The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War
The 3rd (Reserve) Battalion
The unit that would become the 3rd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment was originally formed as part of the Militia Act (1757) as the Bedfordshire Militia. The premise of the act was to form a semi professional military reserve that could be embodied during times of crisis and war, with Bedfordshire being one of the counties authorised to raise such a body of reserve troops.
The county Militia were mobilised during many periods of trouble in the tumultuous 18th and 19th centuries, with some elements even being sent abroad as reinforcements for other regiments. Small groups are recorded as having left for Flanders to take part in The Battle of Waterloo and during the Crimean War, albeit as reinforcements for other regiments. Other drafts were sent to join the 2nd Bedfordshires during the South African Wars of 1899 to 1902.
Under the Childers Reforms of 1881, the Bedfordshire Regiment's structure was altered to include two Militia battalions, being the Bedfordshire Light Infantry Militia and the Hertfordshire Militia. Haldane's reforms of 1908 saw another reorganisation, which included the Bedfordshire Light Infantry Militia becoming the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the regiment.
Unlike those who enlisted into the 'Special Reserve', Reservists had almost always completed a term of service in the Regulars as professional soldiers. Once transferred into the Reserves, they had part time obligations, including being liable to call up if the country needed them and their attendance at the annual training camps. Applications for battalion officers were strictly vetted and only the most upstanding gentlemen with appropriate standing, and with no trace of scandal or impropriety attached to their names were accepted, as the reputation of the battalion's officer cadre was closely guarded.
Between 1909 and the outbreak of the Great War, the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion attended the following annual camps:
24 May to 12 June 1909 - Ampthill
23 May to 11 June 1910 - Ampthill
22 May to 17 June 1911 - Landguard (Felixstowe)
20 May to 15 June 1912 - Shorncliffe
19 May to 14 June 1913 - Ampthill
18 May to 13 June 1914 - Landguard (Felixstowe)
The Keep, Kempston, circa 1912
The battalion's Great War service
On Tuesday 4 August telegram orders were issued to the men on the National Army Reserve to report to their local depot for medical examination, orders and kit. Over the next few days, the Bedfordshire Regiment's Reserves reported to their regimental barracks at The Keep in Kempston and men passed as fit for active service were given a full examination before being shipped to Ireland to join the ranks of the 1st Battalion who were preparing to move to France.
Elements of the battalion found themselves singled out for guard duties at local schools that had been commandeered for temporary barracks, official county buildings, railway bridges and key road junctions.
On Saturday 8 August the balance of Reservists were examined before being passed fit for service, concentrating and moving to Landguard Fort, Felixstowe, where the battalion had already moved administratively.
The 3rd Battalion on parade at Landguard Fort, early 1915
The 3rd Battalion were posted to Landguard Fort as part of the East Coast Defence Force, where they provided coastal defence against the threat of invasion while finding and training recruits. Although the site was a permanent defensive location, the battalion found the area wanting and built with only the most basic of structures. Constant improvements and maintenance took up part of the battalions weekly routines, as did training and recruitment. Rows of wooden buildings were constructed around a drill and parade area, providing barracks, stores and a working base for the specialised trades infantry battalions needed. According to the Bedfordshire Times and Independent In early September 1914, The Duke of Bedford and Lord Ampthill bought and presented the battalion with "two recreation tents, replete with refreshment counters, writing tables, chairs, a concert platform, and piano." On Christmas Day 1914, the battalion were presented with a gift from Lady Ampthill and a new 115 feet long recreation hut replacing the tents - again funded by the Duke of Bedford - was formally opened. In addition to the rest areas, recreation and refreshment counters, a Post Office and interest yielding Savings Bank was provided
It was quickly realised that the pre war regimental structure was physically incapable of training and handling the sheer numbers of volunteers that had stepped forward and the Duke of Bedford set about organising a section of his estate for the purpose of training the new arrivals alongside the 3rd Battalion - Ampthill Park. As with other activities, the Duke funded the site himself, thus relieving the pressure placed on the 3rd Battalion enormously.
However, as the structure of the site the battalion manned changed, their function did not and draft after draft of reinforcements left to join the two Regular battalions engaged on the Western Front during 1914 and 1915, while the newly raised 'Service' battalions trained in readiness for overseas service.
Those regulars recovering from wounds on home soil also returned to the Reserves while being re-trained, either rejoining their units once ready or being transferred into other regiments as the need demanded.
A small selection of photographs from the 3rd Battalion can be seen here.
Much of the battalion's war was spent guarding the local transport structure in their allocated area, with spells of air raids providing the only combat action for those physically serving in the battalion.
Once the war came to a close, the battalion was disembodied from war service and the administrative cadre returned to the regimental depot at The Keep in Kempston. With the army winding down to peacetime levels once more, February 1919 saw the battalion provide the guard for Buckingham Palace, before returning to its own peacetime function of training drafts for the Regular battalions.
As part of the reformation of the army and the Bedfordshire Regiment being re-designated as the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment in July 1919, the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion was placed in "suspended animation". In the event, it was never reformed although it remained on the Army Lists for many years afterwards.
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