Sport was an important feature of recreational hours and in maintaining the fitness and morale of the armed forces, including the Welsh troops in Bedford. The following reports are listed chronologically:
A 1/7th Cheshire Boxer
A ten-round two minute contest at the Picturedrome, Hitchin, on Saturday, 1 May was reported in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 7 May 1915. Fred Sergeant, of Stotfold, the old London Polytechnic boxer, was fighting Corporal Frodsham, of the 1/7th Cheshire Regiment, then at Bedford. The whirlwind contest ended in the second round with Corporal Frodsham as the winner by a knockout.
In June 1915, boxing competitions were held in Bedford by the 59th Infantry Brigade. Lieutenant E A Lewis from Llandovery, one of the judges and chief promoter of these contests, took a keen interest in the future welfare of budding champions brought out from the 4th Welsh, recorded the Herald of Wales of 19 June 1915.
The paper listed the following men from Llandovery as contestants in the competitions held with the Welsh Brigade: Private Lot Hughes (disqualified in the third round for open glove fighting), Driver Jim Williams (winner on points), and Sergeant Higgs (knocked out in the third round). The paper also reported that Gunner Evan Williams, of Llandovery, had challenged Corporal Londock, of the Royal Field Artillery, to a 10-rounds contest to be fought at the Bedford Empire the next Friday.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 June reported that ‘All the east side of Bedford is gone on boxing since the Cheshire and Welsh Brigade started boxing competitions in Russell Park on Monday week. The boys are sparring in every street, and there need be no fear of breach of the peace if you see soldiers practising the noble art in their leisure moments. It is the science of sciences for inculcating coolness, good temper, and a healthy tone of mind, and the officers of the Cheshire Brigade could have hit upon no happier idea than promoting of these competitions among their men. The scene of the encounters is a platform fenced about with stakes and rope, and standing in the midst of Russell Park. The operations begin in the early evening, and have been witnessed with great admiration by crowds that have waxed greater day by day, reaching an enormous size on Thursday evening, the 10th, when, to quote a bystander – “If they are novices, I don’t want to see any better boxing by professionals.”
‘The prizes are offered by the Officers of the Brigade. The Referee is Second-Lieutenant R S Evans, 1/5th Welsh, and the Judges are Captain A Crookenden, Brigade-Major, 59th Infantry Brigade, and Lieutenant Lewis, 1/4th Welsh, whose decisions have given universal satisfaction. Captain Heath has general charge of the arrangements.
‘There have been 57 entries which were worked down to the semi-finals in the course of the first four evenings. The different Regiments engaged are the 4th and 7th Cheshires, and the 4th and 5th Welsh, and good boxers have been turned out by all of them, each being still represented in the competitions.’
There were novice and open competitions at various weights. Bouts continued the next Monday evening, when there was again a large crowd, and full details of the results were printed by the paper.
In addition, ‘A most excellent “strong man” exhibition was given by Sergeant Adams, of the 7th Cheshires, who bent six inch nails that no other man could move, bore nearly 2,000 lb in weight upon his body, allowed two big smiths to swing their sledges on an anvil resting on his shoulder, juggled with half hundred-weights and numerous other things that held the audience amazed.’
Military water polo – Swansea Howitzers win first round
In the first round of the 53rd Welsh Divisional water polo tournament, held at Bedford in June 1915, the Swansea boys of the 1st Welsh Howitzer Brigade defeated the 3rd Welsh Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Cheshire) Brigade by three goals to love. The semi-final was to take place three days later and the final four days after the semis. The winning team, recorded the Cambrian Daily Leader of 28 June 1915, comprised Fitter A Fischer (captain) (Swansea Otters), Driver H Wooles, Bombardier H Baynham, Gunner W Waters, Corporal D S Jones, Gunner T Gordon, and Gunner H Jones. The scorers were Fischer (2) and Wooles.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 18 June 1915 had been informed that the Mounted Sports of the Welsh Division were postponed, and were not likely to take place until after there had been a fall of rain.
They were also informed in the “Items and Episodes” column on ‘good authority that the word “Welsh” on the shoulder stands for “What Easy Lives Soldiers Have.” ‘
The Herald of Wales of 19 June 1915 told its readers that the Llandovery boys at Bedford would be glad to have a set of cricket necessities or ordinary playing quoits. Perhaps some of the local sportsmen would see to the providing of same and direct to Gunner R F Thomas at 32 Park Avenue, Bedford.
The Aberdare Leader of 19 June 1915 recorded that Private Lewis N James, stationed at Bedford, the well known Abernant footballer, had told them that his company had won the football championship of their district. The winners were not given medals, but pipes and tobacco pouches and a cup each.
Military aquatic sports
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 9 July 1915 reported on the 53rd (Welsh) Division aquatic sports held on Saturday 3 July in the Commercial-road Baths. There were a large number of entries, and ‘judging from the number of names on the program the Artillery are adepts at swimming.’ With the temperature at 70 degrees, the events were warmly contested, and in many cases the winner and second were only a yard apart. The results of the races were:
- Novices (30 yards, open to men who had learnt to swim since mobilization) – 1 Driver Fergus; 2 Driver Rose; time 22 seconds
- Open, 60 yards – 1 Driver Sullivan; 2 Gunner Griffiths; time 41 1/5th seconds
- Sergeants’ 60 yards – 1 Sergeant Pearce; 2 Sergeant Gregg; time 45 4/5th seconds
- Life saving race – 1 Gunners Chester and Pennington; 2 Driver Palmer and Corporal S S Harding. In this race the rescuers had to swim out 30 yards, fetch their “drowning” comrades, and convey them to the starting point
- Novices, 60 yards – 1 Gunner Beynon; 2 Cashman; time 49 seconds
- Open 220 yards – 1 Gunner Fischer; 2 Gunner Dutton; time 3 minutes 21 seconds
- Relay race – 1 1/1st Cheshire Brigade, RFA (Corporal Higson, Bombardier Ridley, Quarter-Master Sergeant Pollard, Gunner Dutton, Gunner Kendrick, and Gunner Sullivan) ; 2 1/2nd Welsh Brigade, RFA (Gunner Griffiths, Gunner David, Gunner Newberry, Gunner Southwaite, Bombardier White, Driver Belmont)
- Officers’ relay race – 1 1/4th Welsh Brigade, RFA (Lieutenant C F N Budd, Captain P Charlton, and Lieutenant E P R Jones) ; 2 1/2nd Welsh Brigade, RFA (Captain D R Jenkins, Lieutenant A W T James, and Second-Lieutenant S B Hughes); time 1 minute 3/5th seconds
- Obstacle race (110 yards) – 1 Driver Wooles; 2 Driver Reynolds
- Diving competition, consisting of a running dive, a dive from a springboard, and a high dive – 1 Gunner Newberry; 2 Driver Wooles
- Officers’ diving competition – 1 Lieutenant E P R Jones; 2 Second-Lieutenant E Y Hughes
- Costume race – 1 Gunner Fischer, in a night shirt; 2 Gunner Jones, in a light and dark blue striped jersey and shorts. One competitor had a white costume bedecked with the Allies’ flags
- Water polo – 1/2nd Welsh Brigade, RFA, 7 v 1/4th Welsh Brigade, RFA, 0. The 1/2nd Welsh would have undoubtedly scored more in this game but for the alertness of their opponents’ goalkeeper
Later in the evening a team of Officers played the 1/2nd Welsh team, and the result was a victory for the 1/2nd Welsh by the odd goal in 3.
Also on Saturday 3 July 1915, at the Kempston Barracks, the Barracks played a cricket match against the 1/1st Welsh Company, the Royal Engineers, and won by 30 runs. The 1/1st Welsh scored 66 runs – Sapper Washer 0, Sapper J O Davis 8, Sapper Williams 6, Sapper Thomas 0, Sapper Pritchard 31, Captain Burn 9, Lieutenant Falcon 4, Sapper Jenkins 3, Sapper J Davis 2, Sapper Knight 0, Lance-Corporal Jones 0 not out, extras 3.
Local athletes at Bedford
The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality of 6 August 1915 reported that at the athletic sports held at Kempston, Bedford, Corporal R J Owen, of 61 Carnarvon Road, West End, gained three first prizes, two in flat races and one for high jump. Bangor men Gunner E H Williams, Gunner R E Taylor and Bombardier J F J Jones were also winners of different events.
Soldiers’ Saturday sport
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 22 October 1915 carried two photographs of football matches played in Russell Park on Saturday, 16 October. ‘Football among the soldiers is now in full swing’ said the paper, as the 2/7th Cheshires played the 1/3rd Battery, Cheshire RFA, and the 2/1st Monmouths played the Bedford Munition Workers.
“Our Day” football matches
On Saturday, 23 October 1915 as part of the “Our Day” effort by the Order of St John of Jerusalem and the British Red Cross Society, two football matches – ‘one at Rugby and the other at Association’ – were played for the fund by teams from the Welsh Division, reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 29 October. The matches were held in Bedford Park and there was ‘the unusual spectacle of the rival codes being played side by side, with an official belt of a few yards between them, in the cause of a war charity.’
‘The ground was dry and hard, and patched with huge tufts of grass, and though this mattered comparatively little for the Association players, it was a very serious handicap to good Rugger. However, the enthusiastic temperament of the Welshmen overcame all these slight embarrassments, and they certainly enjoyed the game as much as the devoted partisans on the touch-line’. The 2/3rd Monmouthshires ran out winners by 11 points to the 2/1st Monmouthshires’ six points
The photograph is of ‘the Association Teams – the Departmental Unit of the RFA, and the Infantry Brigade.’ Brigadier-General Mainwaring, General Officer Commanding, 68th Welsh Division, kicked off, and the RFA won by 2 goals to 1, Lieutenant Dargie, the RFA captain, scoring the winning the goal.
On the same day, the 1/4th Welsh RFA brought a strong side to play Bedford Modern School in a rugby match on the school ground. ‘Throughout the game was fast and exciting, and well worth watching.’ The visitors won by 34 points to nil.
Rugby football matches
The Cambrian Daily Leader of 18 October 1915 reported the outcome of a rugby match in Bedford the previous Saturday, the Welsh Division Signal Company, Royal Engineers, beating the Welsh Division Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery, by three tries to one. There were several players from Swansea and district in the teams.
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 19 November 1915 reported on the rugby match played on Saturday, 13 November between the 2/2nd Welsh Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, and the 2/1st Welsh Division Signal Company. Play was close for the first ten minutes but then Private A Monaghan scored a try for the RAMC, which was converted by Driver Podd. The Signals played hard and scored a similar try but failed to convert, and the score at half-time was 5 points to 3. The second half turned to a great advantage for the RAMC, who had everything in their favour. From a forward rush they scored again, through Private Gregg, but Driver Podd failed to convert. The Signals made a stirring fight to equalise but were held off. Ten minutes from time the RAMC got a third try, scored by Driver Fletcher. The kick was unsuccessful,l and the final score was RAMC 11 points, the Signals 3 points.
Cross country running
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 19 November 1915 also reported on the latest run by the 2/2nd Welsh Field Ambulance Harrier Club. The fixture on Saturday, 13 November was a pack run from Headquarters. ‘The runners were in charge of the captain, Corporal J Davies, who made the pace, which was a cracker, the whipper-in being Sergeant H Rouse (Secretary). The run (distance about 6 miles) was around the Biddenham district via Honey Hill fields, home along the river bank. Privates H Geen and F Bowen were the pick of the new members, and showed promising form, whilst of the others, Private S V Perkins, a long distance cycling enthusiast, showed every promise of developing into a first-class runner too. The “going” was very heavy after the recent rains, part of the course being under water. A good number turned out, and the run was much enjoyed.’ The next week’s fixture was to be a paper chase from Headquarters.
Football team continues winning run
The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality of 31 December 1915 reported on the unusually large number of soldiers home in Bangor on Christmas leave from the various training centres, including the football team from the Welsh (Carnarvon) Royal Garrison Artillery from Bedford which played a match against a local team, adding another win to its long record of successes.
A busy month for the Herefords
The local Hereford paper reported on the sporting activities of the 2/1st Herefords during January in generally inclement weather in contests amongst the battalions of the 205th Brigade and a football match against a team from a Battalion in the 203rd Brigade:
Herefords run out winners
In February the local Hereford paper reported on a rather one-sided football match between the 2/1st Herefords and the 2/2nd Monmouths:
Snow and success
The Hereford Times reported in March on the 2/1st Herefords success in winning the 205th Brigade cross-country competition for which they received a splendid trophy:
The paper also reported a more unusual and hard fought ‘sporting’ event held that wintry month between the companies in the 2/1st Battalion:
Herefords keep on running
Whilst still undertaking routine training and defensive activities, March and April continued to be busy months for cross country racing. Encouraged by their success in local events the 2/1st Herefords competed in races in Ipswich and in Woodford as reported in the Hereford Times:
Sports day for the Royal Engineers
The Royal Engineers at the Haynes Park Camp enjoyed splendid spring sunshine for their sports day on Saturday, 20 May reported the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 26 May 1916.
Prizes included a silver tankard given as a special prize for the NCO’s mounted jumping competition, and another for the winner of the greatest number of prizes. Most of the other prizes were of money, although there were also three silver cups. The large crowd of spectators included many of the wounded from Wrest Park Hospital.
Varied entertainment was provided through an excellent riding display by the Depot “High Rip” gang under the tuition of Lieutenant J C Bray and by clowns who made their entry on an ancient hansom cab inside which was seated a “rather masculine” maiden. The military musicians conducted by Sergeant R C Rule gave a well performed programme. Events included a relay race, races for children, a mule race without saddles, and a Victoria Cross race (in which many gallant rescues were accomplished), tent pegging, and “tilting the bucket”. The trumpeters’ and boys’ refreshment race required competitors to run 20 yards, eat a bun, run 50 yards, drink a bottle of ginger beer, and return to the winning post.
68th Division Artillery sports
The Welsh, Cheshire and Monmouthshire RFA Brigades joined in the general celebrations throughout the Empire of the Bicentenary of the Royal Regiment of Artillery on Friday (26 May) by holding sports in Bedford Park, said the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 2 June 1916. Brigadier-General F A G Y Elton, GOCRA, and the officers of the Artillery were “At home,” and the Band of the 2/7th Cheshires (by kind permission of Colonel Sir Walter Shakerley), discoursed sweet music.
The work of the Haynes Camp RE in the section tent pegging was much admired, each man carrying his peg, but the greatest interest was taken in the spirited contest between Sergeant-Major Bennett (Welsh) and Sergeant Snell (Cheshires) in the individual tent pegging. Sergeant-Major Bennett was in the champion team in India that beat all the Cavalry and Artillery teams in the North-West Province Tournament, and his work tight through was that of an artist. Sergeant Snell, on the other hand, had only taken to this sport a few days before. Both carried their pegs when others failed, and then twice again they carried their pegs. Then half-pegs were put down. Twicve both narrowly missed, but the third time Snell took his and Bennett missed, and Snell was acclaimed the victor. Bennett was awarded a special prize.
The gaiety of the afternoon was much enhanced by the antics of Charlie Chaplin in duplicate. One of him (Driver Cairns, of the Cheshires) had a triumphal ride on a gaily decked mule through the town, with lancers for a bodyguard. His make-up was perfect, and his characteristic comicalities caused good fun. He was given a special prize. Gunner D Hart (Welsh) was also a god imitation.
Awards were given for:- smartest sub-section; obstacle race; tug-of-war; reveille race; Red Cross race; quarter-mile; tilting wheelbarrow and bucket, during which few escaped a drenching (pictured below); relay race; team jumping; jumping (officers); champion jumping; section tent pegging; and individual tent pegging.
The awards were presented by Mrs Elton, and Colonel David expressed to her the company’s appreciation, and called for three cheers for Brigadier-General Elton and Mrs Elton.
Welsh Infantry Brigade sports
The day after the 68th Division Artillery sports, another successful sports meeting for the Troops was held in a field at the back of Bedford Park on Saturday (27 May), also reported in the 2 June Bedfordshire Times and Independent. The second lines of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and the 1st Brecknocks, vied with each other for athletic honours. General Reade, Commanding Officer of the 68th (Welsh) Division, was present with Staff Officers during the greater part of the proceedings.
The cross-country steeplechase of two miles excited the greatest interest during the afternoon. Lieutenant Webster entered two horses, one of which, “Wait and See,” he rode, and the other “Glow worm,” was ridden by Lieutenant W Williams Wynne. It was a close tussle all round between these two, and “Glow worm” only won after a stiff struggle. From the point of view of amusement, the pillow fighting on mules, open to officers, perhaps took pride of place. The competitors were so vigorous that after a few rounds the pillows were the worse for wear and the event was changed to wrestling, which caused considerable hilarity.
The Band of the Haynes Park Signal Depot played by permission of Lieutenant-Colonel F A Cortez-Leigh, and added much to the enjoyment of the function. There were competitions for:- 100 yards flat; inter-battalion signalling; tug of war; quarter-mile flat; 220 yards flat; quick turn-out; quarter-mile flat in full marching order; cross-country steeplechase; pillow fighting and wrestling on mules; one mile flat; obstacle race; mule race, open to transport sections; ladies threading-the-needle race; officers; cross country steeplechase on Army horses; and 120 yards flat open to WOs, NCOs and men of 40 and over ‘(medical officer in attendance!)’. Throughout the afternoon a bomb-throwing competition went on, in the end Sergeant Roberts being declared the winner.
At the conclusion, Mrs Richardson (wife of Colonel H L Richardson, Commanding the Brigade) presented the awards to the successful officers and men: and Captain Mayer proposed a vote of thanks to her for so doing, and to the Colonel for the kind way he had allowed the sports to be held.
A match for the Cheshires
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 9 June 1916 reported that on Friday night the Russellites met a number of NCOs and privates of the 2/7th Cheshires, the victory resting with the civilians. Twenty-one ends were played, and the teams and scores were:-
Rink 1 – Russell Park: C Garner, J A S Bowden, C H Woodford and E A Brown, 24. Cheshires: Sergeant Burgess, Private Bailey, Sergeant Wilding and Private Frost, 15.
Rink 2 – Russell Park: J Harris, J Thomas, A Allpress and J May, 23. Cheshires: Sergeant Lowndes, Private Plant, Sergeant Crook and Mr Drinkall, 14.
Total scores: Russell Park, 47. Cheshires: 29.
Divisional cross country race
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of Friday, 9 June 1916 also reported that much interest was taken in the Inter-Company cross-country team race of the 68th (Welsh) Division on Saturday. The competitors numbered 2,573 which is something like a record. The race, which was open to the whole Division, was run on time trial lines, and fifteen men had to finish in each team.
The arrangements, which were made with a deal of forethought, and were carried out with military precision, were in the hands of the following Committee: President, Captain A H Hogarth, DADMS; Hon. Secretary, Lieutenant W W Wynn 1st Royal Dragoons; Members, Captain T T Gough, 203rd Infantry Brigade; Lieutenant S Broome, 204th Infantry Brigade; Lieutenant C Parker, 205th Infantry Brigade; Lieutenant Hughes, Royal Field Artillery; Lieutenant F E McSwiney, Royal Engineers; Lieutenant Green, Field Ambulance; Lieutenant H Burdon, Army Service Corps.
The start was made from Bedford Park, up Cemetery Hill (those not in training could walk up this), and cross-country, taking hedges and ditches for about a three mile course in all. Stewards marked the course.
The first three teams were 2/6th Cheshires, D Company, 18 min 4 secs, 1; 1st Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, 18 min 52 secs, 2; 2/1st Herefordshire, D Company, 19 min, 3. The trophy for the best aggregate three teams was won by the 2/1st, 2/2nd, and 2/3rd Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, with a total of 58 min 7 secs. Fifty-two teams closed in all.
A three miles inter-battalion team race for recruits (ten to score) drew 196 competitors representing eleven teams. The result of this was: 2/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers A team, 19 min 35 secs, 1; 2/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers B team, 20 min 26 secs, 2; 2/4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 21 min 2 secs, 3. The 2/6th Royal Welsh won the aggregate trophy.
The three teams which obtained the best times in the principal event were composed as follows:
1st: 6th Cheshire Regiment, D Company – Sergeant Frost, Corporals Ingleson, Cashmore, Gover, Lyall, Privates Dawe, Stagg, Bennett, Leigh, Owen, Harrison, Walker, Widdows, Connolly, Coubert. Time: 18 min 4 secs.
2nd: 1st Welsh FA, RAMC – Sergeants E Lewis, Warwick, Corprals Lewis, Parsons, Privates S Jones, G Owen, Hoswey, T Reads, R Evans, S Vaughan, G Smart, Phillips, F Jenkins, A G Evans, Rowen. Time: 18 min 52 secs.
3rd: 1st Herefordshire D Company – Lieutenants Phillips, C F Meehan, Sergeant Price, Corporals Spey, Whiting, Lance-Corporal Morgan, Privates Davies, Detheridge, Marshall, Salvin, Bergough, Baker, Preece, Sayce, Watkins. Time: 19 min 0 secs.
The medals and cups were afterwards presented by General Reade, GOC the 68th Division, who proposed a vote of thanks to the Race Committee and the Organising Committee, and expressed his delight at the excellent racing.
The Herefordshire Light Infantry Museum in its August 1916 report includes a photograph of a team from D Company with their medals from a sporting event, and with a list of names, which looks very much as if it is the team reported above which came third in the cross country race:
‘Brecknocks’ easy win
The Brecon and Radnor Express of 3 August 1916 reported the great success of the Brecknockshire Regiment in a cross country race held in Bedford on 26 July. The starting and finishing point of the race was Brickhill farm. The winning team was to receive a magnificent cup presented by Mr Foster, the owner of Brickhill farm, each man to receive a silver medal, and the first four men to receive prizes of £2, 30/-, £1 and 10/- respectively.
The winner of the race was 2853 Private I S Williams of the 2/1st Brecknocks, B Company, an old Welsh international runner, who completed the six mile course in 39 minutes 25 seconds. The next five finishers were also Brecknocks . The 2/1st Brecknocks and the 2/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers won the day, with 15 men home in the first 26.
The Brigadier-General remarked on the kindness of Mr Foster, not only in taking a lively interest in the sport of the Brigade but also in their work in allowing them to drill in his fields. He congratulated the winning team, remarking that when they went out to France they would show the same keenness and dash they had shown that afternoon. Mr Foster then presented the cup, medals and prizes.
The Brigadier-General called for three cheers for Mr Foster, which were given most lustily, and three cheers were then given for the Brigadier-General and two extra for his wife and family at the behest of Major Pughe-Morgan. Mr Foster afterwards acted as host to the officers and ladies present and provided tea for the four teams.
The battalion had previously competed in other cross country races in Ipswich (7th place), and Woodford and Stamford Bridge (in both instances winning silver medals for finishing 2nd).
The Biggleswade Chronicle of Friday, 4 August reported the sudden death of one of the competitors in the six mile race. During the race, 9667 Lance-Corporal Alfred Baker, aged 31, of the 2/4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers fell out after running four miles and about an hour and a half later he expired. At an inquest held at Bedford Police Station on 28 July 1916 his death was attributed to heat stroke with heart failure.