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 53rd (Welsh) Division comes to Bedford

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 7 May 1915 reported that ‘peaceful and forlorn have been the streets of Bedford’ in the early part of the week following the departure of Highland regiments. ‘The 4th Royal Sussex were the first of the new arrivals to enter the town as a unit, and they were immediately followed by three battalions of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, one of which had a goat. This brigade came in along the Goldington-road, and there was some fine singing among the Fusiliers. One machine gun section in particular was harmonising in Welsh, and there were some grand bass runs.’

‘It was fine to a Sussex man to hear that splendid marching song, “Sussex by the sea” sung as the hot and dusty column trudged up Kimbolton-road on Wednesday. It was not a good day for marching. The sun glared as if through ground glass. It was thundery, and dusty and the packs seemed very heavy. Most of the men turned up the sleeves of their tunics and bared their throats, and many had handkerchiefs over the napes of their necks. They had marched in from St Neots, and slept there the night before, after a good march from Cambridge. Most of them were very glad to get to Bedford, and their eyes sparkled at the hint of open-air baths. Till they went to Cambridge their training was done in huts at Newhaven.’

Two battalions of the Welsh Regiment had come up from Royston on Wednesday, one with a fine band and the other with a grand male voice choir. ‘One battalion claims the late Captain Haggard, whose dying words were, “Stick it, Welsh,” as its own. They are proud of that memorable speech, and it bids fair to become a battalion motto.’

‘It was strange to hear “Sing us a song of bonnie Scotland” from Welsh lips, but some of the men in Bedford have been in Scotland two or three months. It may interest the Bedford ladies to know that they have a high opinion of the women of Scotland, and appreciate their treatment there.’

‘A Welsh Company pushed rather wearily up Clapham-road, and came to a halt opposite some big empty houses. An officer said they would be divided amongst the houses. He was sorry to say they were very dirty, and every man would have to set to to get them cleaned up. Welsh lightning flashed from every eye, and they invoked blessings on the head of the departed Scots. In the end we believe those men managed to get quartered elsewhere

‘Efforts are being made to avoid using the empty houses by the officers of some of the regiments, who know how hard it is for men to keep them clean, and doubly hard when they find them in a filthy condition to start with. It is a pity arrangements were not made to get all the empty houses well scoured out before using them again. There was a squad of men going through the streets near the Saints’ quarter on Wednesday with pails and brooms but what is one squad amongst so many empty houses.’

‘In the long line of soldiers passing along Union-street was one bronze-faced man whose pack was surmounted by a little fox terrier.’

‘The horses of the Welsh troops, especially the officers’ mounts, were spoken of by good judges of horse-flesh as some of the best Bedford has seen.’

In its 14 May edition, the paper included two photographs of the Welsh Artillery – ‘A few of the 2nd Mon Battery’ and ‘Ammunition Column horses at dinner’:

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and in its 28 May edition, two photographs of ‘The Welsh ASC with their horses in the Bedford cattle market grounds’:

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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.’

The Great War

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