The sad story of Nellie Rault

Haynes Park army camp, to the south of Bedford, achieved some notoriety in 1919 when, on 9 May, a young girl from Jersey called Nellie Rault, serving with Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC), was murdered in woods near the camp.

There was a full article in The Sunday Post of 18 May 1919.

The crime has never been solved, and there is much more in the account Liz Walton has written about Nellie’s background, murder and subsequent events.

In 2019, one hundred years after her murder, Neville Memorials of Bedford undertook a project to restore Nellie’s grave in St Mary’s Churchyard in Haynes.

Haynes Park was one of six depots of the Signal Service Training Centre, of the Royal Engineers (Signal Service), and carried out technical training.

The SSTC was created in Bedfordshire in 1915 by the amalgamation of the Signal Depot (Aldershot) and Reserve Signal Companies. It had a number of depots, including Haynes Park which was responsible for riding, driving, saddlers, switchboard operators and the cadet battalion.

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 19 March 1920 carried a report of  the sale by auction of the extensive camp at Haynes Park. It includes a brief but interesting reference to the establishment of the camp in October 1914, and a detailed list of the camp buildings included in the auction.

Inspection of ‘The Queen’s’

On Tuesday, 15 June 1915 a composite battalion of the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), drawn from the 2/4th and the 2/5th battalions, paraded in a field near Honey Hills, Queen’s Park, Bedford, for inspection by Sir Frederick T Edridge, Honorary Colonel of the 4th Queen’s. The battalion  was part of the 160th (Welsh Border) Brigade of the 53rd (Welsh) Division then billeted in Bedford.

Sir Frederick was accompanied by the Mayor of Croydon and other representatives from Surrey, and by Brigadier General Hume, commanding the 160th Brigade, and officers of the battalion.

There was a full report of the inspection in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent:

The composite battalion subsequently separated and the 2/4th battalion departed Bedford with the 53rd Division in July for service with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force landing at Gallipoli in August. The battalion later moved with the Division for service in Egypt and Palestine until June 1918 when it arrived in France, transferring to the 101st Brigade, 34th Division.

Private Harold Robins T/3527 sent a postcard of the inspection to his brother Victor in Woking, Surrey. Harold is in the picture. Though wounded during action in Gallipoli by gunshot to his left shoulder, Harold survived the war, dying in 1942.

With thanks to Military Bedfordshire and to
The long, Long Trail

 

 

 

Major John Charles Rea

Major Rea from Aberystwyth, later to become Lieutenant Colonel Rea, was a Welsh territorial soldier who spent time in Bedford in 1915 with the Welsh Division.

In 1902 he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers). But in 1908 volunteer units were reorganised after the creation of the Territorial Force and one new unit formed was the 2nd Welsh Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. One battery of the new field artillery brigade was provided by the 1st Cardigan Royal Garrison Artillery Brigade (Volunteers) becoming the Cardiganshire Battery with Captain, later Major, Rea by 1912 its commanding officer and training with the Battery in the years leading up to the Great War.

John Charles Rea was a man of many parts, as we will see: a highly rated soccer player, a grocer and wine merchant, a hotel and restaurant keeper, a Mason, a soldier, a son, a husband and a father.

Born on 21 December 1868 in Aberystwyth, then in the historic county of Cardiganshire, John Charles was the son of John Rea, from Worcester, and his wife Mary Anne Williams, from Newtown, Montgomeryshire. Father John, with a Mr Bosley of Hereford, had previously run the mail coach to Shrewsbury and Hereford for many years. When the railway to Borth was opened in 1863, John Rea realised that coaching days were over and in 1864 took over the White Horse Hotel in Terrace Road, Aberystwyth.

Father John died in 1879 but his widow continued to run the hotel and in 1892 purchased the leasehold and also that of an adjoining property in Upper Portland Street to extend the hotel and incorporate in it a grocery shop.

In the meantime John Charles had taken up football, playing first for Ardwyn School, and afterwards moving to London playing as a winger for the Upton Club and then the London Caledonians. In 1891 he was lodging in Tufnell Park Road, Islington, employed whilst playing his football as a commercial clerk. He returned home in 1893 to manage the grocery and provisions store and to play for Aberystwyth Town. He also played one game for West Bromwich Albion in the 1894/95 season, returning to Aberystwyth Town. During his time as a footballer he was capped a number of times for Wales

John Charles took over the licence and lease for the hotel from his mother in 1906, converted the hotel to a first class restaurant with a comfortable lounge, added a sweet and confectionery department and cold meat counter to the grocery store, naming the business ‘Rea’s Restaurant and Stores’.

In 1908 John Charles married Florence Isabel Elkes in Birkenhead and they had by 1911 three children. But in August 1914 war was declared, the order to mobilise was given, Territorial Force members were invited to volunteer for overseas service, and Major Rea took up his military duties as battery commander within the first line division of the Welsh Division.

The Division concentrated at Northampton, moving in December to Cambridge, and in May 1915 to Bedford. In July the infantry of the first line division, by now renamed the 53rd (Welsh) Division, embarked for Gallipoli, but the divisional artillery remained in Bedford until November when they were ordered to France to join the British Expeditionary Force. On the two evenings before they left Bedford, farewell dinners were held for the artillery officers at the Embankment Hotel. Major Rea’s Medal Card records France, where he arrived on 21 November 1915, as the Theatre of War first served in. It records too his award of the Victory, British and Star Medals, which he received in 1922 at Terrace Road, Aberystwhyth.

The 53rd Division suffered appalling casualties at Gallipoli and was withdrawn to Egypt. The divisional artillery, having served briefly in the Somme region, was ordered in January 1916 to rejoin the rest of the division in Egypt (Major Rea far left in the photograph below), and subsequently saw action in Palestine.

At some point John Charles had joined the Aberystwyth Lodge of Freemasons and is remembered in its archives as one of the brethren who served in the forces during the war. Happily Lt Colonel Rea survived the war.

His mother died in 1928 and six years later John Charles retired from the business and the licence for the hotel transferred to W Hancock and Co Ltd of Cardiff. His wife Florence died two years later in 1936 and he lived on in Aberystwyth, until his death, aged 75, in 1944.

In 1906 John Charles had also rebuilt the façade of the hotel, and much of the work he commissioned can still be seen today, the building being Grade II listed, with the name ‘Rea’s’ remembered on the glazed tile bay front with Art Nouveau lettering over and on the windows. After a name change to Varsity at the end of the century, the old White Horse name was restored in 2015. If you are ever in that neck of the woods, it’s something to seek out and to remember this man of many parts, Lt Colonel John Charles Rea.

 

 

 

A sad death

On Thursday, 13 January 1916 an inquest in Bedford heard that, following an accident with a motor bus at Turvey the previous Sunday night, Private Isaac Nelms, aged 19, a soldier from Stockport serving with the 2/6th Cheshires (part of the 68th Division) had died.

The bus driver, Frank Edwards, told the inquest that he was passing over Turvey bridge at around 9.45 pm when he saw a soldier on a cycle coming towards him from the opposite direction. The cyclist was going fairly straight until he was within a yard or so of the bus when he seemed to lose control of his cycle and swerved. The cyclist missed the front of the bus, but then Mr Edwards heard a noise at the side and at the same time hit the bridge in trying to avoid the cyclist.

He and the conductor went back and found Private Nelms lying on the road about a yard from the wall on his proper side of the road. Mr Edwards could not see any marks to suggest he had run over the soldier. They got the soldier onto the bus and he was taken to hospital. Mr Edwards said there was plenty of room for Private Nelms to pass and the bus was lit by two paraffin lamps at the front.

PC Bradshaw of Turvey was informed of the accident and saw the soldier in the bus. He spoke to the soldier who said he was going to Bedford. His clothing was dirty as though he had rolled over but there was no mark to show if the bus had run over him. The wheel marks of the bus were well onto the left side of the road and the cycle was not damaged.

Dr Spence, a house surgeon at the County Hospital, carried out a post mortem and found serious internal injuries which could only have been caused by great pressure. The Coroner said that although there was no evidence to account for these injuries, it seemed almost certain that the hind wheel of the bus must have run over Private Nelms. It appeared a pure accident for which nobody was to blame. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

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.

The Bedford Bard’s Chair

The website was recently visited by a lady who had been searching for information about the chaired Bard at the Eisteddfod held for the Welsh troops in Bedford in April 1916.

She knew that the bardic chair had been won by Private A Jenkins of the 2/1st WCCS, Royal Army Medical Corps. And the website was able to enlighten her that Reverend Private Alfred Jenkins BA from Ardwyn and Presbyterian Minister at Pencoed, had won the bardic chair with his poem on “A Soldier’s Life”.

But why was this lady interested in Alfred? It transpired that as young Welsh exiles in England some decades ago, she and her husband had discovered and bought Alfred’s bardic chair in an antique shop in Kent, and over the years had wondered about the man who had won it.

She is back in Wales now, re-learning Welsh and writing her own poetry with some success. And knowing much more now about the Bedford Eisteddfod and the man who won the bardic chair which is today, more than 100 years later, a treasured possession of her family.

Two questions: how did Alfred’s chair find its way to an antique shop in Kent? And has a little of the chair’s poetic magic rubbed off on this Welsh lady?!

A bardic chair, specially designed and made for the chaired bard of an Eisteddfod, is awarded to the winning entrant in the competition for the awdl, a long poem written in a strict metre form known as cynghanedd, a complex system of alliteration and internal rhyme.

Alfred’s bardic chair was described as a “handsome Jacobean chair” in the full report on the Eisteddfod in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 28 April 1916. Could it have been designed and made in and brought from Wales, or might it have been designed and made in Bedford, if so by whom? Or in those difficult times was it perhaps a “handsome” chair in the town that was readily available?

Thank you to the lady from Wales for these photographs of the chair and the engraved plaque on it which reads:

PTE A. Jenkins
Chaired Bard
Bedford Eisteddfod
Easter Monday
1916

 

 

 

which with her story add movingly to the history on the website of the Bedford Eisteddfod and Reverend Private Alfred Jenkins, the chaired Bard.

 

Time for recreation

Bedford, its surrounding villages and their citizens were diligent in ensuring and caring for the welfare of the troops billeted in and around the town.

There was a Highland Games for the Scottish troops, an Eisteddfod for the Welsh troops, and Christmas treats; and daily recreation was well provided for in a series of huts and other premises around the town and in the villages.

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 June 1915 reported on some of the facilities provided in the town:

‘The Recreation Huts which the War Office built in Bedford when the Highland Division were here are now being run, under the Bedford Borough Recreation Committee, by the YMCA, and the canteen profits go to carry on the YMCA’s excellent work among the troops. The Recreation Committee supply the entertainments, and arrange the noble army of voluntary lady helpers, who have done so splendidly in Bedford since the war broke out. When the Scotsmen were here two of the huts were run by the Scottish Guild and one only by the YMCA, but now the YMCA run them all.

‘At the YMCA hut at the corner of Hurst Grove and Bromham-road, everything is going on as usual for the entertainment of the soldiers billeted in that locality. Though the weather does not encourage men to spend the evenings indoors, a keen interest is taken in the impromptu boxing tournaments held every Wednesday evening. Three two-minute rounds are allowed for each bout, and many avail themselves of the opportunity of becoming proficient in the noble art. There is also a billiard table provided which is at the disposal of khaki billiard players.

‘The Bedford Park Recreation Hall is under the supervision of the Rev F Coram, recently Congregational Minister at Birmingham. Mr Coram left the ministry for the time being in order to take up this work, and is most enthusiastic as to the possibilities in his new sphere. The interior of the Hall has been brightened up by numerous streamers of flags of all the Allied nations, with the exception of Italy, and Mr Coram would welcome the gift of a few small Italian flags, so that the latest of our Allies should be represented. A bagatelle table would also be most welcome. Though the troops are billeted some distance from the hall, it is well attended, especially by the 1/4th Welsh, and there are sing-songs most evenings.

‘Looking in on the Bunyan Meeting canteen on Wednesday evening, we found the tables crowded with soldiers, who were quietly playing games, reading the papers, writing letters, taking refreshments, and enjoying the charming songs the ladies were singing on the platform. The tables were garnished with flowers, and the scene was one of cheerful association. Several ladies were waiting upon their guests with light refreshments, or conversing with them. The soldiers evidently belong to a very respectable class, and showed every appreciation of the homely comfort and refinement of the Bunyan Canteen.

‘The Sergeants’ Mess of the 1/7th Cheshire Regiment is pleasantly situated in Russell Park. Near the entrance the title and badge of the Regiment are set out on a large cement tablet, which is quite a work of art. Within the Star of India appear the acorn and oak leaves, which form the regimental badge, and around it is the intimation that it is the Sergeants’ Mess of the 1/7th Cheshires, the lettering and device being worked in small white stones.’

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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:

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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

The Great War

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