Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Scratched Head in the Trenches

Sunday 28th February 1915: Mrs Gertrude Longuet-Higgins has continued to receive regular news from her son John who is serving as a captain in the London Regiment at the Front. Extracts from his letters give a flavour of his life there:

10th February
Weather greatly improved and everyone is beginning to say that it isn’t such a bad life out here after all. Plenty to do, plenty of fresh air, and a certain amount of excitement. Came out of trenches last night again, but must go up again this morning to walk round and show people what has to be done and the order in which things are to be done.

[Later] Have just come back from going round the trenches and had a chat with the captain of an anti-aircraft gun on the way home. It is a most interesting toy and very cleverly concealed. It is rigged up on a motor lorry and they have run this into a ruined cottage with no roof. They have put straw all over the engine and parts of the lorry they do not use when working the gun. They fire a 13lb shell at ranges up to 500 yards. Am feeling very fit after my walk. It is good to be alive in weather like today’s.

As I was going round the trenches this morning one of our officers had a very narrow escape.[1] His cap was just showing over the top of the parapet and Mr German sniper put a bullet right across the top of his cap. It left a mark about 6 inches long across the flat top and in the centre grazed the officer’s head just enough to make it bleed. I am sending the cap home to you to keep and am ordering a new one. Please don’t worry about me in the slightest for I now have not even a headache.

11th February
Just a line to reassure you of my perfect health. I should have said nothing of my being scratched yesterday, unless I had thought you might have some exaggerated tale from some other source. We are going to have a little concert tonight in billets got up by the men, and a team from our regiment is playing football against the neighbouring artillery. We shall get an awful kicking as the artillery have some members of Aston Villa.

16th February
Many thanks for your letter and parcels. All very welcome. Marmalade is a great treat and the other things are just what I wanted. It may be I shall appear in the casualty list because of my scratched head. I don’t think I shall but if I do you will know what it is and please don’t worry.

25 February
We had a very sad day yesterday. Captain Thompson our adjutant was killed. He was showing the Brigadier round trenches at the time and got shot through the head. Though he lived for about ½ hour he was never conscious. I do not know whether Kenneth [his brother] has yet really started and am afraid I am rather late in thinking of him. Please if there is still time let him have anything at all of mine that would be of use to him, new or old boots, gaiters, underclothes, uniform.
[Later] Have just buried Captain Thompson. Beautiful fine sunny afternoon. The General came and three of the Colonels of the Brigade were present. The chaplain read the service and the Colonel placed on the grave an evergreen wreath he made this morning.

Source: Letters of Captain John Longuet-Higgins HG12/10/129-132

[1] It soon becomes clear that Captain Longuet-Higgins is referring to himself. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Luton Volunteer Corps On The March

Woodside Church, 2007

Saturday 27th February 1915: The men of the Luton Volunteer Training Corps are “fast approaching efficiency”. Until this week they have been carrying out nightly drills, and last Sunday they made their third route march. They left the Volunteer Headquarters in Park Street at 10.30 sharp; headed by their bugle band and led by Commandant H. Cumberland Brown they marched along Park Street and Chapel Street at a good  pace. After Stockwood Crescent, with careful regard for the fact that some of his veterans were not as young as they might be, the Commandant permitted them to “march at ease”, though the bright spring morning made them feel ten years younger. They marched up to Woodside, to the curiosity of the inhabitants, passed Mr Brigg’s house and “formed two deep” to march down along a narrow path to the park. The men fell in to their sections, a roll call was held and the platoons were then put through their paces. The journey back to Luton was a brisk one and the company was dismissed in front of the Corn Exchange shortly before one o’clock.

On Monday evening, at the end of a parade held in the Modern School grounds, the Commandant congratulated the platoons on mastering all their drills in just six weeks. Night parades are now being held regularly at the School thanks to the generosity of the governors and the help of the Luton Gas Company with lighting. They are hoping that they will soon have uniforms and rifles, and they expect the Corps to become a source of pride to the town. Securing uniforms has taken longer than expected as the Army Council refused to allow the V.T.C. to use woollen cloths and serges as these are required for military purposes. Permission has now been given to use woollen material where orders for uniforms had already been placed, and cotton drill and cords will be used in future.

The Corps is now in need of more recruits, being well below strength for a town the size of Luton – they do not want to be beaten by Bedford or St. Albans! It is hoped that more of those men who are over military age are who are not physically fit to join either the Regular or the Territorial forces will join their ranks. A smoking concert is soon to be held at which efforts will be made to generate interest and if possible to enrol more men. Recruits will not only have the satisfaction of doing something for the security of their country, they can also look forward to the physical benefits of exercise.

Source: Luton News, 18th and 25th February 1915

Thursday, 26 February 2015

New Swimming Baths for Bedford

Friday 26th February 1915: A new swimming baths built for soldiers billeted in Bedford was opened yesterday afternoon. The baths have been built on land next to the Bedford Electric Light Station and will be filled using water taken from the river and warmed by passing through the condensers at the Electric Light Works. This will be pumped into the baths at a temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29ºC) where it will be allowed to cool to 75 degrees (24ºC). The building is made of corrugated iron and is lit by large electric lamps; the pool is 100 feet long, 35 feet wide, from 3 feet to 6 feet in depth, and holds about 98,270 gallons. It will take three hours for the electrically powered pump to fill the baths, at a cost of 1s 3d, and the water will flow continuously at a cost of 5d per hour. The water will be exactly as it comes from the river, except that it will be heated.

The baths were declared open by Major-General Bannatine-Allason, who expressed the hope that when the troops left the town the pool would remain in use as an amenity for the people of Bedford. The first to enter the pool was Miss Ada Stimson, the young daughter of the Town Clerk, who swam two length. This was followed by a series of races which were won by a team from the 6th Argylls who beat the 8th Argylls by a yard. A water polo match between the Highland Division and Bedford ended in a four-four draw after Bedford game back from two goals down. The brass band of the 6th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders entertained the spectators at intervals and prizes were presented to the winners by the Mayoress of Bedford.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 26th February 1915

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Miss Smith of Luton Tries to Escape Her Past

Luton Workhouse

Thursday 25th February 1915: Thomas Holt, a soldier from Luton, appeared at the Borough police court yesterday charged with using obscene language. A complaint was made by Mrs May Punter of 16 Burr Street, Luton, that while she was at home doing some needlework at about 10 p.m, Holt had knocked at the door and asked for Miss Ethel Smith. Miss Smith had been reading but when she heard the knock went into the kitchen. Mrs Punter told Holt that Miss Smith was in bed; Holt responded with a “most offensive expression”. She then told him that Miss Smith had gone to High Town on an errand and Holt again used a “disgusting expression”. She asked a passer-by to call the police and concluded “the girl doesn’t want him”.

Holt denied the charge and claimed that while he had only asked a civil question, Mrs Punter had “started calling him everything” and was the one who had used bad language. Mrs Punter indignantly denied this. Ethel Smith told the Bench that Mrs Punter’s evidence was correct and that she did not want Holt’s attentions. She blamed “Tom” for her previous troubles and told the Bench she had to go into the workhouse infirmary “to get over her trouble”. She wanted nothing more to do with him.The Clerk of the Court stated that Holt and Smith had lived together for some time. They had quarrelled many times and Holt had been stabbed. Smith had given birth to a stillborn baby in the workhouse, but had since left the institution and wanted to live quietly away from Holt. Holt was warned against molesting Miss Smith and was bound over to keep the peace for six months.

Source: Luton News 25th February 1915

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

A New Organ for Barton-le-Cley and a Coincidence

Church End, Barton c.1910 [Z1130/7/47b]

Wednesday 24th February 1915: The dedication of a new organ for St. Nicholas Church at Barton-le-Clay took place this afternoon. Lance Corporal Leonard Sturgess, who earlier this year described his stay in a Belgian church where there was a fine organ, is at home on sick leave and was well enough to be able to  pull one of the bells at the organ opening. Several Belgian refugees were present and when they saw the many bullet holes in his coat they acclaimed him as the “Barton hero”. Lance Corporal Sturgess himself survived the Battle of Ypres unscathed and has returned with the story of an extraordinary coincidence which came to his attention. Before the war an English tradesman lived next door to a German in London, where they were excellent neighbours. After the outbreak of war both were called on to fight for their countries – only for the German to be taken prisoner by his former neighbour!

Source: Barton-le-Cley Parish Magazine April 1915 [P21/3017]

Monday, 23 February 2015

Deserter Convicted of False Pretences

Seaforth Highlanders pipe band in St. Mary's Street, Bedford, November 1914 [Z1306/12/6/32]

Tuesday 23rd February 1915: Private Joseph Scott has been sentenced to three months’ hard labour by Dunstable magistrates for obtaining food and lodgings from Mrs Laura Bandy by false pretences between January 8th and 16th. Scott claimed to have been wounded at Mons and that he was receiving medical treatment at Wardown Park. He wore his uniform, his head was bandaged and his left hand was in a sling. Sympathetic to this wounded soldier, Mrs Bandy agreed to let him rooms in her house at 30 Princess Street, Dunstable, for 18 shillings a week which he said he could easily afford out of his army pay. In fact Scott, a Seaforth Highlander, had never been at the Front and had deserted from the Salamanca Barracks at Aldershot.

Mrs Bandy said Scott had told her he had been bayoneted in the arm at Mons and that he would receive his money by the Thursday. He claimed that two of his brothers had been killed at the Front, and that he had two sisters acting as Red Cross nurses. Police Sergeant Tingey gave evidence that he had seen the prisoner in High Street North in the afternoon of February 15th. Scott said that two fingers of his left hand had been blown off, but when accused of being a deserter from the Seaforth Highlanders he admitted this was the case. When he was later charged with false pretences he said “very well”. Scott pleaded guilty to the magistrates and said he had nothing to say. It was disclosed that he had four previous convictions in Scotland for fraud and theft between 1911 and 1913. He had enlisted with the Seaforths late in 1914 and deserted on December 27th. The Mayor told Scott he had disgraced the King’s uniform and anticipated he would be dealt with by the military authorities at the end of his three month sentence.

Source: Luton News 25th February 1915; Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette 2rd March 1915

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Kitchener vs. Kitchener's Men and a Tragic Motor Accident

Grand Cinema, Leighton Road, Linslade [Z1306/72]

Monday 22nd February 1915: Leighton Buzzard continues to provide facilities and entertainment for the troops billeted in the town. The programme at the Grand Cinema this week includes showings of “The Loss of the Birkenhead” tonight, tomorrow and Wednesday, and Keystone comedies are regularly included on the bill. A branch of the Soldiers’ Christian Association has been formed and the first meeting was held last Tuesday in the Bible Class Room at the Wesleyan Chapel in Hockliffe Street. Across the road in the Baptist Church schoolroom a ping pong tournament was held on the same evening. More competition was provided at the same venue on Friday when Mr H. O. Kitchener of Leighton Buzzard took on twenty-two of the men of Lord Kitchener’s Army in simultaneous games of draughts. The final score was Kitchener 19, Kitchener’s Men 2, with one game drawn.

On a sadder note the non-commissioned officers and men of the 15th Platoon, D Company of the 8th Lincolnshire Regiment have sent a wreath to the funeral of their seventeen year old officer Second Lieutenant William Crabtree, who was killed in a taxi-cab accident near Tring on the morning of Wednesday 10th February. The young man came from Doncaster and had been staying at Castle House in Linslade. At the inquest into his death it was stated by the taxi driver, Alfred Hodge of Lambeth, that he picked Lt. Crabtree up outside a club in Tottenham Court Road between 4 and 5am, having already collected another officer and a lady in Oxford Street. The young man sat in front with Hodge, although he was asked by both the driver and the other officer, Second Lieutenant Cowes, to ride inside with the other passengers. Hodge was travelling at about 16 mph when he saw a sharp bend and slowed to about 10 mph. As they were on the bend the near side front tyre burst, causing him to run on to the bank. Knowing the car was likely to overturn he accelerated to run along the bank until he could right the car in the road again. This weight of the car on the near side rear wheel caused the wheel to collapse. In trying to right the car again he collided with a post at the bottom of a stile and went over onto the near side of the cab.

The driver helped out the first officer and the lady but Lt Crabtree was underneath. They managed to lever the car up with a piece of wood and dragged him out.  When he was pulled out from under the car Lt Crabtree said “I’m all right” but there was blood on his face and the lady ran to a cottage for help. Dr O’Keefe of Tring  found that his face was badly cut, his breathing was very rapid and he was in great pain. He died from shock brought on by an injury to his lung caused by a broken rib which resulted in a haemorrhage. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and asked that a caution sign should be erected at the spot where the accident happened.  

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 16th and 23rd February 1915

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Letter From a Wounded Soldier

Wounded soldiers at Hinwick House 1915 (Mrs Orlebar to left of Red Cross nurse) [X464/91]

Sunday 21st February 1915: Hinwick House, the property of the Orlebar family at Podington, has been in use as a V.A.D. hospital since last November.[1] Mrs Faith Orlebar, the Commandant of the hospital, has kept in touch with a number of her former patients. Today she received a letter from Patrick Feeney of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment who is now recovering at Wrest Park[2]:
7934 2nd Warwick Regiment 
Wrest Park Hospital
16.2.15
Dear Mrs Orlebar 
Just a few lines, in answer to your postcard which I received this morning and pleased to hear all are keeping well. I am still in bed yet and I am going on alright. I am expecting the doctor to let me up today as I think I have had enough in bed. I must tell you that Grey is very poorly after his operation on Saturday. He has not got over it yet. They took a bone out below his eye so he has had a lot of pain with it but I hope it won’t be long till he get rid of it. I am pleased to hear Cheeseman’s leg is going on alright – hoping that Mr Beauchamp and Father and Mother are keeping alright.[3] Well I can say no more at present. Hoping to see you soon.

I remain yours etc P Feeney
Source: Transcript of letters to Faith Orlebar, 1914-15 [OR2343/19]

[1] The Rushden Research Group website gives further information about Hinwick House Hospital. http://www.rushdenheritage.co.uk/Villages/BDFvillages/hinwickVAD.html

[2] Lance-Corporal Patrick Feeney died on 12th November 1916 while serving with the 9th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).

[3] “Father and Mother” meaning Faith and her husband.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Arlesey Officer Killed in Motorcycle Accident

Arlesey Bury, 1931 
[from On The Button, used with permission]

Saturday 20th February 1915: An inquest was held yesterday afternoon into a fatal accident in which Second Lieutenant Joseph C. J. R. Waterton of the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment was killed. Twenty-three year old Lt Waterton was  the eldest of three Arlesey brothers, the sons of Mrs Waterton of The Bury, Arlesey, who joined the Forces at the beginning of the war and were all commissioned as Second Lieutenants.[1] The fatal accident took place on Thursday as when Lt Waterton’s motorcycle collided with a motor car as he was riding from Cambridge to Newmarket.

At the inquest yesterday afternoon the car driver, William Henry Miles, stated that he was driving from Luton to Newmarket with Mr Ernest Gibbs, who had a son in the Beds Territorials. They had tea at the White Hart Hotel in Newmarket then started their journey back to Luton. They saw something travelling fast towards them in the middle of the road. Mr Miles drew to the left and pressed the hooter, but the motor cyclist ignored the hooter and came right onto the wrong side of the road. Mr Miles pulled his car to the right to avoid a collision. He told the jury that he was driving at about 18 miles an hour and that Lt Waterton had plenty of room to avoid him. Mr Gibbs corroborated Mr Miles’ evidence and added that the cyclist only seemed to notice them as Mr Miles tried to get out of his way, whereupon he tried to return to the proper side of the road, coming right into the path of the car. The motorcycle crashed into the bonnet of the car and Mr Gibbs though the cyclist had gone underneath. The car spun round with the motorcycle still wedged into the bonnet. He found Lt Waterton lying on the opposite side of the road.

Miss Constance Queenie Golding said that she and her sister Miss Eileen Golding were walking on the Cambridge Road. A motor car overtook them at a moderate speed travelling on the correct side of the road. About 100 yards on it seemed to swerve suddenly. There was “an awful noise like breaking glass or a gun report” and sparks seemed to come from under the car. After the crash a gentleman (Mr Gibbs) stopped them and told them there had been a terrible accident. They found a man lying on his face and turned him over to see where the bleeding came from. She wiped his face with her handkerchief to see where the blood came from. At this point Lt Waterton was still alive. She undid his collar and belt and found he had a broken leg. She covered him with a rug to keep him as warm as possible but could do nothing else for him. Her sister went to the golf links for help. She explained that she had been trained in Red Cross work and nursing in Newmarket and was complimented by the Coroner on the able service she rendered and the good work done by the Red Cross Society.

Doctor Norman Gray of Newmarket was called to the scene of the accident where he found a man lying on his back on the grass practically dead. He had several fractures of the skull, a compound fracture of the left thigh and broken bones in the left leg. He stated that the fractured skull would cause almost immediate death. He also treated the driver of the car who was walking about in a dazed condition. The jury gave a verdict of accidental death, exonerating the car driver from all blame. As a mark of their appreciation of her conduct they decided to give their jury fees to the Red Cross Society. The witnesses asked to do the same.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 26th February 1915


[1] A fourth brother, Jack, was still at school 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Musical Notes

The Excelsior Silver Prize Band, Dunstable [Z50/142/67]

Friday 19th February 1915: The activities of the Dunstable Excelsior Band have been seriously curtailed due to the enlistment of fourteen of the band’s members. They will be unable to perform concerts as usual and will only be able to play occasionally. The loss of income that this will entail will jeopardise the band’s aim to keep free from debt and they are therefore appealing for patrons.

In Leighton Buzzard the Band of the Lincolnshire Regiment is making remarkable progress. When the Regiment arrived in the town it did not have a band, but the contributions of some generous subscribers have allowed it to form one. Twenty enthusiastic bandsmen are making great progress under Sergeant Major Hierons. It is hoped that the band will expand further, but this will require more donations as bands are not provided as part of General Kitchener’s Army.

Sources: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 23rd February 1915

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Military Wedding at Bedford

Church of St. Peter de  Merton with St. Cuthbert, Bedford (Wikimedia)

Thursday 18th November 1915:  A military wedding has taken place at St. Peter’s Church, Bedford this morning between Lena, daughter of Major and Mrs Winton Seton of 15 Cornwall Road, Bedford and Captain Henry Nicholls Beaumont-Walker, O.B.M., of the Army Service Corps, the son of Mr and Mrs R Beaumont-Walker of Nagpur, Bengal.  Captain Beaumont-Walker is an old boy of Bedford Modern school, where he played in both the 1st cricket eleven and the 1st Rugby team. He was gazetted to the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment on 24th December 1909 and transferred to the Army Service Corps in October 1914. He was granted eight days’ leave for his wedding after being at the Front since the beginning of the war, where he took part in the battles of Mons, the Marne, Aisne and Ypres. His brother Captain Robert K Beaumont-Walker[1] is serving with the 24th Regiment, the South Wales Borderers, and has just returned from Tsingtao in China, where the British and Japenese armies jointly destroyed the German naval base.[1]

The bride was attended by her older sister Iernie and her younger sister Brenda as bridesmaids, and the best man was Captain Robert Walker. The new Mrs Beaumont-Walker wore a mole coloured coat and skirt with a matching hat and carried a sheaf of Madonna lilies. The bridesmaids wore dark blue and each carried bouquets of red tulips and lilies of the valley. The reception was held at Cornwall Road.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 19th February 1915

[1] The siege of Tsingtao was the first Anglo-Japanese operation of the war and took place between 31st October and 7th November 1914.

[2] Both Beaumont-Walker brothers survived the war. Robert (b.1887) reached the rank of Major and died in Hampstead in 1972; Henry (b.1888) died in Surrey in 1978.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Ward Family of Luton

5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, Newmarket 1915

Wednesday 17th February 1915: The Ward family of Luton, which came to our attention in November when we learned that nine family members were serving in the forces, has – perhaps inevitably – appeared in the lists of casualties. Five sons of reservist Mr Robert Ward were serving with the army, but news has been received that 24 year old Alfred (known as “Samson”) was killed in action on 31st January 1915 serving as a lance-corporal with the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment.[1] Alfred’s brother Arthur has returned from the front wounded and frostbitten and their eldest brother Fred remains a prisoner of war in Germany. Their younger brothers James and John are at Bury St. Edmunds and Newmarket with the 5th Battalion and 5th Battalion Reserve respectively.

Source: Luton News, 18th February 1915


[1] The war diary for the 1st Bedfords shows that on 31st January 1915 they were in trenches at Wolverghem. The entry reads “Quiet day. A little shelling and sniping. Casualties – 2.”  He is commemorated at the Menin Gate memorial. 

Monday, 16 February 2015

Tipperary Cake

Eaton Bray girls with May garland, 1913 [Z467/43]

Tuesday 16th February 1915: The girls of Eaton Bray school have been busy making cakes for the fifty Eaton Bray men now serving in the forces. A large “Tipperary” cake – red, white and blue, iced and decorated – red-cross biscuits, and seed and coconut buns have been sent off to the Front. The girls have also sent hard boiled eggs with messages written on the shells, and letters for the soldiers. Eleven year old Norah Pipkin wrote:

“My dear Tommy, I have heard you came to the Eaton Bray school before you went to the war. I hope if you get near the Kaiser you will cut off his moustache. If you are spared to come back to Eaton Bray after the war is over I hope you will come to the old school and tell us of the hardships you have had to put up with. We have made some cakes to send you, and I hope you will enjoy them and give some of the cakes to your Eaton Bray comrades. I think if the Kaiser caught you he would not give you cakes, but he will give you ‘beans’. God bless you. I remain, your little friend, Norah Pipkin.”

Mr Paddock, the headmaster of the school has received a letter of thanks from  Lance-Corporal William Holland, an old boy of the school now serving with C Company of the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment:

“Dear Sir,  Please accept my own and my chums’ heartiest thanks for sending the nice parcel. Tell the cookery girls it was eagerly looked for after I received your letter. I was very pleased to read the letters from the children, and I shall look forward to the time when I can pay you a visit and tell you my experiences. I was quite surprised to find that young people could cook so well. The hard-boiled eggs were a special treat, being the first I have had out here. We are having cold weather now, but we have got warm clothing. If you could see me rigged up you would not recognise me, having so many clothes on. We are quite happy here, but we shall be happier when the war is over. The chief necessity out here is scarcity of socks. I will now close, thanking you and Mrs Paddock. Yours sincerely,  W. Holland.”

Sources: Luton News, 4th February 1915; Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 16th February 1915

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Suspected Spies at Streatley

Students of Hythe School of Musketry on parade [Z524/10]

Monday 15th February 1915: Two soldiers were summoned to Luton Divisional Sessions this morning for failing to produce proof that they were licensed to drive motors when challenged to do so by the police. The authorities were keeping a careful eye on motorists during the few days before the Kaiser’s birthday for fear that they may act as guides to raiding Zeppelins. It was believed that this had been the case during a previous Zeppelin raid on the east coast.

Captain Edwin Ashley Dodd of St. Loyes, Bedford had been driving at Streatley on January 24th. Captain Dodd, an officer in the 2nd Beds Yeomanry, wrote from the Hythe School of Musketry that he regretted he was unable to attend the Court due to his military duties. He stated that he had neither driven nor travelled in a motor car on January 24th, and that even if he had it would have been reasonable to overlook an offence of that type because of his military status. The police superintendent argued that as the Captain was summoned in respect of driving a motor cycle, and a motor cycle was a motor car, the case should be continued. The Clerk of the Court admitted that this was the case in law and it was decided to adjourn the case for a month.

Corporal Albert Walker of the Royal Engineers was stationed at Houghton Regis and was also riding a motor cycle at Streatley when he was challenged on January 27th, the Kaiser’s birthday. He told the police constable he had left his licence in camp at Houghton Regis. Corporal Walker admitted the offence, but said he was on Government duty, had been sent out at short notice, and could not disobey orders. The Court had received a letter from Captain Leslie Wright of the corporal’s battalion, stating he had been called up for urgent night duty and due to pressure of work no application for a license had been made, although one was made immediately afterwards. Due to a clerical error the license had to be returned and was not finally received until February 8th. As Corporal Walker only took up his duties at Houghton Regis on January 27th, the Bench decided to dismiss the case but warned him that if it happened again he would have to take the consequences - even government motorists could not be allowed to “run about the country without licenses” as there were spies about, and it would be very easy for a spy to get into khaki uniform.

Source: Luton News 18th February 1915

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Old Bedfordian Casualties

German mounted patrol in East Africa [Wikimedia]

Sunday 14th February 1915: The number of casualties suffered by Old Boys of Bedford Grammar School continues to increase. This month the following obituaries have been received:

Captain Edward Raymond Lloyd of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who was officially reported as wounded on September 5th last, died of wounds on December 3rd, in hospital at Cambrai. The elder surviving son of Lieutenant-Colonel and Mrs. Lloyd, of Bedford, he was first commissioned in the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1902; he subsequently transferred to the 2nd Battalion, then serving in Egypt, of which corps he was successively assistant adjutant and adjutant. He was specially mentioned in Sir John French’s recent despatches. A good all-round sportsman, he represented his School in the Public Schools Boxing Competition held at Aldershot in 1899, and was a keen follower of the hounds and a frequent rider in point-to-point hunt steeplechases. He was also a good shot both with gun and rifle. From The Times, 12th February 1915

Second-Lieutenant Philip Maurice Ramsay Anderson of the Royal Irish Regiment, who has died of wounds received in action on February 14th, was the eldest son of Mr R. A. Anderson, Sir Horace Plunkett’s chief assistant in the work of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society. Lieutenant Anderson’s youngest brother Alan, of the same regiment, was killed at Le Pelly, at the beginning of December. His brother Philip, who was at home on leave from his employment in South America, was immediately gazetted to the vacancy in the battalion. The two brothers were educated at Bedford, and were Public School boxing champions. From The Times, 27th February 1915

Richard Edward William Kay-Mouat; I should like to draw your attention to poor old Kay-Mouat’s death at Longido, German East Africa, on November 4th.[1] He was in my troop, and was quite close to me when it happened. He pluckily left his cover to help a fellow who was wounded, and in doing so met his death.

Lieutenant William Knox Humfrey was shot through the head on August 26th. He had gone back to the firing line to save one of his men who was wounded, and whilst carrying him he was killed. The man was saved, and wrote to Mrs Humfrey, as also did a Corporal who helped to bury him.

Source: The Ousel, 10th March 1915 [Z447/22]

[1] The British force attempting to conquer German East Africa was defeated by a force half its size at the Battle of Kilimanjaro on November 3rd 1914.

Friday, 13 February 2015

A Soldier and a Servant Girl

One Pound Note c.1914-15 [X106/597]

Saturday 13th February 1915:  Private George Rowbotham of the 6th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment appeared today at Luton Borough Court charged with stealing a £1 note from a servant girl. Nesta Dennis, who is employed at 60 Hastings Street, came to Luton about three months ago, and met Private Rowbotham soon afterwards when he turned up one night instead of the friend of his that she had expected. They went for several walks and he borrowed money from her amounting to nearly thirty shillings, saying he did not earn much and would pay her back as soon as he could.

Last Thursday Miss Dennis went out shopping, met Private Rowbotham and went for a walk up Farley Hill with him and a friend. She had a £1 note and three shillings in her pocket. When she took the note out Private Rowbotham snatched it from her hand, but when asked to return it said he had dropped it, although she knew this was not true. Later on he said that if she would give him the three shillings, he would find the pound note.

Private Rowbotham had told Miss Dennis that he was unmarried and was only 19. When asked about their relationship Miss Dennis mentioned several things which had happened but said she did not consider that the soldier was courting her. Private Rowbotham insisted that the money had been given to him, which Miss Dennis denied; she said she had it in her hand because she was afraid he would take it out of her pocket.

Police Inspector Attwood said that he saw Private Rowbotham yesterday when he returned from shooting and questioned him in the presence of his officer. Rowbotham said the note was at his billet; when Inspector Attwood said they would go and fetch it he said he had spent some of it and produced 18s 5d from his pocket. He admitted receiving the note from Miss Dennis but said he did not steal it, claiming he had asked to borrow money from her. She at first claimed she did not have any, but then showed him the note and he took it as “a bit of a game”. He intended to give it back to her, apart from the little he had spent on “smokes”. He admitted he was a married man, and Miss Dennis said she had heard from two or three of his companions that he was married. He also admitted he had previously been in court for assault, but said this was known when he enlisted. The Court took a dim view of Private Rowbotham’s  “joke” and sentenced him to one month’s hard labour.

Source: Luton News 18th February 1915

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Corporal Setchell Shot in the Head

Corporal A Setchell

Friday 12th February 1915: Corporal A. Setchell, formerly the police constable at Riseley, was present at the Sharnbrook Petty Sessions today where he was congratulated by the Chairman of the Bench on his return home. Corporal Setchell was serving with the Grenadier Guards at Le Bassee when he was wounded in the head. At about 9.30am on the 8th or 9th of January he was out on a sniping expedition, stationed in a small dug-out only about 35 yards from the German trenches with six comrades. He had “bagged” about six or seven Germans when someone spoke to him. He raised his head and a bullet came through the bank and hit him in the right side of his skull, where it embedded itself in the bone. Fortunately the bullet was partly spent by the time it reached him, but he was bowled over and lost consciousness.

As Corporal Setchell put it he “expected to wake up in heaven”, but when he did regain consciousness he found himself on a stretcher being taken to the field hospital. His first request was for a cigarette. Two days later he was removed to the base hospital, where the bullet was removed. From there he was taken to Southampton on the hospital ship Asturias, then to the Northern General Hospital at Leeds where he stayed for around a week before being allowed him. He has brought back with him a German belt as a souvenir. Out of Corporal Setchell’s platoon of 50 to 60 men, only six answered the roll call after the Battle of Ypres.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 19th and 26th January 1915

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

More Confessions to Gertie Grimmer

Confessions of Sydney Hutton [X291/498]

Thursday 11th February 1915: Gertie Grimmer [LINK] has been adding the “confessions” of some of her military patients to her album. Here are the contributions of Bugler C.Denn, Sydney W.Hutton and George Norman Osborne: [1]

Of what country are you a native?
Charles:  England
SydneyEngland
George:  England, of COURSE

Who is the greatest state man living?
Charles:  Lord Kitchener
Sydney:  Sir Edward Grey
George:  None of ‘em worth calling great. Lloyd George the best – so far

Should bachelors be taxed?
Charles:  Why not
Sydney:  No
George:  Worth it, anyhow!

Who is your favourite hero in history?
Charles:  Nelson
Sydney:  Lord Nelson
George:  Henry VIII

Who is your favourite heroine in history?
Charles:  Mary Queen of Scots
Sydney:  Mary Queen of Scots
George:  Portia, from the Merchant of Venice

Do you prefer the Town to the Country?
Charles:  Yes
Sydney:  No
George:  Country, preferably shady nooks

At what age should a man marry?
Charles:  27
Sydney:  29
George:  When he can’t wriggle out of it

At what age should a woman marry?
Charles:  28
Sydney:  22
George:  When she’s sure she’s got him

Are you in favour of “Votes for Women”?
Charles:  Of course Yes
Sydney:  Emphatically No!
George:  Yes! If they can manage it.

What is your life’s ambition?
Charles:  Cannot state
Sydney:  To lead a quiet life
George:  To die single

Do you object to women smoking?
Charles:  Yes
Sydney:  No
George:  Certainly not

Where would you like to live?
Charles:  A place where the sun always shines
Sydney:  On the sea
George:  In a frame

What is your favourite Outdoor Pastime?
Charles:  Lifting pint pots
Sydney:  Yachting
George:  Depends on how much money I have

What is your favourite Indoor Pastime?
Charles:  Bags to eat
Sydney:  Sleeping
George:  Meditation (sometimes known as “Sulks”)

Do you consider yourself to be useful or ornamental?
Charles:  Neither
Sydney:  Useful
George:  Sometimes useful. Always ornamental.

What are your favourite Christian Names?
Charles:  Charles, Edward
Sydney:  Barbara and Basil
George:  George Norman

Source: Confessions Album of Gertie Grimmer[X291/498]

[1] These would appear to be Bugler Charles T. Denn of the 3rd Rifle Brigade; Sydney W.Hutton of the 9th London Regiment (discharged 29.11.1916 due to wounds) and George Norman Osborne  of the Denbighshire Yeomanry (discharged 7.9.1916 due to sickness).

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Red Cross Hospital at Eaton Socon

V.A.D. Recruitment Poster (Wikimedia)

Wednesday 10th February 1915: A hospital was set up in the home of Mrs Mary Butler at Eaton Socon on 13th November 1914 and is now affiliated to the 1st Eastern General Hospital as a convalescent home.[1] Mrs Butler as Matron is now supervising the treatment being given there by  the nurses of the Eaton Socon No.8 Bedfordshire V.A.D.; catering is being provided by cooks from the same detachment with Mrs Thornhill as Commandant. Mr R. Coates MRCS is giving his services voluntarily as physician and surgeon. Financial support has been provided by Mrs Catherine Alington of Little Barford and many people in the village have helped to furnish the wards.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 29th January and 12th February 1915; WW1/NU3

[1] Mary Butler was married to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Noel Butler who commanded the 5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment from January 1912 to 25th January 1915 when he resigned his commission due to illness. He returned to the Regiment in 1916 and commanded the 1st Battalion at the Western Front from December 1916 to May 1917. [Source: Bedfordshire Regiment: OfficersPhotographs and Biographies from the 5th Battalion]

[2] 170 soldiers had been treated at the hospital by the beginning of November 1915 with an average stay of 21 days. No government funds or other grants had been received as the hospital had been financed by Mrs Alington since its inception. 

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Wheeler Brothers of Ampthill

Stonhill, Billington Road, Leighton Buzzard 1949 [BML10/42/254]

Tuesday 9th February 1915: More news has been received from Lance-Corporal DickWheeler of Ampthill.  He has written describing conditions at the Front to his aunt, Miss Mary Meacham, the lady’s maid of Miss Mary Ann Bassett of Stonhill House, Leighton Buzzard: [1]

“I have left my regiment and am working at my trade again for the Royal Engineers.[2]  It is quite a change for me after what I have been doing for the last five months. We are having snow as a change from rain, but it is quite as bad as rain in the trenches. But it cannot be helped, and it’s no worse for us than it is for the Germans and others engaged in the war. I see by the papers that the Germans are running short of money. I only wish they would run short of ammunition; I don’t think it will last out at the rate I have seen them using it. They have got to supply a greater number than we have; and we use enough each day. I really begin to think that the Germans are beaten. They are only driven on us by their own officers after they have had a good drink of the wine that they never pay for. They are stealing all the brass and copper from the poor Belgians for making new shells. A lot of their shells have come flying over us at different places, but they rarely burst; they go straight into the ground. I am now so near our artillery that I can hear them all day and night. I hope they are doing good work. We have got all the flying machines near the timber yard where I am working, and they are scouting all day”.

He also thanks his aunt for some knitted items she had sent him:

“The last parcel came in the hour of need; I was working out of doors and was very cold and rather hungry. I don’t know how I should have got on had it not been for the kindness I have received from all at Leighton. I shall never know how to repay you. The scarf and the cap comforter I always wear these cold nights. We have plenty of work to do I am pleased to say, and I think we shall be here a long time. The Germans come flying over us most days, and we generally expect a bomb to drop. All night the heavy artillery are firing, and the roar of the guns keeps us awake. I shall be very thankful when it is all over, though I am really in a safe place unless the Germans break through.”

Miss Meacham has also heard from Dick’s brother John Charles Wheeler (Jack), who is at the front serving with the 2nd Bedfords. Jack tells her that some of the men who were wounded on the same day as Captain Bassett have returned to the trenches. [3] The weather has turned frosty which makes it much drier in the trenches although there is still about two feet of water in some places. The country is very flat and clayey and wherever they walk great lumps of clay stick to their boots. Of the Ampthill men who went out with him only three are left. [4]

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 9th February 1915


[1]  Mary Meacham, the sister of the Wheeler brothers’ mother Rosa, appears as lady’s maid to Mary Ann Bassett in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses. More information about Miss Bassett (after whom the current Mary Bassett Lower School was named) and her house Stonhill in Billington Road can be found in the community archives section of the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives website.

[2] His service papers show that before joining the army in 1908 he was employed as a carpenter.

[3] Captain Francis Marshall Bassett, nephew of Mary Ann, was seriously wounded on 18th October taking part in an advance by the 2nd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment on the Menin Road near Ypres. [Source: X550/3/WD/1410]

[4] Jack’s service record shows that he joined the army in 1908 and before the First World War had served in Gibraltar, Bermuda, Sudan and South Africa. His character reference describes him as “sober, honest, willing, trustworthy, clean and smart in appearance”. He suffered gunshot wounds to the neck and leg in November 1916, but like his brother Dick he survived the War. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Tragic Accident at Arlesey

Arlesey Station Crossing c.1906 [Z1306/2/14/1]

Monday 8th February 1915: An inquest has been held today at the Pavilion, Arlesey into the tragic death of Royal Naval Reserve Stoker Joseph Shannon, aged 36, a stoker on HMS M.F.A. Baron Amrossan He was returning home to South Shields for five days leave when his comrades noticed his was missing from the train and a door was open. Stoker Shannon’s body was found by a platelayer on the Great Northern Railway 300 yards south of the Three Counties Station at Arlesey at 7.15 on Friday morning. The doctor called to examine his body said that the nature of the injuries meant that death must have been instantaneous. His identity was confirmed by his wife, Margaret Shannon of 59 Francis Street, Deans, Tyne Dock, South Shields.

The engine driver, George Thomas Hall stated that he was driving the 11.45 express from King’s Cross when he noticed at Great Barford that someone had pulled the communication. He pulled the train up at St Neots South Box and sent his fireman Frederick Parker to investigate. Mr Parker spoke to a naval man who said his mate had fallen from the train and that he had pulled the cord. The passenger guard Arthur Edward Monk heard someone calling “guard” when the train stopped. He found another Naval Reserve man, Alexander Turnbull, who said he had been pulling the cord for twenty minutes and asked why they had not stopped the train earlier – the driver said that he had followed company regulations in proceeding to the St Neots South Box as the next stopping point.

Alexander Turnbull told the inquest that he was also from South Shields and served on the same ship as Stoker Shannon. They were travelling home together from Chatham with two other men, Robert Wilson and Samuel Smith. They were all in the same compartment until 12.25 when Turnbull left to find a seat where he could lie down. Shannon and Wilson were both asleep at this time, and Smith was smoking. Turnbull went to sleep and was woken by Smith who said he though Joe Shannon was missing; they returned to the compartment where they found Wilson crying. When asked whether it was true Wilson told Turnbull, “Mate, its too true, owing to the door being open”. The witnesses stated that all the naval men were quiet and sober. A verdict of accidental death was returned.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 12th February 1915

Saturday, 7 February 2015

News from the Villages

Sunday 7th February 1915

The Old Vicarage, Flitton [Z1306/49/5]
Barton-le-Clay
A Volunteer Drill Class is to be formed in the village. Permission is being sought from the Chief Constable for P.C. G.Setchell to be appointed Drill Instructor. The Class is to be held each Friday evening at 7pm. P.C. Setchell has already given a weekly drill for many months to some 25 lads, many of whom have joined the army and have found his instruction most useful. It is suggested that the ancient habit of universal military instruction should be revived. The reverse of the large 14th century picture of St.Nicholas in the parish Church shows a village scene of youths practicing with the crossbow. It is said that the yew trees in churchyards were planted to supply wood for the bows, and many stones are found in old churches where men sharpened their arrow heads.

Trooper W. Frost of the 1st Dragoon Guards returned to the village on 72 hours leave. He has been in fifteen “scraps” since November but has come through unscathed except for frost-bite. He only once felt down-hearted, when in the trenches with frost-bitten feet, wet to the skin, chilled to the bone, and wearied from want of sleep. When a sympathetic officer asked how he felt he said he almost wished a bullet would finish him off. The officer told him to “stick it”, and “stick it” he did.

Gravenhurst
Christopher Arnold White and Adeline Standbridge Parrish were married in January and are congratulated on their decision to do their duty. The groom is to go and fight for King and country, and the bride has given her consent that he should go.

Flitton and Greenfield
The new Boy Scout Troop made its first public appearance at Church Parade on Sunday 24th January.

Westoning
More men have gone from Westoning for training and their names have been added to the list on the Church Notice Board. A list of those who have had to return through being medically unfit, and of others who have offered but been turned down for the same reason, has been added.

Clophill
The village are exceedingly happy to have such a splendid set of men billeted among them. Twenty six men from the village are serving at the Front or in the Royal Navy or have been wounded, and a further thirty are also serving. Thanks have been received for a truck of vegetables sent to be distributed among ships based at Harwich. Sir Arthur May, Director General of the Medical Department of the Royal Navy writes: “Looking at your work from a Medical point of view it is difficult to overestimate its value; the supply to the Ships’ Companies of really good fruit and vegetables, locally practically unobtainable, is in my opinion of the greatest benefit, it is, I am sure, an important factor in the present most satisfactory low rate of sickness in our ships of the Grand Fleet”.

Silsoe
Sincere sympathy goes out to the young widow of Frederick Laird of the Bedfordshire Regiment who has been killed in action.[1] Captain Lumley Jones, Adjutant of the 2nd Essex Regiment, has been welcomed home for a short but well earned west from his duties at the front. Almost immediately on his return to his regiment he was wounded by a rifle bullet. Fortunately the wound was not serious and he has completely recovered. Two more parishioners, William Novell and Samuel Wiffin have volunteered for service and be accepted, though for both of them the medical inspection meant the loss of practically all their teeth. Malcolm Cook has been successful in obtaining a Writership in the Navy and will commence his duties shortly.

Source: Monthly Magazine for the parishes of Barton-le-Cley, Clophill, Flitton and Greenfield, Gravenhurst, Silsoe, Westoning, February 1915 [P21/30/17]




[1] Frederick Laird of the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment was killed on 10th December 1914 and has no known grave. He had married Julia Brothers only a few months earlier. She gave birth to a son, Frederick Harry, early in 1915. His entry in the National Roll of the Great War reads: “He was mobilised on the outbreak of war, and almost immediately proceeded to France, where he fought in the retreat from Mons and in subsequent engagements on the Marne, in which he was wounded and sent to a base hospital. Recovering from the effects of his wounds he returned to his unit, and took part in the Battles of La Bassée and Ypres, and was killed in action near Ypres on December 11th 1914”. He lived at 18 High Street, Silsoe.