The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War
The 6th (Service) Battalion
The 6th Battalion was a "Service" battalion, raised specifically for the duration of the war in August 1914, as a part of 'K1' - Lord Kitchener's first call to arms for 100,000 men to fight for their country against the King's enemies. The battalion was formed around a cadre of 200 experienced soldiers from the 3rd (Reserve) battalion and by September 1914, was so large that it was able to transfer 1,000 men into the newly raised . Initially, the battalion was attached to the 9th (Scottish) Division at Aldershot whilst training, but when the 37th Division was formed in March 1915, the Battalion was moved to join them at Andover and trained on the Salisbury Plains, where it was transferred into the 112th Brigade.
On the 21st April 1915, the Division moved to Cholderton on the south east boundary of the Salisbury Plain and continued training in preparation for their entry into the war. By early June specialist training was in full swing and the troops realised they would not be waiting long before they got to grips with the enemy.
Finally, the Battalion boarded trains at Ludgershall Station, 7 miles north-west of Andover, and arrived at Southampton late that afternoon. They left English shores at 6.30pm on board the Empress Queen and landed at 7am at Le Havre in France on the 30th July 1915. Having gathered their supplies, the Division concentrated around St Omer before moving forward to the front line.
The 6th Battalion served entirely on the Western Front until disbanded in May 1918. Other than a brief spell attached to the 34th Division (7th July to 21st August 1916) following that Division's horrendous losses on The Somme, the 110th Brigade remained in the 37th Division for the entire war. During their service in France and Flanders the 37th Division was composed as follows:
- 110th Brigade - transferred to 21st Division in exchange for the 63rd Brigade on 7th July 1916.
- 111th Brigade - attached to the 34th Division from 7th July to 21st August 1916.
- 112th Brigade - attached to the 34th Division from 7th July to 21st August 1916.
The 112th Brigade were made up of the following battalions that fought together as a tactical unit until a major shake up in February 1918:
- 6th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment.
- 8th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment.
- 10th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
- 11th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
With the acute manpower shortage that had developed throughout 1917, the British Army reorganised itself into a smaller Army early in 1918, disbanding many of the 'junior' Service battalions and transferring the men into other units. As a result, the 112th Brigade became a three Battalion Brigade, having lost all its Battalions other than the Bedfords and gaining only two others in their place. The Brigade changed completely and included:
- 6th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment.
- 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment.
- 13th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.
The Battalion served in the new-look brigade until it was finally disbanded itself in May 1918, during yet another reorganisation of the shrinking British Army. The men of the 6th Battalion were transferred into the (known as The Hert's Guards) and a small cadre were sent to train the newly arrived American divisions for the summer. Finally, in August 1918, the cadre were disbanded and the 6th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment ceased to exist.
During the Great War, the 37th Division suffered some 30,000 casualties. Of these, the 6th Battalion lost over 650 killed in action, with over 2,700 more of their number being wounded. *
*According to the "Official History of the Great War, medical services, casualties and medical statistics" by Major T.J. Mitchell and Miss G.M. Smith (1931) there were 2,977,801 British Army casualties, including 704,803 deaths (23.67%). This factor (4.22) is used in the approximation of regimental casualties.
The last of the Regiment's Great War veterans?
Private 50119 Reginald George Bartram served in the 6th Battalion before being transferred to the Norfolks and is the last of the regimental association's members who served in the war to have died. Born in Roxton in May 1899, George died in September 1997, aged 98. Whether he is the last of the regiment's Great War veterans to have died or not is unconfirmed but he is the last recorded one that I have been able to identify.
The Battalion were engaged in the following major battles throughout the war:
In 1916, they were engaged in The Battles of The Somme 1916, specifically at the Battle of Bazentin Ridge (where they lost 330 officers and men during their St. Swithen's Day assault against Pozières), the Battle of Pozières Ridge in August and at The Battle of the Ancre in November.
In 1917 they were engaged at The Battle of Arras in April, specifically at the First Battle of the Scarpe, the Second Battle of the Scarpe and the Battle of Arleux (when they came out of their assault against Greenland Hill on 29th April 1917 with just 58 men). Later that year, they were also engaged in the Battles of Yrpes 1917 (also referred to as the Third Battle of Ypres, or Passchendaele), namely during the Battle of the Menin Road and the Battle of Polygon Wood in September, the Battle of Broodseinde and the Battle of Poelcapelle in October.
In 1918 the battalion were very lightly engaged in the First Battles of the Somme 1918 (also called the German Spring Offensives, Operations Michael or Kaiserschlacht), specifically at the Battle of the Ancre in April before being disbanded in May.
The 37th Division's memorial at Monchy, east of Arras
Commanding Officers of the 6th Battalion
The following officers commanded the battalion between 1914 and 1918:
- Lieutenant -Colonel Bereford Cecil Molynuex Carter commanded from the raising of the battalion on the 19th August until 13th November 1914.
- Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert Frederick Barclay took over until the 22nd August 1915, when he went on to command the 23rd Army Corps.
- Major Bertie Phillip Newbolt assumed temporary command for two days when the battalion arrived in France, between 22nd and 24th August 1915.
- Lieutenant-Colonel Roundel Tristram Toke assumed command between 24th August 1915 and 3rd May 1916.
- Major (acting Lt-Colonel) Francis Hyde Edwards commanded between 3rd May 1916 and 14th May 1917, throughout the Somme and Arras campaigns.
- Lieutenant-Colonel William Robert Campion, M.P. took over command between 14th May and 26th October 1917 whilst Lieutenant-Colonel Edwards was on home leave in England.
- Lieutenant-Colonel G.W. Courtney took over between 26th October and 22nd December 1917, as a result of Colonel Edwards' leave being extended.
- Lieutenant -Colonel Francis Hyde Edwards resumed command from 22nd December 1917 and led the battalion through their final campaigns until the 4th August 1918, at which time the battalion was disbanded.
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