First World War
The Highland Regiments in Bedford
Few events in Bedfords history can have made such a deep impression on the townspeople, as did the arrival of the Highland Troops in 1914 and few visitors can have won such a deep and lasting affection as did these young soldiers. It was on Sunday 16th August 1914 that 20,000 soldiers marched into town to undergo training before being sent to the front. The 1911 Census gave the population of Bedford as 39,183 so the impact of such a large number of soldiers arriving in the Town was tremendous.
For a week or so before there had been rumours of the coming invasion. Officers been seen at hotels and police had been inquiring about billets. Most of the soldiers had never travelled far from home before and had just endured an 18-hour train journey. Another hour or so some said, and they must have been off the map. Among the troops was Lieutenant Lauder of the 8th Argyles, son of Harry Lauder the great musical hall entertainer who visited Bedford in 1915 to see his son who was killed in action in 1916.
The Corn Exchange was open as the Central canteen and Recreation Room for the troops on the 9th November 1914. The Rector of St. Peters, the Deacons of Bunyan Meeting, and the Stewards of St. Pauls Wesleyan Church and the Trustees of Mill Street Baptist Chapel also opened canteens. Concerts for the troops were held at Castle Rink, Corn Exchange and The Royal County Theatre. A soldiers lending library was opened at the Corn Exchange with many of the books being donated by Mr. Hockliffe.
The big event of the first winter was the great Hogmanay Supper for all Scottish troops. This was provided simultaneously in eighteen public halls, huts and tents for the 7,000 troops billeted in unfurnished houses on New Years Eve and on New Years Day for the remainder. On Easter Monday 1915 on Bedford School playing field a Highland Games was held with over 9,000 troops and 5,000 civilians watching.
Sadly by May 1915 many of the troops had died in Bedford struck down by diphtheria, scarlet fever and pneumonia although the main killer was measles. The Highlanders had never been in contact with these diseases before and their bodies had no immunity and so many died. To the strains of "Flowers of the Forest" many were buried in Bedford cemetery.
- Newspaper Cuttings Collection, Local Studies Library, Bedford Central Library
- HAMSON, J. A Record of Four and a Half Years Voluntary Work for the Troops August 20th 1914- March 31st 1919. 1919.
- The Highland Division at Bedford: an illustrated souvenir. 1915
Copies of both the above publications are held in The Heritage Library at Bedford Central Library
The Highland Regiments in Bedford, 1914 by Bedfordshire Libraries, 2012
Page last updated: 22nd January 2014