Monday, 3 November 2014

News from the Front

Image: Dick Wheeler, back left, with his parents, brothers and sister [X291/77/311]

Tuesday 3rd November 1914: Mr and Mrs Wheeler of Ampthill have received a letter home from their son Dick, who is serving as a private with the 1st Bedfordshire Regiment. He complains that it is “jolly rough and cold out here at nights” but they have had plenty of socks and shirts sent out to them. He had received from a “kind English lady” a new guernsey sweater and a woollen cap comforter which covers his face and neck. The people of Enniskillen in Ireland had held a collection to provide cigarettes and tobacco for the battalion, raising £30 so they have plenty to smoke. He had also received a letter and some cigarettes from a young Irish lady who had seen him smoke a pipe and wondered if he had enough tobacco.[1] Len Aspin of Ampthill had sent him three ounces of tobacco and two packets of Players.[2] 

Private Wheeler says that the armies are now all mixed up, with the British fighting alongside the French and the Indians. They have to walk long distances at night to find supplies as the roads are too full of shell holes to get anything over them and there are many dead bodies lying around, both Germans and others. They took a lot of Germans prisoner the other night and he believes they want the war to be over even more than the British do. He finishes by saying “don’t trouble to send me anything out, because we get plenty of everything at present, except drinks – and we don’t want any out on this job”.[3]

Source: Ampthill and District News, 14 November 1914; British Army World War I Service Record; Edinburgh Gazette 15 March 1920

[1] The 1st Bedfordshires had been serving in Ireland in 1914 and at the outbreak of the war were based in Mullingar, Ireland. 

[2] Leonard Aspin was the landlord of the Old George in Woburn Street, Ampthill in 1911, and by 1916 was the landlord of the Crown and Sceptre.

[3] Richard Henry Wheeler had enlisted in 1908 aged 18. He served overseas for the duration of the war, from 14th August 1914 to 5th February 1919, earning the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation published in the Edinburgh Gazette of 15 March 1920 reads: “9284 Sjt. R .Wheeler, 1st Bn., Bedf. R. (Ampthill). He has served with the Battalion through the War. He has taken every opportunity in volunteering for and carrying out tasks under fire. On one occasion in Italy he personally constructed a raft, crossed the River Piave at night under heavy enemy machine-gun fire and successfully laid a cable for use in subsequent operations.” His service record also records that he was mentioned in dispatches.

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