As part of their reporting of the war at large, local newspapers were particularly keen to inform their readers, not least families and friends, about what was happening to their local boys in the armed forces while they were away from home. The news reports below, general and particular, including Welsh soldiers and an alien, an attempt to cause disaffection amongst soldiers leading to a prosecution under the Defence of the Realm Act, shots whizzing past, women patrols and infatuated young girls, medals, the demise of a mascot, the Compulsion Bill, care of the disabled, soldiers’ graves and much more, are listed chronologically:
Billeting at Bangor
Sapper Hugh G Edwards, Royal Engineers, wrote from Haynes Park Camp, Bedford, to the North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality, published in the 26 February 1915 edition, about the economic benefits of billeting for a town, having had a very good opportunity of studying the billeting question at several large centres, amongst these being Chester, Beccles, Great Yarmouth, Cambridge and Bedford.
Heading the march
Included in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 21 May 1915:
Welsh soldiers and an Alien
The Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph of 26 May 1915 reported that rumour had been current in Haverfordwest with regard to the conduct of some members of the 4th and 5th Welsh, now stationed at Bedford. The truth of the matter appears to be that a German innkeeper made some insulting remarks about the Welsh, whereupon the Territorials raided the premises. They let the beer flow from the taps, smashed bottles and generally turned the whole house upside down. The German himself they placed in a bath. We understand he has now been interned, together with a compatriot, a barber, whom the soldiers treated in a similar manner.
(It is probable the rumour arose from a major disturbance at the Crown Inn, at the corner of Kempston-road and Britannia-Road, reported fully in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 21 May 1915. The inn ‘suffered considerable damage, both to the building and the contents, at the hands of a number of soldiers’. The ‘unpleasant disturbance took place between nine and ten o’clock on Friday night’ (14 May). The report included a photograph of the scene the next day:
‘At the Crown Inn, on Saturday morning, practically the only thing intact on the premises, as viewed from the outside, was the Crown over the front door. … The bar was practically gutted, and the contents of the other rooms on the ground floor wrecked. On the wall outside, near the front door, hung the following placard:-
To the Women of Britain. Some of your men-folk are hanging back on your account. Won’t you prove your love for your country by persuading them to come forward.
‘It seems that at nine o’clock, which is when the time expires for serving soldiers on licensed premises, the soldiers left the house and there was nothing much amiss at that time. According to a statement made to the police two persons returned to the house for bottles of beer, but the landlady said she was sorry she could not oblige them as it was after time. It was then that the row began, and men commenced smashing the glass ware and other articles. … It is estimated that there were about thirty men engaged in acts of destruction during the first few minutes, but their numbers were gradually augmented until there were some three or four hundred inside or outside the house and the affair developed into a general attack on the premises.’
The Chief Constable and several constables arrived and their numbers increased as the news spread. ‘Pc Chambers had got Mrs Kasteleiner, the landlady, on the stairs leading to where her husband was lying ill in bed.’ The Chief Constable requested military assistance and was able to speak to Colonel Penno. Some mounted soldiers rendered help, and eventually some two hundred soldiers came from the Barracks and others were on their way from Brigade HQ in Bedford. Meanwhile, the military and civil police had been able to eject the offenders from the house and a strong picket had been formed. ‘The row had lasted till close on ten o’clock, which is the time at which the soldiers have to be in their quarters, and was, therefore, the signal for a gradual dispersal.’
A court of inquiry was to be held by the military authorities. ‘and therefore we do not feel called upon to say much about the possible causes of this disturbance. Mr Joseph Kasteleiner has lived at the Crown Inn some thirty years, and been a naturalised British subject sixteen years. He is perhaps best known in the town at large for his success, during many years, in making the highest collection among the inns of the town, for the Bedford County Hospital. … On Saturday morning, Mr Kasteleiner left Bedford by train. Mrs Kasteleiner is English by family and birth, and is very much respected for her affable and kindly disposition. We have it on the best authority that this house has been one of the best kept inns in Bedford.’
On Saturday evening crowds gathered in town attracted by rumours of mischief afoot. There was a strong military presence, armed with rifles and some with bayonets fixed, and including a mounted officer and mounted military policeman. ‘After dusk the crowd got denser, and a man threw a bottle at Mr Scheuermann’s window and made a hole in the glass. This incident added a little excitement but the Chief Constable appealed to the good sense of the people, who soon cleared away and the pickets, who had been summoned, were dismissed, as the soldiers were going home in good order. One man was arrested for obstructing the police.’
‘It is due to Mr Scheuermann to state – what is very well known to his fellow townsmen – that he has been in Bedford 36 years, and has been a naturalised British subject for 22 years. He came to Bedford as a boy of 14, and two years afterwards, in the year 1876, he officially severed his connection with a southern state of Germany, owing to his family’s dislike of Prussian methods, and he has never been a subject of Prussia. A more amiable and law-abiding citizen of Bedford and subject of the British Crown there could not be than Mr Scheuermann. … His son, a member of the Bedford Fire Brigade, has been on service with the British Expeditionary Force since October, and has lately been home on furlough, returning last Friday.’
An attempt to cause disaffection amongst soldiers
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 June 1915 reported a hearing at the Bedford Borough Petty Sessions on Tuesday, 15 June of a charge that on 2 June Joseph E Johnson, of Queen-street, was guilty of an offence against Regulation 43 of the Defence of the Realm Regulations 1914, by impeding Sergeant J Court, a person who was then carrying out the orders of the competent military authorities; of an offence under Regulation 42 by attempting to cause disaffection among certain men of the 15th Platoon, D Company, of the Kent Battalion, 160th Brigade; and that by word of mouth he made statements likely to prejudice the discipline of HM Forces.
The third charge was heard first. Major Bishop, Staff Officer, who prosecuted, suggested the seriousness of these charges should be judged by the times in which they lived. It was not for civilians or anyone else to interfere between officers and their men. There were proper provisions made by the regulations for any complaints that might be made, and the men had to rely on their officers to protect them. If there was one thing which was necessary in these times, it was the maintenance of discipline, and anything interfering with it must be regarded as somewhat serious.
Giving evidence, Captain E Savage, in administrative command of D Company, said he met a Lance-Corporal and in consequence of what he said, went to 10 and 12 Adelaide Square, and found all the men sitting in the road, on their packs, with rifles piled. He asked them why they were not in the billets and the men said they were verminous. He went inside and investigated and found nothing in the complaints. He told them to go in for the night and if they should have complaints during the night they would be remedied. He spoke to several of the men and while doing so a good deal of commotion was going on. Twenty or thirty civilians were dissuading the men. He heard one man behind him say “I would not go in. I would desert first.” He turned round and saw the defendant, and replied “I expect you would, but fortunately your sort do not enlist.” He could not catch the reply. Captain Savage left to get a picket, and when he came back 25 were still out. Johnson was still there, and Captain Savage put these men under arrest.
More supporting evidence was given by Lieutenant Cobb and Sergeant Court and evidence given by Lieutenant Brennan of the Royal Army Medical Corps who had examined the premises and found everything satisfactory.
The defendant, on oath, said he had four men billeted on him. They very much objected to leaving for empty houses, and said they should be back again for the night. At 9.30 seeing they had not come back, he went round to see if there was any probability of them coming back. He found the men in the road with kits off, and rifles stacked, and sixty or seventy civilians present. To encourage the men to mutiny or desert he would not dream of. He denied using the words attributed to him by the prosecution. He never incited them to commit a breach of discipline.
Captain Savage, he said, gave the men five minutes to go into the billets, or the consequences would be serious. They refused to budge, and seeing the men were determined to stop out so long as they could, he was going back again, and he was right out at the end of the civilians and well away from the men when he said to himself and a few who could hear him, “It’s a shame that men should be fetched out of comfortable billets and put into empty houses; we want the men and want to make them as comfortable as we can, for many of them have given up good jobs.”
Two ladies from Queen-street, Mrs Odell and Mrs Sedgwick, said they had stood near Johnson and had not heard him say anything about mutiny or desertion. After a brief retirement, the Mayor announced that the Bench were unanimous that there must be a conviction. It was the duty of civilians at all times when troops were showing any little bad feeling towards their officers to assist the officers. Defendant would be fined £5, and 28 days allowed to pay.
A woman in the gallery: Here is the money, for the sake of somebody’s boys. The other two charges were then withdrawn.
Inspecting the Division
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 June 1915 also reported that on Wednesday, 16 June the Welsh Division passed through St Mary’s, High-street, and St Paul’s Square, holding up traffic at various points for a considerable time. From a position at the foot of the Old Bridge Brigadier-General Hume inspected the passing troops. The Brigadier was accompanied by the Brigadier-Major, Captain Solly-Flood, and another staff officer.
No red lights
Also in its 18 June 1915 edition, the Bedfordshire Times and Independent included a long list of persons summonsed for not having rear red lights on their vehicles, in most cases bicycles. These included Captain Bassard, 4th Cheshire Regiment, Driver George Lamb, 1st Welsh RFA, Private G Newton, 4th Cheshires, Lieutenant T Hare, 10th Middlesex, Private A C Barlow, Cheshire ASC, Private T Lewis, 1st Welsh RAMC, Driver A Collins, 1st Glamorgan Battery, Private W J Owen, Howitzer Brigade RFA, Pioneer Nelson, Welsh Divisional Signal Company, and Private E Evans, 1st Welsh RAMC.
There were many similar summonses during the troops’ stay in Bedford.
Gun carriage in serious accident
On Thursday, 17 June 1915 a gun team of the 4th Glamorgan Battery of the 2nd Welsh Royal Field Artillery was involved in a serious accident at Bedford that morning, reported the Bedfordshire Standard of 18 June. Drive A Gale and Gunner J Williams were driving their gun carriage along London Road in the direction of St John’s Street when something went wrong with the harness. The horses bolted along the railway bridge in St John’s Street, crashing into a wall at the corner of St Leonard’s Avenue. Gunner Williams jumped from the carriage and fell under one of the wheels; Driver Gale was also thrown to the ground. The men were taken to hospital where Gale was found to have suffered injuries including a compound fracture of the left hand; Williams had a broken leg and bruising. One of the six horses pulling the carriage was also severely injured.
(Thanks also to bedshomefront.blogspot.com)
The call at Llanelly – how the town may do still better
In a stirring speech at a Llanelly recruiting meeting, reported in the Cambrian Daily Leader of 24 June 1915, Canon D Watcyn Morgan commented on how the previous disrepute of the town, following riots a short time before, had been removed by how well the town had done in the matter of recruiting. ‘… now you can enter the booking office at Swansea, London, Northampton, Cambridge, Bedford, and even Cardiff, and ask in a loud, clear, and proud manner for a ticket for Llanelly.’ The town had done well but it could do better still, he said, ‘Every self-respecting girl will scorn the coward that did not respond to his country’s call ‘ he concluded.
Ap Pennar and Miskin women
‘Patriotic’ was clearly very upset by remarks the previous week by ‘Ap Pennar’ and wrote a letter from Bedford, published in the 3 July 1915 edition of the Aberdare Leader, concluding ‘There are a lot of soldiers here at Bedford who read your paper. These men have mothers and wives in Victoria Street, and are disgusted with such trash as Ap Pennar’s remarks, which are utterly untrue. We are leaving for active service shortly, and I hope you will insert this letter, not for my sake alone, but also others who have answered their country’s call.’
Bedfordshire Agricultural Society
For the Society’s Annual Show in Bromham Park on Thursday, 15 July 1915, the special features in the programme included sheep dog trials and exhibitions of penning of sheep by the most noted dogs, and several military competitions by teams of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, and other Regiments if then in the district, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 2 July 1915.
General Rundle inspects the Welsh Division
On Thursday, 8 July 1915, there was an official inspection of the Welsh Division by General Sir Leslie Rundle. Led by General Lindley, Commanding the Division, ‘superbly mounted’, the long procession of troops, accompanied by their bands and including the horse-drawn heavy artillery, took one hour and forty minutes to march past the saluting base in De Parys Avenue.
A full report on the Inspection of the Welsh Division was included in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 9 July.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 9 July 1915 reported that at the burial in Kempston Cemetery of Private E Darnell, of the 1st Bedfords, who had received fatal wounds the previous March, volleys were fired over the grave by a party of Welsh Territorials.
Loyal Llangollen curate
The Rev D R Davies BA, senior curate of Llangollen, was gazetted as Captain Chaplain to the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, then stationed at Bedford, recorded the Llangollen Advertiser, Denbighshire, Merionethshire and North Wales Journal of 16 July 1915.
The Welsh (Carnarvon) RGA – General Lindley’s tribute
The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality of 23 July 1915 included a detailed article from F L Penns, Colonel AA and QMC, 53rd (Welsh) Division, concerning a disparaging rumour with regard to the Welsh (Carnarvon) Royal Garrison Artillery that had been in circulation for a considerable time to the effect that they were not being sent abroad on account of inefficiency. The injustice of this rumour, he said, might be judged from the fact that this fine body of men were absolutely the first on the declaration of war to report themselves of all the Territorial Forces in the kingdom, and were the subject of a special commendation. The rumour had been brought to the attention of the General Officer Commanding the Division, with the result that a vindication of the reputation of this fine body of men, in the form of a ‘special order’ had been issued by Major-General the Hon J E Lindley, commanding headquarters, 54 Bushmead Avenue, Bedford, 14 July 1915. The content of the order is set out in the newspaper article, and the Major-General comments on the very cordial relations that have existed between the Welsh Division and the civilian population of towns, including Bedford, in which they have been stationed. He sympathises in the disappointment felt by those left behind at their not accompanying the rest of the division overseas, but they are left behind because their services are presently required in England: their turn will assuredly come.
Hand of Trumps
The Daily Sketch of 24 July 1915 included a photograph of Mrs E C Pritchard, of Talgarth, together with reproductions of her three sons who were serving their country. She was depicted, reported the Brecon and Radnor Express of 29 July 1915, holding separate photographs (in card form) of her sons, and above the photograph was printed ‘Mother’s hand of trumps’ and ‘Given all for the Empire’. One son has gone to the Dardanelles, another is in France, and a third, who is at Bedford, is expecting to proceed to the Front.
Items and Episodes
In the Items and Episodes column the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 30 July 1915 reported:
‘It is recorded that a soldier stopped a civilian ten yards from the corner of Ashburnham-road about 9 o’clock on Friday evening and asked the way to Chaucer-road. He was quite overcome when the civilian who had been to VTC (Volunteer Training Corps) squad drill, replied “12 paces forward, march – right turn – march to the end of the road- left incline- cross the road at the top, and there you are.”
Mascots seem plentiful among the Welsh Battalions now in Bedford. The transport in Bedford Park have the wonderful little monkey, which is very fond of children. Needless to add the children reciprocate these kindly sentiments, and the monkey gets on well for sweetmeats. One Battalion of the RWF brought in with it on Saturday a goat, and another a dog, and on the wall of a house in Gladstone-street, in which the dog has been billeted, appears the notification to the ration dispenser. “Dog and two men.”
Another large influx of Territorials is expected this weekend, and then Bedford will entertain more soldiers than it has ever done; even when the Scottish occupation was at its height.’
Shocking fatality near Rhymney
The Monmouth Guardian (Rhymney) and Bargoed and Caerphilly Observer of 6 August 1915 reported the tragic death of the wife of Private Frederick George Bachelor, of the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment, from Abertysswg. Mrs Bachelor, aged 29 years, had been knocked down and killed by a railway train. The Coroner at the enquiry in Abertysswg returned a verdict of accidental death. The last time Private Bachelor had seen his wife alive was three weeks after Christmas.
The 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers
The Denbighshire Free Press of 7 August 1915 reported that several battalions of the 4th, including the 2/4th at Bedford, were sorely in need of recruits. It was hoped the men of Denbighshire would join their county battalions and help to fill up its ranks without further delay. The plea to the men of Denbighshire was carried too in the Llangollen Advertiser, Denbighshire, Merionethshire and North Wales Journal of 6 August 1915.
Distinguished Conduct Medal
The Bedfordfordshire Times and Independent of 13 August 1915 carried a report and photographs of the presentation of the Distinguished Conduct Medal to Sergeant Ledsham, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, at a ceremony on the Grammar School field.
In the presence of his family circle and his comrades of the 2nd North Wales Infantry Brigade, Sergeant W Ledsham, of the 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was presented with a Distinguished Conduct Medal. The official summary of his gallant conduct stated: ‘On the 25th January, 1915, during an attack by the Germans at Givenchy-La-Basse, he gallantly led a section under heavy fire to clear some buildings occupied by Germans. Later, on the retaking of a section of trench which had been captured by the enemy, he displayed great initiative in remounting a machine gun, temporarily dismantled, and keeping up fire on the German position until wounded by a shell from a trench mortar.’ This was the famous attack with which the Germans celebrated the Kaiser’s birthday.
Sergeant Ledsham’s wound was still unhealed, and hence he was now with the 2/4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and billeted at 82 Clapham Road. He had been 16 years in the Territorials and had the long service medal. His home was at Wrexham, North Wales.
For the presentation ‘The Brigade was drawn up in ceremonial square, on the football ground in front of the School, the massed bands and drums of the Brigade facing the Park. In front of the drums quietly stood two handsome white goats, Battalion mascots, in full regalia and beautifully groomed. With the red lapels of the Staff Officers, they gave the only splash of colour to the all-pervading khaki, and the glint of fixed bayonets in a brilliant sun. In the centre of the square stood the Sergeant, a broad, well-knit, seasoned soldier, the embodiment of resource, strength and will-power.’
‘Punctually at ten o’clock the General of the 2/1st Welsh Division, General R B Mainwaring, motored to the field, and was received with the General Salute, the massed bands playing the first two lines of “Men of Harlech.” General Mainwaring at once walked to Sergeant Ledsham, shook hands heartily with him, and sent him to bring into the square his mother, his fiancée, Miss Herbert, of Northampton, and her mother, his two sisters, Mrs Warburton and Mrs Powell, and Mrs Pack, a Bedford friend, who had been standing at the entrance to the square.’
The General addressed the Brigade, read the official account, and on behalf of His Majesty the King pinned on the medal and once again shook hands and congratulated the Sergeant. The troops then marched past the Sergeant, who was standing to attention, to the strains of “Men of Harlech” . ‘Afterwards the Sergeant and his people were the recipients of many congratulations, and graciously posed for the amateur photographers who swarmed around them.’
Fatal kick by a mule
An inquest was held at the Hospital on Saturday morning, 14 August, on the body of John Rice Jones, aged 18, a driver in the Welsh Divisional Ammunition Column, stationed at Kempston, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 20 August 1915.
‘Lieutenant Godfrey Parsons of deceased’s section, said that on August 6 he was on duty in his horse lines between 4 and 5 o’clock, observing some men grooming mules, which were tied up to trees. He saw Jones kicked by a mule which he was grooming. The mule was a nervous one, and had been tied to a tree as it was impossible to shackle. Deceased knew that. He was grooming the mule’s hindquarters, saw the kick coming, endeavoured to get out of the way, and was caught by the full swing of the near hind leg. He staggered away and fell. Witness on examining him, found a large bruise in the centre of the abdomen. Deceased was a groom in civil life.’
‘Mary Jones, widow, deceased’s mother, identified the body. Deceased was her only son.’
Doctor Spence, house surgeon, said ‘he saw him first on Sunday night, when he was suffering from general peritonitis, following ruptured intestines, which might have been caused by the kick of a mule.’ He died on 12 August of peritonitis.
‘The Coroner, in expressing sympathy with the mother, pointed out that the deceased had enlisted under military age, and he had given his life for his country.’
‘The Jury returned a verdict of accidental death and also expressed sympathy with the relatives.’
‘The remains of Driver Jones were on Saturday morning conveyed on a gun-carriage from the Hospital to the Station, whence they were conveyed to Newport, Mon. There was a guard of honour from the Column, and floral tributes from each section and the officers.’
Charged with bigamy
Sergeant Robert Roberts, of the 2/6th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was charged in Northampton with feloniously marrying Florence Ada Crone, his wife, married in June 1911, still being alive, recorded the Cambrian Daily Leader of 11 September 1915. The accused had been arrested after communications with the Pwllheli police. He told the detective who arrested him at Bedford he was guilty. He was remanded. The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality of 24 September 1915 carried a full report of a subsequent hearing at which a number of witnesses gave evidence and Sergeant Roberts was committed to the Assizes. He did not apply for bail.
Portfield men killed
Mrs Edwards, late of Denant, the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph of 15 September 1915 reported, had just received news that her son, Edgar, had been killed at the Dardanelles. He was about 28 years of age and enlisted the previous November, and went out with the 1/4th (Battalion of the Welsh Regiment). Mrs Edwards, who was a widow, was greatly distressed at the death of her boy. The news came from a woman with whom Edgar was billeted when in Bedford, and she in turn obtained the intelligence from another of her former lodgers, who wrote stating that Edgar Edwards and Phil Ashton, of Pembroke Dock, had both been killed.
Double tragedy at Greenfield
The Flintshire Observer of 7 October 1915 recorded the circumstances of the death of John Arthur Jones, of the 2/5th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and of his wife, Sarah Catherine, at their home in Greenfield, near Holywell.
“Our Day” fund events
Bedford was a study in crosses on Saturday, 23 October 1915 – “Our Day” for the Order of St John of Jerusalem and the British Red Cross Society – recorded the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 29 October. The emblems displayed on armbands or brassards, were worn by ladies in every street and displayed on small flags shown by soldiers in their caps, and by other men on the lappets of their coats, while motor cars were adorned with larger and more conspicuous crosses. At the foot of the Bunyan Statue were larger red and black crosses, and ‘a portrait of Miss Cavell, the martyr nurse, who was foully murdered by the enemy, to the intense indignation of the civilised world.’
The photographs show a general view of St Peter’s Green; Mrs Eleanor Paine, who has done so much for ambulance work in Bedford; and at the bottom, loading the ambulances. In the left bottom picture, the figure on the right is Quarter-Master S W Adams, of the Bedford Voluntary Aid Detachment, number 3.
A net amount of £750 was collected for the fund and the newspaper report includes a long list of from whence the donations came. “Our Day” was ‘the day set apart for Bedford’s share in the great movement which last week was general throughout the country, in aid of the two Societies whose names are in every mouth.’ ‘For many years the Order of St John has been doing a grand work in teaching first aid and ambulance work. For years the British Red Cross Society has been preparing for the emergency which has arrived, and has proved, in manifold ways, its priceless value in aiding and succouring the wounded and sick.’
Demonstrations of ambulance loading, involving sixteen wounded Cheshires, which were witnessed with much interest by Colonel Sir Walter Shackerly, Commanding the 2/7th Cheshires, and Lady Shackerly, were followed by short concerts given in four open spaces by the Male Voice Choir of the 68th (Welsh) Division, led by the Reverend J T Phillips BA, Chaplain of the Forces. The Band of the 2/3rd Monmouth Regiment marched and played along ‘a devious route, which started in Hurst Grove at 2pm, brought in the County Hospital, and ended at the Town Hall. There were also two important football matches in the Park, played by men of the Welsh Division’. The military assistance to “Our Day” was lent by kind permission of Brigadier-General R B Mainwaring CMG, Commanding 68th (Welsh) Division. The opportunity was taken to make special collections on those several occasions.
The Male Voice Choir of the 68th (Welsh Division) was making ‘its debut before Bedford audiences. The choir is an excellent combination of seventy male voices, and it gave four open-air concerts. Their programme was “The Comrades’ Song of Hope” (“Comrades in Arms”), “The Crusaders,” “Martyrs of the Arena,” and a selection of beautiful old Welsh hymns. At the Circle, in Castle-road, the Choir arrived punctually at 2.15, accompanied by a small army of collectors, both civil and military. Among the collectors were twenty returned wounded of the East Anglian RE. The Choir commenced with the old Welsh hymns, and afterwards they delighted the audience with “Martyrs of the Arena,” sung as only Welshmen can sing, and the fine toned voices and the perfect harmony won the admiration of all. The conductor, the Reverend J T Phillips, Chaplain of the Forces, has a rich tenor, which was often heard harmonising with the deeper tones of the bass.’
‘The Choir left the Circle about 2.40, and marched to St Mary’s-square, where they found a busy scene, and the ladies from the flag stall near by soon joined the crowd, which had followed the singers to hear more of their vocal talent. The programme at St Marys was “The Crusaders” and “The Comrades’ Song of Hope,” and these two vocal masterpieces were supplemented by hymns in a language beyond our comprehension, but the old airs were pleasing.’
‘From here the Choir marched to the High School, where strings of flags were floating from the trees in front of the School, the flags of the Red Cross and of the Order of St John being crossed on either side of the gate. The choir took up a position on the right of the main porch. Some hundreds had assembled here, and a number of the young ladies of the School were present. The flag sellers and collectors were busy, and even those who had given before succumbed to fresh fascinations. The efforts of the singers were greatly appreciated, and applause greeted each item.’
‘The Choir next went to St Peter’s Green where a large crowd awaited them, and the choristers took up a position near the statue. The old church the nearly leafless trees, and the Grammar School made a picturesque setting to the little group of khaki-clad men in the foreground. The programme was only half completed when the rain came on, and continued in earnest, but without turning the crowd away. The people stayed, taking what shelter they could, until the last note had died away’
‘The money collected on Saturday weighed nearly a ton.’
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 5 November reported on Biddenham’s support for the fund raising effort: ‘This little village usually responds generously to an urgent call for money. On “Our Day” every cottage and house was asked to give as much as they could in kind. A depot was made at the School on the Friday evening, and one and all brought something – fruit, flowers, cakes, pastry, and vegetables of all kinds, especially bushels of potatoes. There was no difficulty to dispose of the vegetables, as they were all ordered beforehand. Many nurses in uniform belonging to the Biddenham Red Cross Detachment sold flags and cards, and visited every house, and found many generous purchasers. There were also two stalls, one in the village, the other on the main Bedford-road, where cakes, sweets, flowers, and fruit were sold by the Commandant Quartermaster, and many other helpers. The day proved a financial success, and the village was proud to forward £30 to succour our wounded men abroad.’
The Story of a Skirt
Driver Albert Reginald Hiles, 3rd Glamorgan Battery, 2nd Welsh Brigade, was charged before the magistrates on 25 October 1915 with stealing from a clothes line at the rear of 5 St John’s, a lady’s white skirt value 5/-, the property of Elsie Fitch, on 22 October. There was an alternative charge of receiving.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 29 October reported that Everyn Fitch, 5 St John’s-street, said she washed the skirt on Friday and hung it out. She last saw it about 9pm, and about 9.20 she heard some laughing and scuffling in the yard. Going to see what it was she saw two soldiers going out of the gate, missed the skirt and found the line broken.
Driver Joseph Dangerfield, 3rd Glamorgan Battery, said about 9.30 he saw the defendant in the barrack room, wearing a lady’s skirt. He was under the influence of drink. He said a chap had given him the dress for oil-rags. Gunner Fred Causey, 2nd Welsh AC, military police, spoke to finding the dress and a small baby’s frock in the barrack room. Sergeant J Harding, 2nd Welsh AC spoke to handing the clothing to the police. PC Nisbet said defendant, when charged, made a statement which was taken down.
Defendant elected summary jurisdiction, pleaded not guilty, and on oath bore out his written statement. He said he was on stable picket from 6pm on 22 October to 6am on 23 October, and did not leave Light’s works. About 9.30pm he was in the latrines when a chap came in and asked him if he would have some cleaning kit. Witness said “Yes, leave it here.” The man did so. He did not know what man gave him the stuff as it was quite dark. Questioned by the Clerk as to the light, defendant said it was always dark at Light’s works (laughter). The Clerk: “The moon doesn’t shine up there” (laughter).
Sergeant Harding, recalled, said that the defendant was on stable picket when he went in at 10.55pm. Picket mounted at 6pm. Bombardier S J Payne, battery orderly for the night, said defendant fell in with the picket at 5.30pm. Witness saw him three or four times between 6 and 8 and again at 9.30 when he came into the barrack room with the things. He was on the “last relief” – 10 to 12. Defendant had no right to leave the place when on picket, and witness had no reason to suppose that he did.
The Chairman said, after consideration the Bench concluded that the case was “Not proven”, and dismissed it.
Private Albert Wardle
On Wednesday, 3 November 1915, the remains of the late Private Albert Wardle, of the 68th Welsh Divisional Cyclist Company, were conveyed from the County Hospital, where he died on Monday to the Midland Station en route for his home, Glossop, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 5 November. He was given military honours, the coffin being borne on a gun carriage and covered with the Union Jack, and the Band of the 2/7th Cheshires playing the Dead March.
Howard Band of Hope
Monday, 15 November 1915 being the 46th anniversary of the formation of the Howard Band of Hope, the Committee and members held a birthday party and invited friends and former members, said the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 19 November. A large company, including Welsh Territorials, accepted their hospitality, and a very pleasant evening was spent in a social manner. After refreshments had been served by ladies of the Committee, the President, the Reverend V A Barradale, said they were glad their Society was over military age, and could not be taken out of the country. He hoped it would go on for another 46 years, doing as good work and even better, if possible.
Buried with military honours
On 17 November 1915, the late Sergeant Charles James of Bedford was buried in the town’s cemetery with full military honours with the approval of the General Officer Commanding, 68th (Welsh) Division, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 19 November. That duty was committed to the charge of the 2/3rd Monmouths, on behalf of the Division, and the arrangements were carried through efficiently by RSM Phillips.
7659 Sergeant James had attended the Grammar School and in 1910 passed the Civil Service Examination and joined the Inland Revenue. He was at Glasgow when war broke out and in September 1914 he joined the 7th Royal Scots Fusiliers. Promotion came quickly and before Christmas he was made Sergeant. He went to France in June 1915 and was wounded at Hill 70 on 26 September in the Battle of Loos. After three weeks in the Canadian Hospital he was moved to a hospital in Manchester, where he died of septic poisoning.
The 2/3rd Monmouths funeral party arrived at the family home at 112 Gladstone-street shortly before the hour of leaving. The firing party of 18, under CSM Watkins, stood to attention opposite the door, through which soon the coffin, wrapped in a Union Jack, was carried by eight CQSMs or Sergeants, and placed on the gun carriage, drawn by the fine blacks of the 2/4th Welsh Brigade, RFA, of which Sergeant McIlree was in charge.
The firing party at a slow march set off to head the mournful procession, followed by the well-known band of the 2/3rd Monmouths, with draped drums, under Bandmaster Valentine, playing Chopin’s Marche Funebre. Then came the carriages containing the family mourners and finally a company of the 2/3rd Monmouths. The firing party and the band formed a guard of honour at the Cemetery gates. After the service was concluded at the graveside, three volleys rang out, echoes reverberating from the hills opposite, the party presented arms and two buglers blew the Last Post to end the impressive ceremony.
Band absent from the parade for Mayor’s Sunday
Colonel P B Ford, commanding the 2/3rd Monmouthshire Battalion at Bedford, having previously indicated that the Battalion band would be able to take part in the parade in Abergavenny in November 1915, for the traditional Mayor’s Sunday, regretfully had to write to the Mayor to the effect that he had now received orders that the proposal to send the band could not be sanctioned. He apologised for any trouble or inconvenience and had himself been surprised that the band was not now being allowed to attend the parade. The Colonel’s letter and details of the parade were recorded in the Abergavenny Chronicle and Monmouthshire Advertiser of 19 November 1915.
Women’s patrols – to be tried at Swansea
In November 1915, the Swansea Watch Committee decided to give the Women’s Patrol Movement a trial for a period of two months. Lady Llewelyn, on behalf of the deputation, had asked for permission to work in the town as women patrols were doing elsewhere. In other areas, the movement had the goodwill of the military authorities, magistrates and the police. ‘The aim was to get hold of the giddy young girls who were about the streets so that they might be prevented from drifting into questionable paths.’ The women patrols were not engaged in ordinary rescue work, the object in view being to look after young girls who were infatuated by the military.
Miss Phillips, from the deputation, made it clear that the women patrols did not interfere with the soldiers. Her experience was that if the girls behaved as well as the military there would be no need for women patrols. Alderman Davies said these were a new kind of troops and they had large bodies at places like Bedford where the men had been held in the highest respect. At Bedford it was publicly stated that their conduct had been irreproachable. What had been alluded to was the swarming of young girls around drill halls and military camps, and that was noticeable to everyone.
There was a full report of the discussion at the Watch Committee in the South Wales Weekly Post of 20 November 1915.
2/3rd Mon Regt and Imperial Service
Lieutenant-Colonel Percy B Ford, Commanding 2/3rd Monmouthshire Regiment, wrote from the Battalion Headquarters in Bedford on 22 December 1915 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.’
A letter from two privates in the 2/1st Herefords, in similar vein to that of Lieutenant-Colonel Ford (immediately above), was published in the Hereford Times in January 1916:
The new Commander
The Hereford Times in January also reported on the new Commander of the 68th (2nd Welsh) Division:
An inspection and a departure
The Hereford Times in February reported on an inspection of the 205th Brigade by the Divisional Commander and on the favourable report subsequently received from Divisional Headquarters. The paper also reported that the Divisional Commander, Major-General Sandbach, would be leaving to take over the command of the 59th Division:
The Scoveston Sensation
The Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph of 19 January 1916 carried an extensive report of the court martial of Major W T Campbell Jones, of the 3/4th Welsh Regiment, accused under Section 19 of the Army Act of having been drunk while on active service whilst then with the 2/4th, stationed at Fort Scoveston and later at Hearston Camp where he was working on the removal of the regiment to Bedford. Major Jones had been briefly with the 4th Battalion of the 204th Brigade at Bedford in November 1915 before returning to the 3/4th Welsh Regiment at Hearston Camp.
Compulsion Bill focuses minds
The Carmarthen Journal and South Wales Weekly Advertiser of 21 January 1916 in reporting the departure of John Jones, from Llanfihangel-ar-arth, Pencader, for Bedford to train with the Royal Field Artillery, noted that there were several in the district who were taking steps to join the Army immediately in view of the impending Compulsion Bill. By taking that move, they were able to make a choice of regiment.
In its 21 January 1916 edition the Abergavenny Chronicle reported that Charles Griffiths was brought up before the Graig Police Court in custody and charged with being absent without leave from the 2/3rd Battalion, the Monmouthshire Regiment at Bedford. Police Sergeant Hatherall gave evidence as to the arrest of the prisoner, who admitted being a deserter. The prisoner was remanded in custody to await an escort.
Let there not be light …
Colonel W H Forde, Biddenham, was summoned for failing to screen a certain inside light at Biddenham, on 3 January, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 4 February 1916. He pleaded guilty.
Mr W H Marks prosecuted, and said he was informed the defendant was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Territorial branch of the REs, and was with the Division now in Bedford. He was summoned as ‘W H Forde’, as that was how his name appeared in the Army List, and he declined to give his Christian names. On 30 December, Ps Palmer, in company with Mr W S Brocklehurst, warned Mrs Forde. On 3 January, at 10.15 pm, Mr Brocklehurst, while round visiting special constable patrols, noticed two strong lights, one shining across the road, and another across the field on the side of the house. He went to the house and Mrs Forde came to the door. While they were talking the defendant came out and said ‘You special police are a —— nuisance.’
Mr W S Brocklehurst, Chief of the Special Constables in this district, gave evidence in support of Mr Marks’ statement.
The Colonel said what he said was said in a jocular manner. Immediately afterwards he thought he had been misunderstood. He had since made an explanation to the military authorities, and expressed his regret. He did not refuse his Christian names until the summons was served.
Mr Marks: ‘May I ask your name now and your rank?’
The Colonel: ‘I am not the Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the REs. I am commanding the 2/3rd Monmouth Regiment, and my name is ‘C B’ and not ‘W H‘, and it is ‘Ford’ not ‘Forde.’
He was fined £5 and costs of £1 1s.
(As included above on this page, on 22 December 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel Percy B Ford, Commanding 2/3rd Monmouthshire Regiment, wrote 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.’
Did the reporter in court a few weeks later hear a ‘P’ as a ‘C’? Or … ?)
A surprise indeed
The Brecon County Times, Neath Gazette and General Advertiser of 24 February 1916 reported the surprise of a Brecon soldier, whilst walking through the streets of Bedford, at seeing a van bearing the name of ‘John Williams and Co caterers, Brecon’ being driven by another soldier. The incident takes us back, the paper said, to the exciting times at the outbreak of war when Government agents bought anything and everything in the way of transport.
The Military Service Act 1916 introduced conscription – compulsory military service – from 2 March 1916.
Thomas Davies – an infant’s inquest
The Brecon and Radnor Express of 9 March 1916 reported on the inquest held at the Borough Police Station in Bedford as to the death of Thomas William Davies, the 17 month old son of a soldier in the 2/1st Brecknockshire Regiment, W C Davies, who was billeted at 17 Palmerston Street, Bedford, as a member of the Welsh Division training in Bedford.
Dr A F Goldsmith said he was sent for to see the infant on Tuesday afternoon. The boy had been dead for some hours. He was well nourished and had been well taken care of. In his opinion, the infant had died from teething convulsions. Mrs Davies sobbed bitterly while giving her evidence. Her husband, she said, in private life was a collier and lived at Prospect Place, Brecon. Her son had never had convulsions before.
A verdict was returned in accordance with the medical evidence and the foreman said the jury felt very sorry for the parents.
An inquest held in March 1916 into the death of Private Daniel Thomas, of the 2/1st Brecknockshire Regiment was reported in the Brecon and Radnor Express of 23 March 1916. Private Thomas died in his billet, a large empty house, the day after he had been on a long route march. In civil life, Private Thomas had been a collier and had lived in Ystalyfera. Since he had been in Bedford he had been reported sick three times in one month, his commanding office, Captain A J de Winton, told the inquest, and had he known Private Thomas had told the man walking next to him on the March that he was not well, he would not have allowed him to go, but he had stood the March very pluckily. The jury returned a verdict of death from cerebral haemorrhage.
Llais Lafur of 18 March 1916 also reported Private Thomas’ death, although it had him in the 3/1st Brecknocks. It added that he was aged 33 years, had been on a march of about 15 miles, had been in the Army for 16 months, and was expecting to leave for foreign service at an early date. From the hospital to the station at Bedford, the remains were accorded full military honours. The report concluded with details of the funeral in Cwmtwrch, at which was present a firing party from the 6th Welsh and members of the Ystalyfera Bands.
With military honours
The officers and non-commissioned officers and men of the 2/3rd Welsh, Field Ambulance Staff, at Bedford, sent a wreath to the funeral of Major Ernest Brice, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, in Swansea in April 1916, recorded the Cambrian Daily Leader of 10 April 1916.
Lance-Corporal Fred Davies, of the Brecknockshire Regiment, was married at Bedford, reported the Brecon County Times, Neath Gazette and General Advertiser of 13 April 1916. He has, the paper continued, many friends in the trenches and overseas, and it will be of interest for them to learn that Fred has ‘joined the club.’
Sad death of woman knocked down by horse
On Tuesday, 18 April 1916, as recorded in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 21 April, an inquest was held at the Bedford Police Station into the death of Mrs Emma Ellen Johnson, aged 59, of 12 Cauldwell Place, after she was knocked down by a runaway horse.
A small crowd had gathered at the side of Cauldwell Street opposite the Black Diamond public house as the Band of the 2nd Bedfords passed by, playing recruits to the station. Corporal Newcombe of the 2/3rd Welsh Field Artillery told the court he was coming over the Britannia Bridge towards town when he saw a pair of horses bolt out of the Midland Railway coal yard, attached to an empty goods trolley. A driver had one of the horses by the head. The horses dashed across the road past the pub. He ran down the hill and saw Mrs Johnson standing by the railings “in a state of collapse and moaning”. She was carried into a house by Private W J Turner of the 2/3rd Welsh Field Artillery repeating “Oh, my back”. There was black mud on her apron.
Driver C Cooper of the 2/1st Cheshires, Royal Field Artillery, said the horses became restive when the band came over the bridge. Corporal Price came to his aid and got hold of the other horse but as soon as the band had passed the gate the horse he was holding jumped up into the air and made off. Corporal Price was hit in the chest by a pole and had to let go, leaving him with both horses. He held on as best he could but had to let go in front of the rails to avoid running into them. The horses ran some way down the footpath which was how they hit the woman. The horses stopped 150 yards down the street when one fell. He had done his very best.
Private Turner had been standing at the corner of the coal wharf, and Mrs Johnson at the corner of Cauldwell Place, when the band came along. The horses bolted across the street into a group of five or six women. Mrs Johnson and three other women were knocked down. A military doctor, Captain J W Dale, RAMC, attached to the 2/3rd Welsh Field Artillery, was summoned and found her in a state of collapse. No bones were broken but there must have been internal injuries and he believed she died from shock as a consequence. There were bruises on her hip and thigh and he thought she had been run over. The Coroner praised Driver Cooper for his valiant efforts and expressed great sympathy for Mrs Johnson’s family. A verdict of accidental death was given.
A tragic discovery in Mill Street
A tragic discovery was made on the morning of Thursday, 18 May by Mrs. Howe, of 11 Mill Street, Bedford, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 19 May 1916. Last night 38 year old Private Frederick Collins of the 2/6th (Caernarvonshire and Anglesey) Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers arrived at Bedford from Bury, Lancashire and was billeted with Mrs. Howe. Before he went to bed he asked to be called early, as two comrades were to call at the house to show him the way to the quarters of the Battalion to which he was to be attached.
When Mrs. Howe knocked on Private Collins’ door at about 6 am there was no reply. When the other soldiers also failed to rouse him, they sent for their corporal, who opened the door and found Private Collins with his throat cut. He was taken to a military hospital by ambulance, where he was pronounced dead.
Private Collins is buried in Bedford Cemetery, Foster Hill Road:
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.
‘The saluting base was admirably chosen. Situated by the side of the road, on the crown of the Bromham-road between the two Biddenham turns, it gave a splendid view of the troops as they approached up the incline and again as they descended, after having passed the saluting base. Straight opposite the low cut hedge gave a pleasing view of Biddenham’s garden suburb, and threw into relief the passing troops. The “enclosure” of about 100 yards was marked by two red flags, and kept by military police. Outside the populace gathered, and here the long stretch of road gave such good opportunities for viewing the passing troops that only for a few yards was there any crush, though the attendance was considerable. Those who got on the further or west side had much the best view of the General and the approaching troops. Here, among the occupants of the cars and carriages, was Mrs Thornton, Lady French’s sister.’
The Biddenham village school logbook records that ‘the children were taken this morning to see the inspection of the Welsh Division of the troops stationed in Bedford by Lord French. The inspection took place in the village.’
‘At 11.15 the first troops came in sight. They were the Horse; then came the cyclists – both very imposing, the rhythm of the movements of the long line of cyclists being most pleasing. Next followed the Bedford Grammar School OTC, a graceful compliment to the School and the Town. Their marching and appearance was very favourably commented on by those quite unaware of their identity. Major Lucy, who was in command, had an obviously pleasant interview with Viscount French.
Then followed the REs preceded by their cyclist section, and it was noticed how nicely the mules behaved. The trained infantry then followed in their battalions, then some more REs before the artillery concluded the march of the trained units. After these came the recruits, whose only equipment was a water sheet rolled up neatly and attached to the belt at the back, or slung across the right shoulder. They marched well, especially considering how short a time they have been in the hands of the drill sergeant. Finally the Ambulance.
‘After passing the saluting base the troops marched on to Bromham Swan, where, according to the location of their billeting area they took the turn to Kempston, and returned that way to Bedford, or went on and marched round Bromham, Oakley and Clapham. The recruits were marched only through Biddenham and returned the way they went.
‘The troops as a whole made a very favourable impression. The animals were in perfect condition and beautifully groomed.
‘The pageant lasted until 1.15, and then Viscount French motored off towards Bromham, much to the disappointment of the crowd which had gathered near Gallows Corner to get a glimpse of him.’
The Bedford School magazine, The Ouzel, of 9 June 1916 described more of the day experienced by the School’s Officer Training Corps (OTC), which began with them marching past Lord French in front of the 68th Division. After the march past they were allowed to make use of the trenches in Queen’s Park where an Old Bedfordian, Lieutenant Litton, instructed them in bomb attacks which was followed by a very realistic and exciting fight in the trenches using sand bag bombs and blank ammunition. The exercise finished with Lieutenant Litton showing the boys how to blow up a barricade across a trench.
… and later, women on the land: helping with the war effort
In the same edition on the same page, the Bedfordshire Times and Independent also reported on women on the land, demonstrations taking place at Biddenham on the same day, Thursday, 8 June 1916, as the review of the troops by Lord French. It was a very busy day for Biddenham.
‘The demonstrations and competitions by women in agricultural operations attracted good entries and passed off very successfully on Thursday afternoon. It was brilliant summer weather, and it seemed as if all the interest was centering in Biddenham. Interminable columns of troops marched through the village and debouched upon Bromham-road, holding up the visitors, but soon after 2 pm most of them got through, and their numbers increased all the afternoon until there were very large crowds witnessing the operations on the Grove farmstead and in a field off the Bedford road. Most of the onlookers were women of the right class, and they showed the liveliest of interest in the proceedings. The affair was organised under the auspices of the County War Agricultural Committee for men and women, and the three agricultural organisations of the county, with Mrs Arnold Whitchurch acting as Hon Secretary for women, and Mr H Trustram Eve Hon Secretary for men.
‘All the exercises in the management of stock took place on Mr A B Chibnall’s homestead, and all the field work on land at a little distance. Horses or cattle were lent by Mr R Whitworth, Mr Chibnall, and Mr Manning. Along the headlands of the fields and in the spacious farmyards, which were dry and clean, the public had every opportunity of seeing the operations. Teas were provided in a meadow opposite to Grove Farm.’
Mr Chibnall was the tenant of Grove Farm, Mr Whitworth the tenant of Church Farm, and Mr Manning the owner of Green Farm (Mannings Farm), all in Biddenham.
The newspaper subsequently printed four photographs of the agricultural demonstrations and competitions in Biddenham in its 16 June 1916 edition. This photograph was not amongst them:
The bedshomefront blog reports that demonstrations were given by three expert women from Cornwall of milking, harrowing, hoeing, weeding, cutting clover, rolling, ploughing and the harnessing of a pair of horses. Between the demonstrations there were competitions in milking, handling and management of calves, harnessing and management of horses, driving stock, ploughing, hoeing corn, weeding,and setting out roots, and the blog describes how the entrants fared in the various competitions.
A soldier’s enquiry
A letter in the Aberdare Leader of 10 June 1916 from 1886 Driver Ben Morgan of the 1/5th Welsh Transport, 159th Brigade, 53rd Division, Western Frontier Forces, Egypt, asked whether any of the paper’s readers could inform him if 3314 Bugler Evan Richard Phillips, A Company, 2/6th Cheshire Regiment*, was still stationed in Bedford, as he and other pals would like to know.
* the 2/6th Cheshire Battalion was transferred to 204th Brigade, 68th Division in April 1915 and moved to Bedford in August 1915. In November 1915 it absorbed the 2/5th Battalion, the Welsh Regiment and moved to Lowestoft in September 1916.
A case of suicide
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 16 June 1916 reported on an inquest held on Wednesday, 14 June at Bedford in the case of Private Joseph O’Neil of the 2/6th Royal Welch Fusiliers who died at his billet at Gladstone Street on the evening of Friday, 9 June.
The soldier had returned to the house at about 10 pm. A little later the two soldiers billeted there with him heard the sound of a rifle and went upstairs. They found his body lying across a bedroom doorway with a bullet wound through the chest.
Dr Guy Thornton Birks had been visiting a patient at 68 Gladstone Street when he was called next door to number 70. He found the soldier lying on his back at the point of death, to which he succumbed shortly after. Dr Birks found a small bullet wound near the man’s breastbone. There were no signs of scorching on his clothing, so the shot could not have been fired close to the body. A rifle was lying parallel to the man’s left side. He believed the wound must have been inflicted while Private O’Neil was standing as some plaster had knocked out of the wall at chest height, possibly by a bullet. He thought it was possible the man had fired the rifle himself and had then moved a foot or two.
Private J Davies of the 2/6th Royal Welch Fusiliers said he had known Private O’Neil for 18 years, and they had been at school together. Private O’Neil had been a carter, was about 32 years old, and came from Liverppol. They were both billeted in Gladstone Street, together with Robert Owens. He had seen Private O’Neil on parade that day, then again at the Kent Arms in Salisbury Street at about 7.15 p.m. He appeared to be sober. He heard the rifle shot at 10.20 pm and found the dying man in the room he himself shared with Private Owens – Private O’Neil often used their room because his own had no gas. He did not notice the rifle at the time. He ran downstairs and told Robert Owens that O’Neil had shot himself, then went for the Military Police. Private O’Neil had been in the militia for three years but had been in the regular army for only a few weeks; O’Neil had told him that he did not like the regiment, and would rather be in the regiment he had joined, the King’s Liverpools. He had seemed very low spirited.
The landlady, Mrs. Jessie Higgins, said the soldiers had been with her for three weeks. She had heard Private O’Neil come in at 10 pm. She passed him sitting in a chair at the door of Davies’ and Owens’ room as she went to let the other two soldiers in. Davies and Owens went to the kitchen to have their supper. She returned to her room and thought she heard voices from the adjoining room. She did not hear anyone come up the stairs. She heard some rushing about and thought she heard a door bang; then she heard the shot, followed by groans. She went into the room and saw Private O’Neil lying on his back and man standing at the head of the stairs. She said: “Oh, you’ve shot him”, and the man replied “He did it himself.” The man then went downstairs.
The Coroner stated that it was not an easy case. He was not convinced of the reliability of Mrs. Higgins’ evidence, and circumstantial evidence showed it was possible O’Neil fired the rifle himself. In view of the man’s low mood and morose disposition he thought the jury could only conclude that the man had shot himself. A juror suggested evidence should be heard from Owens, but the Coroner thought it would not be helpful. The jury considered Mrs. Higgins must have been mistaken and returned a verdict of suicide.
Private O’Neill is buried in Bedford Cemetery, Foster Hill Road:
A drowning in the Ouse
On 29 June 1916, Private Henry (Harry) Dallow, of D Company, the 2/1st Battalion of the Herefordshire Regiment, aged 19 years from Yatton, was on bathing parade in the River Ouse, Bedford. He was in the area roped off for non-swimmers but a strong current was running at the time and he was observed to be in difficulties. Two comrades rushed to his assistance but were unable to prevent him being washed under the rope and into deep water. A further comrade dived in, brought Private Dallow to the surface but was unable to retain his hold.
Private Dallows’ body was found a few yards away several hours later. Captain O’Conell Sullivan, of the Royal Army Medical Corps stationed at Howbury, saw the deceased when recovered from the water and life was quite extinct. Death was due to suffocation from drowning. The inquest was held in the ‘Three Horse Shoes’, Renhold, and it is quite possible therefore, although not known, that Private Dallow was also stationed at Howbury.
A report on the inquest was included in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 7 July 1916 and a report on the funeral in a local Herefordshire paper:
An issue for the Army and for individual men was exemptions from service, and appeal hearings were regularly held by tribunals around the country. One such into 30 appeals was held in Lampeter in July 1916 by the Cardiganshire Appeal Tribunal and included the case of Horace Williams from Aberystwyth, who had been medically rejected at Bedford. A full report on the proceedings ws included in the Cambrian News and Monmouthshire Standard of 14 July 1916.
Making a soldier – a conscientious objector
The Merthyr Pioneer of 22 July 1916 reported on the tribulations of Private David Davies, of the 2nd Monmouthshire Regiment stationed at Howbury Camp, Bedford, from Cwmavon. Private Davies was a conscientious objector and the report concluded ‘It is also manifest the Pte. Davies was literally forced into the Army.”
Inspecting the Boy Scouts
On Sunday, 30 July 1916, the Bedfordshire Boy Scouts held their church parade on the playing field at the Grammar School. After a service and an address, they were inspected by Major-General R N R Reade CB, Commanding the 68th (Welsh) Division.
The inset photographs show, from left to right, the Chaplain, Captain the Reverend F Bernays; the Reverend H Ruffell Laslett, who during the week left for the Front; Lord St John, who was in command of the parade; and Major-General Reade, immediately behind whom is Mr E W Ebbutt, District Scoutmaster and Honorary County Secretary.
In brilliant sunshine, the boys marched to the flagstaff in front of the pavilion, where they formed up as three sides of a square, and received Major-General Reade with the General Salute, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 4 August. Following the service the Troops quickly re-formed in quarter column, and were inspected by the Major-General. What was a scout, he asked. Many people would say “Training to look after yourself.” That was true, but they were trained also to look after others. No large community could be governed unless one looked after his neighbour. Many people said the purpose of the Scout movement was for making soldiers. The only thing one could think of now was the war; everybody wanted to help and naturally they all wanted to be soldiers. He did not believe he was looking at any slackers or conscientious objectors, but they were being trained as citizens, and that was good for them.
Forming fours, and headed by the Kempston band, the whole marched past in fours, the General receiving the salute at the flagstaff.
A Monmouthshire firing party in Renhold
The Bedfordshire Standard of 25 August 1916 reported on the funeral of 13943 Drummer Herbert Ware, aged 35 years, of the 7th Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment, and formerly Woodkeeper on the Howbury Estate. At the funeral in Renhold a firing party was provided by the 2/3rd Battalion, the Monmouthshire Regiment, under the charge of CSM Watkins, and a bearer party under the charge of Sergeants Berrow and Watkins. Officers present belonging to the 2/3rd Battalion, the Monmouthshires, were Major L T C Williams, Captain H G Kemmis, Captain Botton, and Captain Lancaster. Three volleys were fired over the graveside.
Long service men
During the proceedings of the Aberystwyth Borough Tribunal, reported at length in the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard of 6 October 1916, the Military Representative was asked how it was that a shoemaker had been sent out to France three weeks after joining, another man the driver of a milk cart who had joined that year was then in France, while other men had been at Bedford and on Salisbury Plain for years and were still there?
Colonel kills mascot
Colonel Joseph Sunderland JP, who shot a small terrier dog, the mascot of the Herefords, and assaulted Private Arthur Horne of that regiment, was fined £2 and 12s costs at Bedford police court by the Bedford City Bench, reported the Abergavenny Chronicle of 10 November 1916. While the troops were manoeuvring over ground belonging to the Colonel, he complained to Horne, who had the dog under his arm, that the terrier had been after his rabbits, and ordered Horne to put the dog on the ground. When Horne denied this and refused to put the dog down, the Colonel tried to throw him. Horne then threw the dog down. The Colonel fired at it, killing it instantly.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 10 November gives a more extensive report. Colonel Joseph Sunderland, gentleman, Ravensden, it says, was summoned for assaulting Private J Horne, at Ravensden on 11 October. The 2/1st Herefords were manoeuvring in proximity to Colonel Sunderland’s house, and the field kitchens were placed in a field at the back of the house. The men were in the charge of Sergeant F H Barnes, and under the orders of the Colonel of the Battalion; among the cooks was Private Horne. Attached to the Battalion were two dogs, one of which, a small black and tan Welsh terrier, was a valuable dog, and was the pet of the Battalion. Its habit was to follow the field kitchens. After describing the incidents that led to the assault, Mr Trethewy, prosecuting for the military authorities, said this was a serious offence, and all the more serious because the defendant was a gentleman of position in the county, and once sat on the Bench of Magistrates.
During the day the dog had visited various parts of the battalion, and had returned to kitchens. The incident took place shortly after one o’clock. Private Horne had picked up the dog and had it under his arm when approached by Colonel Sunderland. Private Horne refused to put the dog down, showed Colonel Sunderland the name disc round the dog’s neck (the name on the disc was not reported and so we do not know whether or not the dog in the case was ‘Paddy’ pictured below) and said it was the pet dog of the camp; he had not seen it touch rabbits. The outcome was as reported in the Abergavenny Chronicle.
The Hereford Times also reported the incident, recorded the outcome of the case as a £5 fine with costs, and added at the end of its report that ‘The skin of the dog has been sent to Hereford to be dressed and set up.’
Soldiers’ graves in Bedford Cemetery
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 May 1917 included a photograph of soldiers’ graves in Bedford Cemetery. ‘This quiet and secluded spot in our Cemetery is sacred to the memory of those of our brave soldiers who passed away during their sojourn in this town. There are six rows of five or six graves. A larger stone at the head of this little colony of graves bears the inscription “To the Glory of God. These memorial crosses were erected by Bedford and other friends and are dedicated to the memory of those men of the Highland and Welsh Divisions who died at Bedford while in training for active service, 1914-1916” ‘.
On 3 August 2014 a memorial service and parade was held at the cemetery in Foster Hill Road to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Great War.
‘Compensation’ men in the army
Llais Lafur of 16 June 1917 reported a decision of importance to men in receipt of compensation called to the army, given at Abergavenny County Court. Robert John, serving as an assistant stableman with the Army Service Corps in Bedford and a former collier, claimed for continuance of compensation. Following an accident in July 1913, he had received from January 1914 to January 1917, when he was taken into Army, compensation of 6s 7d a week. The Judge found that John could not now earn as much as before the accident and ordered continuance of the payment of the weekly amount. He added that it was somewhat peculiar that an able-bodied man taken into the Army should have to be content with the Army rate of pay while men who had been in receipt of compensation would continue to receive compensation as well as the Army rates. That seemed to be a hardship on the able-bodied.
(On the same page in the 16 June 1917 edition of the paper there is a long and informative article on the substantial part played by South Wales miners in in the tunnelling that enabled the German position along the Messines Ridge to be blown up on 7 June.)
The Abergavenny Chronicle of 15 June 1917 also reported the case, under the heading ‘Compensation and The Army: interesting case’, giving details of Robert John’s accident and the impact on his vision, the examination of witnesses, and further remarks by the judge and by Mr Francis Williams, acting for Robert John.
The care of the disabled
Changes were afoot across the nation for the treatment and training of disabled men and assessment of pensions following the creation of the Ministry of Pensions, and the Denbighshire Local War Pensions Committee considered the changes at its meeting in July 1917, as reported fully in The Llangollen Advertiser of 6 July 1917. During the course of the meeting the Committee noted that applications for the review of their cases by a number of men discharged from the Army without pensions had secured state pensions for the men, in one case a Wrexham man now living at Bedford.
Call for candidates from Swansea for Command Schools
Battalion orders by Major A A Perkins TD, commanding 3rd Battalion, Glamorgan Volunteer Regiment, Drill Hall, Swansea, for the week ending 10 November 1917, called attention to ‘Battalion Order No 43, pars 2 and 3, with reference to Altcar and Bedford Schools of Instruction. OC companies will render names of candidates to this office by Wednesday, 7th inst. Nil return if no men.’