Wednesday, 31 December 2014


6th Argyles billeted at an unfurnished house in Rothsay Road [X414/162]

Thursday 31st December 1914: This year the New Year in Bedford is to be Hogmanay and all the Highlanders stationed in Bedford. Tonight the troops who are billeted in unfurnished houses will be fed simultaneously in eighteen public halls, huts and tents. Tomorrow the remainder of the Scottish soldiers will have their turn. The organisation of the New Year celebration has been carried out by Mr Machin, the Secretary of the Borough Recreation Committee. No less than 400 stewards and 300 entertainers are expected to take part, most of whom are giving their services free. The cost of the feast is expected to be at least £1000, most of which has been sent from Scotland although some local contributions have also been received. The fundraising was managed by the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, the editor of the Aberdeen Journal and the Provost of Elgin, the first two of whom have travelled south for the occasion. 

The suppers are to take place at 6.30 and are to follow a prescribed order. Each will begin with the National Anthem, followed by a welcome by the Chairman and grace said by the Chaplain. After the meal at 7.30 the Chairman will propose a toast to His Majesty the King and the Vice-Chairman will propose “Our Scottish Hosts”. The toasts will be followed by a concert and the distribution of cigarettes. The suppers will end at 9.15 with Auld Lang Syne and God Save the King. No alcohol will be served and the military authorities have ordered all licensed premises to close from 2.30 p.m. both today and tomorrow.

Source: The Highland Division at Bedford: An Illustrated Souvenir [X414/162]; Bedfordshire Times 1st January 1915

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A Christmas Truce

Christmas Truce [Wikipedia]

Wednesday 30th December 1914: News has filtered back from the Front of a spontaneous, unofficial truce which took place between the British and German armies. In a letter to his mother at Turvey Captain John Longuet-Higgins tells her that “the people in the trenches over Christmas reported many curious incidents. An informal Truce was arranged and men and officers from both sides got out of the trenches and exchanged news and souvenirs in the neutral ground in between. Not a shot was fired for 3 days and when we went in on the night of the 26th we found the truce still going on. Our present bit of trench is on the right of the Guards Brigade and they continued the truce even up to now, but we have not been allowed to do so. Frost and rain and snow have been our lot and on our first night we caught a German deserter who told us an attack was to be delivered at midnight. We had to stand to arms all night and our artillery pounded them well for an hour just round midnight. And there was no attack.”

Captain Longuet-Higgins describes the impact of weather conditions which meant they were “unable to work at the trenches … as a thaw set in on the next day the parapet began to crack and fall in. Then we got rain and the rain began to pour into the trenches off the surrounding land. Work as we could we could not cope with the rising water.” He asks for a new Burberry coat in “a large size but not too long in the skirt” and a new pair of gloves as “Aunt Florrie sent me a pair but I am afraid I dropped them in the trench and they sank so deep that I could not get them back. This last tour has meant wet feet absolutely cold for 3 days and nights without being able to take my boots and socks off. The result is swelled feet and now I have got my boots off I can’t put them on again.”  His company are now in a more comfortable billet and he hopes he may get leave next month.

Source: [HG12/10/126]

Monday, 29 December 2014

Letters to Mrs Orlebar

Major Richard Rouse Boughton Orlebar and Faith Orlebar, 1914 [X464/87]

Tuesday 29th December 1914 (Podington): Mrs Faith Orlebar has received another letter of thanks from another former patient at Hinwick House hospital, Private C. Clark. He says:
“I am pleased to tell you that we all got Home quite safe and comfortable, but we did not get very long, 8 days, and that is not long enough so I am going to see how my arm gets on and then if it is any worse I will apply for more leave. I hope the other seven boys are all right and enjoying their motor rides and nice walks which I should like to have now, but there is no young ladies, they have all gone for nurses.[1] Give my best wishes to all the girls and I hope to se them again if I go out and get wounded which I expect will be the next thing.”[2]
She has also received a letter from her old friend Mrs Edith Craven of Hove in Sussex thanking her for her Christmas greetings.[3] She says: 
“it was very interesting to hear how this awful war is affecting your and your surroundings. It is most useful work Rouse has got started at the House - & it must be a joy to our Tommies to find such appreciative interest.  … One can hardly realize that we are actually living in the time of the ‘Great War’ of which so much has been said for years, though owing to the barbarian Germans everything is far more terrible than anyone could imagine! God give us Peace in the coming year!”
Source: Transcript of letters to Faith Orlebar, 1914-15 [OR2343/19]

[1]  The transcript of the letter is annotated “The children and governess used to take the men for walks at Hinwick”.
[2] Another note tells us that the girls were “Hinwick House servants, one of them a widow of 47”.
[3] Apparently Edith Craven (nee Sartoris) who was originally from Rushden.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Volunteer Training Corps Expands

Luton Corn Exchange c.1915 [Z1306/75/10/43/5]

Monday 28th December 1914: Two hundred Luton men have already enrolled in the Voluntary Training Corps which was established at the beginning of the month. Ten former non-commissioned officers have made themselves available to instruct the men, and Lord Herbert Scott of the 23rd London Regiment has offered the help of his battalion Sergeant-Instructor while he is in the town. The first drill will take place next Monday at 8.30 at the Corn Exchange.

The Mayor of Dunstable, Councillor F. T. Garrett intends to call a public meeting at the Town Hall to form a Volunteer Training Corps for Dunstable. He would like to hear from anyone willing to help with the promotion of this new venture.

Source: Luton News 31st December 1914

Saturday, 27 December 2014

News from Leighton Buzzard

Leighton Buzzard Railway Station c.1910 [Z50/72/174]

Sunday 27th December 1914: The Red Cross hospital at Leighton Buzzard has now been closed. Since military hospitals opened at Aylesbury and Tring demand has reduced, and the ten remaining patients have been transferred to Tring. Since opening in August the hospital has  treated about 300 cases. Although many of these were serious only two patients died. The hospital also treated many out patients.

Leighton Buzzard railway station has been extremely busy over the Christmas period. The usual heavy number of passengers at this season has been increased by the almost 200 troops billeted in the area, most of whom have been given home leave for Christmas. By Boxing Day 4,000 passes had been filled in, counterfoiled and duplicated. On Wednesday troop movements caused considerable delay and staff were forced to delay ordinary traffic in order to cope with the Christmas rush.

Source: Luton News 31st December 1914

Friday, 26 December 2014

Queen’s Engineering Works of Bedford

Members of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry from the Queen's Engineering Works [Z791/9]

Saturday 26th December 1914: The Chairman of Queen’s Engineering Works in Bedford has been looking back at an extraordinary year.[1] No less than 304 employees from the Works have joined the Colours, a source of great pride for the Company. Despite this considerable progress has been made in the Company’s manufacturing work. Steam turbines completed during the year include two built to drive dynamos on one of His Majesty’s ships. Due to internal reorganisation of the premises extra space for a new Dynamo Shop has been found without reducing the area of the Iron Foundry, where many more high quality castings are being produced. The company has been developing machinery to use in connection with its condensing plants, and installations have been made at the Corporation Electricity Works in Rochdale, the London Underground power station at Lots Road, Chelsea, and in South Wales. Orders for large condensing sets have also been received from India, Japan, Australia, and South Africa. Due to the unusually small rise in the Nile in 1914 the Company has been asked to supply a correspondingly large number of pumps for use with artesian wells in Egypt. These are used to raise the water lying below the desert without interfering with the Nile itself. Other work carried out by the Company included the main drainage system at Cairo, pumping machinery for a new dock at Hull, another dock pumping plant in Japan, and machinery for a floating dock for Holland. The Works has also been called upon to meet urgent orders for machinery it makes for the British Navy.

On the outbreak of war the Company Directors announced that until further notice the wives of men employed at the Works who were called upon to serve with the Colours would receive 7 shillings per week while they were away, with staff members being paid half their salary. Letters have been received from a number of  those employees now serving their country, of which these extracts from a letter from Private Harry E. W. Auger, a member of the Test Bay staff now in France with the 74th Motor Transport Company, are a sample: [2] 

Private H.E.W. Auger (right) [Z791/9]

“When I left the Works in September to join the Colours, I was successful in getting into the 74th M.T.Coy., and was soon after put on the first aid lorry, which is a kind of travelling workshop for roadside repairs, a very good job. Our machine was a fine new Leyland lorry of 64 H.P., with a tarpaulin cover. This we found much more comfortable to sleep under than a canvas tent, with no bottom, such as we had the first few weeks.”

“After making all preparations, we had to wait about three weeks for orders to move abroad, during which time we received many false alarms. I have been out here about a fortnight now, and we are getting well into our work of taking food up for the troops every day. We load our lorries at rai-head and ten take them to a point some distance from the firing line, where we are met by the Horse Transport, who take the food practically into the firing line.”

“We are up about 5.30 in the morning; no “quarters” over here. I am still sleeping on my lorry, so I am pretty handy for getting at it first thing. It is jolly cold, so we run our engines all night to keep the radiators from freezing. This saves a lot of “winding” in the morning.”

“The towns about here are very badly knocked about. This morning we were in a village which had been shelled the night before, only 1½ miles from the firing line. Some of the roads are fearful, especially those which have been shelled; also you can see shells stuck in the trees and unexploded as you go along.”

“The food we get is quite good; plenty of bully beef and biscuits, of course. We get English papers distributed to us free the day after issue, also letters get through easily … Our chief difficulty is getting a bath and washing our clothes, and it would amuse you to see me washing out my socks and shirts.”

“I think the most remarkable feature for this war is the multitudinous uses the petrol engine is put to in ambulances, motor lorries, light cars for officers, aeroplanes, motor cycles, and armoured cars. We have had several German aeroplanes round us, but they get a pretty warm reception from the anti-aircraft section, and they soon leave.”

“I do not think much of the French cigarettes, and have to get from home all I require in this direction, as we cannot buy English ones here. Our chief amusement, when not working, is making tea in the lorry with a blow lamp, which we find very useful for the purpose. Please remember me to all the chaps at the Works. My Parisian accent is becoming most pronounced.”

Source: The Queen’s Engineering Works Magazine, January 1915 [Z791/9]

[1] The company Chairman was Mr W.H.Allen. The Works magazine carries an obituary for his sixth and youngest son, John Francis Allen of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, age 33, who died of wounds in hospital at Ypres on November 5th 1014. Captain Allen received his wounds while rescuing two men who had been buried by the bursting of a shell.

[2] Harry Edmund Warren Auger was born in Lower Heyford, Oxfordshire c.1892 and appears in the 1911 as an engineering apprentice at Bedford. He appears to have survived the War. The 74th Motor Transport Company was serving in the 8th Division Supply Column of the 4th Army Corps.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

 Postcard “The Dining Room on Christmas Day”, 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment in Bermuda,  1911 [Z550/19/34/10]

Friday 25th December 1914 (Luton): Private G Doughty of 14 Ebenezer Street, Luton, now serving with A Company of the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment, has sent good wishes to his former colleagues through the agency of his wife and the Luton News:

To My Workmates of the Diamond Foundry
“I wish all my workmates a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I am very pleased to say I have pulled through up to now, after two months in the firing line, and am hoping to see you all again.”

Source: Luton News 24th December 1914

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Knitting for Victory

Potton Schools, 1911 [Z1306/91/24/2]

Thursday 24th December 1914: A large number of Christmas gifts provided by Bedfordshire schoolchildren have been collected at the Shire Hall and are ready to be sent out to Bedfordshire men serving in the forces. Children throughout the county have been knitting scarves, mittens, body belts, socks, and shirts. Quite a few boys have been at work as well as the girls. Nearly all the socks contain a little present of tobacco, mints or sweets,  and letters and messages have been attached to their handiwork by the children. A youngster from Ravensden wrote “Dear Soldier, I hope this scarf will help to keep you warm this cold weather. Hoping you had a jolly Christmas, and wishing you good luck.”

The County Education Committee supplied 80lbs of wool for making body belts, 150lbs for socks, and 230 lbs for scarves and mittens. This was expected to provide around 410 belts, 470 pairs of socks, 570 scarves and 380 pairs of mittens. In addition to this some schools have also collected money to buy extra materials and have been making things for the men of their own villages or in response to other appeals. Potton School also made shirts for soldiers out of warm flannel. The original funds provided by the Education Committee are almost exhausted, but it is expected that they will continue this educational and patriotic scheme.

Source: Bedfordshire Times, 1st January 1915.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Prisoner of War

Wilstead High Street, c.1910 [Z1306/134/9/2]

Wednesday 23rd December 1914
The following letter from the War Office has been received from the War Office by Mrs Lillian A. Cambers concerning her husband Timothy, who is now known to be a prisoner of war in Germany: 
With reference to the report sent you of the death of No.8213, Private Timothy Cambers, Bedfordshire Regiment, I am directed to say that from the evidence produced in the postcard from this soldier sent to Mrs Stimson, it would appear that this report was incorrect, and that Private Cambers is a prisoner of war in Germany.[1] I am to add that it is much regretted that any unnecessary pain should have been caused you by the incorrect announcement, but in the circumstances prevailing at the front, it is inevitable that a certain number of errors of this nature should arise. 
I am,Madam  
Your obedient servant 
It has been known for a while that reports of Private Cambers’ death were premature and he was last heard of in a French military hospital. This is the first communication Mrs Cambers has received from the War Office since it notified her of her husband’s “death” and it seems they only became aware that this was an error because the family forwarded a postcard they had received from him. While some errors may be inevitable it is to be hoped that this is a rare case as the distress caused to his pregnant wife and young family must have been extremely traumatic.

Source: X550/2/61

[1] Mrs Stimson was Cambers’ older sister Rose, who had married Arthur Stimson in 1902. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

"I Am Nearly Heartbroken"

Bedford Road, Wootton c.1910 [Z1306/136/1/2]

Tuesday 22nd December 1914: Mrs L Goff [1]  has received a letter from Lance-Sergeant William Goff [2], son of Mr George Goff of Keeley Lane, Wootton, telling her the tragic news of the death of his brother Lance-Corporal Joseph Goff of the Rifle Brigade:
“Joe was killed in action on December 17th in the small hours of the morning by machine gun fire, getting 3 shots in the head and 2 in the neck. His death must have been instantaneous. When I was informed about it I could not believe it, so I went and saw his Commanding Officer, who gave me the details. I then went and saw his body. I tried to take his things away from him, letters, etc., but I found that I could not do it so I had to get another man to do it for me. If God spares me to go out of these trenches alive I will send his things home if it costs me my pay for a year. If God spares me to come out of this war safely, and I can get back home again, I will try and bring the old folk out to this place to see his grave. I did my best for him, but it was nothing. I saw him put in his grave, and then I had to go back to my duty in the trenches. He did his duty as a soldier and a man, for he was shot while looking through a loop hole. I have got the sympathy of all his comrades, but it is very hard for me to write this letter. I informed the old people by a P.C., which I found on his body, but you might go over for my sake and help to cheer them up a bit, for I am nearly heart-broken to have to tell you.”
His mother [3] has received the following letter written by Second Lieutenant C. Hunt of the Rifle Brigade:
“When censoring the correspondence of this Battalion I noticed this card informing you of the death of your son, Rifleman Goff. Since this card was written I deeply regret to have to inform you that your other son, Sergeant Goff, was killed while advancing against the German trenches. His loss has been deeply felt by his brother Sergeants. This took place about 7 p.m., December 18th.” [4]
Source: Ampthill News 26th December 1914

[1] This appears to be William Goff’s half-sister Mrs Lydia Goff (nee Pulley).
[2] His service papers show that William George Goff joined the Rifle Brigade in October 1907 and before the war had served in Egypt and India. In 1911 he had was severely reprimanded as a corporal for neglecting his duty in allowing his men to drink water from a native well.
[3] Emma Goff (nee Pulley) of Keeley Lane, Wootton.
[4] Joseph Zachariah Goff had joined the Rifle Brigade shortly before his 19th birthday in February 1907. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Arthur Owen Jones

Image: Arthur Owen Jones [Wikipedia]

Monday 21st December 1914: Even during the tragedy of a great European war it is sad to report the death of a sporting icon. Mr Arthur Owen Jones, the Cambridge University, Nottinghamshire and England cricketer died today at his brother's home, Lanark House, in High Street South, Dunstable, of tuberculosis at the age of 42. An otherwise fit young man he never recovered from pneumonia contracted on a tour of Australia in 1907/8 when captaining the English tourists.

He was born on 16th August 1872 at the rectory in Shelton [Nottinghamshire] and in 1881 went to Bedford Modern School, captaining the First XI in his final three years. He first came out for Nottinghamshire in 1892 and got his blue at Cambridge in that year and 1893.

He was a wonderfully free hitting right handed batsman, a useful bowler of leg-breaks and a magnificent fielder close to the wicket, the latter, perhaps, being his chief glory. He is said to have invented the position of gully and brought of many remarkable diving catches in that position. As a leader of men he was an all-impelling personality, leading an unfancied Nottinghamshire to the County Championship in 1907. On the back of this he was chosen to captain the England tourists to Australia the following winter. He had first played for his country as long ago as 1899, playing in all five tests on the Australia tour of 1901/02 and two tests in 1905. He only played in two tests of that 1907/08 tour because of the pneumonia he contracted and played twice more for England in 1909.

It may be fairly said that he failed at the highest level, but that failure sprang from a thoroughly unselfish attitude believing that, as captain, he should set an example and score his runs quickly leading to being out before he had got himself set.

An all-round sportsman A O Jones will be remembered by Bedfordians more for his rugby exploits. Whilst at school he played for Bedford and it was a very unfortunate turn of events for the club which caused him to throw in his lot with the Leicester Tigers. It was as a full back that he shone. He never managed to catch the eye of the England selectors at rugby. His rugby methods were characteristic of the man, marked by great keenness, enterprise and intelligent knowledge of the game.

In his first-class cricketing career he played in 472 matches, making 22,935 runs wit ha highest score of 296 at the commendable average of 31.54. he also took 580 catches and snared 333 wickets at an average of 32.81 with best bowling figures of 8/71. In his test career he made 291 runs at an average of 13.85 with a highest score of 34.

He played six matches in this last summer, the final one being against Hampshire on 8th-10th June. Though far from well Mr Jones captained the side and, going in at number nine, made a lively 33, second-highest score, before being caught by the wicket keeper Livsey off the bowling of medium pacer Remnant. The match was drawn.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 25th December 1914

Saturday, 20 December 2014

In the Land of Hell

Sunday 20th December 1914: Another Luton man's experience of the war is very different to that of young Private Allin from whom we heard yesterday. Mrs Cox of 66 Beech Road, Luton has received a letter from her husband George who is serving with A Company, 1st Norfolk Regiment.[1] He says:

“Just a few lines to let you know that I am still in the land of the living, but it is like being in the land of hell. We are never out of hearing of the enemy’s big guns, especially their Jack Johnsons.[2] We have had some trying times since we have been out here. In one place alone we were in the trenches for 32 days, which I should think was the longest that any regiment have held the trenches for a stretch without being relieved. During that time we had a great many casualties, for in a fortnight we lost 110 poor fellows. A great number of them were shot through the head whilst firing through port-holes. Whilst we were lying in that place my company was taken from the trenches at night time, as it is the uisual thing to take us away under cover of darkness for our 24 hours’ rest. The next morning my section was ordered to fall in to take up ammunition to the firing line. There were 13 of us, and we each had to carry 650. The distance was about 1,000 yards, and 300 of that was all open. Across that latter portion we had to run as hard as our legs could carry us, because we were under a very heavy fire from the enemy. Thank God, we all got across safely.”

“Then we had to come back again under the same heavy fire. I am sorry to say that the poor, unlucky thirteenth got wounded but I hope and trust that it did not turn out to be a serious wound. I must say that trench work is very nerve breaking, for at least the enemy shell our trenches with Jack Johnsons, which break our trenches down and bury some of our poor fellows alive. Only the other day a Jack Johnson fell in our trenches and completely buried a man. The very next blew him out again. We were all pleased to see the poor fellow alive again, but he looked such a wreck.”

Source: Luton News 24th December 1914

[1] This would appear to be Richard George Cox, who was living at 66 Beech Road in 1911 with his wife Bernice and two young children. He was killed on 22nd June 1915.
[2] “Jack Johnson” was a slang term used to describe the impact of a heavy German artillery shell, named after an American heavyweight boxing champion.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Training Camp Life

Luton Modern School, c.1914 [Z1306/76/2/3]

Saturday 19th December 1914 (Luton) - Private Ernest Allin of the 24th Battalion of the County of London Regiment has written a letter which has been published in the current issue of the Luton Modern School magazine:
Many of you will agree that Old Lutonians who enlisted, did so for the one outstanding reason that His Majesty’s Army would not and could not be complete without some O.L’s in its wake. Those of us in the Queen’s Own Rifles have, since joining found that it was not merely for the meagre 7/- a week that they became soldiers, but absolutely for the honour of being able to serve their Country. … Some people imagine the “Terriers” are having a “holiday” at present. To those individuals I would give a hearty invitation to spend a week with us at St.Albans, although I verily believe that a single day would suffice. From one week’s end to another, it is one continuous routine of drills, marches and numerous other items. By this I do not mean that we are tiring of our task. Far from it. I do not believe there is a single one of us that is sorry he enlisted.
What a difference this military life is to our usual home circle. It is really wonderful to see the way in which we have so suddenly accustomed ourselves to the dainty fare of the Army. Perhaps the menu card which is (not) printed for daily use will assist those who have our cause at heart. 
Breakfast: One can of tea (including milk and sugar), one piece of bacon and bread and a portion of cheese (The “guests” are not expected to have too much of these items).
Dinner: Stew, roast beef and mutton, potatoes (in natural skins).
Tea Bread and jam (and plenty of it). Butter is never included here. Tea (as above).
Supper: Nichts (unless you provide it).
At first we could not relish these stylish courses, especially as the bread was, and is now, a week old before we get it. The tea more often than not has a very suspicious smell of stew or potatoes.
Now and again the War Office or kind friends outside will provide us with dainty delicacies such as stewed apples and custard or stewed damsons, which causes a terrible rush for the “dixies”, the name given to our coooking untensils. In spite of these little trials and troubles we manage to get at the humorous side and this keeps us very optimistic.
From what I can understand from the others as well as personally, the chief disadvantage is the bed. Perhaps the word “bed” is rather vague and likely to lead one astray but as that word is the nearest approach we will let it remain as bed. We sleep on the floor, not being so fortunate as other companies in being billeted in private houses. We cannot even get one of the straw beds which are so kindly provided for the express benefit of the Soldiers by the War Office. The first fortnight, sleep was evidently a thing of the past, but we gradually accustomed ourselves to such sweet repose, and now we do not worry about sore hips and elbows. The fact is we do not want to get up in the mornings.
What tales we shall have to relate when we return to our one and only Luton. I am sure such tales of “short sharp rushes” and “extended order” will stagger you, especially if we happen to get the real thing.
At the present time we are camping out three times a week and actually have to prepare our own meals and cook them.
The first obstacle that confronted us was that although we might prepare and cook them easily it would be much more difficult to eat them. This was not the case however, and all agreed unanimously that we had become thoroughly domesticated at a very short notice. I could relate for long enough our little “quiffs and qualms” but as the poet says “Enough is as good as a feast”.
 Source: Luton Modern School Magazine, December 1914 [SDLutonSFC2/7]

Thursday, 18 December 2014

We Want More Troops!

Novelty Postcard 1914-1918 [Z1130/36/1]

Friday 18th December 1914:  At a meeting of Dunstable Borough Council today Councillor Timms proposed the following resolution:
“That this Council communicate with the War Office enquiring why troops have ceased to be billeted in this borough – whether for military movements or for other reasons – and send a copy of the Dunstable Borough Gazette showing by its Roll of Honour that Dunstablians have been doing their part for the country’s welfare, and respectfully suggesting to the War Office that the town should not be neglected, as the tradesmen and other inhabitants consider the billeting of the troops a great boon to the district. And that the Council be called together immediately on receipt of the reply.”
Councillor Timms produced figures showing how much the town had lost since the billeting of troops in Dunstable had stopped. He wanted to know who was preventing the troops coming as many people in the town were living on the poverty line and would have benefited greatly from the prescence of troops.

The Mayor had issued a poster signed by himself and by Alderman Gutteridge without consulting the council. This had led to the spread of rumours in the town. The Mayor said that he took full responsibility, that the circular was issued because he feared a riot, and that if it was felt he was done wrong he would submit to a vote of censure. He then read a letter from Lieutenant-General Codrington stating that the troops had been withdrawn entirely for military reasons. Alderman Gutteridge expressed sympathy with Councillor Timms and stated that an interview between himself and Major Davis was on private business. He himself had had nothing to do in any way with troops not coming to the town.

Councillor Dales said he had been told that somebody had written to the War Office saying the town was insanitary. The Town Clerk admitted that a War Office inspector had been to Dunstable and spoken to the Medical Officer regarding sanitary conditions, but said the inspector had been entirely satisfied. Almost all Councillors agreed with Councillor Timms’ opinions, but an amended resolution was passed under which the Council was to communicate with the War Office endorsing the Mayor’s efforts to secure the billeting of troops at Dunstable and hoping that a larger contingent of troops would soon be sent to the Borough, “one of the most bracing and healthy in the country”. 

Source: Luton News 24th December 1914

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Bombing of the East Coast

Image: Enlistment poster [Wikipedia] 

Thursday 17th December 1914: Mr R. W. Whittington has written from Scarborough to his parents at Ampthill describing the terrible events that took place there yesterday morning, when the town was bombarded by German ships:
“At 8 o’clock this morning I was in bed and I heard an awful noise out at sea. I thought it was a naval battle, but soon found that Scarboro’ was being bombarded. I dressed as quickly as possible and went outside to find the streets crowded with half-dressed people. We were shelled for about half an hour and houses all round us have been blown down, so I think we are very lucky to have escaped. The way some of the poor people were blown to pieces made me creep. You remember the “Grand Hotel”? Three shells went right through it, into a house at the back. Our manager’s wife was ill in bed at the time, but he managed to get a motor car and got her moved and it cost him £10. I have a piece of shell which I picked up, and I hope to bring it home at Christmas to show it to you. A large shell that killed a woman in her shop passed right over our house, and the butcher two doors off got one in the back of his house, so we were right in the think of it. Only we up here know what that half-hour was like; it was a terrible affair and I shall never forget it as long as ever I live.”
Source: Bedfordshire Times 25th December 1914

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Luton Town Footballers Enlist

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

Wednesday 16th December 1914Yesterday morning two wing forwards from Luton Town Football Club, Hugh Pierce Roberts and Frank Lindley, attended a meeting of professional footballers at Fulham Town Hall. At the end of the meeting they were among the first to enlist in the new Footballers’ Battalion; so many others followed that extra recruiting officers had to be called in to help.[1] A total of 35 men signed up and marched together to Chelsea Barracks. They were then given ten days’ leave at a rate of 2s 9d per day while on home service.

This morning in the dressing room Roberts and Lindley told their team mates about yesterday’s events. Six more Luton Town players have now gone to London by train to enlist. They are:

  • John Dunn (back)
  • Robert William Frith (half-back)
  • T. T. Wilson (half-back)
  • Arthur Harold Wileman (forward)
  • Arthur Roe (forward)
  • Ernest Simms (forward)

The men were accompanied to London by their trainer Billy Lawson, who already has two sons in the Territorials and would very much have liked to join up himself. When the players are called up they will go for training to Richmond. They will be allowed leave to play in their Club’s fixtures until the end of the season and will continue to receive their Club wages as well as their army pay.[2]

Source: Luton News 17th December 1914

[1] The Footballers’ Battalion was the 17th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment.
[2] See Luton’s World War I: Great WarStories for more about the involvement of Luton Town players in the Great War.

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Seabrook Family

Image: Old Heath House, Aspley Heath (formerly the Flying Duck), 2007

Tuesday 15th December 1914: Anyone familiar with Aspley Heath will know the Flying Duck beerhouse in Heath Lane. Dorcas Seabrook (nee Yarrow), the wife of the landlord Harry Seabrook, comes from a long line of soldiers and now has three brothers following the family tradition. Charles Yarrow is serving at the Front with the Signal Corps of the Royal Engineers. He has written to his sister that “the weather is very bad and I shall be glad when the cuckoo comes and picks up all the dirt … Thank my mates for tobacco and pipe, which were more than acceptable. You don’t know the value of a pipe here; it’s like looking for gold, but I have still got three left. … If you can possibly let me have a pair of socks, no matter what kind, I shall be very pleased, as we cannot get any”.

George Yarrow is with the 7th Regiment of  the Dragoon Guards. He had served for two years in Egypt, then for six in India and is feeling the contrast in the weather: “It is snowing hard here, and by Jove, it is a bit parky after the climate I have been used to this last six years; but, we shall soon get used to it again. It is a rather strange sight to see snow lying on the ground; I had almost forgotten what it is like”. He asked his sister for paper and envelopes, and for a bar of Sunlight soap which is very scarce at the Front. So far his Regiment has suffered only light casualties.[1]

Mrs Seabrook’s third brother William is currently training at Northampton. Their father, Frank Yarrow of Wootton, served in the Crimea (where he helped Florence Nightingale in the hospital wards) and through the Indian Mutiny[2]. Their grandfather and great-grandfather were also soldiers.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 18th December 1914; Army Service Records

[1] Prior to joining the army George Yarrow had been apprenticed as a tailor. He was disciplined four times during his army service for offences relating to drunkenness, twice in 1908, on Christmas Day 1913, and in March 1916. On 2 May 1916 he was admitted to 3rd General Hospital at Le Treport vomiting blood. He died four days later from a perforated gastric ulcer. A telegram of 5 May from Harry Seabrook states that he would like to visit George but could not bear the expense. A certificate from a clergyman supported the claim that Mrs Seabrook would be unable to afford the cost of a journey to France.
[2] Frank Yarrow is described in the 1881 census for Wootton as a farm labourer and Chelsea pensioner. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Fatal Consequences of Measles

Monday 14th December 1914: A funeral has been held this morning for Private James Geddes of the 4th Cameron Highlanders who died from complications following measles. From the Highlanders’ first arrival in Bedford the medical authorities in the town have been afraid of the consequences of a measles epidemic. Many of the soldiers come from parts of Scotland where the disease is almost unknown and measles is known to be particularly dangerous among people who have not built up any natural immunity. A measles outbreak began in October, with the first case among the troops occurring on 15th October. Private Geddes’ death yesterday morning was the first fatality for the Highlanders, but it is very unlikely to be the last. He died at the Goldington Road Schools which were turned into a temporary military hospital when the severity of the epidemic became clear. This morning also saw the first fatal civilian case with the death of a three year old child.[1]

Private Geddes was a “braw laddie” of 22 years of age and had been a farm labourer at Culloden, the site of the famous battle. Tragically his younger brother, Private William Geddes of the 4th Seaforths, had been the first of the Highlanders to die in Bedford and was buried in the town cemetery on 10th October. Private James Geddes had been the principal mourner at his brother’s funeral; this time a third brother was the only official mourner.  The young man was buried in a grave at the foot of his brother’s.[2]

Sources: Bedfordshire Times 18th November 1914; Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the Borough of Bedford for 1914 [BorBB2/22/14]

[1] The Medical Officer of Health recorded 8 measles cases in October, 72 in November, and 386 in December and the first week of January. By the end of December 7 children and 15 soldiers had died. The Camerons, who came from the Western Highlands and Isles, were the most severely affected.
[2] Both James and William Geddes are commemorated on the Kilmuir Easter War Memorial, Ross and Cromarty.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Life and Death on the Railways

Image: Train at Bedford Midland Station c.1900 [Z1306/10/41/24]

Sunday 13th December 1914: A fatal accident took place at Bedford Station in the early hours of this morning in which a Midland Railway goods guard, Alfred Charles Cave, was crushed under a wagon wheel. Mr Cave arrived at the south siding with 33 wagons from the Bedford yard. He was told by Henry Harlow, a shunter, that there was room only for 21 wagons as the siding was already partly filled and was told where to put the rest. Cave began shunting. While Cave was uncoupling the 21st wagon Harlow heard a pole crack and his colleague cry out. He found Cave lying on the line in front of the wheel, which was pushing him along. The wheel then mounted his body and fell off the rails. Harlow raised the alarm and the driver stopped the train, which had not been going at more than 3 m.p.h. The accident may have been the result of Mr Cave having difficulty unlocking a very heavy screw coupling. Mr Harlow thought Mr Cave had got the pole between the wagons to lift the coupling off, and either the pole broke as he pressed on it, or Mr Cave slipped. He said that Cave was “one of the best shunters round about Bedford, and a rare man for doing a bit of work”. He had been a guard on the Midland Railway for 26 years and was one of the best and most experienced men at Bedford. He died on the way to hospital.[1]

In the evening a meeting of the National Union of Railwaymen was held at Bedford Picturedrome. It was presided over by Mr F G. Kellaway MP who said every civilian in the country owed a debt to the railwaymen for their work, the risks of which had been demonstrated by the death of Mr Cave and which were all too often overlooked by the public.[2]  The sacrifices of life and limb made by those who worked on the railways were just as valuable as the sacrifices made by the men in France. He commended the work of  the A.S.R.S. which would make the lot of Cave’s wife and children a little easier.[3] The railways had also contributed more than their fair share to the forces, and forty men of the Bedford branch had already joined the colours.

Mr Thomas MP also spoke to the meeting, expressing his delight at the way the railwaymen of Bedford were now recognising their responsibilities and that membership of the branch had risen from under one hundred to over five hundred in three years.[4] He believed that Germany had assumed that the workers of Britain would seize the opportunity of the war to press their claims for improved conditions and higher pay and that the resulting conflict with the authorities would work in the Germans’ favour. He also believed that the workers differences with the railway companies were nowhere near as great as their differences with the enemy. They knew their country was in danger and would play their part as much as the soldiers who were facing the bullets. He said 66,000 railwaymen were already serving the king, a greater number than that contributed by any other industry. He trusted that after the crisis was over the just claims and sacrifices of the railwaymen would be recognised. The Executive intended to do everything in its power to ensure the current state of affairs where the men’s wages were being reduced while shareholders’ dividends were guaranteed should be changed. They should also realise that if the government could take control of the railways as easily as they had done at the beginning of the war, private ownership was a danger to the state and the railways should be owned and controlled by the people in peace time as well as in war.

A collection was held for the Belgian Relief Fund.

Source: Bedfordshire Times 18th December 1914

[1] An inquest into Alfred Cave’s death was held on Tuesday 15th December and a verdict of accidental death was given.
[2] Frederick George Kellaway (1870-1933) was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Bedford from 1910 to 1922.
[3] The Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants had in fact merged in 1913 with two smaller railway unions to form the National Union of Railwaymen.
[4] James “Jimmy” Thomas (1874-1949) was an official of the A.S.R.S. who became general secretary of the N.U.R. from 1919 to 1931. He was Labour MP for Derby from 1910 to 1936 and later served as Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Bedford Volunteer Training Corps

Bedfordshire Volunteer Training Corps on parade, June 1915 [Z1306/12/4]

Saturday 12th December 1914: A number of men from Bedford attended a meeting held at the Guildhall in London on 25th November by the Central Association Volunteer Training Corps, which now has formal approval from the War Office. A meeting was then held yesterday evening at the Midland Hotel where it was unanimously agreed to form a Local Civil Corps for home defence, to be made up of men who are unable to enlist in the regular forces due to their age or for other reasons. It is hoped that this corps will soon be affiliated to the Central Association Volunteer Training Corps. 

A meeting is to be held at the Town Hall on Tuesday 22nd December at which the objects and scope of the Corps will be explained. A drill hall is  to be found and a provisional committee set up. It is intended that members of the corps will master military drill and musketry so that they can be called on in case of invasion or other national emergency. An increasing number of men have already been drilling with the help of qualified instructors on one or two evenings a week. 

Source: Bedfordshire Times 18th November 1914

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Having Fun in the Navy

Bedford School from the North 1914-1918 [Z208/12]

Friday 11th December1914: An old boy of Bedford School writes from the Royal Naval College at Devonport where he is enjoying his training as a Naval Cadet:

“I  am having a ripping time here. We do hardly any school work, only steering a steam picket boat about the harbour, sailing the cutter, navigation, gunnery, and torpedo work. We have been out in the Jupiter, firing 12in. guns, and in a picket boat firing torpedoes. They weigh a ton, and go at a tremendous speed about 15 feet under the water. The Torpedo Lieutenant examined us the other day … We are coming home at Christmas for a fortnight, and in March we go to sea to the war as midshipmen. We can go all round the Dockyards, where they build big Dreadnoughts. The sailors salute us, and we can go practically where we like. I am having the time of my life.”

Source: The Ousel, December 17, 1914 [Z447/21]

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Concert for the Belgians

Park Street Baptist Chapel 1908 [Z1306/75/10/52/6]

Thursday 10th December 1914: A concert was held yesterday evening in the lecture hall of Park Street Baptist Church, Luton to raise funds for seventeen Belgian refugees from Malines now living at Leagrave and being supported by the members of the Church. The refugees themselves attended the concert and were given some of the front seats. To ensure there was at least a part of the concert that the guests could understand the second half began with the Belgian National Anthem. The choir sang a verse and were followed by a young Belgian woman who received almost deafening applause. A Belgian man joined her on the platform and started an impromptu rendition of “God Save the King” which he ended with a shout of “England for ever” in his French accent. The main focus of attention for all the women in the audience was a young baby whose father was fighting with the Belgian Army.

Source: Luton News 10th December 1914

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Letter from a Grateful Soldier

Wounded soldiers at Hinwick House Auxiliary Hospital, 1915. Faith Orlebar is to the right of the Red Cross Nurse  [X464/91]

Wednesday 9th December 1914 (Podington): Hinwick House at Podington has been operating as a military hospital since 21st November.[1] Mrs Faith Orlebar, who is serving as commandant, has received a grateful letter from one of the hospital’s first patients:[2]

Rifleman Kennedy
1st Rifle Brigade

Dear Mrs Orlebar

Just a line to tell you that I arrived home quite safe – Mrs Olebar I am sorry I did not write before. I have had a lot to do since I have been home. Mrs Orlebar I write to thank you for having looked after me well at your Dear Old House and I must say If I had been a Lord’s son you could not have done more for me. I did enjoy myself very much. Mrs Orlebar, I hope you and Major Orlebar and Mr Beecham Orlebar and all your Dear Family are in good health, as it leaves me at present and please remember me to all. Mrs Orlebar my hand is about the same. I cannot use it yet but I hope to soon. I am pleased to say my wife is going on fine and my family. My wife ws pleased when she saw me, and when the wife had a proper look at me she said how well I looked and when I told her about all the nice food I had she said no wonder you look well. Mrs Orlebar, if Major Orlebar do have to go to the front I hope he will have a safe journey and a safe return and good health and good luck. So now I must close so goodby.

I am yours truly
Private Kennedy
1st Rifle Brigade

Source: X464/91

[1] For more on Hinwick House as  a military hospital see this website produced by the Rushden and District History Society Research Group
[2] Faith Orlebar was the wife of Richard Rouse Boughton Orlebar, son of Richard Orlebar, the owner of Hinwick House.