One hundred years ago, on 1 July 1916 the British Expeditionary Force commenced a major offensive at the Somme. Ampthill recruits in the Bedfords’ 7th Battalion (C & D Company) were in frontline trenches, and went over the top. 19,240 British soldiers were killed on that infamous day. Ninety-five Bedfords were among them – ten of these men trained at the Ampthill Camp:
Many more soldiers were wounded. The Bedfordshire Regiment 7th Battalion War Diary provides an account of what happened on 1 July 1916. Ampthill recruits would see action in the weeks and months that followed.
The family of Peter Darrington would receive the following letter:
Bedfords, B.E.F., 19/7/16
Dear Sir, – I am in receipt of your post-card of the 15th inst.
It is with the deepest regret that I have to inform you that Pte. Darrington, 20317, of this Company, met his death in action on July 1st. The part which the Bedfords, and D Company in particular, played in the Battle of the Somme was a crowning success, and in that success Pte. Darrington gave of his best and met his death like a true Englishman. He was buried by the Padre where he fell and his grave has been marked by a wooden cross. At that date I was an A Company officer, and so I have no personal knowledge of Darrington, but I hear though he had only recently joined us, he had won favour with all, and made himself popular.
Will you convey to his mother, not only the deepest sympathy of myself, but of his platoon and his company. I feel very deeply for her in her great trouble. Will you break the news to her, if she has not already heard from the W.O., and show her this letter.
May it be of comfort to her to know he died, as she would have wished, doing his duty, and in the height of a glorious success for the new armies.
Yours very sincerely,
Source: Bedfordshire Times – July 21, 1916 (as republished by the RBL Roll of Honour)
From 1 July 2016 at Exeter Cathedral each of the 19,240 British soldiers who died during the first day of battle will be represented by a 12 inch figure, wrapped and bound in a hand-stitched shroud and arranged in rows on the ground. The work 19240 Shrouds of the Somme illustrates the enormity of the horror that unfolded, and the loss of life.
The Battles of the Somme ended on 18 November 1916 by which time more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed.
Imperial War Museum film – The Battle of the Somme | 100 years on
BBC In pictures: Battle of the Somme
The Bedfordshire Standard and Bedfordshire Times. The original broadsheets is part of the Bedfordshire & Luton Archive.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
RBL Roll of Honour
Next installment of the ‘Camp Diary’ to be published on 15 July 2016….
Text copyright S.Hartley (2015-)
Care is taken to ensure accuracy – please accept my apologies if the content contains any errors.
BUY: Ampthill Camp WWI Centenary Postcard
This special postcard commemorates the centenary of the WWI Bedfordshire Training Depot (1914-16). Limited edition: 500
Proceeds will help to fund a book about the Ampthill Camp ~ profits to benefit the charity Combat Stress which was founded in 1919 to help WWI veterans deal with shell shock.
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