Monday, 31 December 2018

The End

After more than four years this blog has reached the end of its journey through the First World War in Bedfordshire. We hope that our readers have enjoyed following the journey with us, and that it will serve as a record for the future of the experiences of the county on the Home Front.

The final event of our commemoration of the First World War will be Remembering the Fallen, an exhibition in the reception area of Bedfordshire Archives. This will run from Friday 11th January until Wednesday 3rd April, and will look at war memorials in the county, ranging from the typical stone structures and memorial plaques to memorial halls and other public amenities. Entry is free during Bedfordshire Archives’ normal opening hours.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Bedford Soldier Describes Experiences in Germany

The ‘Black Hole’, Lille (Fort MacDonald)
[Imperial War Museum Art.IWM ART 3760 reproduced under IWM Non Commercial Licence]

Saturday 28th December 1918: Men who have returned to Bedfordshire after spending time  as prisoners of war in Germany have been telling of their experiences. Corporal Sydney Beddall of the Bedfordshire Regiment, son of Mr. and Mrs. William Beddall of 49 Park Road, Kempston arrived back last week after spending nearly twenty months in captivity. He was taken prisoner in April 1916 during the battle of Vimy Ridge and was sent to Fort McDonald, which has been described by other prisoners as the ‘Black Hole of Lille’. He spent only five days there but witnessed appalling conditions. Over one hundred prisoners were packed into a single cell, leaving them no room to turn round and with only a small hole near the roof for ventilation. It was “indescribably dirty and verminous”,and impossible to lie down due to lack of space; sanitary arrangements were “shocking”. The prisoners were allowed out for five minutes’ exercise once a day, and their died consisted of half a slice of black bread each day, with a quantity of mangold wurzels, sliced and partly boiled in water but inedible, with the liquid from the vegetables all they had to drink. During his time there three fellow prisoners died.

Corporal Beddall was then sent to Marquion near Cambrai, where the prisoners were put to work clearing away German ammunition dumps and railway lines as the British advanced. They were “practically worked to death, and more than half starved”, starting work between 3 and 4 a.m. and continuing until late in the evening. As the British advanced the prisoners were moved back to Devain, where they received their first bath. Corporal Beddall was then told that as a non-commissioned officer he was not obliged to work and that he may be transferred to an easier camp, but was unable to get further information. He deliberately opened a superficial wound on one of his fingers, leading to blood poisoning and admittance to hospital where treatment was better.

After he was discharged he was transferred to Dulmen Camp, where the state to which Germany had been reduced was obvious. The Germans were in a state of semi-starvation, and children would come round the barbed wire enclosure and beg biscuits from prisoners who had received a parcel from England. The Germans would also give almost anything for a tablet of soap. The camp was “filthy beyond description”, and the prisoners were put with Russian prisoners who were infected with typhus. Parcels sent by Prisoners of War Associations in England were extremely welcome, especially those received from the Bedfordshire Prisoners of War Fund. He was next sent to Cottbus, where rumours that the war would soon end meant that the prisoners received better treatment and were allowed more freedom. When news of the Armistice arrived the men were told they were free to leave. A party of 750 prisoners were sent to Altdamm on the way to Stetting. The camp was filthy and verminous, with no blankets for the men. They refused to stay there and rushed the gates; 1400 men marched to Stettin, from where they were taken to Copenhagen and embarked for Hull.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 28th December 1918

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

A Subdued Christmas

Leighton Buzzard Post Office, Church Square c.1915 [Z1306/72/3/5]

Wednesday 25th December 1918: Christmas is being celebrated very quietly in Leighton Buzzard. The loss of so many men since last Christmas, and the absence of so many other still with the Armed Forces, has dampened spirits. The bells of All Saints Church have been rung every evening this week, a welcome sound after previous Christmases when the bells were silenced. There are relatively few visitors in the town and, unusually in recent times, very few soldiers in the streets. At Leighton Buzzard railway station there has been slightly more passenger traffic than last year, but considerably less parcels traffic, most of the usual contents of Christmas hampers being either rationed or unobtainable. The shopkeepers have been busy this week, and there has been a revival in the use of Christmas cards, making work for the staff of the Post Office. The mail on Monday of last week was one of the largest in bulk ever sent from Leighton Buzzard, with eleven letter bags despatched on the evening mail train.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 31st December 1918

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Dunstable Man Killed in German Prison Camp

High Street North, Dunstable c.1910 [Z1306/36/8/8]

Sunday 22nd December 1918: A fellow prisoner reports that Private James Baxter, the husband of a Dunstable woman, was murdered at the end of September by a guard at the German prison camp where he was held at Freiburg. Private F. Bungay of the North Staffordshire Regiment reports that “While we were working the guard yelled out to Baxter, who, having a slight cold, did not hear at once, but he afterwards started to run, and being weak from want of food, stumbled at the bank. The guard then went forward and beat him with the butt of his rifle, and then shot him through the back, the bullet reaching his heart. It was awful to see a chum murdered in cold blood like that.”

Private Bungay hid behind some bushes and saw the guard leave to give the alarm and fetch the doctor. While the guard was gone he took out Baxter’s pocket book to get his address; he found a photo of Baxter with a child but had to put it back again. The affair was hushed up and guard claimed he killed Baxter in self-defence, but Bungay insists this was a lie as Baxter had his back to the guard. Private James Stewart, who has just returned to his home in Perth, says that when he arrived at Freiburg soon after the matter was being widely talked about at the camp; a number of prisoners told him that Baxter had been set upon by the guards after being accused of picking and eating blackberries he was gathering for the Germans to make tea from. Pioneer Baxter served his apprenticeship as a lithographer in Dundee, but joined up at Bedford in August 1917. He leaves a widow, the daughter of Mr. J. H. Proverbs of High Street North, Dunstable, and a young son.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 24th December 1918

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Serbian Relief Appeal

Old Leighton Buzzard Library (formerly Temperance Hall, now Lecton House), Lake Street, 1956 [Z1432/2/1/23/64]

Wednesday 18th December 1918: We have reported on several occasions the work being carried out by the Leighton Buzzard War Hospital Supply Depot, most recently in February when the Secretary received a letter of thanks from the Edmonton Military Hospital. The women of the town have been asked to continue their splendid work, this time for the benefit of the Serbian Relief Fund. Two women from the Belgravia Workrooms, the Central War Hospital Supply Depot, have addressed a meeting at the Temperance Hall where they congratulated Leighton Buzzard on sending the best needlework of any depot. They trusted the town would not fail now when their efforts were so badly needed by Britain’s Serbian allies. One worker who had kept a hospital and a soup kitchen going in Belgrade for 3½ years had reported that everything had been deliberately broken up by the Austrians. The work of reconstruction specially entrusted to England was the care of returned prisoners of war and the provision of hospitals. This had persuaded them to extend the work the Supply Depots had done during the War. They hoped that Leighton Buzzard workers would continue to help “as a thank offering for having been spared the horrors of invasion”.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 17th December 1918

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Ideas for a War Memorial

Linslade War Memorial, c.1920 [Z1306/74/2/3]

Sunday 15th December 1918: Now that the War has come to an end, consideration is being given to appropriate ways to commemorate both those who lost their lives in the conflict, and those who served in the Armed Forces. The Vicar of Linslade has been thinking over this matter, and has written the following piece for this month’s parish magazine:
“When we have got over the next excitement of the Election we must try to settle down again, and prepare a welcome for our returning soldiers and sailors. We shall also have to think about plans for a suitable memorial to those who have given up their lives for us. Before this appears in print I shall have consulted the Church Council on the subject. I suppose that whatever general memorial is set up we shall think it right to have one also in the Parish Church, which is the only large public building in the place, and I think there ought also to be a permanent Roll of Honour, with the names of all those from the parish who have served in the Army, Navy, or Air Force. What forms these memorials shall take must be carefully considered, and I shall be glad to receive suggestions to submit to the Church Council.”
Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 17th December 1918

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Bedford Soldier Dies of Flu in France

Old Town Hall, St. Paul’s Square, Bedford 1904 [Z1306/10/58/6]

Thursday 12th December 1918: Mr. and Mrs. Walter Grant of Rose Mount, Clapham Road, Bedford, have received the sad news their son Charles Alfred Richard Grant has died in France of pneumonia brought on by influenza. He joined a Mechanical Transport Company of the Army Service Corps in 1915, served for three years without being wounded, and was expected home for Christmas. An old boy of Bedford Modern School, he was an expert swimmer and played regularly for the Bedford Rugby Football “A” team. After joining the Army he became honorary secretary of the Mechanical Transport Rugby Club and arranged a match against an Australian XV which raised a large sum for the Lewisham Red Cross Society. Before the war he worked for nine years as assistant auditor in the Finance Department of the Bedford Corporation. In a letter of sympathy the Town Clerk writes:
“By his death the Corporation have lost a good and faithful servant, and I a valued friend. His work at the Town Hall left nothing to be desired. His painstaking, careful, and accurate work stands recorded in the books of accounts at the Town Hall for many years, while his courtesy, strict attention to his work, and  his willingness to assist anyone who needed help or advice endeared him to all in the office. His example was always for good, and he maintained strictly the good reputation of the Town Hall staff. Such a man will be hard to replace indeed. He will always be remembered by the whole staff with affection and esteem.”
A memorial service will be held for him at Holy Trinity Church this afternoon.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard, 13th December 1918

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Civilian Prisoner Returns from Germany

Ruhleben Prison Camp, 1917
[Imperial War Museum ART 522 reproduced under IWM Non Commercial Licence]

Monday 9th December 1918: Cyril J. Hopkins, the son of Mr. J. B. Hopkins of Broad Oak Farm, Leighton Buzzard, has returned home after spending four years as a civilian prisoner at Ruhleben in Germany. When the War started Mr. Hopkins was working in Berlin for electrical engineers A.E.G.  Initially he was ordered to report to the city’s principal gaol every third day. This continued until the end of October when the head of A.E.G announced that he was receiving many anonymous letters complaining that British employees were taking the bread out of the mouths of Germans. The British workers were then dismissed without notice. On November 6th British people living in Germany were taken to the main prison at Alexander Platz, a move which was claimed to be in retaliation for the internment of Germans in Britain.

On the afternoon of the same day he was sent by train to Ruhleben, where the prisoners were kept in uncomfortable conditions in the racing stables. The beds were dirty, and some were without blankets for months. Six men were crowded into each horse box, but thanks to exchanges of prisoners with England this number eventually fell to four. Food was at first provided by a Jewish caterer with an allowance of 6½d per head, but this was soon reduced to a daily ration of one-fifth of a loaf of heavy war bread, coffee without sugar or milk for breakfast, and thin potato soup with a little meat in it for dinner. Sometimes there was also a piece of blood sausage. Fortunately these meagre rations were supplemented by food parcels from England. The camp was extremely cold, with poor heating only turned on for short periods. In winter it was necessary either to walk about or to stay in bed to keep warm.

English newspapers were smuggled into the camp, and German newspapers were also available, leaving the prisoners in a better position to judge the progress of the war than those at home. They realised that German power was weakening, and that the morale of German soldiers was low. Last winter the state of things in Germany became “almost intolerable”. After the Armistice the former prisoners were taken by a “very cold and dirty” train from Ruhleben to Sassnitz on the Baltic, where they were handed over to the Danish Red Cross and taken to Copenhagen. When they reached Leith in Scotland they were surprised by the “colossal” reception they received. Like all repatriated prisoners, Mr. Hopkins feels a little bewildered by the sudden change, and has no desire to see Germany again for a very long time!

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer 10th December 1918

Thursday, 6 December 2018

1st Leighton Buzzard Girl Guides

Mrs Laura Lawson Johnston, Girl Guides County Commissioner [X698/9/5]

Friday 6th December 1918: The 1st Leighton Troop of the Girl Guides, which was started in May by Mrs. Reeve of “Athelney”, Albany Road, has held its first enrolment meeting in the Church Room at Leighton Buzzard. Thirty six smart and enthusiastic guides paraded before the County Commissioner and the District Commissioner for North Bedfordshire, giving a well-trained and disciplined display of drill and marching. Unfortunately the proceedings were disrupted by the bad behaviour of a number of children who live near the hall.

The officers of the troop were formally invested with badges and colours by the County Commissioner, Mrs. Lawson Johnston. The newly enrolled Captain W. Flemming in turn enrolled two patrol leaders and two corporals. The company sang songs, demonstrated marches and dances, and signalled a greeting to the County Commissioner – who confessed that despite the best efforts of her daughter to teach her she had not managed to learn to read signals. In an address to the Girl Guides she reminded them that they had a great responsibility, especially the older girls, to help to train their younger sisters to be good girls and good citizens. She asked them to maintain the very high standard they had set themselves as Guides, and to show people who knew nothing about the work what it meant to be a Guide by their behaviour. She ended by telling them to “always be jolly, but also remember their responsibility and duty to their homes and their parents”.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 10th December 1918

Monday, 3 December 2018

Christmas Party for Fatherless Children

Sketch of Waller Street public baths from Borough Engineer’s plan,December 1910. 
During the winter the baths were boarded over to provide a Winter Assembly Hall [X558/6/108/4]

Tuesday 3rd December 1918: Although the War has ended, many local people still have to live with its consequences. This is particularly true for the families of those who paid the ultimate price. In order to bring a little joy into the lives of Luton children who lost their fathers during the War a special Christmas tea party is to be held for them. Mr Harold V. Hoy of the Ivy Leaf Club in Park Street, Luton is appealing for mothers of children below school age to send in the names of their children so that they can be issued with tickets: 
“I wonder if you would be so good as to make it known in your columns that the Luton and District Discharged Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Association are giving a tea and concert on December 23rd at the Winter Assembly Hall to the fatherless children of our fallen brothers, and, if funds permit, a small present for each child. We have asked the schools to help, by giving us a list of these children at school, but we regret it does not cover the whole field. If the mothers of children who do not attend school will send in their names to me I will add them to the list for tickets to be sent to them.”
Source: Luton News, 5th December 1918