Monday, 8 June 2015

Recruiting March Reaches Biggleswade

Tuesday 8th June 1915: The recruiting march of the 2/5th Bedfords visited the town of Biggleswade today. The marchers had left Sandy at 9.20 a.m. and travelled through Everton and Potton, reaching Biggleswade just after 12.30 and arriving at the Market Place just before 1pm.. The town was in holiday mood, with flags flying from the Church tower and streamers hung across Stratton Street and the High Street. The Band struck up a stirring march as the soldiers reached the Baulk. After a free afternoon the soldiers were given a foot inspection at 6 pm and at 6.30 the drums beat retreat. At 7 pm the band played a concert to a large audience following which the recruiting meeting was held. Over a thousand people heard Major Orlebar tell them of the importance of increasing the strength of the Territorial Battalion now that the 1/5th Bedfords were about to leave for the Front. It would take three to four months to train new recruits, and it was essential to have men ready to take the place of any casualties. He assured his audience that the men of Biggleswade would be kept together, with friends and comrades standing shoulder to shoulder. He promised that this principle would be adhered to so that “30 years hence, over a friendly pipe, friends would be able to tell to their children what they did during the great war. They would be able to recall old scenes of the battlefield, and tell the tale of valour, which would be a delight not only to their children but to their children’s children.”[1]  Major Orlebar saluted the town’s old Crimean War veteran Mr George Smith and said he was sure nothing would give him more pleasure than to see the young men of the town volunteer.

The march had so far been met with more discouragement than encouragement. The aim was to raise 550 men for the new battalion and after three weeks had only recruited 160. Hopes were high that Biggleswade would produce between 30 and 50 recruits. However these were disappointed as only twelve men volunteered and of these five failed to pass the medical test. The remaining seven will leave by train for Bedford at 12 pm tomorrow. The marchers are to be on parade at 8.45 am in the morning and will leave at 9.20 for Shefford.[2]

Source: Biggleswade Chronicle and North Bedfordshire Gazette, 11 June 1915

[1] This principle inspired the famous Pals Battalions. Later in the war local men were no longer expected to serve together as the consequences for a local community of losing many of its men in a single attack were so unfortunate.

[2] A further six men volunteered at Shefford and left for Ampthill the next morning.

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