T4/251616 Sergeant D J Evans, of the RASC Supply Section, 53rd (Welsh) Division, from Pentre, kept a diary during the war. Both the original typed diary and a transcribed copy diary are included on the Rhondda Remembers website.
Sergeant Evans was stationed in Bedford from May 1915 prior to leaving the town on 14 July for Gallipoli as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Whilst in Bedford, mam and dad had visited him earlier in July and stayed at 22 Western Street.
His diary makes fascinating reading, a snapshot of one soldier’s war, and includes much information at the end about the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.
John James Thomas, from Penygroes, enlisted at Brecon as a Private – service number 813 – in the 4th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment in January 1915, having lied about his age: he was 15 years old.
He had started an apprenticeship with a draper but was more concerned with the war. After training with the Battalion, attached to the 53rd (Welsh) Division, including latterly time in Bedford, he sailed from Devonport with the Division landing on 9 August 1915 at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli.
There were many casualties in those first chaotic few days, but not Private Thomas although he would have perished had it not been for his cigarette case. Tucked away safely in his breast pocket it was struck, but not penetrated, by a bullet heading for his heart. Private Thomas survived that near miss and the war.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.