Hymns, prayers and welfare

Maintaining morale and the moral and physical well being of the troops were important parts of the war effort both at home and in action overseas. The newspaper reports below, including much about Welsh musicality, and about comforts and facilities for the troops, such as a new canteen and recreation room in Biddenham, are listed chronologically:

1914

Comforts for Welsh troops – what to send

The Flintshire Observer of 1 October 1914 included a long article by Mr W G C Gladstone MP and HM Lieutenant for Flintshire, writing from the Barracks, Wrexham, appealing for articles of comfort for the soldiers at the front, especially for the benefit of those men who came from North Wales. The articles urgently required, those that would be very much appreciated, and those that should not be sent were listed.

Mrs Delme Radcliffe (whose husband, Colonel H Delme Radcliffe, commanded the 2nd Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers) had kindly consented to receive, at Silsoe, Ampthill, Bedfordshire, and forward all suitable articles for the 2nd Battalion, already at the front, and Mrs Cadogan, Gayhurst, Newport Pagnell, would do so for the 1st Battalion, which presumably would soon be at the front.

Sunday at the YMCA tent, Bedford 

An article in Y Brython of 22 October 1914 by Yale Lloyd gives an interesting and detailed insight into one Sunday spent at the YMCA tent, the work of the YMCA for the troops, and the activities of the soldiers during that day. In the evening, Yale records, ‘The men release their pent up emotions by singing Stand up, stand up, for Jesus with the utmost fervour. They are now in the hwyl (as no other language can express that state of enthusiasm like the Welsh) and more hymns are sung.’ Whilst Welsh troops are not specifically mentioned in the article, there were Welsh soldiers in the Bedford area at that time from the 1/2nd Welsh Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (Territorial Force).

Very early closing 

Military authorities at Bedford yesterday issued an order closing all licensed houses in the town for the sale of intoxicants today after 2.30 pm, reported the Cambrian Daily Leader of 31 December 1914. The order applied also to New Year’s Day.

1915

More at the YMCA tent

The Herald of Wales of 13 February 1915 reported that Ammanford was well represented in the YMCA tents. Mr W E Nicholas and Mr J H Norman Carr had recently left for Bedford and Mr D J Gregory would follow them in a week.

5th Welsh Battle Song

The Aberdare Leader of 22 May 1915 printed the Battle Song sent to it from Bedford by Private T H Richards and composed by Private Williams, who conducted the Welsh Choir in Bro’ty Ferry:

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Articles of clothing

The Llandovery boys with the 4th Welsh at Bedford have recently been presented with articles of clothing by the Llandovery Church House working party, the Herald of Wales reported on 5 June 1915.

Funny bones, and the benefits of Bedford

An extract from the Welsh RAMC Gazette, printed in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 June 1915;

“Two quick things – Lightning and Number Nines.”

“A point in favour of inoculation – A hypodermic needle.”

“Two things made to be broken – Promises and clinical thermometers.”

“Why did the mustard plaster? – Because he saw the pill box.”

“The Gazette” also said “Just on the eve of publication of our first number the order to move arrived, and some of us have been at it ever since. The arrival of the Division at Bedford put at the disposal of the ADMS a very new equipped stationary hospital, and after the first week the work possible there was of the great advantage, not only to patients, but to the nursing orderlies on duty, as for the first time they were able to see how the work of a ward should be done.”

Recreational facilities for the troops

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 June 1915 also reported on some of the facilities provided in the town for recreation.

‘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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The Middlesex singers

Also in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 June 1915, was a report of the Corn Exchange concert on Sunday, 13 June, at which Lance-Corporal Adams of the Middlesex Regiment, a vocalist with a wonderful soprano voice, met with a great reception for his glorious rendering of ‘The Holy City’, and Lance-Corporal Michael O’Leary of the Middlesex Regiment was in excellent voice in ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ which gained him an ovation.

The paper also reported that on stage at the Empire that week, Miss Ray Wallace, who recently appeared in Bedford at a concert of the 2/10th Middlesex, delights the audience with her songs at the piano, and her mimicries of leading musical-hall artistes.

Welshmen well tuned

Lovers of good male singing should make the Howard memorial their Mecca these beautiful summer evenings said the Bedford Times, reported Llais Lafur – Labour Voice on 3 July 1915. ‘In our evening stroll after service last Sunday we happened upon a group of Welsh Terriers who were thoroughly enjoying themselves, singing the hymns of the homeland in their native dialect. The Rev Ceitho Davies, of Abercarn, Welsh chaplain, led in this inspiring service, so different from the ordinary open air service for which the Square has become the venue. A number of ladies and gentlemen joined in the singing with evident enjoyment – presumably they are Welsh living in the town and district – and the demeanour of the Bedfordian section of the assembly was most respectful. There was no address, although Mr Davies, in a break, remarked that they might be old-fashioned, but the hymns they were singing were very sweet to them, and they were proud to sing them in a strange city. Next they would sing “Diadem,” so that their English friends could help them And they did, the bass rolls tripping off with real Welsh vivacity. Previous to this sacred concert a Welsh service is held each Sunday evening in John Bunyan ‘s Schoolroom.’

The Aberdare Leader of 17 July 1915 also included the Bedford Times report and added that at the end of his remarks ‘Next, said Chaplain Ceitho Davies, we shall sing Diadem, so that the English friends around might assist us. And they did, the bass roll tipping, but with real Welsh vivacity.’

Corn Exchange concerts

Sunday evening concerts at the Corn Exchange were a regular feature of the entertainments programme for the troops stationed in Bedford.

On 4 July 1915, there was a large audience, in spite of the fiery tempest without, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 9 July. Captain Kingzett, who had made such a successful debut the previous Sunday, again sang and received an ovation. He sang Liddell’s “Abide with me” and “Land of Hope and Glory,” the chorus of the latter being repeated and taken up with gusto by the audience and the 5th Welsh choir. As encores Captain Kingzett gave “I know a lovely garden” and “Because.” The 5th Welsh choir, under Private Williams, gave excellent renderings of the old Welsh air “The Ash Grove,” “Comrades in Arms” (for which they were encored)*, and “The Little Church,” in which was introduced a fine bell effect.

At the organ, Dr Harding played some variations on the Russian National Anthem, and Mr H J Colson, “Postlude.” The hymns were “Fight the good fight,” and “Jesu, lover of my soul.” Mr Machin said that next week there would be concerts at the Empire, and the Royal County Theatre, as well as the Corn Exchange, and that there would be a visit of the Scottish contralto, Miss Helen Blain, who was a friend of Captain Kingzett and would sing duets with him.

*(“Comrades in Arms” was a popular chorus, having been sung by the Division Welsh Choir in the Corn Exchange on 20 June together with “Aberystwyth” and Men of Harlech.”)

Music on Mill Meadows

On the evening of 5 July 1915, a successful open-air concert was given in the Mill Meadows by members of the 1/1st Welsh Carnarvon, Royal Garrison Artillery. The program also included music by the Kempston Silver Band. Songs were given by Sergeant P J Jones, Gunner D W Hughes, Gunner John Lewis, Second-Lieutenant J Roberts, Second-Lieutenant R Parry Morris, Gunner R J Roberts, Gunner T Norman, Gunner R Stallard: Driver H Owen also contributed a song, and Gunners J and R Stallard gave a comic duet. There was a large audience.

Appeal for Cholera belts

An appeal was made in The Carmarthen Weekly Reporter of 9 July 1915  by Mrs Bowen (mother of Major A Ll Bowen, 1/4th Welsh Regiment) on behalf of 250 Llanelly boys then at Bedford, and who were under orders for the Mediterranean, for Cholera belts.

Letters of thanks to Bedford lady workers

A letter from Mr William Machin, Secretary of the Bedford Recreation Committee, was published in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 30 July 1915  concerning a request for mosquito nets: ‘Three weeks ago there came a sudden call to the Recreation Committee for thousands of mosquito nets and other things for the use of soldiers who were about to leave us for the front; and we asked the churches at a few hours’ notice to supply us with 200 volunteer ladies who would be willing to sew, sew, sew, for a week or more.

‘The response was splendid! The work was done, and done “most excellently” as the Authorities in London are always saying about Bedford war work. The Committee is extremely grateful, and the following letters received this week will surely be a source of gratification to all who worked so well in this and other ways, if you will favour us by publishing them.’

The letters that followed included:

From Colonel Penno, for General the Hon J E Lindley, 53rd Welsh Division: “May I, before leaving, express our deep appreciation of your most arduous and excellent work for the welfare of the Troops of this Division.”

From Katherine M Campion, on behalf of the wives and mothers of the officers and men of the 1/4th Sussex: “I cannot help writing to thank you all for your great kindness in giving up so much of your time to making the mosquito nets for my husband’s battalion, the 1/4th Sussex. I am sure they were all most grateful for such prompt help. Without it the battalion would have had to go without any nets. For this, and for many other reasons, the officers and men of the 4th Sussex have cause to remember very gratefully the many kindnesses received from Bedford during the 2 and a half months that they were stationed there. In the name of all the wives and mothers, I wish to thank you very much.”

From Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Drage, Commanding Officer of the 1/1st Herefordshire Regiment: “Will you please accept on behalf of the officers and men of my Regiment our very grateful thanks to you and the Committee of Bedford ladies who have worked so hard and so successfully in providing us all with veils as protection against mosquitos and flies. But for this kindly assistance we should have been obliged to go without them.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Drage, Commanding Officer, 1/1st Battalion, the Herefordshire Regiment
Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Drage, Commanding Officer, 1/1st Battalion, the Herefordshire Regiment
Lieutenant-Colonel Drage (fifth from the right, middle row) with his officers of the 1/1st Herefordshires
Lieutenant-Colonel Drage (fifth from the right, middle row) with his officers of the 1/1st Herefordshires
The 1/1st Herefordshires in their standard overseas uniforms for warm climates
The 1/1st Herefordshires in their standard overseas uniforms for warm climates

Items and Episodes

The Items and Episodes column in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 30 July 1915 included the following:

‘There are at least five military brass bands of excellent quality now in the town. There may be more but however many there are we can rely on the Recreations Committee to keep an eye on all.’

‘We are informed on the authority of the men themselves, to the tune of “Dixie,” that “You ought to join, You ought to join, You ought to join the 7th Cheshires.” ‘

‘After enjoying the vocal music of the 1/5th Welsh Choir, and with anticipations of more from the Fusiliers now here, Bedfordians were interested in the reports of the Welsh Guards’ singing march through London. One knowing London scribe informs us that 800 years ago the Welsh were the only people in the world who indulged in part-singing. There were 80 men – the glee party of the new regiment – and they were en route to Cardiff to sing at a smoking concert. They were nearly all colliers before enlisting, and without exception belonged to Welsh choirs. The officers of the regiment, including Lord Harlech, commanding, give the party every encouragement. There were great scenes of encouragement as they marched through London. A halt was called at Hyde Park. Thousands of people gathered round while the contingent, led by their conductor, Pte W T Jones, sang “Cydgan y Morwyr” (“The Sailors’ Chorus”), “Sospan Fach,” “Jesu, Lover of My Soul” (“Aberystwyth”), and “The March of the Men of Harlech.” There was a great gathering of Welshmen at Paddington, where a miniature Eisteddfod was then held. The national anthem of Cymru was given in conclusion, and the crowd bared their heads. It is interesting to note that the English words sung to “Men of Harlech” were written by a private in the regiment, as were those sung by the 1/5th Welsh. The Guards sang:

“Men of Cardiff, we’re competing, At Berlin Eisteddfod meeting.”

The 1/5th Welsh sang:

“ ‘Stick it, Welsh,’ we’ll not be lacking, While the foe we are attacking. On to Berlin we’ll be tracking – Welsh boys will be there.” ‘*

‘The dwellers in South End are in luck this time. On Saturday, two more units of the Welsh RAMC came in. The first unit to come in has a fine band of 40 performers, who have already given a sample of what they can do. The second unit also has a band, which has been at Norwich, and has gained its laurels there. These two not being enough, the third unit is now forming its own band.’

‘Housewives in the Park-road district hurriedly left their wash-tubs at 10.30 on Monday morning, doffed their aprons, and sped to the Park-road North. The call of the Band of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was irresistible. The Battalion came in on Saturday from Epping Forest, and in their march up from the Midland Station made a gallant show. They were in full marching order, even the Band; and their trombonists vigorously plying their slides, with the full pack on, were a sight worth seeing. On Monday morning they played through the streets in the north part of town – hence the neglect of the Monday morning wash-tub!’

‘The program for the Sunday evening concert at the Corn Exchange promises excellent things to music lovers. Miss Mairi Matheson, who has a high place in the esteem of Bedford audiences, has consented to appear, and Miss Helen Blain, whose charming contralto always attracts, will sing twice. This week the concert opens at 7.40 with selections by the 2/6th Cheshire Band, under Bandmaster V Surrell, and several choice instrumental solos from its members are expected, and John Oxenham’s hymn specially written for the men at the front will be sung.’

*”Stick it, Welsh” are said to be the dying words of Captain Mark Haggard, the nephew of the author Rider Haggard, and the circumstances are described in the Chronicle, in the page Arrivals at and departures from Bedford.

A veritable orgy of brass bandstand 

The Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard of 27 August 1915 reported, at the end of a series of items in the Aberystwyth columns,  that according to the correspondent of a London paper, Bedford was indulging in a veritable orgy of brass bands, for Welsh troops who were making a sojourn there had a wealth of such combinations. ‘In the mornings one often awakens to the sound of bands playing battalions off on the march, and at such times the music which floats on the clear atmosphere of Bedford is jangled and tangled to the point of weirdness, for the parade time in all portions of the town frequently coincides. Sunday is a great day, of course, for church parade gives a band a good opportunity of proving its metal, which the musicians make full use of.’

Singing in the rain

The Welsh Fusiliers in one of the large empty houses in De Parys Avenue, on Wednesday afternoon, whiled away the time during the rain with some admirable part singing, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 3 September 1915. There are many worse ways of preventing time from hanging heavily on rainy afternoons, and few better.

The paper also reported that the Band of the 6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers gave a concert in the Bedford Park Hut on Friday.

The call of the cookhouse

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 10 September 1915 included this picture of the men of D Company, 2/1st Herefordshire Regiment assembled for dinner at the newspaper’s printing works in Sidney Road.

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The works in 1925
The works in 1925
The works in 1925
The works in 1925
In 2015, the newer houses occupy the site of the former print works in Sidney Road that closed c1978
In 2015, the newer houses occupy the site of the former print works in Sidney Road that closed c1978

 

 

 

The houses on the other side of Sidney Road were built as homes for the workers at the print works, two families to a house
The houses on the other side of Sidney Road were built as homes for the workers at the print works, two families to a house

Concert at Haynes Park

The Royal Engineers at Haynes Park were treated to another enjoyable camp concert on Tuesday night, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 10 September 1915. The programme was arranged by Miss Dorothy Sell, who ‘has done so much for the entertainment of our soldier visitors. The concert party from Bedford made the journey in a military lorry, and had a cheery reception. Lieutenant Penny was Chairman, and the audience were all attention, though not in the military sense, during the concert. Driver Carter (Welsh RE) was in good voice, and his songs “Three for Jack” and “The Veteran” were much appreciated. In her two violin solos Miss Marie Henderson maintained her reputation for skilful bowing, and Miss Lilian Pack had a good reception with her patriotic songs. Sapper Lowder, RE, contributed a comic song which was particularly welcome, and Mrs Stringer was twice encored for her vocal efforts. Lieutenant Penny’s “Doch and Doris” and “Loch Lomond” stimulated hearty choruses, and Mr Paige Stuart also sang. Miss Dorothy Sell was the accompanist.’

Books for Royal Welsh Fusiliers 

The Bangor Diocesan Tract Society made a grant of Welsh hymn books, booklets and tracts, to the value of seven guineas, to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers quartered at Bedford, reported the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality of 24 September 1915.

Entertainment for the wounded at Howbury Hall

On Monday, 18 October 1915, the Monmouths Regimental Band gave a concert in the grounds at Howbury Hall which, through the kindness of Mr Cecil Polhill, had been turned into a Red Cross Hospital and was in full working order. Mrs Deane, of Goldington Bury, was the Commandant and members of the VAD were working under the supervision of  a Trained Sister.

A day of concerts for the Welsh troops

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 22 October 1915 reported forthcoming concerts on Sunday, 24 October at the Corn Exchange, which would ‘be real Welsh’, the Empire, where the band of the 2/3rd Monmouths would perform, and the Royal County Theatre, where two good vocalists, one from the Herefords and one from the Royal Engineers, would perform with the band of the 2/1st Herefords.

 With Welsh Army at Bedford: 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 6th Division, who were mostly Welshmen and he and Mrs Jones 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.

A new room for the troops in Biddenham

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 24 December 1915 reported that on Friday (17 December) a concert was held in the New Canteen and Recreation Room in Biddenham, near Bedford, which was formally opened by Colonel C J Markham, Commanding the 205th Infantry Brigade (the 2nd Welsh Border Brigade and part of the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division). ‘In introducing Colonel Markham, Major Carpenter, Organising Secretary, referred to the generosity of the Trustees of the Biddenham estate, and Mrs Wingfield in the provision and alteration of the building, and the liberality of the tenant, Mr J Evans, who had given up possession of the building without compensation. The Organising Committee consisted of Captain Addie, Mrs Addie, Mrs Carpenter, Mrs Whitworth, Mrs Randall, Mr Herring (Secretary), and Mr Ingram (cashier), and several ladies offered their services as helpers. Gifts in kind had been received from Mr Whitworth (a piano), Mrs Carpenter, Miss Collie, Mrs Markham, Miss Howard, Mrs Spencer, Miss Street, Mrs Randall, etc, while the Bedford Borough Recreation Committee, through Mr Machin, placed at the disposal of the Local Committee many essentials in the way of furniture.

Colonel Markham said the canteen would be highly appreciated by the troops billeted at Biddenham.

An interesting programme was arranged by Miss Norman, those taking part including Miss Turner (Bedford), Lieutenant Markham (5th Northumberland Fusiliers), Misses Spencer, Miss Helen Norman, Mrs Piercy, Miss Joan de Roboek, and Private Knight. The canteen is open to all soldiers between 12 noon and 1.0 pm, and 4.0 pm to 9.0 pm on weekdays, and from 3.0 pm to 9.0 pm on Sundays. Concerts will be given, and sing-songs organised by Messrs Chibnall and King.’

That former farm barn which became in 1915 a new canteen and recreation room for the troops of the Great War continued to be transformed thereafter to become eventually the Biddenham village hall villagers know and cherish today.

Biddenham village hall, some 100 years after it was converted from a straw barn to be opened as a canteen and recreation room for soldiers billeted in the village
Biddenham village hall, some 100 years after it was converted from a straw barn to be opened as a canteen and recreation room for soldiers billeted in the area

1916

Bedford Soldiers’ Home

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 3 March reported on a drawing-room meeting on Tuesday, 29 February at Holbrook, De Parys Avenue, to promote the work of the Bedford Soldiers’ Home in Bromham Road. Bedford continued to its best, the paper said, both for the soldiers billeted in the town and for Bedfordshire soldiers serving overseas.

Captain de Winton (Commander of D Company of the 2/1st Brecknockshire Battalion) chaired the meeting and told those attending how much his soldiers, mostly Welshmen, appreciated the Home. The Lady Superintendent, Miss Birney, described the work carried on there, where many men returned regularly. A short service – for which attendance was voluntary – was held there every night, which helped many young soldiers to lead better, purer lives. Many examples were given of the ways in which the Home benefited young soldiers and of how much it was appreciated. The Home was conducted in such a way that it provided the men with a real home away from home.

In response to the need for a second Home a house had been taken near the Barracks, but £200 would be needed by the end of March for the new Home to start its work. A collection was made which amounted to £22 13s, and a number of promises of help had already been received.

Welsh nonconformity and the war

Lewis Williams, from Bangor, wrote a long letter, published in the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality of 10 March 1916, concerning the paper’s ‘partisan statements regarding the Church of England in Wales and the war, and to prove that your facts are not correct’ and also the comment that Nonconformists are only ‘an infinitesimal number.’

He said that he had been asked in July 1915 to go to Bedford to minister to the troops of the 53rd Division (Welsh) of the Territorials, before they left for the Dardanelles. During that month three of the biggest chapels in the town of Bedford and district were practically filled with Nonconformists on the Sunday morning in church parade, two in Welsh and one in English.  But, he added, he could produce evidence that a large number of those who attended our services on the Sunday were marked in the Army register as Church of England members, although they never attended the services of that Church in the town.

He concluded his letter ‘It is our privilege to defend this vast Empire with all its fine traditions and be very careful not to convert it into a tyrannical military power. Until this is done let us drop all sectarian controversies and consecrate our energies to the preservation of our vast interests.’

Sunday concert

The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 9 June 1916 reported that at the Corn Exchange concert next Sunday evening, Dr Harding will give a rendering on the organ of Chopin’s Funeral March in memory of the late Lord Kitchener. The artistes will include Madame Gabrielle Harris (elocutionist), Private Ernest Butcher, 2/5th RWF, Private A Thomas, 2/5th RWF, and St Paul’s choir.

A special concert for the 68th Division

A special concert for the officers, and men of the 68th Welsh Division by the Welsh Male Voice Choir of London, conducted by the celebrated musician, Dr Walford Davies, was held in the Corn Exchange on Saturday, 8 July 1916 at 7 o’clock. All seats were free to soldiers. The Choir had recently sung before the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace, by special command of King George V.

Illuminated letter of thanks to St Paul’s choir

In July 1916 the Bedford Borough Recreation Committee for the Troops presented to Dr Harding and the choir of St Paul’s Church an illuminated letter of thanks for the two years during which they gave Sunday evening  concerts at the Corn Exchange for the 1st Highland Division and the 53rd and 68th Welsh Divisions.

Welsh songsters

A group of Welsh soldiers got together on the Embankment on Monday evening, said the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 29 September 1916, and sang a number of delightful part songs and hymns to native tunes. They did it most tastefully and beautifully, and a small crowd which had gathered round gave the men a clap after each item.

Music in the Army

The Amman Valley Chronicle of 2 November 1916 carried a report from Private AHJ, of the 2/7th Battalion, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then stationed in Norfolk, about the musicality of the men who make up the British Army. He comments at the end ‘The strongest impression I have had for a long time was the hearing of ‘The Church’s one Foundation’, to Wesley’s magnificent tune, at a church service in Bedford, the soldiers singing in unison, and the organ filling in the harmonies.’

1917

Welsh choir in Egypt

The  Aberdare Leader of 27 January 1917 included a detailed contribution from Saddler T H Richards, of Mountain Ash, then with the 1/5th Welsh Transport in Egypt, writing about the 1/5th Welsh Choir which had won the championship of Egypt. He recounted the history of the choir, which had scored great successes in Scotland and Bedford, and had gone on to sing on Turkish soil, where after three weeks half of the original choir were missing, some killed and some wounded. After the evacuation from Gallipoli, a new choir was formed in the desert in Egypt, discovered other choirs and won in eisteddfods that were organised.