Category Archives: Soldiers

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.’

A Great War diary

T4/251616 Sergeant D J Evans, of the RASC Supply Section, 53rd (Welsh) Division, from Pentre, kept a diary during the war. Both the original typed diary and a transcribed copy diary are included on the Rhondda Remembers website.

Sergeant Evans was stationed in Bedford from May 1915 prior to leaving the town on 14 July for Gallipoli as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Whilst in Bedford, mam and dad had visited him earlier in July and stayed at 22 Western Street.

His diary makes fascinating reading, a snapshot of one soldier’s war, and includes much information at the end about the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

 22 Western Street in 2015
22 Western Street in 2015

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.

A busy day for Biddenham

First, Lord French reviews the troops …

‘Lord French, Bedford’s most honoured Freeman, paid a visit to Bedford on Thursday and reviewed the troops in training here’ reported the  Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 9 June 1916. ‘When shortly after 11 o’clock he motored over the Old Bridge, it was a different sight which met his eye to that gay scene of flags and bunting when, soon after the Boer War, the popular General came down to receive the Freedom of the Borough with which he has family connexions, and which honoured itself in honouring him. Then we had won the war. Now we are winning our way through the thick of it, and for the moment that is our only concern. The rejoicings will come later. The news of Lord French’s visit had been kept as quiet as possible, and few people probably recognised him in the large car which, followed by a smaller one, motored through the town via Midland-road, and Hurst Grove to the saluting base on Bromham-road where he and his staff were met by the GOC the troops here and staff.

Continue reading A busy day for Biddenham

The Bedford Eisteddfod

You can now read the full report on the Eisteddfod, held in the Skating Rink on the Embankment on Easter Monday 1916, carried in five columns of the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 28 April 1916. The photographs within the article in the newspaper are included on the page on the Eisteddfod.

The report includes extracts from the impromptu speeches, and from the winning poem by the chaired bard, Private the Reverend Alfred Jenkins; the judges comments on the various performances; the civilian competitions; and all else that the soldiers and Bedfordians enjoyed that Easter Monday one hundred years ago.

The Chaired Bard, Private Alfred Jenkins
The Chaired Bard, Private Alfred Jenkins

 

 

Conscription

The Military Service Act 1916, which came into force on 2 March 1916, introduced conscription and was possibly the most important piece of legislation placing the country onto a ‘total war’ footing.

Conscription under the Act meant compulsory military service for every British single male between 18 and 41 years of age unless they were widowed with dependent children. There were exemptions for those in essential war time employment, those deemed medically unfit, ministers of religion, and conscientious objectors.

Men or employers who objected to an individual’s call-up could apply to a local Military Service Tribunal which could grant exemption from service, usually conditional or temporary. There was a right of appeal to a County Appeal Tribunal.

Within a year of war being declared, it had become clear that it was not possible to continue fighting relying on voluntary recruits. Lord Kitchener’s campaign had encouraged more than one million men to enlist, but that was not sufficient to keep up with mounting casualties.

The government believed there was no alternative than conscription to increase numbers. Parliament was divided but, because of the imminent collapse of French Army morale, appreciated action had to be taken quickly. And thus the Military Service Act 1916 was enacted. A second Act in May 1916 extended compulsory military service to married men, and in the last months of the war a further Act raised the upper age limit to 51 years of age.

Conscientious objectors, who were amongst those exempted, were in most instances given non-combat roles at the front or civilian jobs.

Conscription was not a popular move and whilst many men failed to respond to call-up, more than one million did enlist in the first year of conscription. Overall during the war some 2.5 million men enlisted under conscription.

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