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.
October 1, 1915
October 8, 1915
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
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.
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
Next installment to be published on 15 April 2016….
Text copyright S.Hartley (2015-)