Monday 29 February 2016


Tuesday 29th February 1916: Generally after heavy snow a thaw is to be welcomed, meaning temperatures are rising. In the trenches, however, it brings a whole new set of problems. As the snow turns to cold water that in turn converts frozen soil into sloppy mud. This can be several feet deep making walking, or wading, very difficult. Perhaps worse, it causes trench sides to collapse meaning they have to be shored up with corrugated iron. This, the adjutant of 2nd Battalion, tells us is what is happening at the moment. He felt constrained by decency not to say too much more.

Source: X550/3/wd

Sunday 28 February 2016


German 77 mm trench mortar at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford

Monday 28th February 1916: The adjutant of the 2nd Battalion near Maricourt on the Somme tells us that yesterday the French, on their right flank, south of the River Somme, warned them that they were going to fire on the German communication trenches and that this might cause some retaliation. It duly did, about a hundred 77 mm and thirty 5.9 inch shells fell on Maricourt, many of them near Battalion Headquarters, one soldier, Private Henry Parker from Stratford, Essex, dying of his wounds this morning.

Source: X550/3/wd

Roll of Honour - 28th February 1916

Died of Wounds

2nd Battalion
  • 7616 Private William Henry PARKER, 32, born West Ham [Essex] resided Stratford [Essex], son of William Henry and Mary Ann Parker of 18 Thackeray Road, East Ham [Essex] (Chipilly Communal Cemetery)

Saturday 27 February 2016

Quicker Relief

Sunday 27th February 1916: So bad has the weather been in France with heavy falls of snow and freezing temperatures that the adjutant of 2nd Bedfords tells us that they have been informed that all front line units will be relieved after just 48 hours in the line. He commented that it will still seem an eternity.

Source: X550/3/wd

Friday 26 February 2016

Snow Fatigue

Saturday 26th February 1916: the adjutant of the 1st Battalion tells us, rather sourly, that they are at Candas, behind the lines south-west of Doullens whither they marched yesterday, a journey of some fifteen miles. The journey was difficult with frozen, slippery roads and steep gradients and conducted in a blizzard which lasted all day. They arrived at dusk to find bad, dirty billets and not enough of them to shelter all the men. They will remain at Candas and look forward to making snowmen today – that is, they will all be on snow clearing fatigue and clearing roads when they might have had a rest.

Source: X550/2/5

Thursday 25 February 2016

The Rector of Gravenhurst’s Son Killed

Second Lieutenant E E A Collisson

Friday 25th February 1916: The village of Gravenhurst sustained a great loss two days ago when the son of its rector was killed in action with the 2nd Battalion near Maricourt on the River Somme. Second Lieutenant Evelyn E A Collisson was the only son of Rev Thomas and Mrs Collisson of Gravenhurst Rectory and was born at Haynes Vicarage on July 19th 1893. He was educated at Boxgrove School, Guildford, where he gained many prizes for both studies and sports and left a Prefect at the top of the school in every subject. He then entered Aldenham School(1) and gained a Junior Platt Scholarship, being placed at once in a high form. During his five years at the school he won classical, history and sports prizes and the school heaped honours upon him. A Prepositor, Head of Mr Paull’s House, Captain of the games, Editor of the magazine, President of the Debating Society, he gained a Senior Platt scholarship and the promise of a leaving exhibition if he entered the University. On leaving school his Housemaster wrote to his father: “He has achieved the greatest distinction possible at a public school”. Peterhouse College offered him a History Exhibition, to develop into a scholarship, but as he desired to enter into business life he did not proceed to the University. He at once entered the house of Messrs Gibbs and Sons of 22 Bishopsgate(2), who that same year sent him out to their house in Valparaiso, Chile: there excellent prospects were held out to him, but at the beginning of the war he offered his services and cabled to his father, “May I come? I want to”. Receiving a favourable reply he, with Brian James Brett Walsh, an Aldenham scholar, in the same house of business, started over the Andes through the snow, on mule back, to Buenos Aires, being unable to travel by sea, as the German Fleet which sank the Monmouth was then in the Valparaiso roads(3).

He joined the Duke of Bedford’s Camp at Ampthill as a Second Lieutenant. At Aldenham School he passed the Military Certificate A, top, gaining unusually high marks; was a Sergeant in the AOT Corps(4) and won the challenge cup for shooting. From the Ampthill Camp he went to the Front in France and was to have received a Headquarters Staff appointment. He was killed in action on February 23rd at 12.15 pm, shot by a sniper and death was instantaneous. Numerous letters from his Schools, from Messrs Gibbs and Son and from the Ampthill Camp and from the Front testify to his bright spirits, bravery and ability, while the Headquarters Staff of the Division to which he was attached(5) sent a message to his parents that had he been spared he would have had a great future in the Army. His first school report began: “He is wonderfully in earnest for so young a boy”. This was one of his many delightful characteristics all through life/ His school companion, who crossed the Andes with him, died of wounds received at Gallipoli(6) and he was just such another brave Englishman who had that high sense of duty and patriotism, enabling him to give up excellent prospects to serve his King and country . They were the same age, 22 years. Second Lieutenant E E A Collisson was buried at Maricourt, the officiating priest being the Rev G R Vallings, Chaplain of the 1st/7th Gordon Highlanders.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 17th March 1916

(1) Both schools are still in existence
(2) Merchants dealing in cloth, guano, wine, fruit, banking, shipping and insurance, the latter became its main concern and it is now part of international conglomerate Marsh and McLennan
(3) Chile was neutral in World War One. This German fleet was victorious at the Battle of Coronel on 1st November 1914, sinking two armoured cruisers, Monmouth and Good Hope. The German fleet was defeated and destroyed at the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8th December.
(4) Army Officer Training
(5) 30th Division.
(6) His name was actually Brian James Brett Walch – a Second Lieutenant with the Essex Regiment who died on 28th October 1915 and is buried at Embarkation Pier Cemetery, Gallipoli 

Roll of Honour - 25th February 1916

Died of Wounds

1st Battalion

  • 17434 Private Percy HALLARD, 23, born Chatham [Kent] resided Harpenden [Hertfordshire], son of Robert Hallard ISO and Esther Annie Hallard of 1 The Cottage, Tempsford Road, Sandy (Leeds (Harehills) Cemetery)

Wednesday 24 February 2016


Thursday 24th February 1916: A soldier of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry, some way north of the Somme near Loos, tells us about the weather mentioned in passing by the adjutant of the 2nd Battalion yesterday which they seem to have got today: “Things are pretty rotten round here just now. Plenty of snow and frost, and, after a thaw, mud. If there is any other place on this planet where mud is worse than France – well, I don’t want to go. As I am writing this, it is snowing as I’ve never seen it snow before, big lumps and thick. Yesterday it rained nearly all day and the ground was in a pretty state. Now there is six inches of snow and every likelihood of there being six feet, to judge by appearances. Things are pretty lively round here just now, plenty of small scraps and artillery duels etc. We are daily expecting something.

Children love the snow because they can build snowmen and have snowball fights. Women love the snow because it looks pretty. We doubt any man returning from the Western Front after this war will be able to contemplate it without some pretty choice language.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 17th March 1916

Roll of Honour - 24th February 1916


3rd Battalion

  • 26928 Private Thomas NASH, 25, son of Charles John and Sarah Nash of North Mimms [Hertfordshire] (North Mimms (Saint Mary) Churchyard and Extension)

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Finally the Attack Comes

Wednesday 23rd February 1916: The adjutant of the 2nd Battalion at Maricourt tells us that there was a heavy snowstorm yesterday which at least meant that the guns were silent. At dusk, however, the Germans made an attack on 7th Division, the division to which the battalion used to belong and which is now stationed on their left flank. The attack was preceded by an intense bombardment lasting half an hour. Heavy rifle and machine gun fire prevented the Germans getting a foothold in our trenches. “Those of the enemy who left their own trenches did not return” the adjutant told us with some satisfaction. No gas was used because it was too cold. The adjutant opined that this was probably the attack they had been warned to expect on 14th February, though directed against a different part of the line.

Source: X550/3/wd

Roll of Honour - 23rd February 1916

Killed in Action

2nd Battalion: front line near Maricourt

  • Temporary Second Lieutenant Evelyn Ernest Arnold COLLISSON, 22, A Company, son of Rev Thomas Collisson, Rector of Gravenhurst and Florence Collisson, born Haynes Rectory (Cérisy-Gailly Military Cemetery)

Monday 22 February 2016

Dunstable Hero Killed

Tuesday 22nd February 1916: Private Frederick Horace Barton, 20, the only surviving child of Mr and Mrs F C Barton of 12 Ashton-street, Dunstable, has died of wounds sustained while serving with the 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

Private Barton was a native of Luton and was an old Surrey-street school boy, his parents residing at that time in New Town-street. On September 7th 1914 he enlisted in the 7th (Service) Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment and went out to France with the battalion in July 1915. In September he was wounded in the head and was brought to a military hospital at Sheffield. On October 19th he came home and six days later was married. Later he had to report at Colchester and on December 19th last he was sent out with a draft to the 6th Bedfords.

His parents received a letter dated February 20th from the Sister of the 19th Casualty Clearing Station who wrote to Mrs Barton that her son was dangerously wounded in the chest and the arm on the 19th and that the doctors were doing everything everything that could possibly be done for him but thought there was not very much hope. By the same post there also came a letter from one of the doctors to say that Private Barton died on 20th and was buried the following afternoon, all military respect being shown, and an officer and party of comrades attending. The grave is a single one with a cross at the head and foot and it will be surrounded by a box hedging.

Lieutenant Connell, an officer of the deceased’s company, who is home on leave called on Mr and Mrs Barton and said how sorry they all were to lose deceased as he was well liked by officers and men and was always very full of life.

Source: Luton News 2nd March 1916

(1) Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 1

Sunday 21 February 2016

The East Anglian Royal Engineers

Monday 21st February 1916: We have not heard for a while from the Bedford-based 1st/1st Field Company, East Anglian Royal Engineers. The adjutant tells us that they began the month at le Touret near Festered where they were helping to strengthen the defences of the Village Line and building a gun emplacement. One section was detailed for work holding the front line as infantry and building frames for dug-outs. They left the area on 17th February and marched to la Miquellerie north of the town of Lillers for a rest. Whilst resting they have been infantry drill, mounted section drill and smoke helmet drill. They have also been making hurdles and instructing the sapping platoon of 5th Infantry Brigade in how to make them.

Source: WD3

Saturday 20 February 2016

Sniping and Zeppelins

Sunday 20th February 1916: The adjutant of the 6th Battalion near Bienvillers in the northern Somme sector mentioned to us today a couple of things which happened yesterday. They are common enough events but illustrate the dangers of trench life. Two men, Sergeant William Spriggs from Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire and Private Arthur Merriman from London were both shot in the head and killed by snipers. Then, about 11 pm a Zeppelin and three German aircraft came over and dropped two bombs near the Battalion headquarters, fortunately without inflicting any casualties.

Source: X550/7/1

Roll of Honour - 20th February 1916

Died of Wounds

6th Battalion

  • 15538 Private Frederick Horace BARTON, 20, born Luton, son of Charles F and Ellen Barton of 12 Ashton Street, Dunstable, husband of Lily F B of 1 Halifax Place, West Street, Dunstable (Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 1)

Friday 19 February 2016

Chased by a Submarine

German U-Boat

Saturday 19th February 1916: Readers will remember the adjutant of the 1st/5th Battalion in Egypt complaining to us on 12th of this month that a draft of 420 reinforcements they had received was not very fit, many of them being old 1st and 2nd Battalion men still suffering from wounds inflicted on the Western Front. Well, not all the men fall into this category. Private S Bartle, of the 4th Bedfords, wrote to his parents telling them of his experiences on the voyage out to join the 1st/5th Battalion.

“We had a good time coming across with the exception of one morning when we were chased by a submarine for 4½ hours(1). I must say we had a bad time for an hour or two, as the submarine was firing at us all the time(2), but I am glad to say it could not hit us or catch us. We thought we were going to be sunk. I don’t know what would have happened later on if one of our battleships had not come in sight. It only fired one shot(3) and the submarine quickly disappeared(4). You can tell how happy we all were when we saw the battleship coming towards us. You ought to have heard the cheer we gave it when it came alongside to see if we were all right. But all’s well that ends well and I am safe on dry land again”.

“It is lovely out here, and much better than in France. There are some grand sights but I will tell you much more about them in my next letter. It is supposed to be winter out here now, but it is as hot as it is in England in summer, so goodness knows what it will be like out here in the summer”.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 17th March 1916

(1) Troopships were often converted liners or merchantmen, which might manage as much as 15 to 20 knots. A German U-boat typically made 15 knots surfaced and 10 knots submerged.
(2) With its deck gun, usually of around 3.5 inch or 88 mm calibre
(3) Dreadnoughts or battleships were generally armed with guns of the calibre of 12 to 15 inches
(4) One assumes it was out of torpedoes.

Roll of Honour - 19th February 1916

Killed in Action

6th Battalion: shot through the head in the front line near Bienvillers

  • 12151 Private Arthur MERRIMAN, 23, born Clerkenwell [London], resided Dalston [London], son of Rowland and Mary Merriman of 74 Petherton Road, Highbury [London], husband of Hannah Louisa, father of Charles Arthur (Bienvillers Military Cemetery)
  • 12023 Sergeant William Harris SPRIGGS, 22, D Company, born Baldock [Hertfordshire], son of Henry George and Harriett Spriggs of 25 Apton Road, Bishop's Stortford [Hertfordshire] (Bienvillers Military Cemetery)

Thursday 18 February 2016

Captain Simeons Killed in Flanders

Captain Simeons

Friday 18th February 1916: Captain Edward E Simeons, 8th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, and formerly 5th Battalion has died of wounds sustained while serving on the Western Front. Captain Simeons was second son of Mr and Mrs Charles Simeons of “Dudley”, Blythe-road, Bromley and nephew of Mr and Mrs T A Cawley of “Lea Dale”, New Bedford-road, Luton with whom he resided since 1910. He died in Flanders yesterday as a result of shell wounds received in action on the previous day(1).

He was a subaltern(2) in the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment (Territorials) before the wear and on the outbreak of war joined the 8th (Service) Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment as a Second Lieutenant, being afterwards promoted Lieutenant.

After having been in training at Brighton and Aldershot, he left for France last August, and previous to the battle of Loos was promoted to Captain. He was recommended for the DSO(3) and his Colonel writes: “He was a splendid Company Commander; keen, bold and self-reliant”.

Captain Simeons was in his 23rd year, and intended to settle down in Luton, being associated with the British Gelatine Works Limited. Two of his brothers are in the Honorable Artillery Company(4) and the youngest of them, after having been in action at the Persian Gulf, is now at Cardiff recovering from enteric fever.

Sources: Bedfordshire Times 24th February 1916; X550/9/1

(1) The 8th Battalion war Diary gives Captain Simeons’ date of death as 15th February whilst Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives 17th
(2) Second Lieutenant
(3) Which he did not receive
(4) Despite its name a Territorial infantry unit. 

Wednesday 17 February 2016

How The Luton News Helped a Soldier’s Family

William Brown 

Thursday 17th February 1916: Today’s edition of the Luton News carries an interesting story of how the paper helped the family of a missing soldier, which we copy in full: “The usefulness of the Luton News and Saturday Telegraph in locating “lost” relatives was brought to our notice the other day in a very human little story”.

“Lance Corporal William Brown, 9899, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, was mentioned in a casualty list and the War Office sent a notification the other week to Mr Frederick Charles Brown, who was understood to be living in Guildford-street, Luton. However, the letter was returned to the Record Office endorsed “Gone away”. Then the Army authorities requested the Luton police to find out where the brother had gone. Their efforts were fruitless and so they resorted to the papers mentioned and we inserted an account of the facts of the case. The result was that immediately several relatives of Lance Corporal Brown communicated with Chief Constable Tearle”.

“One of these is Mrs Groom, who is at present staying in North-street, Luton. Our representative interviewed Mrs Groom and she explained that the family belonged to Aspley Guise. Her brother, Mr Frederick Charles Brown, left Guildford-street some time ago, and being a Territorial in the East Anglian Royal Engineers was called up at the beginning of the war and is now in France”.

“Lance Corporal Brown has been with the 1st Bedfordshire Regiment for some years, and is 22 years of age. He went to the Front with the 1st Bedfordshire Regiment  and a year last October they heard he was missing and then that he was wounded and a prisoner of war. Since then conflicting rumours have reached the relatives, who suffered great anxiety”.

“Mrs Groom wrote to the Record Office for the notification which was returned from Luton, and on Monday had a reply from the Record Office stating that Lance Corporal Brown is a prisoner of war at Gardelegen, Germany, and promising to communicate any further information”.

Source: Luton News 17th February 1916

Roll of Honour - 17th February 1916

Died of Wounds

8th Battalion
  • 20052 Private Frank GENTLE, 37, B Company, son of George and Ann Gentle of Stotfold, he resided Baldock [Hertfordshire], husband of G C Smart (ex-Gentle) of Grange Cottage, Radwell [Hertfordshire] (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery)
  • Temporary Captain Edward Emil SIMEONS, son of C Simeons of Dudley, Blyth Road, Bromley [Kent] (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery)


9th Battalion

  • 25262 Private John ASHPOLE born Whetstone [Middlesex] resided East Barnet [Hertfordshire] (Colchester Cemetery)

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Death of a Tall Yeoman

Chateau de Vermelles in 1914

Wednesday 16th February 1916: We regret to say that news has been received that Trooper Alex Taylor, C Squadron, Bedfordshire Yeomanry has been killed while doing duty in the trenches in France. He was the eldest son of F A Taylor, baker, of Clifton and was 21 years of age. He joined the Yeomanry nearly three years ago and has been at the front about nine months. He was a fine young man, standing 6 feet 5 inches high. Last Easter, prior to going out to France, he was married and left for the front a day or two afterwards and had been away since. He was expecting a short leave very soon. He was a great musician, playing various instruments, which helped him to cause the leisure hours of himself and his comrades to pass pleasantly on many occasions. He is said to have been the tallest man in the Regiment.

The officer of the troop wrote as follows to the unfortunate man’s wife: “It is with deep regret that I have to inform you of the death of your husband who was killed in the trenches yesterday morning [12th February]. He was shot in the head by a German sniper and died instantaneously. I had his body carried out of the trenches and he was buried in the cemetery at Vermelles where his grave has been carefully marked and a cross erected stating his regiment, rank, number and name and eleven of his comrades attended the service. He was always bright and cheery and such a favourite with all ranks and his loss is deeply felt. I was in command of the battalion at the time and knew and appreciated his qualities. I hope the fact that he died the most glorious death possible will be some slight consolation to you and help to lessen the terrible blow”.

A trooper of the Regiment told us of their tour in the trenches and of Trooper Taylor’s death: “I think we have made a good name for ourselves. Anyway our general said he is proud of us. They took the regulars out and put us in for the last ten days. So we have done more time in the trenches than the regulars. I am sorry to tell you that Alex Taylor was killed the last day we were in, in fact it was the last hour. I am very sorry for his wife. I told her we would be home on leave in a few weeks. We have had four killed and about fifteen wounded and strange to say three out of the four killed were in our troop”.

Another of his comrades, Sergeant Andrews, told his widow: “Alec was a general favourite, not only with his own troop mates, but with the whole Squadron and the news of his death created the keenest regret throughout the same. I know how, in such moments as these, when we lose our best and dearest, it is hard to find comfort from anything but the thought that he has given his life for his country so that others might live will, I trust, when the first bitter pangs have somewhat ceased, be a thought of solace to you. Your husband was absolutely devoid of fear and met his death with his usual smile on his face and his old friend (the pipe) in his mouth”

Source: Biggleswade Chronicle 25th February 1916; Bedfordshire Standard 10th March 1916

Monday 15 February 2016

No Attack

Tuesday 15th February 1916: It is with some relief that we have just spoken with the adjutant of the 2nd Battalion who had been warned to expect a full-scale German attack yesterday with poison gas to the fore. It was with a certain wry amusement that he told us that it had been “an exceptionally quiet day”, so quiet, in fact, that Lieutenant R B Gibson had been able to go on leave and casualties had been nil He also said that, tense though yesterday was an expected attack which does not materialise is infinitely preferable to an unexpected attack which does(1).

Source: X550/3/wd

(1) Lieutenant Robert Bowness Gibson would be killed in an attack on Trônes Wood on 11th July during the Battle of the Somme.

Roll of Honour - 15th February 1916

Killed in Action

8th Battalion: front line at Ypres canal bank
  • Temporary Lieutenant Edward Noel MITCHELL, 20, son of E W Mitchell of Hong Kong, born Hong Kong, educated at Bedford School (le Bricque Military Cemetery Number 2)

Died of Wounds

8th Battalion

  • 19869 Lance Corporal William HUCKLE, 32, husband of Alice of 30 Norton Street, Baldock [Hertfordshire], he was born and resided in Stotfold (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery)

Sunday 14 February 2016

Gas Attack Expected

Monday 14th February 1916: The adjutant of the 2nd Battalion at Maricourt tells us that they are all on high alert. At midnight a message was received from headquarters that a German captured by the French yesterday in their attack on Frise warned that the German 12th Division is going to attack the British front line this morning protected by a cloud of poison gas. We await developments in a state of some tension.

Source: X550/3/wd

Roll of Honour - 14th February 1916

Killed in Action

8th Battalion: front line at Ypres canal bank

  • 16061 Private Arthur LUCKEY, 30, A Company, son of William Luckey of Birchanger [Essex] he resided Stansted [Essex] (La Brique Military Cemetery No. 2) 

Saturday 13 February 2016

French Attack

H A Chamen

Sunday 13th February 1916: The adjutant of the 2nd Battalion at Maricourt on the Somme tells us that the French on their right have made an attack on the village of Frise, taken by the Germans at the end of last month. They have taken a hundred prisoners. The Battalion has lost the services of Second Lieutenant Chamen who has been dispatched to 3rd Entrenching Battalion(1).

Source: X550/3/wd

(1) He would rejoin on 4th June and be seriously in the Battle of the Somme in an attack on Guillemont on 30th July, dying of wounds on 1st August.

Roll of Honour - 13th February 1916

Killed in Action

8th Battalion: front line at Ypres canal bank

  • 18314 Private Harry FOSTER, 25, born Hitchin [Hertfordshire] resided Charlton [Hertfordshire], husband of L Foster of Arlesey (La Brique Military Cemetery No. 2)

Friday 12 February 2016

Men Not Very Fit

Saturday 12th February 1916:    The adjutant of the 1st/5th Battalion in Egypt tells us that a draft of one officer and 420 other ranks have just arrived from England to make good the losses the Battalion suffered in Gallipoli. He commented that the men are not very fit as many of them are still suffering from old wounds and mostly come from the 1st and 2nd Battalions.

Source: X550/6/8

Roll of Honour - 12th February 1916

Killed in Action

Bedfordshire Yeomanry

  • 851 Private Albert Alexander TAYLOR, 21, son of Francis Albert and Eleanor Annie Taylor of Clifton, husband of Winifred of The Bakery, Clifton (Vermelles British Cemetery

Thursday 11 February 2016

More from the Yeomanry Part II – Day to Day Life in the Trenches

Friday 11th February 1916: Lieutenant Hargreaves of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry is home on leave and gave a talk in Bedford on the Regiment and its recent exploits, going into the front line trenches for the first time in January. Probably the audience, said Mr Hargreaves, had formed a wrong impression about trench life, but he had found it more interesting, exciting and full of incident than he had expected, even when no operations of first-class importance were in progress. One was apt to think that except at the time of an actual attack by the enemy there was little going on, but this was a mistake, as from the first moment of entering the trenches  to that of leaving, there was incessant hard work and almost continuous “bickering” with the Germans. During the day-time there was a steady, though not violent, bombardment going on, and during the night there was an exchange of rifle grenades and trench mortars and incessant sniping. The sort of work done is the constant repair of shell-fire damage to the trench, cleaning and scraping the floor-boards, strengthening the weak places in the trench and heightening the parapet. For this purpose the men were divided into shifts, with sentries actually on duty, men resting for the next duty and those who are used for fatigues.

It is each man’s duty to keep his equipment and rifle clean, but this is no easy matter where water is scarce and difficult to obtain. The first turn of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry in the trenches was marked by brilliant moonlit nights and this enabled them to witness a spectacle which was wonderfully dramatic. The lines of trenches curling away in the distance to the left and right, picked out by the flashes of the snipers’ rifles, illuminated by the Verey, or star(1), lights fired into the air and on the ground before the trenches to enable the sentries to get an efficient look-out and the flash of the artillery fire on the horizon, all continued to make the scene a most impressive spectacle.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 25th February 1916

(1) Verey pistols for discharging flares and star shells

Wednesday 10 February 2016

More from the Yeomanry Part I – First Going into the Trenches

Thursday 10th February 1916: Lieutenant Hargreaves of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry is home on leave and gave a talk in Bedford on the Regiment and its recent exploits, going into the front line trenches for the first time in January. The Regiment received news that the Cavalry Corps was to take a turn in the front line trenches for which information they were fully prepared, as some for months every cavalry regiment had formed within itself a dismounted unit, which had practised route-marching, learnt to adjust and carry a pack, and generally fitted itself for infantry work. It was not long, therefore, before the Cavalry Corps actually took over possession of a portion of the front line trenches. The Bedfordshire Yeomanry had had a somewhat long journey before they arrived at what is known as Reserve Billets. These consisted of a number of cellars in a ruined town(1). Fatigue parties were formed and various kinds of work were done in the neighbourhood. This meant that the men kept very hard at work throughout the day and a part of the night. It was, continued the Lieutenant, impossible for anyone unacquainted with life in the trenches to form anything like an accurate conception of what that life means. From the time of taking over the duty to the time when they are permanently relieved from what is known as the shelled area, the men are almost incessantly at work. They experience hours of uncertainty and may be subjected to fire at any moment; the work is very fatiguing, and often attended with danger. The duty of guarding the front line itself is undertaken by the regiments of the Brigade in turn – that is to say, when the Brigade is actually in the front line, some of the regiments will be in the front line, and the remainder in the reserve trench, further back. When the turn of the Brigade is at an end they all go into rest billets until their turn comes round again. He (the speaker) was fortunate in being among the officers who happened to be with the Bedfordshire Yeomanry on the first occasion on which they actually went up to the front line(2).

They started, as usual, very early in the morning and marched to the cellars in the village previously mentioned, where they remained for two days, at the end of which they again started very early in the morning, in full marching order and for the first time entered the communication trenches leading to the front line. Some idea of the extent and complexity of the trenches could be gathered from the fact that they had to march for two hours down the communication trenches before they reached the front trench at all. It was not always realised what a maze of trenches there were, and he could compare them to nothing more appropriate than the streets of a town. They lead in all directions, and it is quite impossible to find one’s way unless the trenches have sign-posts at the corners, or one is very familiar with the trench he is holding, or is able to make a little sketch of the position. So complicated are the trenches and so close to those of the enemy that there is risk of wandering into the danger zone, and it is difficult sometimes to ascertain if one is facing the English or the Germans. When they enter the front trench the first duty is to take it over from the men already there, and this is a business that takes some time. Every man has to take the place of a previous occupant and every officer has to make acquaintance with the trench he is taking over and has to learn all he can about the stores and about the Germans who are immediately opposite to him. The piece of trench held by the Bedfordshire Yeomanry was in close proximity to the German line, not more than fifty yards away in fact, with practically no wire defence in front and they heard all sorts of rumours of the Germans preparing to mine their trench.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 25th February 1916

(1) Vermelles near Loos

(2) 17th January 

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Inspected by the GOC

Wednesday 9th February 1916: The adjutant of the 1st/5th Battalion, currently at Mena Camp near the Pyramids, tells us that yesterday they, along with the rest of 54th (East Anglian) Division were inspected by the General Officer Commanding, Egypt, Lieutenant-General Sir John Maxwell. The inspection took place in the cool of the morning – at 8.15 am “with excellent results”. The division was congratulated on its excellent appearance after the hardships it had undergone at Gallipoli.

Source: X550/6/8

(1) Sir John Maxwell spent most of the early war in Egypt and had fought under Kitchener at the battle of Omdurman in 1898. He is best remembered as military governor in Ireland during the Easter Rising of April 1916 when he had fifteen of the ringleaders executed. After this he served as General Officer Commanding Northern Command at York.

Roll of Honour - 9th February 1916

Died of Wounds

2nd Battalion
  • 10794 Private Charles Henry JOHNSON born Limehouse [London] resided Stepney [London] (Corbie Communal Cemetery)


1st Garrison Battalion

  • 24317 Private James William ROSE, formerly 6512 East Kent Regiment, born Brabourne [Kent] resided Chislet [Kent] (Chislet (Saint Mary) Churchyard Extension)

Monday 8 February 2016

Battle in Mid-Air


Tuesday 8th February 1916: Lieutenant-Observer J E P Harvey, an officer of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry, attached to the Royal Flying Corps who was recently captured by the Germans, has sent the following description of a battle in mid-air and how he was treated on capture.

“I had had a fight with two German aeroplanes when a shell burst very close to us and I heard a large piece whizz past my head. Then the aeroplane started to come down head first, spinning all the time. We must have dropped about 5,000 feet in about twenty seconds. I looked round at once saw poor -, with a terrible wound in his head, dead. I then realised that the only chance of saving my life was to step over into his seat and sit on his lap, where I could reach the controls(1). I managed to get the machine out of the terrible death-plunge, switched off the engine and made a good landing on terra firma”.

“I shall never forget it as long as I live. The shock was so great that I could hardly remember a single thing of my former life for two days. Now I am getting better and my mind is practically normal again. We were 10,000 feet up when poor – was killed and luckily it was this tremendous height that gave me time to think and to act”.

“I met one of the pilots of the German machines that had attacked us. He could speak English well and we shook hands. I had brought down his machine with my with my machine gun and he had had to land quite close to where I landed. He had a bullet through his radiator and petrol tank but neither he nor his observer was touched. I met two German officers who knew several people I knew and they were most awfully kind to me. They gave me a very good dinner of champagne and oysters etc. and I was treated like an honoured guest”.

(1) The pilot sitting behind the observer suggests it was an aircraft similar to a BE2.

Sunday 7 February 2016

A Lucid Account of a Frightening Experience

Monday 7th February 1916: A member of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry, a Territorial Cavalry unit, be it remembered, has told us of his experiences and those of his comrades as infantry in the trenches: “I was put in charge of six men and was given a sap which turned out to be a real stunner. We took on at 6 am. The day was quiet enough except for the usual things dropping all around us. There was a fierce bombardment which was uncomfortably near. Shells were dropping a hundred yards off. However, we weathered that OK – I mean my bombers did. Towards the afternoon of our first day in I was officially informed that we should have to do 48 hours right off the reel. It was nasty news; however we took it as well as we could. There was nothing much doing during the night, and towards 6.45 am we were congratulating ourselves on having got through one solemn day. I was sitting down on the fire-step at the time when all of a sudden I went sprawling full length in the trench. I was on my feet in a jiffy. A sandbag landed clean on my head and doubled me. Something hit by back, my stomach, my shoulder and my leg. I looked up: there was a hissing horrible rumbling noise, the sky (I should have said earth) was covered with hearth, stones, beams, sandbags and everything imaginable. Everything was falling and crumbling around me. As soon as I was on my feet I yelled “Come on boys, bombs, quick” and ran up the sap. The boys were there, nothing happened; a mine had gone off! I waited a minute and was suddenly overcome with joy at finding myself OK. I believe I laughed; not hearing or seeing the German bombers! I ran to the end of the sap, where I rolled over one of our men. He was all right, but shaken, so I left him and with the help of one of my men I dug out three of the 18th Hussars who were buried in their dug-out. I don’t know the weight of a full sand-bag. While unearthing these men they seemed to weigh half an ounce and no more. I never worked harder in all my life. It is a long story in writing, but the whole bag of tricks from the start until I commenced to help to rescue the others was over in sixty seconds, but it seemed ages”.

“When I had finished clearing up it was broad daylight. Our sap before the mine went up looked into the crater of a mine which went off about Christmas; the second mine was in the same crater, and it did make a crater out of it too. Being anxious to get my bearings I got over the parapet and looked into the crater. I had a good look round and went over to the side nearest to the Germans, where I cocked my head over to have a look. I expected to find the German trench about thirty yards off. By Jove, I looked clean into their trench! It was the biggest shock I had had. Their trench was not more than ten to fifteen yards off. I didn’t half come back in a hurry. Later on I went to have another look. Luck was in my way, I knew it at the time. The remainder of the time in was horrid! The mine that went off was not the mine that was expected. That was to come! Luckily it never went off while we were in. We were relieved after fifty-two hours in the sap and I was dead beat. However, I am all right now. A couple of days’ rest and some good food have made me feel like my old self again”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 25th February 1916

Saturday 6 February 2016

Leighton Soldier’s Sudden End

The Stag, Plantation Road on the left, about 1906 [Z1306/72/12/1]

Sunday 6th February 1916: Private James Adams, whose wife and family live at 72 Plantation-road, Leighton Buzzard, and who is the son of Mr Josiah Adams, for many years foreman of Mr George Garside’s sand pits, has been killed while serving on the Western Front with the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. He was one of a family of which many members are with the Colours. Private John Adams (one of the brothers) was with the 1st/5th Bedfordshire Regiment at the Dardanelles and was so badly wounded in the side and leg that his life was despaired of for six weeks. He is now in the Shoreham Convalescent Home. Another brother, Frank Adams, is a Brigade Signaller with the Bedfordshire Regiment at Felixstowe and a third, Private Ernest Adams, is in training at Halton Camp. Another brother, Albert, served 18 years in the Army and went through the Boer War. A sixth brother has been rejected as unfit for military service, another is on munition work and the eldest brother, George, has two sons serving in the Army. The only son of one sister is also on service.

Private Adams leaves a wife and four children. He was 33 years of age and worked in Mr G Garside’s sand pits until twelve months ago, joining the Bedfordshire Regiment when there was an urgent call for more men. He was in training at Ampthill for eight months and went to France about four months ago. His wife has heard from Rev E W Bellern, Chaplain of the 90th Brigade: “It was my sad duty on Saturday to read the Burial Service over the body of your husband, who was killed by a shell in the trenches the preceding night. I know that words of sympathy can do little to help you to bear your loss. But I wish to tell you that I can feel for you in your sorrow and I pray God that He will give you comfort and strength in your grief. Your husband is buried in the military cemetery close behind the firing line(1) and a cross will be placed to mark his grave”.

Sympathy has been received from Private Fred Walker, Bedfordshire Regiment, of South-street who helped bury Private Adams and Corporal Eggleton.(2)

Source: Luton News 17th February 1916

(1) Cérisy-Gailly Military Cemetery
(2) Lance-Sergeant William Eggleton of Leighton Buzzard was killed in action on 30th July 1916

Friday 5 February 2016

Scissors Needed

Saturday 5th February 1916: Private Heathfield, stretcher bearer, 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment has contacted us: “I should be very pleased if you could get one of your kind readers to send me a pair of scissors as they are the handiest thing we can have. In nine cases out of ten wounded men need their clothes cutting away before we can attend to their wounds. I had the misfortune to lose my pair, and it makes my work very unpleasant when I have to keep hacking away with a jack-knife”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 25th February 1916

Roll of Honour - 5th February 1916

Died of Wounds

2nd Battalion

  • 17939 Private Frederick William PECK, 20, son of William and Nellie Peck of Bird-in-Hand Cottages, Lower Stondon, he resided Shefford (Corbie Communal Cemetery)

Thursday 4 February 2016

Details of the Death of Bernard Ashpole

Bernard Ashpole

Friday 4th February 1916: We have received more details concerning the death of Bernard Ashpole of the 7th Battalion, which readers will remember from our issue of 19th January in an incident for which Corporals Blanshard and Ivory have been recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Bernard Ashpole was the son of Arthur Ashpole of West End, Kempston. The Captain of his company writing to his parents said: “The Germans had exploded a mine that evening about 5 pm and followed this with a heavy bombardment of our line. Your son apparently entered the mouth of a mine shaft to take shelter and encountered a rush of gas which overcame him and he was unable to get out. Two NCOs in his platoon pluckily entered the shaft of the mine in spite of the gas, and with some considerable difficulty succeeded in getting him out, but it was unfortunately too late. His loss will be much felt in the Company, where he was exceedingly popular, and you have our sincere sympathy in the sad circumstances”. Sergeant H Hassall also of the 7th Beds wrote: “It was with deep regret I heard of the death of your son. He was a very good lad all through his career in the Army. I always found him to be a willing worker no matter what was required of him, and also as clean a soldier as anyone could wish. Only half an hour before the mine exploded I was talking to him about Bedford, as I am from the town myself; also Kempston in a way is connected with me, as a sister of mine is in the Schools there”.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 18th February 1916

Roll of Honour - 4th February 1916

Killed in Action

2nd Battalion: front line near Maricourt

  • 18481 Private James ADAMS born Billington, resided Leighton Buzzard (Cérisy-Gailly Military Cemetery)

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Johnny Won’t Hit Today

J W H T Douglas 

Thursday 3rd February 1916: The adjutant of the 2nd Battalion in the front line near Maricourt on the Somme tells us that Captain J W H T Douglas has taken over the duties of second-in-command from Major H S Poyntz who has become commanding officer. Thus one cricketer succeeds another.

Captain Douglas is, of course, internationally known having won the gold medal for boxing in the middleweight category at the London Olympics of 1908. He is, perhaps, even better known as a cricketer. He has played as an amateur for Essex since 1902 during which time he has played 231 matches for his county. He is an all-rounder of great merit having made 9,221 runs at an average of 26.04 and taken 683 wickets with his quickish medium paced deliveries at an average of 23.81. He has been captain since 1911.

It is as a test cricketer, however, that Johnny Won’t Hit Today has made headlines. This nickname, inspired by his initials, was given to him by crowds in Australia, where they are always disrespectful and aggressive towards English teams and players, and was given on account of his obduracy in defence, scoring his runs carefully and, to the crowd’s taste, too slowly. Perhaps some of the venom came from the fact that Captain Douglas led the England side which defeated Australia 4-1 in the series of 1911/12 in Australia. In all he has played 11 test matches, made 410 runs at an average of 25.62 and taken 25 wickets at an average of 23.76. he has been playing for his country in war since arriving with the 2nd Battalion on 4th December 1915, when he arrived with a third cricketing officer, Major Poyntz’s brother Edward Stephen Massey Poyntz.

Source: X550/3/wd

Tuesday 2 February 2016

1st/5th Bedfords Move Again

The Giza pyramids - photograph by Ricardo Liberato

Wednesday 2nd February 1916: the 1st/5th Battalion has been at Sidi Bishr a coastal area of Alexandria but yesterday moved to Mena Camp in the shadow of the pyramids at Giza south of Cairo. The journey took most of the day – leaving Sidi Bishr at 9.30 am and reaching Cairo at 6.45 pm, the Battalion having tea at Cairo Station. The great pyramids have gazed down on mortals for nearly 4,500 years and, to them, this war, however long it lasts, must be a very fleeting thing indeed

Source: X550/6/8