Tag Archives: 53rd (Welsh) Division

Inspection of ‘The Queen’s’

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

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

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

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

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

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




Major John Charles Rea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The 53rd (Welsh) Division comes to Bedford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



Brothers in Arms

Three brothers from Wales, born in Colwyn Bay and living in Caernarfon at the outbreak of the Great War, all enlisted in the army: George Edward Morris (Eddie) and Robert Parry Morris (Bertie), who both later spent time in Bedford with their units, and their younger brother, Charles Robertson Morris (Charlie). Their story is told in ‘WW1 Brothers in Arms’, a moving tribute by Eddie’s grandson, Will, armed with his grandfather’s earlier reminiscences and following painstaking and revealing research, which still continues.

Grandpa Morris (Eddie) with grandson, Will
Grandpa Morris (Eddie) with grandson, Will

Bertie, a trainee solicitor, and Charlie, a 17 year old schoolboy who had to ‘revise’ his date of birth, enlisted together in the 16th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in December 1914. Eddie, training for bank management and following an operation for appendicitis, was appointed to a commission in the 6th (Carnarvonshire and Anglesey) Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in June 1915, and as part of his training was then posted to the 2/5th (Flintshire) Battalion of the RWF stationed in Bedford.

There is extensive information about the brothers’ war in Will’s website, but to give a brief outline by October 1915 Eddie was ready to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in Gallipoli with the 6th Battalion of the RWF, attached to the 53rd (Welsh) Division. He left Bedford on 11 October and landed at Suvla Bay on 26 October. There is a vivid description of his experiences in the Gallipoli campaign in Brothers in Arms, including extracts from his notebook. But in November he became seriously ill with a re-infection arising from his appendix operation earlier in the year, was evacuated and eventually arrived at hospital in Liverpool to recover. He was declared ’unfit for service’ and relinquished his commission in April 1916.

Eddie's notebook, with 'Bedford' inscribed in the top left
Eddie’s notebook, with ‘Bedford’ inscribed in the top left

Bertie and Charlie were separated in January 1915 when Bertie requested a move to take a commission as a Second-Lieutenant with the Welsh (Carnarvonshire) Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. After training at Artillery School he joined the Battery, attached to the 53rd (Welsh) Division, in Cambridge and at some point moved to Bedford, and he would have been in Bedford at the same time as Eddie. Bertie was reported in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent of 9 July 1915 as singing in a concert on the evening of 5 July given by members of the 1/1st Welsh Carnarvonshire of the RGA in Mill Meadows for which there ‘was a large audience’.

Robert Parry Morris (Bertie)
Robert Parry Morris (Bertie)

The Battery stayed in Bedford after the 53rd (Welsh) Division departed in July 1915 for Gallipoli. From Kempston, Bedford, Bertie moved with the Battery to Larkshill, then Woolwich and on to Southampton to sail for France, where they arrived in March 1916. The detailed description of Bertie’s time and experiences in France includes action near Vimy Ridge, many months on the Somme, Bertie’s promotion to temporary Lieutenant, his wounding in January 1917 and subsequent three months’ hospitalisation, his return to the front, and in June the award of the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous service in the field’ – the first member of the Battery to receive the honour.

In the autumn of 1917, the Battery was ordered to leave its guns behind and to use those of the 110th Heavy Battery at Ypres, a place described by Corporal Llewellyn Edwards, one of Bertie’s men, in his memoirs as ‘the graveyard of British hopes’. The Battery took part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres, Passchendale, and sadly Bertie, then an acting Captain, was killed in action on 27 October 1917, aged 26 years. Bertie was remembered by Corporal Edwards as fearless and gallant and much respected by the boys, who could hardly believe that he and his cheerfulness had gone out of their sight forever. Bertie is buried in Bedford House Cemetery, Belgium.

Robert Parry Morris' grave in Bedford House Cemetery, near Ypres in Belgium
Robert Parry Morris’ grave in Bedford House Cemetery, near Ypres in Belgium

During his three years and 147 days in the army young Charlie never spent time in Bedford, but the story of these three brothers is not complete without his chapter. His Battalion as then part of the 113th Brigade of the 38th (Welsh) Division moved to Winchester in August 1915 for final training and sailed for France in December, moving after four months to the Somme. By June 1916 the Battalion had moved to Mametz Wood, taking part in the ferocious fighting that followed. December 1916 saw the Battalion relieved and moved for rest, and Charlie managed some home leave. By January 1917 the Battalion was back north of Ypres and in March Charlie was promoted to Lance-Corporal. At the end of July, Charlie and the Battalion were amongst the men of five divisions poised for the attack to break out of the Salient.

Charlie’s war ended on 2 August when he was among the men wounded during a German counter attack. He suffered a shrapnel wound to his chest and a gunshot wound to his shoulder. After initial treatment in France he was moved at the beginning of September to hospital in Newcastle, where he remained until the end of December and was subsequently discharged from the army in May 1918 being ‘no longer physically fit for War Service.’ By March 1919 his health had deteriorated and he was recorded as being ‘wretchedly ill, anaemic and wasted’, a tragic decline that continued until his death at home on 24 June 1920, aged 22 years, the local paper reporting his death from ‘wounds received in France.’ Charlie’s sacrifice was more recently eventually recognised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which has accepted him into its records.

Charles Robertson Morris
Charles Robertson Morris (Charlie)

There is much, much more information about the three brothers and first-hand accounts of the actions in which they took part in Gallipoli and in France in the impressive Brothers in Arms website. 

(With grateful thanks to Eddie’s grandson, Will)


The Welsh return

One hundred years ago,  on 9 August 1915, soldiers of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, which had spent time in Bedford, landed at Suvla Bay to fight in the campaign in Gallipoli.

Gunner R Frederick Thomas, of the Machine Gun Section, 1/4th Welsh, described in a letter the journey from Bedford and the hard reality of battle and life under fire. On leaving Bedford, the soldiers were handed a leaflet bearing, he said ‘what most of us at the time regarded as an insignificant headline. It ran: ‘Are you prepared to die?’ … I can safely say that few of the men of the gallant 4th then even dimly realised what the future held in store for them.’

Many soldiers perished at Gallipoli, others survived to fight on elsewhere.

Welsh regiments came to Bedford, some to pass quickly through, others to remain for weeks or months for training for active service at home or overseas in the Great War. Now, one hundred years later, in 2015, the Welsh have returned to Bedford, in the form of a new website ‘When the Welsh came to Bedford’.

The website seeks to tell the story of those regiments and their soldiers during their time in Bedford, their experiences on leaving the town to take their part in the Great War, how their families fared whilst they were away, and how the people of Bedford responded to their presence in the town.

Please take a look, you’re most welcome, and maybe you can help add to what is still an incomplete story with information from your Bedford or Welsh  family archives, memories and pictures of the soldiers and the women who volunteered for service and who spent time in Bedford. Please contact us to help make their story as comprehensive and accurate as possible.