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Other Caddington Great War Casualties

Caddington War Memorial March 2012
Caddington War Memorial March 2012

The war memorial in Caddington churchyard has inscribed upon it the names of men with Caddington connections who were killed in the First World War. They are as follows:

  • Horace Austin – 12th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, killed in action 6th December 1917;
  • Harry Burgess – 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, killed in action 23rd July 1916;
  • John Stanhope Collings-Wells VC DSO – 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, killed in action 27th March 1918;
  • Horace J. W. Crump, died 9th January 1917 – no details can be found on him;
  • Frank Eric Ford – 1st/4th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, killed in action 27th May 1918;
  • Archer Godfrey, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, killed in action 9th November 1914;
  • John Edward Godfrey, 2nd East Anglian Field Company, Royal Engineers, died 24th July 1916;
  • Charles Henry Grace, 12th Battalion, South Wales Borderers, killed in action 13th August 1916;
  • William Hart, 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment, died of wounds 1st October 1918;
  • Harold Stewart Lawson, 1st/4th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, killed in action 11th December 1917;
  • Charles Mardle, 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, killed in action 13th February 1917;
  • Horace Mardle, 1st/5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, died of wounds 16th August 1915;
  • Frederick Alfred Matthews, 136th Company, Machine Gun Corps, died of wounds 24th April 1917;
  • Harry Matthews, 58th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, died of wounds 17th June 1917;
  • John T. Matthew MM, 11th Field Company, Royal Engineers, died 4th October 1917;
  • Thomas Owen, probably 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, died 15th October 1915;
  • John Reginald Swain, 11th Battalion, Essex Regiment, killed in action 30th November 1917;
  • Charles William Webb, 6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, killed in action 10th July 1916;
  • Josiah Webb, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, died of wounds 12th July 1916.

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky in having the war diaries of each battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment which fought in action in World War One, which allow us to say what members of the regiment were doing when they were killed and to guess at how those who died of wounds received their wound. It is also possible to make some guesses about men of other regiments.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Stanhope Collings-Wells, as a Victoria Cross winner, is the best known of these casualties, but every man had a story to tell. The following information can be gleaned about those serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment.

A page from the 2nd Bedfords' war diary
A page from the 2nd Bedfords' war diary

The first man to die was Private 3/6526 Archer Godfrey. His number indicates that he had served with 3rd Battalion, Bedfordshire Militia before the war and so it was his misfortune to be mobilised on the outbreak and quickly sent out to join his regiment in the front line. His parents were Alfred and Elizabeth who lived at 32 Saint Saviour’s Crescent, Luton. At the time of his death the battalion were in the front line south of the Menin Road near Ypres; the battalion war diary for the day of his death reads as follows: “Sergeant Mart, assisted by Corporal Cyster, succeeded in creeping up to trench occupied by enemy, where 2 machine guns had been previously lost. 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. 1 wounded soldier found in trench also. He was brought back by Mart assisted by 2nd Lieutenant Garrod and others. Mart & 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”. Clearly Archer was one of the seventeen and was probably killed by a shell since he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial.

The next man serving with the Bedfords to die was 4065 Private Horace Mardle. He was serving with the Bedfords’ only active service battalion of territorials – part time soldiers in peacetime then as now and often referred to rather disparagingly at that time as the Saturday Afternoon Soldiers. His unit was part of 54th (East Anglian) Division and served in the disastrous campaign in Gallipoli. The battalion landed at Suvla Bay on 11th August and the, rather terse, war diary records that on the day Horace died, 15th August, the following took place: “Battalion paraded for attack at 12.15 p. m. with the Brigade in connection with the 10th Division. The attack carried through with tremendous dash - hills taken and entrenched Casualties 14 Officers and 300 men”. No doubt Horace was one of these three hundred. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial so he was either killed by a shell, his body was never found after the attack or he was buried and the fighting subsequently obliterated his resting place.

A man named Thomas Owen was the next to die. The most likely candidate is a man who died at Landguard Camp and is buried at Felixstowe [Suffolk]. He was serving with the 3rd Battalion: this was the depot battalion, in other words, a pool of men who could be sent out as replacements when the active service battalions needed them. He was nineteen years old and was probably undergoing training.

On 10th July 1916 13085 Private Charles William Webb was killed in action whilst serving with B Company, 6th Bedfords. His parents, J. and E. Webb lived at Farley Green in Luton and he was just eighteen. He must have been the victim of a stray shell or a sniper as his battalion was in the front line near the village of Contalmaison on the Somme. The Battle of the Somme was then in its tenth day. The battalion suffered six killed, four missing and forty wounded on that day. He is buried at nearby Bécourt Military Cemetery.

By a twist of fate that next Caddington casualty was 18683 Private Josiah Webb who died of wounds two days later. The names of his parents are not given by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. He was serving with 2nd Bedfords and is buried at Dive Copse British Cemetery at Sailly-le-Sec not far from where his battalion was in action, so he probably died the same day as he was wounded or the following day. At that time the battalion was involved in a life-and-death struggle in Trones Wood. The war diary is detailed: “11th July 1916 - Trones Wood: The Battalion were in position by 1.30 a. m. formed up in lines of ½ Companies with an interval of five paces between the men, and a distance of 150 yards between platoons, in the following order: -

  • "A" Company commanded by Captain C. G. Tyler;
  • "B" Company commanded by Lieutenant H. A. Chamen;
  • "C" Company commanded by Captain L. F. Beal;
  • "D" Company commanded by Captain R. O. Wynne.

Orders had been received that the Battalion was to enter the wood at 3.27 a. m., so the leading line commenced to advance at 3.10 a. m. towards the South eastern edge of Trones Wood. It being almost dark, the advance was not observed until the leading line was 400 yards from the wood, when enemy Machine Guns opened fire from Points Z and R marked on Sketch (Appendix “B”). The enemy quickly got their artillery to work and the Battalion suffered many casualties entering the wood, but by 3.45 a. m. the whole Battalion had gained the inside of the wood, but owing to Machine Gun and shell fire, had entered rather too much at the southern end. Owing to the denseness of the undergrowth, it was not possible to see more than 4 yards in front of you, so the Companies had great difficulty in keeping touch. Lieutenant R. B. Gibson was killed entering the wood and 2nd Lieutenant F. E. Plummer wounded and it was found that the wood was strongly held and full of Trenches and Dug-outs. After much fighting inside the wood, part of "A" and "B" Companies, reached the south-east edge of the wood and dug themselves in as shewn on Sketch (Appendix "B"). "C" and part of "D" Company dug in along the south-west edge of the Wood. At 4.20 a. m. 11th July Captain L. F. Beal with about 27 men of "D" Company and 13 men under Lieutenant H. A. CHAMEN of "B" Company reached the north-east edge of the Wood and commenced to dig in. As no British Troops were holding the Northern end of the wood, this party became isolated and the enemy were seen advancing from the direction of Longueval. Captain Beal finding himself isolated and nearly surrounded withdrew into Longueval Alley about 9 a. m. After several messages had been sent to Capt Beal, without success, due to the enemy's barrage, a message eventually got to him with orders to bring his party back via Bernafay Wood and join up with Captain Wynne ("C" Company) which was entrenched in the south-east corner of the wood. This was done at 5 p. m. 11th July".

"Great difficulty was experienced organising in the wood owing to heavy casualties and the denseness of the undergrowth but the Battalion managed to hold its own, and by 7 p. m. on evening of July 11th "A" & "B" Companies and "C" and ½ "D" Companies had dug themselves In on the south-east side and south-west side of the wood (all Companies much reduced by Casualties). Whilst the men were digging In, strong patrols worked the interior of the wood collecting stragglers and bombing the enemy in their Trenches and Dug-outs, and accounted for a great number. "A" & "B" Companies were leading Companies in the Advance at 3.10 a. m. and were particularly unfortunate in losing many Non-Commissioned Officers on entering the wood, including the Company Sergeant Major of "A" Company (C. S. M. Gale). 2nd Lieutenant F. E. Plummer was wounded just outside the wood. Both Companies much reduced by Casualties, worked their way across to the south-east corner of the Wood and commenced to dig in. At about 6 a. m. 11th July Captain C. G. Tyler discovered he was too far south of his allotted position, so they moved up the Wood further North. At 8 a. m. 11th July 2nd Lieutenant L. H. Fox left the patrol and went on ahead, but did not return, it is presumed he was taken prisoner. At 11.30 a. m. 11th July Captain C. G. Tyler, 2nd Lieutenant L. H. Walker and 2nd Lieutenant .D. P. Cross and a strong patrol of about 40 men endeavoured to work their way Northwards up the Eastern edge of the wood, but they encountered strong opposition from a "Strong Point" marked "P" on (Appendix "B") where the Guillemont Road enters the wood. Captain C. G. Tyler was severely wounded and ordered the party to withdraw to their Trench which they did. Captain Tyler could unfortunately not be brought in. This trench was held against several counter attacks, but at 10 p. m., the enemy surrounded and bombed the trench from three sides, so 2nd Lieutenant L. H. Walker who was in command ordered the remainder of "A" & "B" Company to withdraw by Southern end of Trones Wood and make their way back to the Briqueterie along the Sunken Road. This was done successfully the party rejoining Headquarters at about 11 p. m., 11th July. "C" Company under Captain R. O. Wynne were the last Company to cross during the advance. They were to entrench on the Western Side of the Wood, just North and South of the Tram Line running through the wood. The Company entered the wood by Trones Alley and established itself there, one platoon working up towards the tramline. This Platoon was held up by the enemy near Point "H" as shewn on Map (Appendix "B") and forced to withdraw. Three more attempts were made during the morning, but without success, so Captain Wynne decided to entrench where he was. He endeavoured to get touch will all Companies on the Eastern edge of the wood but could only get touch with "A" Company. Other patrols got held up by a "Strong Point" at "K" as shown on Sketch. At about 6 p.m. 11th July Capt. L. F. Beal with his party of "B" & "D" Companies joined "C" Company".

"At about 6.30 p. m., one Company of the 19th Battalion, King’s (Liverpool) Regiment arrived to clear the southern part of the Wood, but they lost touch and got badly handled by the Strong Points at "K" and "P". At about 10 p. m. "A" & "B" Companies were forced to withdraw, but "C" & "D" Companies held out against all Counter Attacks. Lieutenant J. W. Hurrell admitted to Hospital sick”.

“12th July 1916: Lieutenant W. White and 2nd Lieutenant L. A. L. Fink joined Battalion from Reserve of Officers at Transport Lines. Lieutenant W. White takes over command of "A" Company. At about 1 a. m. 2 Companies of the 17th Battalion, King’s (Liverpool) Regiment were ordered to occupy the Southern edge of wood and join up with "C" & "D" Companies. This was successfully done and the Southern part of the wood was successfully held until relieved by the 7th Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment (55th Brigade) on the morning of the 13th at about 1 a.m. in spite of many hostile bombing attacks”.

“The casualties for this engagement were: -

  • Lieutenant R. B. Gibson Killed;
  • Captain C. G. Tyler Wounded and Missing;
  • 2nd Lieutenant L. H. Fox Missing;
  • 2nd Lieutenant F. E. Plummer Wounded;
  • 2nd Lieutenant H. J. Bricknell Wounded;
  • 239 Other Ranks”.

On 23rd July 27483 Private Harry Burgess was killed in action. The 1st Bedfords were also on the Somme and were in the front line only a short distance from Trones Wood. The war diary for the day reads: “Ordered up to support 13th Brigade. 6 a. m. but returned to bivouacs after starting as Battalion was not required. 9.15 p. m. marched up and took over line between High Wood and Delville Wood. C and D Companies in line. B in support. A Company in reserve (in old German 2nd Line). 1st Norfolk Regiment on left. 95th Infantry Brigade on right. Ordered to dig line in advance of present line. Work commenced by pushing out small fortified posts, well wired & held by Lewis Guns (with a view to linking up the posts tomorrow) Seven posts completed. Enemy artillery active. 2nd Lieutenant Sherry wounded while in charge of part of this work”. Clearly Harry was killed whilst engaged making one of these seven posts. He must have been hit by a shell as he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

On 13th February 1917 20175 Private Charles Mardle was killed in action with 4th Bedfords - Lieutenant-Colonel Collings-Wells would have been his commanding officer. His parents, Thomas and Betsey were described as living at The Council Houses, Caddington. Charles was quite old for a First World War casualty at thirty seven (a year older than his lieutenant-colonel). Between 6th and 16th February the battalion was engaged in action near Beaumont-Hamel. This was really a continuation of the Battle of the Somme which had closed in the previous November after more than four months of fighting; incredibly this area was an objective for the very first day of the battle!

Sadly the war diary is very sparse but it reads as follows: “5th February 1917: 3 p. m. The Battalion proceed by route march to Englebelmer moving into billets vacated by 7th Royal Fusiliers”.

“6th February 1917: 11 a. m. the Battalion sent up as reserve troops to 189th Infantry Brigade and occupied old German 1st & 2nd lines with 7th Royal Fusiliers in 3rd line. Q.18.a. 10 p. m. 2 Companies advanced to trench east of Bois Hollandie holding line from R.8.a.8.7. to R.2.c.0.10. 1 Company on shell slits Puisieux Road. 1 Company Suvla Trench R.7.a&b. all in support to 189th Infantry Brigade in action”.

“7th February 1917: 6 p. m. 4th Bedfordshire Regiment take over left front Subsector and relieve Nelson Battalion, Royal Naval Division. Frontage R.1.a.7.3. to R.2.a.9.7. Battalion on our right 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers with 1st Honorable Artillery Company on extreme right. Battalion on our left 15th Highland Light Infantry. 7th Royal Fusiliers in Support”.

“11th February 1917: 4th Bedfordshire Regiment ordered to push forward their line of posts on the east side of the Puisieux Road from a line R.2.a.9.6. - R.1.b.6.4. to an advanced position R.2.a.9.6. - R.1.b.7.9. Two companies to attack and lined up on tape running from R.2.a.5.3. - R.1.b.7.4. with 1 Company in Support holding trench R.2.c.3.9. - R.1.b.6.2. Company carrying party ready for consolidation. Zero hour 9 pm. Barrage on enemy front system of posts about R.1.b.5.7. - R.2.a.1.9. - R.1.a.4.8. for 5 minutes lifting gradually until 9.30 p. m. At 9.5 p. m. the line advanced. The left Company was temporarily held up by enemy wire and heavy machine gun fire about R.2.a.2.8. and the Company in Support was then pushed forward”.

“12th February 1917: 3 a. m. Objective gained, line straightened out and posts consolidated”.

“15-16 February 1917: 188th Infantry Brigade relieved 190th Infantry Brigade on North bank of Ancre. 1st Royal Marine Light Infantry relieved 4th Bedfordshire Regiment on left sub-sector (Beaucourt Sector). Frontage R.1.b.4.7. - R.2.a.9.6. The Battalion proceeded to Mackenzie Huts, Martinsart”.

“6-16 February 1917: Casualties Killed 68. Wounded 90. Missing 3. Missing believed Killed 45”.

It looks as if Charles was killed after the main action was over, probably hit by a shell splinter or sniped whilst in the front line. He is buried at Ancre British Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel. The strings of numbers and letters such as R.2.a.9.6 are map references and can be used in conjunction with trench maps to pinpoint precise locations – trench maps are available on CD from the Western Front Association.

It is possible to say something about some of the other casualties. John Edward Godfrey, serving with 2nd East Anglian field Company, Royal Engineers was part of 54th (East Anglian) Division. His division was on its way to Gallipoli when he died so he must have been ill before they left as he is buried in Caddington churchyard. His father was Alfred and his widow Clara, who lived at 5 Dane Road, Luton.

Frank Ford’s battalion, 1st/4th Yorkshire Regiment served in 50th (Northumbrian) Division. He was killed on the opening day of the Battle of the Aisne, one of the major German offensives following up their successful attack on 21st March. The 50th Division held the line north-east of Rheims and Eric is buried at Vendresse British Cemetery. He came from Norfolk but lived with his wife Catherine in the Council Houses at Caddington; he was twenty eight years old.

William Hart’s battalion, 6th Northamptonshire Regiment was in the same brigade, 54th, as 2nd Bedfords. Their war diary for the end of September and beginning of October 1918 states that they were engaged in operations at Vendhuile. This was during the “Hundred Days” from the Battle of Amiens to the Armistice when the British and Commonwealth forces fought a succession of battles in their advance eastwards ironically ending at Mons where the first British battle of the war had taken place in August 1914. William was probably wounded at the end of September as he is buried at Saint-Sever Cemetery Extension at Rouen showing that he had been evacuated to a hospital in Normandy many miles away from the fighting. He had been born in Tottenham [Middlesex] but by the time he enlisted, at Saint Albans [Hertfordshire] his parents Thomas and Mary Ann lived at Woodside and his wife Elizabeth in Caddington. He was thirty four years old.

19483 Corporal John Matthew’s unit, 11th Field Company, Royal Engineers, was attached to 33rd Division. This took part in the Battle of Polygon Wood, part of the Third Battle of Ypres, more widely known as the Battle of Passchendaele. He is buried in Mont Huon Military Cemetery in le Treport, far from the front line so he was evidently evacuated sick but died in hospital. He was clearly a capable soldier as he had been awarded the Military Medal. He had been born in Caddington.

202793 Private John Swain had evidently been conscripted as his number is a high one. His unit, 11th Essex, was part of 6th Division and in November 1917 was involved in the initially successful but ultimately disappointing Battle of Cambrai. The day of his death was the first day of the devastatingly successful German counter-attack. Evidently John’s body was never found as he is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial.