The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War
Officers' photographs and Biographies from the 2nd Battalion
Captain Harold de Burriatte (of the famous 1914 Christmas truce)
Harold de Buriatte enlisted into the Territorial 28th London Regiment (the "Artist's Rifles") on the 28th November 1911 as Private 1033 and was embodied with the Battalion on the 5th August 1914. His leadership capabilities were quickly recognised and he was given a temporary commission, arriving with the 2nd Battalion in France on the 15th December 1914.
Less than two weeks later, Harold became one of the "famous" Bedfordshire Regiment Officers for his involvement in the1914 Christmas Truce. The Battalion War Diary records:
"On evening of 24th Dec.1914 at about 8 p.m. the Germans were singing in their trenches. There were numerous lights on their parapets apparently on Christmas trees. A voice shouted from their trenches & could be distinctly heard "I want to arrange to bury the dead. Will someone come out & meet me". 2/Lt.de Buriatte went out with 3 men & met 5 Germans the leader of whom spoke excellent English but was not an officer. He said he had lived in Brighton & Canada. This German said they wished to bury about 24 of their dead but would not do so at night as they were afraid of their artillery might open fire and they could not stop them and this would not be fair to us. No arrangement was made at the time. During the conversation the German said he belonged to the 15th Regt. & gave Lt.de Buriatte a postcard with the following information. The addressee was in the 12th Company 3rd Battalion 15 Infantry Regiment 26 Infantry Bde. 7th Army Corps. The men also had 15 on their shoulder straps. The red band round their Caps was covered with grey cloth. This morning 25th inst. at 10 A.M. a German officer and 2 men unarmed came out of their trenches with a white flag and were met by Captain H.C.Jackson and asked to be permitted to bury their dead so we said we would not fire till 11.30 A.M. to give them time & this was done. My men had already buried some on night of 24/25. It was noticed that the German trenches were strongly held their being a large number of men sitting on the parapet during the time the bodies were being buried. The men were a young lot from 19-25 years well turned out & clean. I had given strict orders that none of my men were to go towards the enemy's lines without definite orders & that no one except those on duty were to be looking over the parapet. No Germans were allowed to come near our trenches. The German wire was closely inspected & is as previously reported. During the period that no firing was taking place one of my Company Sergeant Majors was speaking to a German when an elderly officer passed. The German said he was the "Divisioner". This German also said they were very comfortable in a nice village behind but did not give the name! He seemed surprised that our troops were not an elderly Reserve class. The general impression was that the Germans had had enough and were anxious for the War to come to an end."
As the dreadful winter ground on, Harold became one of the numerous men to suffer badly from sickness and spent several spells away from the lines suffering from dysentery and paratyphoid A (salmonella). Having been away from the lines sick between January and June 1915, he was promoted to Lieutenant and became the O.C. of A Company in August 1915. Unfortunately, paratyphoid A took him back to England again on the 2nd January 1916 and kept him away from the front line until October 1916.
Having returned to the 2nd Battalion, Harold led A Company in their assault at the Battle of Arras on the 12th April 1917 and continued serving in the Battalion as a Lieutenant. He survived the Third Ypres battles ("Passchendaele") in 1917 and Operation Michael battles of March and April 1918 and spent between the 23rd June and 31st July 1918 training the newly arrived American units.
On the 15th August 1918, during a relief, Harold was shot twice in the right arm and was withdrawn from the war for what would be the last time. One bullet fractured his ulnar below the elbow, with the other fracturing the radius above his wrist, leaving him unable to move his right wrist. Harold spent the rest of the war in and out of London hospitals until he was finally released from his commission on the 8th May 1919, after which he returned to normal life. He later married Doris Murray and had a family, of which two sons still live today (2005).
(My thanks to Tim de Buriatte for his kind permission to summarise his father Harold's service here)
Acting Captain Harry Beckett LANG, M.C.
Harry Lang was born on the 17th July 1895 in Ottowa and before the war was a medical student who lived in Ontario in Canada. Initially Harry Lang enlisted into the 2nd Queen's Own Rifles on the 10th October 1914, later moving to the 5th Canadian Field Ambulance unit on the 6th April 1915 as Private 1674.
After he was recognized as being Officer material, Harry enlisted into No. 5 Officer Cadet Battalion at Trinity College in Cambridge on the 4th November 1916, giving his fathers occupation as a "Mine Owner" back in Canada. During his training Harry fell from a horse whilst on reconnaissance duty but otherwise came through in one piece. He was commissioned as a 2/Lt on the 27th June 1917
2/Lt Harry Lang arrived in the 2nd Battalion on the 7th October 1917 and quickly took command of B Company on the 27th, vice Captain Holbrook M.C. who was suffering from sickness. In October 1917, whilst an Acting captain serving in the 2nd Battalion at Kemnel, Harry was admitted to hospital with severe Epidymiyis. Having spent some time in hospital in France, Harry was eventually returned to England and landed at Southampton on the 2nd February 1918, after a very short first tour in the trenches.
After some months, Harry rejoined the 2nd Battalion on the 30th September 1918 where he served the rest of the war. In the fast and furious battles of the final phase of the Great War, the now Acting Captain H.B. Lang was awarded a Military cross for his excellent leadership of B Company during the Battle of Le Cateau on the 23rd and 24th October 1918.
In the early hours of the 23rd, with a thick ground mist shielding much of their initial movement, the Battalion moved into position at the head of the 54th Brigade's assault. All companies pressed on but Harry's men were held up and badly mauled by German machine guns positioned inside the British Barrage, thereby avoiding it completely. "Entirely due to the splendid leadership displayed by 2/Lt H.B Lang, who led the men in the face of intense machine gun fire" B Company regrouped and assaulted the posts with the bayonet, killing the gunners and pressing on to catch the British barrage they had lost touch with as a result. Sheer determination and Harry's leadership took B Company onwards until they arrived at their objectives at 5am, incredibly still on schedule!
The Battalion's C.O. wrote in his report:
"I consider the greatest credit due to 2nd Lieut.H.B.LANG and his Company for reaching their objective in spite of such strong opposition. A subsequent examination of the ground showed the Hill both North and South of RICHEMONT MILL to have been very thickly held by a large number of Light and Heavy Machine Guns."
In the final week of the war, Harry's devotion to duty and personal bravery continued. During what would be their final pitched battle of the entire war, the 54th Brigade was ordered to assault the fortified village of Preux-aux-Bois on the 4th November 1918. After the Northampton's had cleared the way to the village, the 2nd Battalion moved through and launched themselves at the orchards around it before taking the village itself. Harry led two of B Company's platoons personally in their assault against the main street in the village, including leading a group who bayonet charged a particularly damaging machine gun post in the main street.
Lieutenant Harry Lang, M.C. was notified of his Military Cross on the 9th December 1918 and stayed with the Battalion during their occupation and was finally released to go home to Canada on the 30th March 1919. He returned to his preferred vocation, being a medical man and worked in that capacity for many years afterwards. Harry is the fourth from the left, standing up in this photo, which was kindly sent to me by his descendants in Canada.
(My thanks to Tim Brown for the superb photo)
This photograph was taken at Krugersdorp in South Africa on the 5th August 1914 and is a stark example of how costly the battalion's introduction into the Great War was. Of the thirteen officers present, twelve went to the Western Front early in October 1914 and fought in the First Battle of Ypres, with just one of them coming through unscathed. During the battle six were killed in action, four were wounded, with one being wounded and taken prisoner.
Standing (left to right): Lieutenant Donald Godrid Campbell Thomson (wounded and missing, later presumed killed in action 30th October 1914) Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Wishaw Unett Coates, D.S.O. (Battalion C.O. pre war, but unfit for war service) Lieutenant Richard Reuben Langstow Thom (wounded 1914, returned 1915) Captain Ernest Hugh Lyddon (Missing 31st October 1914, later presumed killed in action) Lieutenant William Bastard (Killed in action 26th October 1914) Captain Francis M. Bassett (severely wounded 18th October 1914) Captain Arthur Buche Lemon (wounded and taken prisoner 31st October 1914) Major Robert Percy Stares (killed in action 31st October 1914)
Sitting (left to right): Lieutenant Alfred Edgar Kuhn (wounded 29th October 1914, killed in action 19th May 1915 at Festubert), The battalion Padre, Lieutenant Gilbert Ewart Gott (wounded 30th October 1914 and again in September 1918), Lieutenant Stephen Douglas Mills (one of just four officers left standing at the end of 31st October 1914, wounded in 1917, going on to serve in World War 2), Lieutenant Wilfred Cruttenden Anderson (killed in action 31st October 1914) Lieutenant John Agar Paterson (killed in action 30th October 1914).
William was born in London in 1898, the son of William George Ridgewell (1872 - 1946) and Rosa May Valentine (1875 - 1956). His father worked for the drapers E. Braggins & Sons in Silver Street, Bedford, where he was the Manager for many years and his mother was a Bedford girl whose family had been in the area for generations. By the time young William started school the family had relocated to Bedford.
In November 1914, he enlisted into the Bedfordshire Regiment, where he rose to become the Regimental Sergeant Physical Education Instructor, was accepted as an Officer Cadet in November 1917 and was commissioned on 26 June 1918 as a Temporary Second Lieutenant. Following his final session of training before overseas service began, he arrived in France on 4 October 1918, joining the 2nd Battalion in the field 4 days later.
Second Lieutenant Ridgewell was engaged in the battalion's last two battles of the war, which saw some intensive fighting as the German army were still as effective and determined as ever. During the Final Advance in Picardy, he was involved in the Battle of the Selle on 23 October, and the Battle of the Sambre on 4 November, with hostilities coming to an end 7 days later. After Armistice Day, he remained in France assisting clean up the battlefields which he described as a "terrible, terrible experience".
Second Lieutenant Ridgewell was demobilized on 15 March 1919 at Crystal Palace and returned to civilian life. He completed his education and embarked on a career in engineering, as was often the case for educated men in Bedfordshire at the time.
Between 1926 and 1936 he was a Body Engineer at Vauxhall Motors in Luton. William married Matilda 'Mattie' Summerfield from Wootton, who was an original member of A Company of the Ladies Shooting Club and they lived in Bedford.
On 4 February 1922, William was granted a commission in the Territorial Force, rejoining the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment but as part of the 5th Battalion's officer corps. William can be seen here (the right hand officer), along with Lieutenant Chevanix-French in the unmistakable St Paul's Square, Bedford, with the entrance to the Corn Exchange on the top right of the photo. Although unconfirmed, this is likely to be from the morning of 1 August 1922 when the battalion laid their company battle flags up at Shire Hall, as the colours and drums can be seen on the left of the photo and the company bayonets are drawn in readiness for a ceremony (which would happen in Market Square at 11.00 a.m.).
4 February 1924 saw William's promotion to Lieutenant, with the rise to Captain following on 11 July 1925.
Instead of the usual Territorial Force annual training in August 1925, for the two weeks from 13 September that year the 162nd Brigade - of which the Bedfordshires were the senior battalion - were called on to take part in the Regular Army manoeuvres. Websters battalion history records how Captain Ridgewell was the Officer Commanding A Company and towards the end of their 'operations' against the Regulars, they were placed as the Outpost line overnight. "Borrowing" two "innocent looking pushbikes", he and his second in command (Second Lieutenant Rupert Duberly Peel) reconnoitered the line and maintained contact between their posts throughout the night.
Following the latest in a serious of sleepless nights, Captain Ridgewell's duties were still not over; as soon as they sat down to their first meal for several days, the news was delivered to him that his entire company were "verminous; their clothing was infested and their skins masses of red marks. Visions of similar events on active service during the war, mingled also with the visions of hosts of letters late on from the indignant mothers of his younger soldiers caused Captain Ridgewell a bad five minutes." A huge chicken roosting barn nearby provided the conditions needed to solve the problem and to spare the locals the sight of his entire company stripped down to their birthday suits.
The promise of rest after the battle of the lice army was not realised once orders arrived that carried his company to the left flank of the line, where they engaged their 'enemy', near the village of Kimpton in Hampshire. After just half an hour of the firefight between the Regulars and Ridgewell's company, a ceasefire was called and the brigade were retired from the field as the 'battle' had been decided some four miles to their south around Quarley Hill.
During the Prince of Wales' visit to Luton to present the 2nd Bedfordshires with their new colours on 17 November 1926, Captain Ridgewell had the honour of being the Officer Commanding the Guard of Honour and can be seen escorting the Prince here. A year later (in 1927), he was invested as a Member of the Order of British Empire (Military Division).
His service continued into the next decade with monthly training, annual summer camps, recruiting parties and the administrative duties of a Company Commander; he can be seen in the 1931 camp photo here, and the 1935 Colchester photo here.
17 February 1934 saw Captain Ridgewell promoted to Major, he was presented to King George at St James Palace in London in 1935 and 2 years later, on 13 May 1936, Major Ridgewell resigned his commission and moved with his family to Kenilworth, Warwickshire, where he was the Chief Body Engineer at Humber Limited (the vehicle manufacturer). The photograph below would have been taken between his promotion to Major in 1934 and his retirement in 1936.
During his time in the 5th Battalion, Major Ridgewell was Band President, President of various social clubs, Treasurer of the Old Comrades Association and on the History Committee which compiled the Webster's history of the 5th Battalion - a book in which he also appears.
When the Second World War broke out he offered his services to the British Army as a senior officer with recent Territorial Army experience but this was declined as his position at Rootes was considered essential to the war effort. At Rootes he was heavily involved in the design and manufacture of armoured cars, scout cars and staff cars but maintained a military connection by being a commander of a company of the Coventry Home Guard while continuing to work at Humber. His family home was hit by shrapnel from a stray bomb during a raid and although his wife Mattie survived, she developed a brain tumour from which she died in 1941.
William later met Irene Code Craig in Rugby and they married in 1942, moving to Stoke Park in Coventry. He remained great friends with Colonel Miskin (of the 5th Battalion) throughout his life and in 1947 he emigrated to New Zealand; initially living in Wellington where he was followed by his wife Irene and their two young children. William took up the position of head of the Styling and Quality Control Division for Todd Motor Industries who assembled Rootes Group cars and trucks.
Upon his retirement he relocated to Auckland with his family where he died in 1981.
(With thanks to Grant Ridgewell, William's son, for the photos and personal details)
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