Category Archives: Regiments

Whither the Bedford Bard?

The previous post told the story of the reappearance of the bardic chair won by the Reverend Private Alfred Jenkins, a member of the 2/1st Welsh Casualty Clearing Station, Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division, for his poem on “A Soldier’s Life” at the Eisteddfod held on Easter Monday 1916 for the Welsh troops then stationed in Bedford.

What we wondered then had the future held for Private Alfred Jenkins when he moved on from Bedford. Sadly it was not good news, Alfred had been killed in action in France in September 1918.

Reverend Private Alfred Jenkins

He is remembered on the Bridgend War Memorial, and the details associated with him read “Jenkins, Alfred, Private 370129. Died 13/09/1918 aged 38. Royal Army Medical Corps. Buried Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery. Son of David and Mary Jenkins. B.A. (Hons). Minister of Presbyterian Church of Wales.”

The War Memorial, Bridgend

Alfred is also commemorated on the War Memorial in Pencoed, the family home.

The War Memorial, Pencoed 

There is more of the circumstances of his death in subsequent newspaper reports in October 1918 back home. A Scottish newspaper reported it briefly under the heading ”An Ideal Death”, which gives one pause for thought, and continued “Private the Rev. Alfred Jenkins B.A. Methodist, of Pencoed, South Wales, has been killed whilst rescuing a comrade.”

A hero’s death then. The information about his death, the Glamorgan Gazette recorded, reached his father in a letter written from the front by a friend, also a member of the RAMC, and a witness of the last sad scene.

Alfred had volunteered to accompany some stretcher bearers to bring in two wounded men. As they went forward they came under heavy shell fire. The letter writer made a dive for shelter and escaped. Alfred went on with utter disregard for the danger.

When his comrade looked back it was to see his friend lying dead with his hand grasping the stretcher.

Alfred was born in 1880 in Bridgend and received his early education there. He then joined his father’s business: David was widely known in the district as a monumental mason. Indeed in the 1901 Census Alfred is recorded as a stone mason and his father, now a widower his wife having died in October 1899, as a sculptor. Alfred’s two older brothers were also recorded as stone masons in the previous Census.

In the 1911 Census Alfred is a visitor, and a Calvinistic Methodist Student for Ministry, in the household of Edward Chapman, aged 59 and a coal miner, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, in Garndiffiath. Alfred had become a candidate for the ministry of the Calvinistic Methodists and trained at Trefecca College, near Talgarth, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons.

Trefecca College

Alfred interrupted his training to give himself to work in the slums of London, resident at the Mansfield College Settlement where, before leaving, he had been promoted to the office of sub-warden. During his residence in Canning Town he applied to the Council for permission to reside in a lodging house run by the Settlement and frequented by dockers. This step, the newspaper reported, was characteristic of the trend of a life ever lived to the service of God and man.

Alfred graduated with honours in philosophy from University College, Cardiff, but then his short theological course at Aberystwyth was interrupted by the war. He left to take up service with the YMCA, but longed to go to France and in Cardiff on 7 June 1915, aged 35 years, he enlisted in the 2/1st WCCS, RAMC.

To his dismay his unit was kept for a long period of duty in this country. But at last the hour he had longed for arrived, and he found himself in the country where “the great drama of war has had its principal scenes.” Alfred was at Bourlon Wood in 1917, according to The Aberdare Leader, and returned home for leave only some five or six months before returning to France “to find a soldier’s grave.”

           Alfred’s grave plot II B 3
in the Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery Extension

The Gazette concluded its report: “He was the soul of high loyalties, and his life was a life of fine chivalries. All that was mean and low was abhorrent to him. He was a knight-errant in quest of high adventure, not for its own sake nor his own sake, but for the sake of others.”

Father David, born in Bridgend, and mother Mary Ann, born in Middlesex, were living in Islington in 1871, David aged 28 and a stone mason, and Mary Ann aged 26. Their eldest child, a daughter Edith, was also born in Middlesex c1871. Their second child, son John Lewis, was born c1872 in Chicago, USA, but their next six children including William, some two years younger than John Lewis, and Alfred were all born in Bridgend. Some interesting family travels!

Alfred’s brother John Lewis Jenkins was also a Minister. His first office was as the Pastor at the Bethel Presbyterian Chapel, Cadoxton, serving for five years until July 1903 when he left to become the Pastor at Trinity Church, Aberdare. His farewell service in Cadoxton was attended by his father David of Pencoed. John Lewis started what proved to be “a powerful and uplifting ministry” at Trinity Church, and remained there until 1916 when he left for Liverpool.

Alfred had often officiated at his brother’s church in Aberdare and it was not long before he was killed that he had preached in khaki from the pulpit there.

A life well lived, but like so many cut short in a moment of self-sacrifice.

At the time of his death  Alfred was a member of the 230th Field Ambulance, RAMC, and he is buried in the Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery Extension close to the Great Cross, memorial reference II B 3, with an inscription “Until the day break and the shadows flee away”.


Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery and cemetery plan 

Alfred was awarded posthumously the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. His father, initially his next of kin as Alfred was single, had died in October 1919, and the medals issued in May 1922 were entrusted to his older brother, Reverend John Lewis Jenkins, still then in Liverpool.

What was the journey of Alfred’s bardic chair from its award in Bedford in April 1916 to its reappearance many decades later in an antique shop in Kent remains a mystery.

The action at Bourlon Wood, some 11 kms west of Cambrai, was part of the Battle of Cambrai in November/December 1917. Heavily involved in the fighting was the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division which had moved into Bedford in October 1916 after the Welsh divisions had departed, remaining until January 1917.

Villers-Faucon, some 28 kms to the south west of Cambrai, was almost totally destroyed in 1916. Following a withdrawal of German troops around the Hindenburg Line, villagers were evacuated to the north to Denain, tons of dynamite was set off around all the buildings, including the nearby sugar refinery at St Emilie and all the trees were cut down to leave the field open for approaching troops. The village was demolished but the cemetery was left untouched.

The village was captured in a snow storm by squadrons of the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars, 5th Cavalry Division, on 27 March 1917 in what was the Regiment’s last mounted charge. The village was later lost on 22 March 1918 but then retaken by III Corps, part of the Fourth Army, on 7 September 1918.

The Communal Cemetery contains the Commonwealth graves of soldiers who died in February to August 1917 or, in two cases, in September 1918, and also German graves. The adjoining Extension was begun in April 1917 and used until March 1918. It was then used by the Germans, and Commonwealth burials were resumed in September and October 1918. Further Commonwealth graves were brought in after the Armistice from a wide area around the village.

230th Field Ambulance was attached to the 74th (Yeomanry) Division formed in Palestine in January 1917 and taking part in actions there in Gaza and Jerusalem. In March 1918 the Division was notified it would be moving to France where it landed in May. It then had to train for the unfamiliar nature of warfare, including gas defence, on the Western Front where it arrived in July.

Given mounting casualties there was considerable movement of soldiers between units, indeed Alfred had previously been posted in the field on 28 June 1917 to the 100th Field Ambulance, then part of the  2nd Division. He was transferred again in the field to the 230th Field Ambulance on 1 July 1918.

Before then, Alfred had been posted to the Home Establishment on 18 March 1918 on admission to the Royal Herbert military hospital in Woolwich, whilst in the UK also receiving dental treatment. He spent time on home leave in Wales, as we saw, including preaching in his brother’s church in Aberdare, before leaving from Southampton on 15 June 1918 to return to France, the country he has never left.

Alfred’s service record does not identify the reason for his admission to hospital, nor does it identify a precise location of where he was “killed in action” on 13 September 1918. Inevitably it cannot record a date of discharge from the Territorial Army but rather that Alfred “Became non-effective by death.”

Alfred was killed during the Battles of the Hindenburg Line, a series of large scale offensive operations between 12 September and 12 October to advance to and break the Hindenburg Line.

The first of the battles was the Battle of Havrincourt, south west of Bourlon Wood and some 20 kms north of Villers-Faucon, on 12 September 1918. Although not falling within its front, the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division was specifically invited to take part because of its previous performance in the capture of Havrincourt in 1917 on the way to Bourlon Wood. The town was recaptured on 12 September and a counter attack the next day by the Germans was successfully repulsed.

Following its attack at Moislains on 2 to 3 September, the 74th Division, part of III Corps, took part in the Corps advance on 6 September to pass through Templeaux-la-Fosse and Longavesnes, moving west to east some few kms south of Villers-Faucon, to reach a position west of Templeux-le-Guerard on 12 September. Alfred was killed the next day. The Division continued on to fight in the second of the battles, the Battle of Epehy on 18 September, as did the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division.

The pivotal battle was the Battle of St Quentin Canal from 29 September to 2 October which achieved its objective of the first full breach of the Hindenburg Line at one of its most heavily defended stretches. Together with other attacks along the Line this success convinced the German High Command that there was little hope of an ultimate German victory.

Unhappy Herefords

Soldiers then stationed at bases in Britain were not always treated kindly when home on leave, as this letter published in the Hereford Times in January 1916 from two unhappy privates in the 2/1st Herefords, part of the 205th (2nd Welsh Border) Brigade in the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division stationed in Bedford, describes:


The previous month, Lieutenant-Colonel Percy B Ford, Commanding 2/3rd Monmouthshire Regiment, also part of the 205th (2nd Welsh Border) Brigade, had written on 22 December from the Battalion Headquarters in Bedford to the Editor of the Abergavenny Chronicle (published on 24 December 1915) as follows: ‘Sir – In consequence of all kinds of extraordinary rumours floating about Abergavenny, will you kindly give me the courtesy of your columns to state, for the benefit of all concerned, that every officer, NCO and man on the strength of this battalion has accepted, and signed, the Imperial service agreement, and is liable to be sent overseas at any moment. I wish to make this statement in consequence of information received by a member of this battalion who has recently been to Abergavenny on leave.’

Hearty church services

The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality of 12 November 1915 included an article from the Rev Ben Jones who had been invited by the Senior Chaplain, the Rev T H Richards MA, vicar of Clynnog, to address the soldiers of the Welsh Army stationed at Bedford. The morning service was held in St Paul’s church, capable of holding 1,100 people. Crowded chiefly with the Cheshires and Herefords, it was a sight never to be forgotten to witness the sea of brave faces in every corner of the church, and all so devoutly joining in the service. In the afternoon a short service was held in the hospital.

In the evening Rev Jones attended the Welsh service in St Cuthbert’s Hall, where a good muster of Welshmen had come together to worship in their native tongue. The service was conducted by Chaplain Hughes (late of Carnarvon). The lessons were read by General Mainwaring in English and Colonel Jones Roberts (of Penygroes) in Welsh. A solo was rendered by Private Llewelyn Jones (Llew Colwyn) ‘The Sailor’s Grave’, and the accompanist was Bandsman Owen Evans of Dinorwic. Colonel Jones Roberts was very popular with the men of the Division, who were mostly Welshmen and he and Mrs Jones Roberts saw that they got every comfort possible.

Several services were conducted in English and Welsh during the day in different churches, besides the services held by the Non-conformist chaplains. On Sunday evenings and one week-night, Chaplain J T Phillips trains a large male voice choir at St Cuthbert’s Hall.

One day, Rev Jones visited Kempston where the artillery men were stationed and came across Captain Savage, of Bangor, Sergeant- Fitter Moses David Jones, of St Ann’s, and Gunner Pritchard, of Glanogwen.

Are you prepared to die?

In September 1915 and subsequent months local papers in Wales carried a number of stories about the fighting in Gallipoli and letters from soldiers in the 4th Welsh.

The Cambrian Daily leader of 18 September 1915 printed an article headed ‘How 4th Welsh sailed – story of the voyage and baptism of fire – shells for breakfast’ including a long letter noted as having been ‘Passed by Censor’ from Gunner R Frederick Thomas, of the Machine Gun Section, 1/4th Welsh, attached to the Cheshire Regiment, from Llandovery, describing the journey from Bedford – which they left on 6 July, via Malta, Alexandria, Port Said and Lemnos eventually to reach the Dardanelles, landing on 9 August – and the hard reality of battle and life under fire.

On leaving Bedford, the soldiers were handed a leaflet bearing ‘what most of us at the time regarded as an insignificant headline. It ran: ‘Are you prepared to die?’ … I can safely say that few of the men of the gallant 4th then even dimly realised what the future held in store for them.’

Under the heading ‘Shots whizz past us’ the Haverfordwest Journal and Milford Haven Telegraph of 29 September 1915 carried extracts from letters from the Dardanelles sent by Private J Oliver to his friends at home. He was then in trenches not far from the Turks and ‘shots whizz past us very often but they mostly go over our heads.  ….  but some chaps got hit yesterday. One had his leg broken by a bullet about 20 yards from us.’ He also comments on the risky business of acting as orderly to a listening post about 200 yards in front of the lines. He received copies of the Telegraph every week and had been interested to read an account of ‘our send off from Bedford.’

Lieutenant George Adams  (below) from Haverfordwest also gave his impressions of the campaign in the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Advertiser of 24 November 1915. He described an occasion when the Turks had disguised themselves as Gurkhas. An officer spotted them and shouted ‘they are Turks, there are no Gurkhas near here’. Instantly the enemy heard this, they shot and killed Lieutenant Adams’ friend and turned and fled back towards their trenches. But not one reached them, all being shot dead before they had gone many yards.

Lieutenant George Adams, 4th Welsh Regiment

Giddy Goat

There was an amusing incident near the Granville Cafe on Thursday, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 21 May 1915, when the goat of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers showed its soldierly temperament. The battalion was about to leave the town, and the goat-sergeant had gone ahead with his charge. At the bottom of the MR (Midland Railway) bridge Billy refused to go any further, and butted his superior officer into the wall. After a few minutes the battalion came along, and Billy taking his accustomed place at the head became as docile as a lamb.


The Herefordshires

The 1/1st Battalion of the Herefordshires, in the 53rd (Welsh) Division, had spent only a brief time in Bedford in May 1915, moving quickly on to Rushden and then  in July embarking for Gallipoli.

In December 1915 the Battalion moved to Egypt and were continuing to serve in eastern Egypt on the banks of the Suez Canal in October 1916. That was a relatively quiet month and many men took the opportunity to visit some of the local towns and have their photographs taken.

img_2217                      img_2218


The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Drage, presented a silver cup to be awarded to the winning company in the Battalion football competition. The cup is now held in the Regimental Museum.


Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Drage, Commanding Officer, 1/1st Battalion, the Herefordshire Regiment
Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Drage, Commanding Officer, 1/1st Battalion, the Herefordshire Regiment









The 2/1st Battalion, in the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division, had arrived in Bedford in July 1915 and continued during October 1916 to send reinforcements to France to make good losses suffered on the Somme. The men would have been aware of activities on the Somme and the prospect of a posting to a unit in France. There was still a need however for troops to remain in the defence of the country and the 2/1st Herefords continued in this role, departing Bedford for Lowestoft in November 1916.




Bigamy in Bedford

On Wednesday, 16 August 1916 at the Bedford Borough Sessions Annie Tully, aged 20 years, of Union Street, Bedford, was charged with bigamy. Annie confessed to marrying Private Herbert Parry whilst her husband, Charles Tully, was alive.

Annie had married Tully on 14 March 1914 in Llanelly, Monmouthshire, yet two years later on 2 August 1916 she married Parry of the 2/1st Brecknocks at Trinity Church, Bedford. Parry was billeted at 72 Chaucer Road, two streets away from where Annie lived in Union Street.

However, on 7 August 1916 Annie turned herself in at the Police Station saying ‘I have come down to admit that I have committed bigamy. I want to get it over.’ She was charged and cautioned and then made and signed a statement in which she said that Tully had ‘knocked her about’ three days after they were married and also about seven months later during her pregnancy, and her baby had been born dead that night . Annie left him the next morning, taking the bed sheets to pay for lodgings.

Some weeks later Tully had begged her to return and she did. But the night she returned he swore to throw her in the canal. She left him again and had not seen him since January 1915.

Parry testified that he had known Annie for about two years, so it would seem they had met not long after Annie married Tully. It is possible that Annie met Parry when his regiment was formed in Brecon, Monmouthshire, in September 1914 and that she followed him and the regiment to Bedford in 1915. It would be quite a coincidence if they happened to be from the same part of Wales and ended up a few streets from each other in Bedford.

Annie was committed for trial at the next Bedfordshire Assizes.

Chaucer Road, Bedford c1910 (Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service ref Z1306/10/12/1)
Chaucer Road, Bedford c1910
(Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service ref Z1306/10/12/1)



Musings on the Welsh Troops

In the column ‘Items and Episodes‘ included in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 30 July 1915, the columnist wrote, amongst other items, about:

  • new Welsh arrivals in Bedford and their enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm of Bedfordians, for bands;
  • the various regimental mascots then in town, including a monkey which was ‘very fond of children’;
  • the two variations in English to the words of the song “Men of Harlech” penned by a private in the Welsh Guards and a private in the 1/5th Welsh; and
  • another large influx of Territorials expected that weekend which would mean that Bedford would then be entertaining more soldiers than it had ever done before.

The column was headed by a picture of the 2/7th Cheshires at physical drill in Russell Park.

The English words penned to “Men of Harlech” by a private in the 1/5th Welsh include the phrase “Stick it, Welsh”, said to be the dying words of Captain Mark Haggard, the nephew of the author, Rider Haggard. The circumstances in which they were spoken are described in the Chronicle.

From Bedford to The Somme

Losses on The Somme were being made up from trained soldiers back home. The 2nd/1st Herefords sent a draft to France in July 1916 and the following account was given in The Hereford Times:


The Battalion was also warned to send another draft.

In its 19 August  edition the newspaper printed an account of the draft in France in a letter sent by a Herefords Saddler in the base Remount depot at Rouen. The writer was a native of Hereford and formerly a boy at the Bluecoat school but did not want his name to appear.

The writer recorded how, on 12 July, the Battalion paraded at Bedford and ‘was asked for 150 volunteers for France. The order was for volunteers to take two paces forward. On the last sound of the word “march” the whole battalion moved like one man. This made it necessary for selection. There was bitter lamentation amongst the men who have to wait longer for the opportunity of doing their bit. The lucky ones were sent home on leave, but you will know all about that. On the 27th we left Bedford for Southampton, leaving the parade ground and marching to the station, headed by the bugle band and accompanied by the C.O. The adjutant wished us good luck and a safe return.

‘The journey was uneventful. The time was whiled away with “ha’penny nap” and talk of what we were going to do to the Huns when we met. We arrived at Southampton at 11 a.m. kept hanging around until 4 p.m. when embarkation started, and we left Port at 5.30 p.m. Got hung up in the channel and outside Havre due to fog. Then travelled up the beautiful Seine. We were greeted with shouts of “vive l’Anglaise” by the people of the villages, also “are we downhearted”, you should have heard the answer. We arrived in Rouen at 5 p.m. on the Saturday, jolly glad to touch terra firm, after being packed like sardines in a barrel for two days. Disembarkation proceded smartly and we were on our way to camp, a 3 1/2 mile march. After drawing blankets and other things we were dismissed.’

The letter continues with details of their first few days work: ‘On Monday the work starts in earnest. We are examined in musketry, Tuesday wire, Wednesday bayonet fighting and extended order, Thursday bomb tunnel filled with gas, stronger than anything the Germans are likely to use, also the ordeal of tear shells. We pass everything with flying colours. Saturday morning we got the order to stand to, later in the day the Sgt and half our number are warned to parade next day, for proceeding somewhere up the line, attached to the 5th Cheshires. At first there is some grumbling, we had hoped to join the Shropshires. At 1 p.m. on Sunday the draft falls in. A smart, business like looking lot. We see them march off and wonder how many will return.’

The 68th Division goes cross-country

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 9 June 1916 reported that much interest was taken in the Inter-Company cross-country team race of the 68th (Welsh) Division on Saturday. The competitors numbered 2,573 which is something like a record. The race, which was open to the whole Division, was run on time trial lines, and fifteen men had to finish in each team.

The arrangements, which were made with a deal of forethought, and were carried out with military precision, were in the hands of the following Committee: President, Captain A H Hogarth, DADMS; Hon. Secretary, Lieutenant W W Wynn 1st Royal Dragoons; Members, Captain T T Gough, 203rd Infantry Brigade; Lieutenant S Broome, 204th Infantry Brigade; Lieutenant C Parker, 205th Infantry Brigade; Lieutenant Hughes, Royal Field Artillery; Lieutenant F E McSwiney, Royal Engineers; Lieutenant Green, Field Ambulance; Lieutenant H Burdon, Army Service Corps.

The start was made from Bedford Park, up Cemetery Hill (those not in training could walk up this), and cross-country, taking hedges and ditches for about a three mile course in all. Stewards marked the course.

The first three teams were 2/6th Cheshires, D Company, 18 min 4 secs, 1; 1st Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, 18 min 52 secs, 2; 2/1st Herefordshire, D Company, 19 min, 3. The trophy for the best aggregate three teams was won by the 2/1st, 2/2nd, and 2/3rd Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, with a total of 58 min 7 secs. Fifty-two teams closed in all.

A three miles inter-battalion team race for recruits (ten to score) drew 196 competitors representing eleven teams. The result of this was: 2/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers A team, 19 min 35 secs, 1; 2/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers B team, 20 min 26 secs, 2; 2/4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 21 min 2 secs, 3. The 2/6th Royal Welsh won the aggregate trophy.

The three teams which obtained the best times in the principal event were composed as follows:

1st: 6th Cheshire Regiment, D Company – Sergeant Frost, Corporals Ingleson, Cashmore, Gover, Lyall, Privates Dawe, Stagg, Bennett, Leigh, Owen, Harrison, Walker, Widdows, Connolly, Coubert. Time: 18 min 4 secs.

2nd: 1st Welsh FA, RAMC – Sergeants E Lewis, Warwick, Corprals Lewis, Parsons, Privates S Jones, G Owen, Hoswey, T Reads, R Evans, S Vaughan, G Smart, Phillips, F Jenkins, A G Evans, Rowen. Time: 18 min 52 secs.

3rd: 1st Herefordshire D Company – Lieutenants Phillips, C F Meehan, Sergeant Price, Corporals Spey, Whiting, Lance-Corporal Morgan, Privates Davies, Detheridge, Marshall, Salvin, Bergough, Baker, Preece, Sayce Watkins. Time: 19 min 0 secs.

The medals and cups were afterwards presented by General Reade, GOC the 68th Division, who proposed a vote of thanks to the Race Committee and the Organising Committee, and expressed his delight at the excellent racing.