were in great inferiority, both as regards numbers and munitions. Our position was necessarily defensive and sometimes precarious. We emerged successfully from a critical period because of the fine fighting qualities of officers and men in the front line, and it was because of the high fighting value of units that the Germans never achieved the moral ascendancy for which they hoped and which seemed warranted by their superiority in resources.

The situation as regards resources is now reversed. Whereas the enemy reached high-water mark in the early part of this year and has since been slowly but surely declining, our army has expanded very largely in numbers and the increase in munition supply has been relatively greater still.

Final success is therefore assured, and it will come the sooner if we succeed in maintaining the highest standard of efficiency in units.

2. With the expansion of the Army there has been a necessary reduction in the number of experienced officers and men in every unit. The efficiency of units has therefore become more than ever dependent upon the unremitting personal effort of commanding officers.

It is because your work is of such paramount importance to our success that I address this Memorandum personally to you, not by way of criticism, but to assure you that the importance of your task is fully understood and to guide you in your future efforts.

3. I wish you to believe that I realise fully the difficulties you have to contend with and the dangers and hardships to which you are often subjected. I know your work is uphill and that its results are often not apparent to you.

The material on which you have to work is often uninstructed and inexperienced, but it is young, keen and impressionable. Therefore, if worked on rightly, the best results can be expected.

4. The fighting value of the units is derived from three interdependent sources - training, discipline and moral [sic].

As regards training, you have ample data and instructions for guidance, and staffs of formations are available to advise and assist; but as regards discipline and moral you have to rely upon your own personal efforts. Experience has shown that if these are to be maintained at a high level among young officers and soldiers, special attention must be given to the following points: -

(i) A proper chain of command must be established and responsibility definitely fixed, so as to develop initiative and power of command.

(ii) Discipline must be applied rigorously among officers, slackness and incapacity must never be condoned.

(iii) Grumbling and uninformed criticism must be eliminated.

(iv) All leaders and particularly company and platoon commanders should be made to understand the vital importance of their duties, and that it is on their leading that success in battle chiefly depends once the attack is launched. It should be explained that, in battle, control is rarely possible and confusion inevitable, and that their initiative, courage and skill largely determine the fortunes of the day.

(v) The disastrous consequences of retirements must be insisted on.

(vi) The history and traditions of the regiment and the achievements of its members in this and in previous campaigns should be systematically taught.

(vii) Every opportunity for fostering a fighting spirit should be taken, the enemy must be harassed and his life made a burden.

(viii) The reasons for the war and the cause for which we are fighting must be explained. The Army exists and works with one object and one only, and that is to beat the Germans. All other considerations are subordinate to this.

5. We are undertaking the great task of creating a large Army while fighting a powerful and inscrupulous [sic] enemy. In this task nothing is more important than the practice and inculcation of the highest soldierly qualities. I am confident that I may rely on you to devote yourselves whole-heartedly to the development of these qualities in the splendid troops whom you have the honour to command.

Sources: X550/3/wd; X550/9/1

Thursday 12 November 2015

A Deserter and Impending Action

 1st/5th Bedfords interrogate Turkish prisoners

Friday 12th November 1915: The adjutant of the 1st/5th Bedfords, still encamped at Finsbury Vale in Gallipoli tells us that a Turkish deserter has been apprehended and interrogated, giving some useful information. He also notes that Lord Kitchener has arrived in the peninsula on a tour of inspection.

The 8th Bedfords are currently in the front line near Ypres. This morning 71st Brigade Headquarters has contacted them with the message: "Division wires that certain information has been received showing that there is a possibility that the Germans may attack today. Information is unreliable but you are hereby warned and close touch should be kept on your flanks and with the neighbouring Brigades especially with the 49th Division".

Sources: X550/6/8; X550/9/1

Wednesday 11 November 2015

The Dangers of Patrolling

Thursday 11th November 1915: The adjutant of the 6th Battalion tells us that it is a fine morning in France, but very cold. Today the men will all be employed draining and repairing their trenches as many of the parapets have fallen in due to rain.

Patrolling no man’s land under cover of darkness is hazardous. Events earlier this morning show how careful anyone patrolling must be. Lieutenant Wace had led a small patrol in the early hours and was returning before dawn. His arrival back at our lines caused a sentry some consternation and he shot him. Fortunately the lieutenant is only wounded and not dead.

Source: X550/7/1

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Major Poyntz Takes Command

Hugh Poyntz [X550/1/82]

Wednesday 10th November 1915: Major Hugh Poyntz arrived with the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment on 5th November and today takes over command from Lieutenant-Colonel H F Bidder who returns to the Royal Sussex Regiment. The Battalion goes back into the line again after a short break.

Major Poyntz has a brother in the 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, Lieutenant E S M Poyntz and both brothers turned out as amateur batsmen for Somerset before the war, Lieutenant Poyntz captaining them in 1913 and 1914(1).

Source: X550/3/wd

(1) Neither brother was a particularly distinguished cricketer. H S Poyntz played first-class cricket for Orange Free State and in a career lasting from 1904 to 1921 made 1,288 runs in 40 matches averaging 19.22. He also took 5 wickets, average 36.40. Massey Poyntz in a career lasting 105 matches from 1905 to 1919 made 3,127 runs at 17.08 and took 8 wickets at 39.62.

Roll of Honour - Wednesday 10th November 1915

Killed in Action

6th Battalion: front line at Hannescamps and killed by a shell
  • 17911 Lance Corporal George KITCHENER, son of E Kitchener of Valley Lane, Flamstead [Hertfordshire] (Bienvillers Military Cemetery)

Died of Wounds

2nd Battalion
  • 14418 Private Edmund SOLE, 26, born and resided Kelshall [Hertfordshire] (Abbeville Communal Cemetery)


1st/5th Battalion

  • 3874 Lance Corporal Arthur Thomas HIGHTON, 18, son of Frederick George and Annie Highton, of 75 Havelock Road, Luton (Luton General Cemetery)

Monday 9 November 2015

3rd/5th Bedfords at Wendover – Still Want Recruits

A platoon on parade at Wendover 

Tuesday 9th November 1915: Intending recruits should visit one of the amber and black rosetted sergeants at 46 Gwyn Street, Bedford. Now then, you Bedford lads, join your Regiment – the 5th Bedfordshires – while still you have the chance. Today is time enough – December 1st is too late. Today you can choose your own Regiment – the 5th Beds of course. On December 1st a regiment will be chosen for you – as after December 1st recruits will go where they are sent, and not necessarily where they want to be. Don’t hesitate. Now’s the time(1).

Source: Bedfordshire Times 19th November 1915

(1) The Military Service Act 1916, which came into force on 2nd March that year, would go further, introducing conscription for all single able-bodied men between 18 and 41 unless their wife had died and they had dependent children, they were in a reserved occupation or unless they were ministers of religion. 

Roll of Honour - Tuesday 9th November 1915

Died of Wounds

2nd Battalion

  • 17793 Private Christopher George SHARP, 23, son of E Sharp of 10 Sandpit Cottages, Hatfield Hyde [Hertfordshire], born Hatfield [Hertfordshire] (Chocques Military Cemetery)

Sunday 8 November 2015

Croix de Guerre for Private Jackson

Monday 8th November 1915: Yesterday General Haig, commanding 1st Army yesterday presented 4/6722 Pte W Jackson with the French decoration, the Croix de Guerre. This man was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the following act of gallantry. On the night of 30th September, near Hulluch, when the enemy had gained a footing in Gun Trench he continued firing his machine guns although attacked on three sides. On his gun failing he picked it up and retired across the open for 50 yards with the Germans at his heels and succeeded in regaining our trench(1).

Source: X550/3/wd

(1) Sadly Lance Corporal Walter Jackson, as he became, died of wounds on 3rd July 1916. He was from Hertfordshire and is buried in Dive Copse British Cemetery, Sailly-le-Sec.

Saturday 7 November 2015

2nd Battalion in Action Again Near Givenchy

Second Lieutenant Anns 

Sunday 7th November 1915: the adjutant of the 2nd Battalion tells us that the Battalion went into action again near Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée yesterday. They are just north of the la Bassée Canal and close to an area known as the Duck’s Bill in front of which are a number of old mine craters. Their position extends from a trench named Willow Road on their right to one called Shaftesbury Avenue on their left.

At 11.30 a.m. while the Battalion was relieving the Yorkshire Regiment in the front line, verbal orders were received from the Brigadier to the effect that a mine would be exploded at 3 pm if possible and that the lip of the resulting crater must be occupied, at the same time the near edges of the other craters in front of the Duck’s Bill were to be occupied and also that of another, detached crater on the left towards which there was already a sap. As it was expected the Battalion’s trenches would be filled with debris, parties were to de detailed to clear and hold them. All men within 200 yards of the mine were to be withdrawn.

Orders were accordingly issued, and by 3.45 pm the battalion was ready. The Companies detailed to go forward were B Company under Captain R B Gibson on the left, C Company under Captain R O Wynne in the centre and A Company under Captain H de Buriatte on the right, D Company under Captain P C Cavan being in support. The companies were to send out small parties of three Riflemen and three bombers to occupy the crater edges, each party to be followed by a consolidating party of ten men with shovels.

At 4.10 pm the mine was exploded, all the parties went over the parapet and the near edge of the lone crater on the left was occupied and made good and the sap to it completed. The new crater was just in front of the two old ones, these were occupied and observation and communication saps were dug out to them. One party got across the new crater and for a short time established themselves on the far edge of it, they were however bombed out, losing Second Lieutenant H C Lovely, wounded and three other ranks also wounded by bombs. A fairly heavy rifle fire was developed by the enemy on the lips of the occupied craters and Second Lieutenant F Anns was killed whilst superintending a digging party in one of them. Work was continued all night, and by this morning the position, which was required for observation only, was secure. The enemy had thrown a large number of bombs but they all fell just short of the craters occupied.

Source: X550/3/wd

Friday 6 November 2015

The Forgotten 6th Battalion

Saturday 6th November 1915: Corporal A W Nightingale of the 6th Battalion has spoken with us about the letter from a member of the 6th Battalion suggesting they had been forgotten by the press [22nd October]: “Forgotten? Surely not! And yet it seems so sometimes. We are one of the first regiments [sic] formed on mobilisation – i.e. most of our fellows came up during the month of August 1914 and when we read in the paper we get out here occasionally in the fighting line, of what is being done for those lucky fellows in newly-formed battalions we wonder why we have been allowed to miss these little marks of appreciation on the part of our fellow town and countrymen”.

“Not that we are in any way forgotten by the Military Authorities. On the contrary, everything has been and is being done to make our life as enjoyable as possible. It is difficult, no doubt, for the people at home to conceive a correct notion of what life out here is like but I can assure you it has its variations. At one time you find yourself knee-deep in mud and water with the rain drizzling down upon you in the trenches, at another time you are resting, or rather working a mile or so behind the actual fighting line, with occasional football matches and such amusements between times to take away the monotony and gloom which comes into our lives through continuous separation from our home life in the old country”.

“Nor are we without pride in our own achievements. We have been the recipients of congratulations from H M King George and also from Lord Kitchener and General French on the splendid way we are carrying out our share in this conflict, and other expressions of praise which are no less gratifying to us, and help to stimulate our efforts to prove a valuable link in the line which has proved itself to be up to the present unbreakable”.

“You would not find a more cheery set of fellows than there are in our battalion if you searched the whole of the allied armies through. I cannot say much about the German temperament, and I guess ‘uns suffers from an abrupt change of feeling when we meet, but they appear to be much more fed up than the German Emperor would care to acknowledge. If you could for a moment take a glance at our fellows in their fur jackets you would smile. Wrapped up in these they look like Eskimos, but withal they are a happy band of pilgrims and are making good progress, which is appropriate for representatives of Bunyan’s famous haunts”.

“We have started on our “leave” programme and with the proverbial patience of Job we shall all hope to get away home before our children’s children are obliged through old age to come and meet us in bath chairs and crutches. I hope that when you are thinking of the newly formed battalions of the Bedfordshire and other regiments you will spare a thought for those of us who have already tasted the glories of “warfare”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 22nd November 1915

Roll of Honour - Saturday 6th November 1915

Killed in Action

2nd Battalion: action around newly exploded mine craters at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée

  • Second Lieutenant Frederick ANNS, formerly 4th Battalion, 28, son of Thomas and Mary Anne Anns of Brookville, Hale Lane, Edgware [Middlesex] (Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy)
  • 4/6905 Private Reginald John RODNEY, 19, son of Henry Lewis and Mary E Rodney of 88a Judge Street North, Watford [Hertfordshire] (Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy)