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Shefford Fallen - Beds Regiment Other Battalions

unveiling of the war memorial 11th November 1921 - Z50-101-5
unveiling of the war memorial 11th November 1921 [Z50/101/5]

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.

4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment

Londoner, but Shefford resident, Private Thomas Gore, 27645; Shefford native Private Hubert O'Dell, 23466 and Clifton born Shefford resident Albert Ernest Roberts, 20200 of Hill Farm all served together in 4th Battalion and died together on 22nd (Roberts) and 23rd April (Gore and O'Dell) 1917 in the battalion's attack at Gavrelle, part of the Battle of Arras, a major offensive often forgotten today as it is sandwiched between the longer offensives of the Somme and Passchendaele. The battalion formed part of 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, an odd formation made up of two brigades of Naval troops, including Royal Marines and sailors formed into ad hoc battalions named after admirals such as Nelson, Hood and Anson as well as a brigade of "proper" soldiers.

The war diary records that on 22nd April the battalion was in the front line facing Gavrelle, which it was ordered to capture next day. No casualties are noted for this day so it seems likely that Private Roberts died as a result of wounds received a week earlier. On 15th April the battalion had undertaken a reconnaissance in strength towards Gavrelle and suffered two dead and three wounded officers as well as 55 casualties amongst other ranks. He is buried at Duisans British Cemetery, Etrun, the cemetery attached to 8th Casualty Clearing Station, set up at the start of the Arras offensive.

On 23rd April the battalion war diary laconically remarks [X550/5/3]: "Attacked at 4 45 a.m. captured village and reached objective. Shelled very heavily during the day and counter-attacked in the afternoon". Two officers were killed and seven were wounded, 260 other ranks became casualties. Privates Gore and O'Dell both have no known grave and are commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

1st/5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment

Private Herbert Bruce Carter, 3005, 1st/5th Battalion, was killed in action on Sunday 15th August 1915 in Gallipoli. He was born in Clifton, but lived in Shefford. 1st/5th Bedfords were a territorial unit, the "Saturday Afternoon Soldiers" as they were known - men with some military training at weekends and at summer camps but not professional soldiers. The unit distinguished itself at Gallipoli but, unfortunately, the war diary is not very informative. The Gallipoli expedition was the brainchild of then First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. It was intended that a landing would seize the Gallipoli peninsula, which protects one side of the Dardanelles, the narrow straight between the Mediterannean and Black Seas before going on to capture nearly Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and knock Turkey, Germany's ally, out of the war. The plan was very daring, even reckless and was poorly executed leading to a fiasco that wasted many lives.

The 1st/5th Bedfords, part of 54th (East Anglian) Division, landed at Suvla Bay on the peninsula on 11th August. An attack was planned for the night of 12th/13th but was partially cancelled, another brigade of the division took part and an idea of the nervousness of the troops can be gathered by the war diary's recording [X550/6/8]: "Stragglers returned to camp during the night who said the Brigade had been wiped out - Thomas proved untrue". On 15th August the diary simply reads: "Battalion paraded for attack at 12.15 p.m. with the Brigade in connection with the 10th Division. The attack arrived through with tremendous dash - hills taken and entrenched. Casualties 14 Officers and 300 men". One of those 300 was Herbert Carter, who has no known grave and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial, Turkey.

6th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment

Private Edwin Stevens, 25891, 6th Battalion was killed in action on 9th August 1916 aged 19. He was a Shefford native, the son of Frederick and Sarah A. Stevens, of New Street. 6th Battalion was a "Kitchener Battalion", a service battalion raised purely for duty for the duration of the war. The battalion had, since 6th August, been at Bazentin-le-Petit, taking part in the Battle of the Somme (which had begun on 1st July). From there it launched an attack on the 8th August, continued into the 9th. The Battalion war diary is annoyingly brief simply reading [X550/7/1]: "1 other rank killed, 1 officer and 13 other ranks wounded. 1st intermediate line attacked at 9.20 p.m. 1 Officer and 8 other ranks killed, 25 other ranks missing. 2 officers and 49 other ranks wounded". Private Stephens may have been one of the missing, at any rate his body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Clifton born Shefford resident Private Ralph Mabbott, 19708, 6th Battalion was killed in action on Thursday 16th November 1916 at the end of the Battle of the Somme. The battalion had been in action two days before in an attack on Frankfort Trench near Mailly-Maillet at midday. The next day, 15th, the battalion attacked Munich Trench. Private Mabbott came through both these two attacks only to be killed on 16th when the war diary baldly reads: "Entrenched near Waggon Road". His death illustrates that day-to-day "wastage" from shell or sniper's bullet killed at least as many men, during the course of the war, as were killed in set piece attacks. He was buried in Waggon Road Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel.

7th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment

Shefford native, Private Frederick White, 16555, 7th Battalion, was killed in action on Thursday 27th April 1916. 7th Battalion was a "Kitchener Battalion", a service battalion raised purely for duty for the duration of the war. The battalion had been in France since July 1915 on the then quiet sector of the Somme. The battalion had moved into the front line near Bray-sur-Somme on 26th April and the war diary for 27th simply remarks [X550/8/1]: "Quiet day. Nothing to report". For poor Private White the day was evidently eventful and one can only speculate that he was killed by an enemy sniper or a stray shell. He is buried in the nearby Carnoy Military Cemetery.

Private William John Brunt, 201555, 7th Battalion, was a Shefford resident (though born in Haynes) but is omitted from the Shefford War Memorial. He was killed in action on Thursday 3rd May 1917 at Chérisy. 7th Battalion was part of the élite 18th (Eastern) Division, one of only two divisions to take all its objectives on the infamous first day of the Battle of the Somme (1st July 1916) and has been remarkably successful since. Chérisy was the battalion's first setback. It was part of an offensive of which General Allenby remarked "we aimed for the sky but hit the ceiling". The action was part of the wider Battle of Arras, a bloody two month offensive often overlooked, falling as it does, between the Battles of the Somme and Passchendaele. The attack was a failure. Here is the war diary account: "3.45 a.m. The 18th Division attacked Chérisy. The 54th Brigade on the right, 55th on the left, 53rd in Reserve. The attack was supposed to take place at dawn Zero being 3.45 a.m. As a matter of fact it was not light enough to attack until 4.15 a.m. The barrage commenced badly, being irregular. the Battalion left their trenches before Zero and formed up splendidly, the advance started at Zero. They soon slightly lost direction, the men being extended at about 12 paces could scarcely see each other. The Regiment on the left also lost direction and crowded to the Right, thus confusing our attack and causing a further loss of direction. Four Tanks were to be used to attack Fontaine village. One was unable to start, another went but a short distance, another one made its way down Wood Trench and then turned and came through our advancing lines, this added to the confusion and some groups retired to the first line again. They were reformed at once by their Officers and again advanced, the Barrage had, however, gone on and the Battalion was held up at Fontaine Trench [which] was strongly defended, also the wire was thick and undamaged. They came under heavy Machine Gun fire from Vis-en-Artois, Chérisy, Fontaine Trench and Wood Trench. Small detachments pushed forward to angle formed by Fontaine Trench and Wood Trench. At this time the majority of the 55th Brigade had reached their first objective on the Left. The position of the Battalion about 10 a.m. was in front of Fontaine Trench with their Right thrown back facing Wood Trench. At this time the Leicesters on the Right had not made good Wood Trench except a small portion at the Western end. Some groups of the 55th Brigade reached a portion of their second objective. About 11.30 the 14th Division further to the Left commenced retiring, followed by the 55th Brigade and the Middlesex and some groups of the Bedfords, but about 1 company still remained in Shell holes in front of Fontaine and Wood Trenches when at midday the troops on our left had all got back to the starting Trenches.

7.15 p.m. A new Barrage started and 2 companies of the Northamptons attacked on our frontage in which elements of the Battalion joined and which was covered by rapid fire from our advanced Troops, this, however, was not successful as the enemy put up an intense barrage and the wire in front could not be forced. the whole lot fell back to original front line and held that during the night being relieved early in the morning by the Northamptons taking over".

Private Brunt has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

Private Edward Lincoln, 15759, 7th Battalion, died of wounds on Friday 19th October 1917. He had been born in Highgate but lived in Shefford. At this date the Passchendaele offensive was still grinding on and would not end until early November. 7th Bedfords' active stint in it, however, was over. They were, at this time, training and, from 17th of the month, holding the line at Canal Bank, south-east of the city of Ypres. No casualties are specifically mentioned in the war diary and so it is possible that Private Lincoln was wounded during the practising of attacks carried out earlier in the month. He may have been wounded by a stray bullet or piece of shrapnel in the line or have had a dose of gas on the day that he died as the diary notes "a severe shelling by Gas Shells" on that day which otherwise passed "without any undue incident". He is buried at Dozinghem Military Cemetery, near Krombeke, north-west of Poperinge, one of three casualty clearing stations set up in preparation for the Passchendaele offensive known as Dozinghem, Mendinghem and Bandaghem!

8th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment

Shefford born Bedford resident Private Percy Lockey, 22660, 8th Battalion was killed in action on Saturday 14th October 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. 8th Battalion was a "Kitchener Battalion", a service battalion raised purely for duty for the duration of the war. The battalion had been in front line trenches east of Gueudecourt since 12th and the battalion diary for 14th reads [X550/9/1]: "In trenches…Artillery very active on each side. Casualties 3 Other ranks killed and 10 wounded". Poor Private Lockey was evidently blown apart by a shell because he was no known grave, being commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.