Thursday, 30 April 2015

On The Menu

Kempston Barracks [X550/1/112/18]

Friday 30th April 1915: The menu of meals to be served at the Bedfordshire Regiment depot over the next week has just been published. With bread served three times daily the number of loaves required by the depot must be extremely large! On the other hand, the army provides only a few vegetables and no fruit for its soldiers.

Sunday
Breakfast: Coffee, bread, butter and sausages
Dinner:  Roast beef, baked potatoes and plum pudding
Tea: Tea, bread, butter, cake and jam
Supper: Bread and cheese, tomato soup

Monday
Breakfast: Tea, bread, butter and boiled bacon
Dinner: Sea pies, potatoes, and haricot beans
Tea: Tea, bread and dripping
Supper: Bread and cheese, pea soup

Tuesday
Breakfast: Tea, bread, butter and potted meat
Dinner: Brown curry stew, potatoes and carrots
Tea: Tea, bread, butter and marmalade
Supper: Bread and lentil soup

Wednesday
Breakfast: Tea, bread, butter and corned mutton
Dinner: Meat pies, potatoes and peas
Tea: Tea, bread and dripping
Supper: Bread and cheese, barley soup

Thursday


Breakfast: Coffee, bread, butter and tinned salmon
Dinner: Toad in the hole, potatoes and butter beans
Tea: Tea, bread, butter, cake and jam
Supper: Bread and tomato soup

Friday
Breakfast: Tea, bread, butter and boiled bacon
Dinner: Tomato stew, potatoes and plain pudding
Tea: Tea, bread and dripping
Supper: Bread and cheese, pea soup

Saturday
Breakfast: Tea, bread, butter, sausages and tomatoes
Dinner: Roast meat stuffed, peas and potatoes
Tea: Tea, bread, butter and marmalade
Supper: Bread and lentil soup

Coffee and biscuits are also available before early morning parades.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 30th April 1915

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Biggleswade Does Its Bit

Royal Engineers Signals Section leave Biggleswade, 1915 [Z1306/16/36/5]

Thursday 29th April 1915: News has reached us of the contribution being made to the war effort in Biggleswade. Men from the town continue to join the Forces and the Roll of Honour for the town now includes a total of 338 men. Those who have joined the Forces this month include:
  • John Day, son of Mr. John Day of the Olney Arms (an old Militiaman) has joined the 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.
  • John Green, formerly licensee of the Shoulder of Mutton has joined the Army Service Corps as a driver.
  • G. Cooper, A. Munns and A. Kefford have all enlisted with the Northern Signal Company of the Royal Engineers and have gone to Leeds for preliminary training. The Northern Signal Company were billeted in the town and left on Saturday 10th April, sent on their way by the cheers of 3,000 people and the music of the Town Silver Band.
  • Mr A. Cartwright of 12, Sun Place, joined the 5th (Reserve) Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment and has gone to Newmarket.
  • Cyril Burton, the second son of Mr. Charles Herbert Burton, Honorary Secretary of the Unionist Club and the Unionist Association, has joined the Royal Navy as Boy, 2nd Class. He is the third Biggleswade lad to join the Navy since the beginning of the war, following Stanley Chivers (whose father and brother have also enlisted to serve their Country) and Fred Wells.

Inevitably there have been casualties from the town. Nineteen year old Private Alfred Lovett of the Bedfordshire Regiment is home on sick leave. He has been at the Front with the 2nd Battalion since the beginning of October and has been wounded three times, once in each arm and once in the shoulder. At Neuve Chapelle he was shot through the forearm with shrapnel and was sent to Manchester Hospital for treatment. Corporal Henry Gray of the 1st Battalion has written home to his brother, Mr. William Gray of Cromwell House, telling him he was wounded in the thigh by a shell splinter at Hill 60 and is now in hospital at Oxford. Private Charles Day and Private Sam Bilcock, also of the 1st Bedfords, are both prisoners of war in Germany and have written home asking their parents to send them some bread, butter and cake. Two of Private Day’s brothers are serving at the Front, and a third brother died while on army service in India. In happier news Private Albert Millard of Luton and Miss Lottie Brown of Sun Street were married at Biggleswade Parish Church on Saturday. The bride’s father, Mr. Tom Brown, is an old Militiaman and her brother Charles helped the 2nd Bedfords to repel the Prussian Guard at Ypres in October and has been wounded twice. The bride wore a fawn tweed costume, and a white straw hat trimmed with white silk and orange blossom.

The stay of the Royal Engineers in the town has been commemorated by the gift of a solid silver communion chalice and paten to the Parish Church. It is of Tudor Gothic design, inlaid with moonstones, and is inscribed: “Presented to the Parish Church, Biggleswade, by the officers and men of the Northen Signal Service Training Centre, Royal Engineers. Easter, 1915”. The town’s Belgian guests are also grateful for the support of the Biggleswade people. Monsieur Henri Bals has expressed his thanks on behalf of his family. Three of the children are attending the Council School, where they appear to have settled in happily.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard April 16th and April 30th 1915

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Sunday Afternoon on the River Goes Terribly Wrong

Shire Hall, Bedford from the river [Z1306/10/58/7]

Wednesday 28th April 1915: A pleasant Sunday afternoon boating expedition ended in tragedy today when a Canadian canoe carrying two young soldiers of the Highland Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps capsized near Shire Hall. One of the men, Private Macleod, could swim a little and was able to keep hold of the canoe until he was rescued by a man who rowed down the river from the boatyard at Batt’s Ford. His comrade Private Cooper, however, was drowned.

At the inquest held at the Bedford police station yesterday evening Private Macleod said he had known Private Cooper since September and was in the same corps. They had been on the river together before but in a rowing boat, not a canoe. They had hired the canoe for an hour and were returning to the boatyard when the accident happened. He believed Private Cooper had put his paddle too far into the water as the canoe went over on his side. There were at least two boats close to them and Private Macleod shouted at them as he clung to the canoe, asking them to help his comrade who was then above water. He himself tried to help but Private Cooper caught hold of him and pulled him under. After he freed himself he did not see Private Cooper again. None of the boats around gave them any help and he was rescued by a man from the boatyard.

Mr. John Preston, an Old Bedfordian who has just been admitted to Sandhurst gave evidence that he had been in a boat on the opposite side to where the accident happened. His friend drew his attention to what was happening and he saw two men in the water. They rowed to the spot but other boats were there before them and by that time the second man had disappeared. No help was given by the two boats nearer to the accident. Police Sergeant Halestrap recovered the body at five o’clock, from fourteen feet of water. The man’s watch had stopped at 4.15. The policeman thought that if anyone had dived in Private Cooper could have been rescued.

The Coroner expressed surprise that nobody could swim sufficiently to save the young man. He recommended that greater care should be taken in canoes and small boats which were easily upset. The jury passed a verdict of “accidentally drowned”.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 30th April 1915

Monday, 27 April 2015

Luton Town's Season

Luton Town Football Club, 1908-9 [Z1306/75/21/5]

Tuesday 27th April 1915: As the 1914-1915 football season draws to a close we can reflect on Luton Town’s performance. The war has meant that the best any team could hope for this year was simply to carry on. Luton have managed to keep going to the end of the season but only at the cost of several hundred pounds in losses. Only the presence of thousands of troops in the town has prevented this loss being even larger.

Luton’s performance on the pitch has been very up and down. In the Southern League they secured the extraordinary record of winning more points from away games than they did at home. Away from Kenilworth Road they won 19 points out of a possible 38, beating Watford (the champions), Northampton, Brighton, Exeter and Queen’s Park. At home however their record was no better than that of the bottom-placed club, Gillingham; they did not win a single home point between February 13th and April 17th, losing to Crystal Palace, Portsmouth and West Ham United in quick succession, and only managed a total of 15 home points during the season.

In the F.A. Cup Luton were forced by an injustice on the part of the Football Association to take part in some of the early rounds, playing three financially unprofitable games against minor clubs. Their first draw in the main competition sent them to Southampton to face a Saints team on top form and the Hatters were eliminated. Luton did better in the Southern Charity Cup, defeating Watford in the first round and Coventry in the second. After beating Reading in the semi-final they drew the final 0-0 against Plymouth. As it was not possible to arrange a replay the trophy is being jointly held by the two clubs. The seasons top scorer was Ernie Simms, with a total of 22 goals.

Source: Luton News 29th April 1915; Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 4th May 1915

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Respirators for the Highlanders

Gas masks at the Imperial War Museum, July 2014

Monday 26th April 1915: Now that the British troops are under attack from asphyxiating gases the Bedford Recreation Committee has offered to take on the task of supplying the Highland Division with 20,000 respirators. The respirators will consist of a pad of cotton wool covered with gauze and attached to an elastic headband. The pads are to be dyed brown, as white would make the wearer an easy target for German sharpshooters. Absorbent wool and gauze is required as non-absorbent material would be useless. The total cost of the materials is expected to amount to £150. The work of making these has now been put in hand. Girls from the elementary schools and their teachers, students of the Bedford Kindergarten and of the Physical Training College, and ladies from across the county are taking part in order to produce the respirators as quickly as possible.[1] 

Source: Luton News 29th April 1915; Bedfordshire Standard, 7th May 1915


[1] A letter of thanks appeared in the Bedfordshire Standard on 7th May suggesting that the entire 20,000 were produced in a single week.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

A Blind Soldier Recovers His Sight

18th Hussars on patrol, 21 August 1914 [Wikimedia]

Sunday 25th April 1915: Corporal Matthew Fowkes of Bedford has returned with a thrilling story about the recovery of his sight following a wound which left him blind for six months. Corporal Fowkes first volunteered for military service with the 3rd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment during the Boer War when he was 19 and employed at the Queen’s Engineering Works. After the war he returned to work at Messrs Allens, but subsequently joined the 18th Hussars. During the retreat from Mons in August last year he was struck on the back of the head by a shrapnel bullet. This killed the wounded comrade he had stopped to save and knocked him on to the railway line so that he lost his top teeth. He was able to find his own troop, and his fellow soldiers prised the bullet out of his skull. They were surrounded and made a dash for it along a steep bank. A shell hit his horse and they rolled down the bank together. His spine and stomach were severely injured, his right ankle smashed and his right knee dislocated.

After twenty-six hours Corporal Fowkes was found by a Belgian doctor stripped of everything but his pants by the Germans, who had left him for dead. When he late came to he was blind and a prisoner of war. While in hospital he made plans to escape wearing women’s clothing, helped by a Belgian nurse. These plans were interrupted on 5th January when he was operated on for his stomach injuries. Following this he was included in an exchange of prisoners and by February 19th he had been repatriated to Millbank Hospital. At three o’clock on the morning of February 21st he woke with a start, and realising he could just distinguish  the dimmed electric light in the ward he let out shouts of delight.  By morning he could dimly distinguish those passing the windows. He was then taken into the operating room and given electric shocks; from then on his eyes have grown gradually stronger.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 30th April 1915

[1] Corporal Matthew Fowkes appears to have subsequently lived in at 17, Stonegate, York. The York Prisoner of War Roll ofHonour gives his army number as 6451 and records that he was captured on 24 August 1914 and repatriated 19 February 1915. 

Friday, 24 April 2015

A Stolen Bicycle

Bedford Picture Palace, early 1920s [BP65/52/53]

Saturday 24th April 1915: While the relationship between the people of Bedford and the Highland troops billeted in the town has generally been exceptionally good, difficulties do occasionally arise. When this happens they are often triggered by drink, as in the case of soldier Private Adam Brown who has just appeared at Bedford Police Court charged with the theft of a bicycle. Twelve year old Archibald Clark of 122, Howbury Street left his bicycle at the back of the Picture Palace last Saturday evening. The bike went missing and he next saw it in the back yard of 15 year old William Jones at Pembroke Street.

William Jones knew Private Brown, who had previously been billeted at his house although he left about two months ago and was now living in St. Cuthbert’s. The boy had met Private Brown on Monday afternoon. The soldier told him he had left a bicycle at his house because it had a puncture; he said he would call for it later that evening but did not do so. On the Tuesday morning Jones saw Private Brown again and commented that it was a good bicycle. The soldier said his younger brother had sent it from Paisley and he would sell it to Jones for five shillings. Jones suggested the bicycle was stolen, but Private Brown denied this.

Private Brown said that on Saturday night he had been in Mill Street when a man on came along with the bicycle and told him he could have a ride as he had to do some business. He waited, but the man did not return. He took the bicycle to his billet, and then later to Pembroke Street. He had intended to take it to the police but could not do so as he had to go on parade. Private Proban appeared as a witness. He said he had been out with Private Brown on Saturday 17th and they had both had a drink. He backed up his comrade’s story that a man had left the bicycle with them. A Lance-Corporal said that Private Brown was a good soldier and would soon be going abroad if he was discharged. The Chairman of the Bench considered there was no doubt that Private Brown took the bicycle due to having too much to drink. As he had a letter of good character he was discharged, but warned about his future behaviour.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 30th April 1915

Thursday, 23 April 2015

A Heroic Doctor

King George greets wounded officers at a field hospital (Wellcome Images)
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Friday 23rd April 1915: Lieutenant Ernest Pipkin Stratford, R.A.M.C., M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. of No.8, British Field Ambulance, Lahore Division of the Indian Expeditionary Force died at Bourne End on Tuesday from general septicaemia following a shell wound, and has been buried today with full military honours. Dr. Stratford was the only son of a highly respected old Leightonian, Mr. Samuel Pipkin.[1] He was born in 1876 and educated at Marlborough School, then Emmanuel and Downing Colleges, Cambridge, and St. Thomas’s and St. Mary’s Hospitals. After qualifying he worked as a medical officer to the West Ham Hospital for diseases of the nervous system. He saw service with Bethune’s Mounted Infantry in the South African War and reached the rank of Captain before being invalided home after the relief of Ladysmith. At this time who adopted his mother’s maiden name by deed poll.

Dr. Stratford volunteered early in the present war, working first as one of the surgeons at Netley Hospital, then as a surgeon specialist at the Bournemouth Hospital for Indian troops. At his own request he went to the front in charge of a British Field Ambulance. He had rigged up an impromptu hospital for the wounded in the village school near Neuve Chapelle. On 17th March shells began to fall around the school; many of the wounded men were killed but the doctor and his colleagues stuck to their work. The house next door caught fire and he and others went in to bring out the wounded. Another shell burst in the room, blowing Dr. Stratford through a wall. Part of the shell struck a finger on his left hand, but he took little notice of this minor wound. That night he performed several operations but there were no gloves to protect his hands and he contracted septic poisoning. After some days in hospital near Dieppe Dr. Stratford was invalided home. He appeared to be recovering but became suddenly ill on Tuesday and died at midnight. He leaves a widow but no children.

Sources: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette 27th April 1915; St. Thomas’ Hospital Memorial List

[1] Samuel Pipkin appears to have been a self-made man. Born in 1847, he appears on the 1861 census as the son of a brewer’s journeyman in Leighton Buzzard. In 1873 he married Emma Stratford but Emma died in 1876 soon after her son’s birth. In 1881 the widowered Samuel was boarding in the house of a schoolmistress with his 6 year old daughter Kate and 4 year old Ernest and working as an insurance auditor. He subsequently married the schoolmistress and became an insurance manager. At the time of his son’s death he was living at Westbourne Terrace in West London. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Letter from the Cameroons

British gun firing at Fort Dachang, 1915 (Wikimedia)

Thursday 22nd April 1915: The impact of this World War extends far beyond the battlefields of northern France and Belgium, and there are Bedfordshire men involved in theatres of war very far from home. Mr. S. Wheatley, the Secretary of the Biggleswade Licensed Victuallers’ Association has received two letters from his son Reg Wheatley, a former Biggleswade cricketer now in the Cameroons (West Africa). It seems there has been some difficulty with mail as Reg had not yet received his Christmas parcel from home and these letters have taken some time to arrive. On March 3rd Reg wrote:

“At the present time I am at Victoria, but I am going back to Duala today.[1] I came here just for a trip, for we have had a very hard time of it the last few months, and I was pleased to get a spell. Things are about the same at Duala, but our troops are having some stiff fighting up country, and we are losing some very valuable officers. We lost a colonel, a captain, and two lieutenants last week”

“It seems the Germans have returned so far inland, and have got some good fortified positions, which they intend to hold; in fact, the Germans are very lively everywhere, much more than people at home realise. Two-thirds of the white men here are overdue to return home and no chance of getting away, unless a man is ill and no further use. A lot of our fellows are overdue, but the general refuses to let them go, for he cannot get relief for them, so it is impossible to say when anyone will get home. I am not going to look forward to getting home, then I shall not be disappointed. I do not mind if I keep good health, for we ahve all got to do our duty for good old England.”

“HMS --- is leaving here, and is to be relieved by another cruiser, which I think is quite right, for they have a lot of sickness among the sailors, and have also had a lot of deaths; they do not seem to realise what a dangerous country this is, and they will not take the necessary precautions. “

A couple of weeks later, the situation had not improved. On 18th March Reg Wheatley says:

“Things are about the same at Duala, plenty of work, etc., in fact, more than we can do. We have a lot more boats to fit with armour plate and guns, for we must get ready for the rainy season, when we shall have to do a lot more work up the rivers, etc. Since the rivers have fallen we cannot get up with our boats, and the Germans have come back to the places we captured last rainy season. I think it will take another twelve months here or even longer. We tried to shut the dock here last Sunday to get a day’s rest, but the General would not hear of it. We have orders to work every day.”

“My old boat, the M.S.Alligator, that myself and Captain Ford brought down here, which I was on until the New Year, has been in the thick of it. While patrolling one of the rivers it got three maxims turned on it, and it got absolutely ridded. I am sorry to say Captain Ford got seriously wounded. It’s a toss up if he recovers or not. He sent for me to see him last evening, and the poor fellow was in great pain, but very cheerful. The bullet entered his left lung, and until they get it out he will be in danger. We all hope he will recover.”

“I suppose Archie and Bert will go to France; good luck to them. I am proud to think my brothers have answered their country’s call, and even if we never meet again don’t worry, for you know it’s my wish, and I am sure it’s theirs too to do their duty to our country, and to protect our wives, mothers and fathers, and keep the old flag flying and say ‘Britons never shall be slaves’. We shall win, because that’s the spirit throughout the British Isles”.  

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 23rd April 1915

[1] The German colony of Kamerun was invaded by the British and French after the outbreak of war in 1914. The coastal city of Douala surrendered to the Allied forces on 27th September 1914. At the time Reg Wheatley was writing the Germans were still holding out in the interior. The campaign ended in Allied victory in February 1916.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Neglected Children

White Lion, North Street, Leighton Buzzard c.1910 [Z50/72/159]

Wednesday 21st April 1915: A Leighton Buzzard mother has appeared in court on a charge of neglecting her two children. Mrs. Sarah Allen, a neighbour of Margaret Healey of 92, Church Street, said she had known Mrs. Healey to leave her children alone in the house for hours at a time while her husband was away. On April 7th she had heard the children crying before dinner time, and they had continued to cry until 8.30pm. During the day the children went outside in the rain and complained that they were hungry.

When Police Sergeant Tingey went to the house the place was filthy with several beer bottles standing about. He called again in the evening and as he could not get an answer he pushed the bedroom window open with a prop. Margaret Healey came downstairs drunk. Her husband, James Healey, is a private in the Bedfordshire Regiment who is home from the front wounded. He said that his wife was a good wife and mother and would be all right if she left the drink alone. Mrs. Healey promised to sign the pledge.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 27th April 1915

Monday, 20 April 2015

Flitton Boy Killed In Lorry Accident

High Street, Flitton, looking towards White Horse Inn and Church [Z1306/49/6]

Tuesday 20th April 1915: A tragic accident took place yesterday afternoon at Flitton when five year old Ralph Catlin, the only child of Mr and Mrs Cuthbert Catlin was killed by a motor lorry belonging to Royal Engineers who had just arrived to be billeted in the village. The boy and two little friends had been in the cemetery and were on their way home. As the lorry was only travelling at walking pace young Ralph said to his friend “Let us take hold of it!”. As the boys passed the White Horse Inn, Mr S. Wilsher warned them and they let go, but they caught hold of the vehicle again further on. The accident took place just outside Mr Wilsher’s. Young Ralph was hanging on to the truck, having caught hold of an adjustment between the two wheels; as the lorry gathered speed he was thrown under the back wheel, which crushed his head. Mr Wilsher had followed the boys and picked up the youngster after the accident, carrying him to Mrs. Ashton’s opposite. The police and a doctor were called but nothing could be done.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 23rd April 1915

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Red Cross Cars for the Front

A Red Cross Train, France (H. Septimus Power)
(Imperial War Museum, available under IWM Non Commercial Licence)

Monday 19th April 1915: Mr. Arthur Brown, Mr. C. R. Clay and Mr Rupert Plummer left Luton today to drive three new Red Cross cars to the battlefield. The cars will be used to convey wounded soldiers to hospital trains from as near to the firing line as it is possible for them to reach. The number of Red Cross vehicles in use in France now amounts to 400 cars, 78 touring cars, 32 motor lorries, 21 motorcycles, 8 travelling kitchens and 5 travelling workshops. There are around 560 drivers, with 430 being paid and the others volunteers. The military authorities supply the Red Cross with petrol and tyre, and provide billeting for the men.

The cars taken out by our Luton men are 20 h.p. Colonial type Napiers with a specially high clearance; each car is able to carry the driver and six passengers. Including equipment and spares the outlay amounts to £700 per car. The car driven by Arthur Brown is the gift of his family, Mr. Clay bought his own car, and the car driven by Rupert Plummer was purchased by his father, Mr. Matthew Plummer. The cars remain their own property, but it is unlikely there will be much left of them to bring back. Cars in the fighting area have a short life as they are constantly driven over extensively damaged roads and within the fire zone. The three drivers are all giving their services voluntarily, and will be expected to remain with the Red Cross for at least six months. Mr. Brown volunteered for this work early in the war, and as an expert motorist has already been providing the military authorities with valuable service.

It is expected that the drivers’ work in France will be directed by the officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The hoods fitted to the cars enable them to be closed right in, and when necessary they will have to live and sleep in their cars. They will form part of 25 vehicle convoys which typically have three or four cars of this type for patients who are able to sit up, with the rest of the convoy made up of stretcher ambulances. 

Source: Luton News, April 22nd 1915

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Anti-German League

German Prisoners-of-War at Biggleswade, 1914-1918 [X758/1/5/144]

Sunday 18th April 1915: From the outbreak of the war Anti-German sentiment in Britain has been strong and appears to be on the increase. Since its formation earlier this month the Anti-German League has been gathering signatories for a petition against enemy aliens which will soon be sent to the House of Commons. A letter from a supporter has appeared in this week’s Bedfordshire Standard asking the women of Bedfordshire not to purchase German-made articles. The League is also appealing to its supporters to refuse to employ any German or enemy alien. The duty of British women is to encourage British industry and not to help the German economy in any way. It is suggested that a good first step would be to support and train British waiters so that hotels and restaurants will have no more need to employ Germans.

With the passing of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Order last week the Government is also tightening restrictions on enemy aliens . When this comes into force at the beginning of May it will make it obligatory for any hotel, inn, boarding-house or lodging-house keeper to maintain a register of all aliens over the age of 14 staying in his house. A signed statement of nationality must be provided by every person staying in such accommodation, whether they are an alien or a British subject, and aliens will be required to show all the particulars required for the register.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 16th April 1915 and 30th April 1915

Friday, 17 April 2015

Funeral of a Kempston Soldier

Sapper Herbert Bitchiner

Saturday 17th April 1915: A funeral has been held at Kempston Cemetery today for Sapper Herbert Bichener of the Royal Engineers, son of the landlord of the Black Horse Inn in Bunyan Road, Kempston. Before the war Sapper Bitchener worked for the Engineering Department at Bedford Post Office. As a reservist he returned to his Regiment at the beginning of the war and was sent to the Front in November. He was wounded in the side by a piece of shrapnel at Neuve Chapelle on 11th March. He underwent two operations at the Military Hospital at Brighton, but died on Wednesday aged 23. A large crowd attended the funeral to show their respects to a gallant soldier who died in the defence of his country. The mourners included Sapper Bitchener’s parents, sisters Violet and Grace and brother Philip.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 23rd April 1915

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Incident on a Train

The Three Counties Asylum at Arlesey, 1913 [Z1306/2/19/4]

Friday 16th April 1915: An incident on the 9.08 westbound train from Bedford this morning serves as a sad example of the effect that the war is having on the mental state of some of the fighting men taking part in it. When the train arrived at Lidlington a man was handed over to the stationmaster by other men in the carriage. It appears he had tried to commit suicide by jumping from the train between Millbrook and Lidlington. A discharged soldier, he was driven to this extreme by the belief that he had killed his own wife and children. The man was detained while the police were sent for, but he escaped, ran down the line and into a field. After a two mile chase he was caught by P.C.Arnold and Mr. Boddington, the stationmaster. His state of exhaustion was such that he spent five minutes unconscious. On medical examination at Ampthill he was found to be insane and was taken to the Arlesey Asylum.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 20th April 1915

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Signalling Work

Signallers c.1910 [X550/2/84/5]

Thursday 15th April 1915: Sapper Bertram Wheatley of the North Midland Brigade Signal Company has written home to his father, Mr. S. Wheatley, the Secretary of the Biggleswade Licensed Victuallers’ Association describing the work he has been doing at the Front:

“I am in charge of our Divisional wires at the Stafford Brigade Headquarters, and a friend whom I met at Newark is with me. We have two instruments. One goes to the various Brigadiers, and one to Headquarters. We take it in turns to do duty, day and night. Our office is a brick outhouse, attached to a farm house, about 12 yards by 4, with a brick floor. We take it in turns to sleep, in a corner beside our instruments, and have our meals in the same room. We have made ourselves very comfortable, and have a stove for heating. It keeps the place very warm at night. We are fortunate to be put out of range of shell fire. The office, when occupied by another brigade, was situated just up the hill, in a small village, but it became so warm up there that they deemed it advisable to remove it. The village in question – about a mile away – is shelled heavily every day. I came through there on a lorry. It’s the worst place I’ve seen so far. There has been a great number killed there, and many of the houses are blown to pieces, and there are not many houses that have not been damaged. It is unsafe to go in that direction, and especially at night, as the Germans appear to have got the range. A large farm was burned down on Monday, and as several of our wires passed over the buildings our communications in that direction were severed for a time. At night I can hear the heavy guns going as I sit at my work, and if I stand at the door I can see the flashes and star shells lighting up the sky continuously. One of our orderlies came back the other night with bullet holes through the top of his cap. Their work is very dangerous, as they are always dodging the bullets, and they often have to hide themselves when the star shells light up the sky, for fear of being shot by snipers.”

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Former Vicar of Dunton Working in Munitions Factory

Dunton Church c.1905 [Z1306/37/12]

Wednesday 14th April 1915: This morning the Reverend J. Warwick Adams, former Vicar of Dunton, put on overalls instead of clerical dress and began work in a munitions factory at Birmingham.[1] Since leaving Dunton he has been the Vicar of Wall, near Lichfield (Staffs), but before becoming a clergyman in 1887 he was an engineer in his father’s engineering works. A couple of weeks ago, having taken to heart Sir John French’s statement that “the protraction of the war depends entirely upon the supply of men and munitions”, Reverend Adams offered his service to the War Office as a mechanical engineer. While the authorities were willing to accept him as an armourer sergeant, they could not grant his request to leave him free for Sunday duty in his parish. In view of this he took civilian employment at Messrs Kynoch’s factory.

Fifty-four year old Reverend Adams will begin work at 8am and work until 6pm with a one hour break for dinner. He will be employed using a “sliding rest lathe” and will work under the same conditions and at the same rate of pay as his workmates. He will lodge at Birmingham during the week and return to Wall on Saturday evening to be ready to take Sunday services. His son, also an engineer by profession, is serving as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 16th April 1915 


[1] Reverend J. Adams was Vicar of Dunton from 1897. His successor did not take over until February 1916 so it is likely that he had only recently moved to the parish of Wall. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

Tram Scandal

Luton open-topped tram No.7, c.1910-1920 [Z1306/75/18/22]

Tuesday 13th April 1915: The standard of Luton’s tram service has been criticized at a meeting of Luton Town Council. Necessary repairs to the track have not been made, and the Tramway Lessees’ district manager is to be summoned by the chairman of the Council and the Borough Engineer to impress on him the need to carry out the repairs as soon as possible. He has told the Borough Engineer that due to a shortage of men he would only be able to improve the London Road to Wardown service is the Dunstable Road service was reduced. One of the Aldermen has suggested that “we should be better with a dozen smart girls as conductors on the tramcars”. Another town councillor believed the problem was not scarcity of men but the low wages being paid. A conductor was earning only 4d an hour, and a driver only 5d. When any labourer could earn 5½d it was not likely that the tram company would be able to find men prepared to take jobs. Councillor Impey believed that “there are plenty of middle-aged men who, if paid decently, would be glad to take a job like that on.”

Councillor Bone condemned the service between Wardown and London Road as “most abominable” and wanted to know how many of the dozen tram cars purchased by the Council at a cost of £500 each were running. He suspected that four or five of them must be standing in the depot all day doing nothing. Alderman Staddon stated that the trams had become a public scandal, into which there should be a full investigation.

Source: Luton News, 15th April 1915

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Landlord's Son at Neuve Chapelle

The Swan, Bromham (George Quenby, proprietor) 1902-1906 [Z1306/12/5/1]

Monday 12th April 1915: Jim Quenby, the son of the landlord of the Swan at Bromham is recovering well in hospital at Rouen from wounds received at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, where he was fighting with the 6th Gordons. He has described in a letter home how he came to be wounded:

“At four o’clock on the fourth morning we advanced to the trenches the Germans originally occupied, and about eight o’clock the order came to fix bayonets and be prepared to charge. We were shelled something terrible in this trench, and it was so wide, a lot of our chaps got wiped out there. About 8.30 we had the order to charge; well, I started off, the bullets were flying in every direction, and the shrapnel was laying them out in dozens. I hardly realised what I was doing. I had not got far before I felt a bullet go through my left thigh; I threw down my rifle and fell down; I had not been down a minute before I was shot through the right leg, so then I scrambled into a trench about eight yards away. I rolled in this trench on top of two 2nd Gordons, one of whom was kind enough to put on my field dressing and lend me his coat to lie on. I had to lie there until nine o’clock Sunday night (about 36 hours), when the stretcher-bearers fetched me. After a rough journey on the stretcher to the dressing station, I was thankful to have a cup of Bovril, as I had had only a few biscuits and a bit of bread and jam for two days.”

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 16th April 1915

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Bedford Cricket League Suspended

Bedfordshire Cricket XI, 1906 [Z50/142/37]

Sunday 11th April 1915: The decision was taken last night at a meeting of the Management Committee of the Bedford and District Cricket League held at the Lion Hotel, Bedford, to suspend competition for the coming season. The Secretary had contacted the Public Works Committee to discuss the preparation of pitches in the Bedford parks and received the following letter from the Town Clerk in reply:

“Dear Sir, Your letter was considered by the Public Works Committee this morning, and I was instructed to inform you that, under the existing circumstances, especially considering that the Bedford Park is leased to the Military Authorities, and that Russell Park is from time to time used by the Military Authorities for drill and other purposes, it is not the intention of the Committee to prepare pitches in either Park during the coming cricket season.”

Without pitches it will not be possible for the Bedford Cricket League to complete a full fixture list. To ensure that the League continues the Secretary was instructed to arrange matches with the Public Schools and with the Bedfordshire Club. It was also hoped that the use of the Kempston ground could be obtained so that a trial game of League players could be held to select a team for these matches.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 16th April 1915

Friday, 10 April 2015

Two Soldier Families

Private Reginald Sims, Private James Sims, and Sapper Fred Sims

Saturday 10th April 1915: While towns and villages across the county continue to send their young men to fight for their King and Country, there are a handful of Bedfordshire families which have contributed five or more sons to the Forces. Among these are the Sims family of Bedford and the Brookes family of Luton. Five brothers from the Sims family of Albert Street, Bedford were either already serving or joined the Forces when the war broke out. Sadly First-Class Stoker Alfred Sims died when HMS Hawke was sunk by a German torpedo on 15th October last year.[1] Privates Reginald and James Sims have been at the Front with the 1st Bedfords: Reginald was shot through the base of the skull at Ypres; James, although he has taken part in all the Bedfords’ battles, has been fortunate enough to escape injury. Sapper Fred Sims went out to France with the 1st Field Company of the East Anglian Royal Engineers and was injured in the face and eye, becoming the second man on the Company’s casualty list. The fifth brother, Sadler Horace Sims, is serving with the Bedfordshire Imperial Yeomanry.

The widowed Mrs Brookes of 75, Beech Road, Luton, has no less than six sons and a grandson serving in the army. Her eldest son, Sergeant Albert Brookes is a veteran of twelve years in the Bedfordshire Regiment. At the start of the war he was working in a local foundry, but joined the 1st/5th (Territorial) Battalion and was made a sergeant. His son is serving with him. Private John Brookes, previously an employee of Messrs. Laporte Ltd. is now at Newmarket with the 2nd/5th Battalion of the Beds Regiment, along with his youngest brother, 18 year old Percy. Private Fred Brookes is in the Royal Army Medical Corps stationed at Woodbridge and Private Sidney Brookes is at Bury with the 1st/5th Bedfords. So far the only brother to serve in France is the fourth in age, 22 year old Walter. He joined the 1st Notts and Derby Regiment four years ago and served with them in India. As the regiment returned he had an accident on the boat and was invalided home in October. After rejoining his comrades in January he fought with them at Neuve Chapelle. In March he wrote home that he had “been in some very stiff fighting” and had “seen some most awful sights, some that are too horrible to describe”. 

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 9th April 1915 and Luton News 9th April 1915

[1] The Hawke was sunk off the coast of Scotland, with the loss of 524 officers and men. There were only 70 survivors.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Progress of the Toy Industry

St Paul's Square, Bedford, 1909 [Z1306/10/58/14]

Friday 9th April 1915: Bedfordshire’s fledging toy industry is making good progress under the guiding hand of Mrs Trustram Eve. Toys are being produced in Bedford and a number of villages, mainly from three-ply wood. An exhibition held at the depot in St. Paul’s Square, Bedford over the past two days was attending by a large number of visitors. Although the workers are only beginners the quality of the toys they make is already remarkably high. Items on display included a watermill, Red Cross wagons and a model of Bedford Station made at Bedford; costermongers’ carts and country wagons from Dean, a doll’s house from Crawley, and school desks and log carts made at Clifton. Many orders were received from the visitors, giving further impetus to the industry. As the only cottage industry of any note in Bedfordshire is lace-making, there is plenty of scope for toy making to grow and flourish in the county.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 9th April 1915

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

"Nearly As Large As Clifton Pond"

All Saints Parochial School Clifton, c.1866 [Z50/30/42]

Thursday 8th April 1915: Mr. William Norris, the schoolmaster at Clifton, has received a letter from one of his former pupils describing his experiences under fire. Private Joseph Henry Cooper[1] writes:

“We are now getting fine weather and the trenches are drier and more comfortable than they were when I first experienced what war was like two months ago. There are many different kinds of guns used on both sides, and I think the Germans waste more ammunition than we do. German shells are known to English Tommies by the whistle they make in their travels. We call some of them “Wicked Willies”, others “Jack Johnsons”, but those with the loudest whistle we call “Coal Boxes”, and when one of these bursts in the ground it makes a hole nearly as large as Clifton Pond. We generally get two or three of these for breakfast, but when the “White Man’s Hope” answers them they soon become silent. We receive cigarettes and tobacco, which are sent out by kind persons in various parts of the Mother Country and the Colonies, and I can assure you they are thankfully received and much appreciated. We are all very pleased to receive letters, and you may guess how down-hearted one seems if he is drawn blank when the post arrives”.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 9th April 1915

[1] Joseph Henry Cooper was the son of John Henry and Charlotte Cooper of Clifton. Born in the village in 1896, the 1911 census records him as a farm labourer. His entry in The National Roll of the Great War, 1914-1918 reads: “He was serving at the outbreak of war, and in November of the same year was drafted to the Western Front, where he took part in the Battles of Ypres, Neuve Chapelle, St. Quentin and Hill 60, where he was wounded. He was invalided home, and after a period in hospital was discharged as medically unfit for further service in May 1916.” He served with the 5th (reserve) battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment and transferred to the 2nd battalion with which he went on active service. Joseph Cooper died in 1964. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Five Year Old Boy Killed At Leighton Buzzard

Beaudesert Council Infants School, 1913 [Z50/72/21]

Wednesday 7th April 1915: The funeral has been held today for five year old Leighton Buzzard boy Hubert Michael Hyde, who was run over on Good Friday morning (April 2nd) while following the band of the West Yorkshire Regiment along Vandyke Road. Young Hubert was walking slowly backwards watching the bandsmen, when he was knocked down and run over by one of Mr. Arnold’s sand carts. Despite a plucky attempt by Drummer Johnson to snatch the boy from under the wheel it passed over the lower part of his body and caused injuries to his back from which he died a few hours later. This is the second tragedy to strike Hubert’s parents, Benjamin and Helen Hyde of 26 Regent Street, in the course of just three months. Their elder son, Private Richard James Hyde, died on January 9th while in training with the 1st/5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment at Newmarket.

Around forty of little Hubert’s playmates and school friends attended the funeral, many laying little bunches of flowers on the grave in which the boy was interred next to his brother. Six members of the West Yorkshire Regiment band, including Drummer Johnson, carried the boys remains to his resting place. The mourners includes Hubert’s parents, his sister Constance, and his three surviving brothers, Benjamin, Frank and Reggie. Among the wreaths placed on the grave were flowers from the staff of Beaudesert Infants’ School and from the officers, N.C.O’s and men of C Company of the 12th West Yorkshire Regiment.

An inquest into the boy’s death was held yesterday. Drummer Johnson described how Hubert was turning sideways to look at the band, walked into the horse and was knocked down; despite his best efforts he was unable to pull the boy out of the way. He felt the driver had proper command of the horse and was unable to see the boy. Another bandsman said that he had warned the children several times because of the narrowness of the road; he did not think the horse was disturbed by the noise of the band. However the driver, 15 year old Albert Osbern of Evans Hill, stated that the mare started running when he met the band and he could not hold it back. He saw some children in front and “hollered” to them; they all ran out of the way except Hubert Hyde. Although he pulled right into the gutter to avoid him he could not get clear of the boy. He had driven the mare before and had never had any trouble with her. The Coroner stated that no blame could be attached to Albert Osbern. The child was listening to the band without paying attention to anything else, and did not realise he was in danger. The jury passed a verdict of accidental death and asked the Coroner to commend Drummer Johnson’s action and to bring it to the notice of his Commanding Officer.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 6th and 13th April 1915