Shefford Fallen 1st Beds Regiment
War Memorial [Z1306/101]
The Great War fallen of Shefford are commemorated on the town's war memorial, in front of the church, as are those of the Second World War. The names and brief biographies are recorded on the town's entry on the Roll of Honour website. Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has the War Diaries for each active service battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment and these can usually shed some light on the circumstances in which these men met their deaths.
1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment
Clifton born Sergeant Robert George Burnage Sergeant, 7867, was a regular soldier, serving in the 1st Battalion and was killed in action on on Monday 9th November 1914. He was 29 years old and his parents, then dead, had been James and Hannah who lived in Ampthill Road, Shefford. 1st Bedfords played a minor part in the first major British battles of the war at Mons and le Cateau-Cambrésis in August 1914. By the beginning of November they were at Gorre, not far from Béthune in Northern France. On 5th November they began the move, via motor bus, to Ypres in southern Belgium and took up positions just south of the Menin Road east of Hooge on 6th. The next day the Germans broke through just on the left of the Bedfords but were driven back, an action in which Quartermaster Sergeant Byford and Private Falla both won the Distinguished Conduct Medal. After a quiet day on 8th the battalion war diary entry for the day Sergeant Burnage was killed reads [X550/2/5]: "Sergeant Mart, assisted by Corporal Cyster, succeeded in creeping up to trench occupied by enemy, where 2 machine guns had been previously lost [presumably on 6th]. Found only about 1 German actually with guns, though adjoining trench, a few yards away in prolongation, was occupied. Sergeant Mart shot the German and guns were safely brought back. One wounded soldier found in trench also. He was brought back by Mart assisted by 2nd Lieutenant Garrod and others, Mart and Garrod in turns facing the enemy, to keep their heads down by accurate fire at a few yards range. Battalion thanked in wire from Corps Commander. Sergeant Mart wounded. Casualties about 17 killed, 7 wounded". The casualties, presumably, came from German return fire. It seems possible that Sergeant Burnage was on of the "others" who helped Mart and Garrod bring back the guns. Given that he has no known grave it also seems possible that he was killed on the way back and his body ever recovered. He is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
Shefford native Private Samuel Thomas Wright, 3/5536, 1st Battalion, was killed in action on Friday 8th January 1915. He was 31 years old and his number indicates that he had been in 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Militia before being drafted to the 1st Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. He was the son of Edward Wright, of 13a New Street. The Battalion was still near Ypres at the time and had gone into the front line near Wulvergem the day before Private Wright was killed. The war diary comments: "Quiet except for sniping". Six other ranks were killed that day but not necessarily by snipers. The diary also notes: "Enemy shelled our trenches and neighbourhood without causing damage". Contrary to this statement is that fact that Samuel Wright has no known grave. This suggests that he was blown apart by a shell, unless he was buried nearby and the war later ran over the spot, destroying the grave. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.
Shefford resident Corporal Harry Brice, 32951, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, was killed in action on Friday 23rd August 1918 and lies buried in Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2, Hebuterne, Pas de Calais, France. August 1918 was the final turning point of the War. The Germans had launched successful attacks on the allies in March of that year, pushing them back up to sixty miles in places. However, the attack eventually ran out of steam and the front again stabilised. The British attack at Amiens on 8th August began what is known as The Hundred Days in which the German armies were pushed back to he vicinity, ironically, of Mons, where the first major British battle of the war had been fought in August 1914 and where the Armistice took effect on 11th November. Early in August the 1st Bedfords were at Blaringhem, near the Franco-Belgian border. On 13th August they moved south by train to the Somme and went into action at 4.45 a.m. on 21st, near Bucquoy, meeting but slight opposition, even so, two officers and 46 other ranks became casualties. An officer was killed and another wounded the next day as their position was heavily shelled. Harry Brice was killed during the attack on Achiet-le-Petit which got underway at 11 a.m. on the 23rd. The war diary notes: "All objectives taken, Battalion suffered rather heavily from Machine Gun fire". Lieutenant-Colonel Courtenay was severely wounded and later died, seven officers were killed in action, two were wounded and 129 other ranks either wounded or killed. Later that day the battalion withdrew to its starting point to serve as a reserve to the new front line.
2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment
Shefford native Private John Breed, 19068, 2nd Battalion was killed in action Saturday 25th September 1915. The 2nd Battalion was a regular battalion and he may have been a regular soldier, although his number is quite large, meaning he may have been amongst the first to volunteer, get trained and be shipped out to make up the numbers of regulars already killed. The 2nd Battalion had spent the month in the vicinity of Béthune in Northern France, with spells in the front line at Givenchy-les-la-Bassée and at Vermelles. On 23rd September they moved from Vermelles to Fauquereuil to marshal for the attack of 25th, the first day of the Battle of Loos. This was the first British "Big Push" of the war and, like others in the years to come, not a success.
The battalion war diary reads [X550/3/WD]: "12.05 a.m. Battalion proceeded to position of assembly at Noyelles, arriving there 3.35 a.m. From there it proceeded at 6.35 a.m. moving by platoons at 200 yards distance to Vermelles - moving up Chapel Alley. At about 11.30 a.m. the Battalion debouched from the front line British trench and proceeded on a front of two Companies in Column of Platoons extended at 50 yards distance with the right on the Hulluch Road. the 20th Brigade were a considerable distance ahead, and the Wiltshire Regiment was on the left of the Battalion.
The Battalion moved across and over the first line German trench, practically without Casualties. As soon as it began to advance across the open behind the German front line it came under a very heavy Rifle fire from the direction of the Quarries and the Northern houses of Cité-St-Elie. the Battalion now suffered severely but continued to advance by rushes of small parties until Gun Trench was reached. 2nd Lieutenant Forward was Killed and Lieutenant-Colonel C.C.Onslow CMG, Captain and Adjutant J.W.Hurrell, captain J.W.Hutchinson, 2nd Lieutenant H.E.Mudford, 2nd Lieutenant R.Hopkins were wounded (Captain J.W.Hutchinson died from wounds later in the day). Between two and three hundred Other Ranks became casualties.
Two platoons got about 100 yards in front of Gun trench, but being unsupported had to fall back by Ones or Two's - 2nd Lieutenant R.L.Shaw was then wounded, also captain J.McM.Milling. The battalion remained in Gun Trench holding the Gun Pits North of the road during the afternoon, digging itself in. At dusk the men of the 20th Brigade who were in the trench were sorted out and rejoined their Brigade. All four Machine Guns were in the trench. At about 7 p.m. "A" and "C" Companies were withdrawn from Gun Trench and started digging a Support trench about 100 yards in rear.
At about midnight a number of men were seen coming down the Hulluch Road at a Double calling out "Don't shoot we're the Gordons"; close behind them came a number of Germans. Almost at the same time the Borders holding Gun Trench south of the road began to retire. At once bombs were rained upon Gun Trench and men began to leave it in increasing numbers, falling back on Support Trench, where they stopped.
The Company on the left of "B" Company was not attacked and stood firm. Two Machine Guns were with the company and remained in action. A heavy fire was brought to bear from Support Trench and shortly afterwards a charge was organised, which was completely successful, practically all the Germans in Gun Trench were Killed or taken prisoners, including the Artillery Captain who led the Counter-attack. 2nd Lieutenant T.C.Pearson and 2nd Lieutenant K.L.Stephenson were Killed and 2nd Lieutenant C.J.Hunter wounded. The Left Company suffered some casualties from our own Shrapnel during this Counter-Attack".
Private Breed has no known grave and is commemorated on Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
Private Frederick William Peck, 17939, 2nd Battalion, died of wounds on Saturday 5th February 1916. He was 20 years old and, though Stondon born, at Bird-in-hand Cottages, he was a resident of Shefford. At this time 2nd battalion was in a quiet sector of the front, the Somme (the Battle of the Somme would not begin until 1st July that year). Private Peck was probably wounded the day before his death, when the battalion was in the front line trenches near Maricourt. The war diary records that artillery was active and that one Other Rank was killed and two wounded. He was probably taken to either Number 5 or Number 21 Casualty Clearing Station at la Neuville as they were nearby and transferred their dead to Corbie Communal Cemetery, where Private Peck is buried.
Private William Stevens,25093, 2nd Battalion was killed in action on Monday 28th August 1916, aged 19. He was a Shefford native, the son of Mrs. E. Stevens of 8 Hitchin Road., Shefford. The battalion had taken part in the infamous first day of the battle of the Somme as part of 30th Division, one of only two divisions to take all its objectives that day. It had also helped to take Maltzhorn Farm near Guillemont on 30th July. It was the moved to a quiet sector, near Béthune on 2nd August, arriving on 4th and, ironically, it is here that Private Stevens was killed. The battalion was holding the front line near Givenchy-les-la-Bassée, scene of fierce fighting the year before, as it is near Loos where Private Breed was killed on 25th September 1915 (see above). The war diary for 28th notes: "Enemy fairly active with Artillery and Trench Mortars during the Day - A quiet night. casualties - 3 Other ranks Killed. 2 Other Ranks Wounded". Private Stevens is buried in nearby Gorre British and Indian Cemetery.
Private Charles Rainbow, 8170, was probably, to judge by his number, a regular soldier and thus served throughout the war. If so it was particularly unlucky for him to have died of wounds on Thursday 14th November 1918, three days after the Armistice ended the war. He came from Meppershall but lived in Shefford. He was doubly unfortunate as he was a prisoner of war at the time of his death. As he died of wounds it is impossible to know where or when he was wounded or captured. He is buried in Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel, Hessen, Germany, a cemetery begun by the Germans in 1915 for the burial of prisoners of war who died at the local camp.