Tag Archives: John Battams

WWI – Bedfordshire Training Depot in Ampthill Park – The Steppingley boys

Steppingley is a small, quiet village surrounded by farmland which is part of the Duke of Bedford’ Woburn Estate. In 1914 the Duke established the Bedfordshire Training Depot in nearby Ampthill Park. Steppingley boys heeded the call and were among the first enlist.

Six men are named on the brass WWI Memorial Plaque in St.Lawrence’s Church, Steppingley. Four of these trained at the Ampthill Camp. Most of the boys lived in the Duke’s Cottages along Rectory Road.

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On November 9, 1914 Thomas Rogers (Rabbit Warrener) and John Battams (Stockman) enlisted together with John’s younger brother, Walter Battams (Farm Labourer). They were given consecutive service numbers.

17710 Private John William Battams
17711 Private Walter Battams
17712 Private Thomas Rogers

Harry Gibbons (Farm Labourer) enlisted the very next day and was assigned 17743.

The four Steppingley boys would have known each other well. They joined the Ampthill Camp when it first opened and would have used the Warren Woods entrenching ground. In June 1915 the soldiers were drafted to the Front.

Arthur Norris (Railway Porter) joined in January 1916 and was assigned the service number 27675. The 1911 Census shows Arthur residing in Lower Stondon where he had gone for work.

The boys served with the Bedfords’. However, little is known of the specifics because 30 years later many of the British Army service records were destroyed in the Blitz.


17710 Private John William Battams
John Battams trained with No.1 Company at the Ampthill Camp. We know that Private John Battams saw action on September 25, 1915 with the 2nd Bedfords’ at the Battle of Loos. This was the first time that the British Artillery used gas. Sadly, on the first day of battle John (22) was killed by a shell during the British attack on Hulluch. In November 1915 the Battams family attended a memorial at St.Lawrence’s Church. The flag flew at half-mast. John is remembered in Steppingley Church and on the Loos Memorial.

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17711 Private Walter Battams
Walter Battams trained with No.1 Company at the Ampthill Camp. Following training was posted to 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment.

Walter was injured at least twice and gassed. On June 14, 1916 Walter sustained an injury  to the tissue of left hand and was admitted to 1st Service Hospital Rouen – discharged to base depot at Harfleur on June 28, 1916. In May 1918 he was gassed and then on August 7th Walter was shot in the neck.

Walter’s conduct record shows that he was a gallant fellow who was brought to notice on a number occasions. On June 7, 1917 Walter was awarded the Military Medal his brave actions during the taking of Messines Ridge, and in August 1918 was awarded a Bar to the Military Medal. To place Walter’s actions in context only seven of 707 men named on the Duke of Bedford War Memorial were decorated with the Military Medal.

Thankfully, Walter survived the Great War and was demobilized in April 1919, returning to Steppingley. In September 1921 he married Kate Oliver. Kate (52) died in 1950 and is buried in St.Lawrence’s graveyard. In 1983 Walter (88) was buried alongside.

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17712 Lance Corporal Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers was raised to Lance Corporal on February 9, 1915. Posted on June, 22 1915 with the Bedfords’ 2nd Battalion. In Autumn 1915 Thomas was wounded – an ugly gunshot wound to the neck. On July 11, 1916 Thomas saw action with the Bedfords’ at Trone Wood in the Somme region. The wood become the scene of a violent and costly struggle. The war diary reports ‘unexpectedly encountering a trench complex and machine guns.’

Captain Frank Sloan MC, one of the training staff at the Ampthill Training Depot, was also posted to the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. He was present at the battle for Trones Wood and later wrote to the Duke of Bedford describing aspects of the battle.

‘We had a terrific struggle in the Bois de Trones. I saw no mention of it in the papers. One reads glowing accounts of the 7th Royal West Kents in the wood. Our battalion reached the north end of the wood three days before at a time when there wasn’t a British position or a British soldier in the wood. 1100yds long our battalion attacked the wood alone on the morning of the 10th in four waves and we held it until we were relieved 48 hours after. We suffered heavily, 376 men and 5 officers. We were the first to get to a 9.2 howitzer gun in the north of the wood and the name of the regiment is carved on it, we may get it for the town.”

As published by Woburn Abbey (February 2014)

Sixteen Ampthill recruits who were killed that day – more. Thomas (34) was one of the casualties. He left a wife, Fanny, and three young children, Mabel, Horace and Ruby. After Thomas was killed the family wore black for 6 weeks to mourn his death. Thomas is buried in the Dive Copse Cemetery and remembered in Steppingley Church.

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Photographs used with kind permission of A.T. Rogers (Grandson)


25675 Serjeant Arthur Frederick Owen Norris

In 1914 Arthur Norris was living away in Lower Stondon. On January  26, 1916 Arthur joined the Ampthill Camp and was posted to No.3 Company. On completion of training he was drafted to join the 4th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. We know that in April 1917 Arthur sustained gun shot wounds to the left leg and was admitted to hospital in St Omer. Arthur recovered and was returned to active service.

Serjeant Arthur Norris (23) served with in the 4th Bedfords’ at the Second Battle of Ypres and on October 30, 1917 was killed in action. Arthur made Battlefield Will leaving his money in the Post Office Savings Bank and all of his possessions to his mother, Kate Norris, of Flitwick Lodge. Arthur is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, in St.Lawrence’s Church and on the Flitwick War Memorial.

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Flitwick War Memorial


17743 Corporal Harry Gibbons

We know that Private 76192 Harry Gibbons was with the Middlesex Regiment before he joined the Bedfords’. Harry was given a new service number, 17743, and was at the Training Depot for nearly seven months, assigned to No.1 Company. On June 9, 1915 he was posted to the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment in France. Whilst with this Battalion he was admitted to hospital twice. The first time Harry was suffering with bronchitis. On September 3, 1916 he then received a gunshot wound to the back.

On his return from hospital in Bologne Harry  transferred to the 4th Battalion. Harry went into battle at Moeuvres, France, during the Hundred Day Offensive in 1918. On September 27th the Allied Forces advanced towards the Hindenburg support Line – the last major defensive position taken up by the German Army in the war. In capturing their objective Corporal Harry Gibbons (23) was killed. He is buried at Moeuvres Cemeterymore.


Two other Steppingley boys are named on the memorial plate in St.Lawrence’s Church.

G/60786 Private Herbert Brightman

Herbert Brightman lived at No. 57 Duke’s Cottages, Steppingley. His trade was a Hatblocker. Herbert attested on May 11, 1916 and joined the Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment). We know that a H.Brightman trained at the Ampthill Camp but this is a different soldier – 23316 Private Herbert Brightman – who came from Dunstable.

Private Herbert Brightman (29) was killed in action on March 28, 1918. Herbert is buried in  the Mesnil Communal Cemetry, France.

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242223 Private Hector Stanley Warner

Stanley Warner lived at No.31 Duke’s Cottages, Steppingley.  He was a farm labourer. Hector attested on September 27, 1916 and joined the Sherwood Foresters (Nottingham & Derby) Regiment. We know that Hector served with the 24th Battalion.

Private Hector Warner (20) was killed in action on October, 17 1918 just three weeks before the Armistice. Hector is buried in the Busigny Communal Cemetry, France.

 

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Sources:

The Bedfordshire Standard. The original broadsheet is part of the Bedfordshire & Luton Archive.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
RBL Roll of Honour
Bedsatwar blog
Bedsathome blog
Bedfordshire Regiment
Flitwick: A story of Two World Wars (Phillip Thompson, 2014)
Thank you to Angela & Terry Hughes, Tony & Joan Rogers, Ian Church, Steve Fuller and Nicola Evans.

©S.Hartley (2016-)

 

WWI – Bedfordshire Training Depot in Ampthill Park – the Camp Diary, October 1915

The ‘Camp Diary’ provides an insight into the Bedfordshire Training Depot from 1914-16. Based on newspaper reports of the time.

October 1915 –An excellent spirit pervades the Camp – members of the Bedford Junior Unionist Association were entertained at the Sergeants’ Mess. Bandmaster Mr HE. Easton kindly arranged a capital programme of music.

Early on Saturday, October 2nd the Duke and Duchess of Bedford were in attendance to address the fifth draft. His Grace made a short speech counselling words of advice and encouragement. The 80 men, led by the Regimental Band, then passed through the ranks of their comrades amidst loud cheers and onto Ampthill Midland Station. The draft is enroute to Southampton and then France. Four hundred and thirty-six local men have now passed out of the Camp to do their duty for King and Country.

On Saturday 19th had a route march out via Ridgmont and Steppingley. Then on Thursday the chaps played football against the 2/1st Herefords. The Camp won this enjoyable game by 5-0. The game was not nearly so one-sided as the score might suggest.

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October 1, 1915

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October 8, 1915

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October 25, 1915

News from the Front

News full of encouragement continues to reach the Camp from the former drafts who are in France. They have been in the thick of the recent fighting near Loos.

The Battle of Loos, Belgium – for four days our big guns bombarded a six-and-half mile front. Then on September 25, 1915 the British Expeditionary Force released an fearful cloud of gas and engaged in a major assault, supporting a larger French action to the South. The 2nd Bedfords were part of the ‘Big Push,’ intent on breaking through the German lines. Ampthill Park chaps were in the action – reports are starting to filter through. 

Supporting the first attack, the 2nd Battalion moved across and over the former enemy front line with few casualties. B Company was on the left and D Company to the right, C Company in support, and A Company in reserve. The Bedfords began to advance across open ground behind the German frontline and came under a very heavy rifle fire. The Battalion now suffered severely but continued to rush forwards in small parties. Two platoons got a hundred yards in front of the Gun Trench, but being unsupported had to fall back in ones and twos. Second-Lieutenant Forward was killed and 7 officers wounded. Captain Hutchinson died from wounds later in the day. Casualties of other Ranks during 25.9.15 – 1.10.15. KILLED 45; MISSING 40; WOUNDED 270 – 355. Ampthill Park boys are among the dead and wounded; others have been gassed.


A Funeral –
on Wednesday, October 27th mourners gathered at Bedford Cemetery to lay Lance Corporal Southgate to rest. Walter was among the first men to join the Ampthill Camp in December 1914. In August he was drafted to the Front and was badly wounded at Loos on his first day in the trenches. Walter was cleared back to Folkestone Hospital where he succumbed four weeks later.

The Ampthill Camp was represented at the Funeral by 119 men, including a firing party, under the command of Captain Hon. Moubray St.John. The non-commissioned officers present included Company Sergeant Major Roberts, Company Quarter Master Sergeant Burke, Sergeant Norman and Sergeant Allen. There were many old comrades and friends of No. 2 Company in the ranks.

The coffin, which was drawn on a gun carriage, was draped with the Union Flag and was covered with wreathes. It was preceded by the Battalion Band who played a somber Dead March in “Saal”. The Rev. Canon Speck conducted an impressive service at the cemetery, where a large crowd gathered to pay a last tribute to a brave soldier and a beloved friend.

Source: Bedfordshire Times (October 22, 1915) as republished by Bedsatwar

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The Bedfordshire Regiment 2nd Battalion War Diary provides a contemporary account of the Battalion at the Battle of Loos. The key dates are 25 September to 15 October 1915.

Loos was the first time the British used poison gas – 140 tonne of chlorine – which formed a blanket that lingered and drifted in no-man’s-land hampering the attack and contributing to British casualties.

Many of the Ampthill Park recruits would have been in action for the first time – imagine the men advancing into the dank cloud of gas each protected by a primitive hood, excitement mixed with fear. Emerging from the cover, German machine guns swept eagerly across the British line, the sound, the grim reality….

There were 61,000 British casualties at Loos; of these 7,766 men died. The British death toll exceeded any previous WWI battle. More about the Battle of Loos.

At the time family and friends back home would have heard little about what was happening at the Front. The Defence of The Realm Act 1914 meant that soldier’s letters home were censored and the Government only permitted a select few ‘accredited’ reporters access to the front. More about censorship.

Sources:
The Bedfordshire Standard. The Bedfordshire Times & Independent. These original broadsheets are part of the Bedfordshire & Luton Archive.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
RBL Roll of Honour
Imperial War Museum
Bedfordshire Regiment 2nd Battalion War Diary
Longlongtrail.co.uk/the-battle-of-loos
Bedsatwar blog

Next installment to be published on 15 April 2016….
Text copyright S.Hartley (2015-)