The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War
Bagdes, traditions, nicknames and other items
The regimental badge
The badge of the Bedfordshire Regiment is comprised several distinct elements, each with their own meaning, origin and purpose.
The main body is that of a Maltese Cross (the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath) overlaid onto a diamond cut, eight pointed star. The central circular garter reading 'Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense' frames the image of a Hart crossing a ford. Below is a scroll reading 'Bedfordshire'.
Precise and irrefutable origins of the elements are difficult to establish with absolute certainty but the traditions explaining their origins have been handed down as follows.
Before the British Army standardised uniforms, the colonels of each regiment had a free reign which has led to many of the distinctive and unusual elements of every regiment's badge and uniform.
Regimental tradition records that the Order of the Bath was added to the badge during the colonelcy of the Hon. James Stanley (later the Earl of Derby) between 1692 and 1705. However, two further theories exist placing the period during Lord Henry Scott's colonelcy (1724 to 1730), or during William Carr's colonelcy (1823 to 1854) as both Colonels were awarded the Order, therefore were entitled to include it.
Lord Scott was invested in the Order when it was reinstated in 1725 leading to the suggestion that he carried the Order onto his regiment's badge.
Alternatively, a 1920 book by Commander Dorling called Ribbons and Medals asserts that the Order was not seen on military badges until 1815. In which case, Colonel William Carr (Viscount Beresford) would have incorporated the Order into the badge, being a holder of it himself.
Among other changes to the regimental structure across its long history, the Cardwell Reforms of 1881 saw the Hertfordshire Militia merged into the 16th Foot. This merger saw the addition of the Hart crossing the ford onto the regimental badge.
The phrase 'Honi Soit qui mal y pense' is the motto of the Order of the Garter and originates from an Anglo-Norman phrase which roughly translates into 'Shame be he who think ill of it' or 'evil unto him who thinks evil of it'. The garter appears to have been incorporated into the badge during a change around 1898.
Until 1882 the regimental march was The Mountain Rose (starting at 2:30, directly after Rule Britannia). This appears to have been adapted to a regimental march from an Irish folk song and has been used by several regiments over time. Given how heavily the regiment recruited from Ireland during the 19th centrury, it seems logical that such a song would rouse the spirits of the regiment and become their regimental march.
From 1882 the march was changed to La Mandolinata, adapted from an Italian opera of the 1870's to suit a regimental march. This carried forward into the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment from 1919 and is still used by the regimental association during their parades.
Regiments invariably pick up nicknames, especially those with a long service behind them. A few are in honour of specific or creditable events, many are amusing but most have an intended sneer or taunt attached to them and were used as a source of friction between soldiers, who were encouraged to resolve their issues between them, usually through physical means.
Being an old regiment, the Bedfordshires picked up several nicknames and mottos along the way. It is often the case that a nickname was re-used over time, with the purpose often being changed to reflect an opportunity to taunt. As a result, identifying how they were originally assigned can be difficult.
Old Sixteen / Old Sixteenth
Many of the first twenty-one regiments of foot raised before William II came to the throne in 1688 appear to have the prefix 'Old' attached to their regimental number at some time, to reflect their status among the senior regiments of the army.
King George V also referred to the Bedfordshires as 'Old Sixteen' in his 1916 book 'Regimental Nicknames and Traditions of the British Army'.
Between 1782 and 1809, the regiment was named 'The 16th (the Buckinghamshire) Regiment of Foot'. After titles were exchanged between the colonels of the 14th Bedfordshire and 16th Buckinghamshire regiments that led to the regiment becoming connected to Bedfordshire, the nickname surfaced.
After their return from the American Wars in 1782, the regiment found itself engaged in a long spell of garrison duties in North America, the West Indies, Canada and India. Although present in several of the Empire's wars during the period, they always seemed to be 'somewhere else' when the 19th century's 'major' wars with France, Russia, and the Indian Mutinies flared up.
Hence, those regiments who had been engaged in the major campaigns used their relatively comfortable garrison postings as a source of amusement.
I have come across three different potential sources of this nickname, which seems to be a later variation of the 'Featherbeds' nickname.
The first definite era this nickname appears in books, stories and memoirs is from the late 19th century. They all refer to when battle honours were created in the 1880's and the regiment were found to not have been engaged in any of the events that were selected to be used as honours; this reportedly resulted in the nickname being raised by the 'wits in the canteens' who were always keen to find a fresh source of amusement at someone else's expense!
The nickname also seems to have surfaced in county papers in 1914, as well as The Times in March 1915, when it refers to an event during the Napoleonic Wars. Still a single battalion regiment at the time, it had found itself on garrison duty in the West Indies and Canada throughout the entire Wars with France from 1803. When Napoleon resurfaced in 1815 they were recalled to Europe but a delay in their transport arriving resulted in them landing in Europe after the Battle of Waterloo; they missed the entire war, but were then assigned to the Army of Occupation as the battle-worn regiments were returned home. This has been referred to as a source of the nickname although several cavalry and over twenty infantry regiments were 'late' to the battle, making this an unlikely version. Although pure speculation on my part, the event may have been used to 'justify' the nickname so it did not sound as demeaning as the earlier reason.
The 1916 book 'Regimental Nicknames and Traditions of the British Army' attributed to Field-Marshal His Majesty the King (King George V) records that the regiment was 'also known as '"The Peacemakers" from the ferocity with which it was wont to attack the enemy, who were generally glad to quickly make peace.' This is certainly true of the regiment's battle history and the nickname seems to be more in line with such actions, but whether true or an attempt to over-ride a formerly derisive nickname is unclear.
'Thou shalt not kill' [motto]
The original source of this 'motto' is unclear but the earliest instance of it being used seems to be from the early 1880's, when battle honours were being organised for inclusion in regimental colours. At that time, the Bedfordshire Regiment were not eligible for any of the new honours as the regiment had not been present at any of events selected as potential battle honours in spite of having been present during numerous of the Empire's wars over the previous two centuries. As an opportunity to rib or even insult another regiment was usually grasped with both hands by serving soldiers at the time, the 'motto' originally assigned to the 21st Lancers (among others) seems to have also been used to rib soldiers in the Bedfordshires.
An incident referring to this 'motto' was recounted in Percy Croney's 1965 book 'A Soldier's Luck'. An extract from page 116 of Richard Holmes' 'Tommy' reads; 'The Essex and Bedfordshire Regiments had a feud dating back to the Boer War, when an encircled Essex patrol had allegedly not been rescued by the nearby Bedfords, who were just falling in for church parade. Percy Croney, who served in 12/Essex, knew 'when an Essex man sees a Bedford badge, in memory of that patrol he must call: "Thou shalt not kill," and the Bedford man, in honour of his regiment must fight.' Percy Croney does not appear to have served in the Boer War himself, so this appears to be verbal story passed down to the soldiers while training during the Great War.
Private 33362 Harry Bashford was a Kent teenager who was posted to the Bedfordshires during the Great War. In his memoirs, he mentions that "the unfortunate tag 'Thou shalt not kill' was soon outlived", further illustrating that the motto was definitely in use at the time.
Robert Graves book 'Goodbye to all that; an autobiography' also refers to the motto, when he writes; 'Though the Bedfords had made a name for themselves in the war, they were still called 'The Peacemakers' ... it was a sneer that their regimental motto was 'thou shalt not kill'.
Unfortunately, the brawls resulting from the sneer led to one unnecessary death during the war, when a Bedfordshire soldier responded to the taunts of a Scottish soldier during training in the UK. The fight that followed left the Scottish soldier dead. Reflecting the social norms of the time, during the trial, the judge remarked that he 'should have responded in the same way if his regiment's honour had been called into question' and the Bedfordshire soldier was found not guilty of murder.
In conclusion, this verbal taunt appears to have been active from the late 1800's until the Great War but I have yet to find any evidence that the Boer War event actually took place or whether it was a typically tall story passed down and added to as time went on.
Site built by Steven Fuller, 2003 to 2023