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William Henry Bedford

Private William Henry Bedford, 2926, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1st/4th Battalion

The only likely candidate that can be located for a local H. Bedford, who died in WW1, is a William Henry Bedford of Middlestown. His father was also called William Henry and it is possible therefore that he was known as Henry to differentiate his name from that of his father. His biography follows.

In 1901, William Henry senior and his wife were living with their five children, four sons and a daughter at Cliffe Cottage in Middlestown. William Henry junior was six years old and his siblings were aged between eight and 23 years. The two eldest sons, Francis and Ernest, were working as an engraver and stone mason respectively.

William Henry Bedford senior died in Summer 1907 and by 1911 his widow, Mary, was living in Middlestown with her three youngest children, including William Henry who was by now working as a colliery clerk. His elder brother, Cecil, was working as a bank clerk and his only sister, Dorothy, was working at a school as a part-time teacher.

William Henry Bedford’s army service record has not survived, but it is known that he voluntarily enlisted at Wakefield and joined the 1st/4th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Regiment (KOYLI). His regimental service number was 2926, which suggests that he was an early recruit to the 1st line 4th KOYLI Territorial Battalion and after a period of training he embarked for France on the 13th April 1915.

The 1/4th Battalion of KOYLI was formed in August 1914 at Wakefield and became a part of the 3rd West Riding Brigade, West Riding Division. They moved on mobilisation to Doncaster and in November 1914 to Gainsborough then to York in February 1915. On the 12th April 1915 they landed at Boulogne and on the 15th May 1915 the formation became 148th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division.

Private William Henry Bedford died of his wounds on the 14th July 1916. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that he is remembered at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen which was a military camp and hospital base during WW1. This suggests that William Henry was hospitalised to Rouen after being wounded whilst fighting alongside his colleagues on the Somme earlier on the 7th July 1916.

This is confirmed by the 1st/4th KOYLI Regimental War Diary, which records that the Battalion was behind the lines between the 8th & 20th July 1916. The War diary records the following movements on the 7th July 1916:

"1/4th (T.F.) 148th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division. In reserve at Aveluy Wood (1/7) - moving up to Thiepval Wood during evening and from there taking up positions for attack at midnight. Assault cancelled and back to Aveluy Wood. To Thiepval Wood (2/7), front line (4/7). Enemy attack drive off. Bombing attacks (5/7). Came under attack (7/7) - many casualties from new German "Egg" bombs. To Martinsart Wood (8/7), Hedauville (11/7)"

There is also an account of heavy fighting by the 1st/4th KOYLI on July 7th 1916: 1

"The Germans delivered a textbook artillery bombardment as a prelude to an attack in the first hour of the next day, July 7th. At 2 am, their guns were turned on the 1/4th KOYLI in the A lines and 50 minutes later shells began landing in the communication and support lines as they attempted to choke off the possibility of KOYLI reinforcements reaching the front line 2.50am. Enemy bombers advanced down the trenches towards A18 and A16 and across the open to A17. Furious fighting took place till 6.30am with lots of casualties from bombers and snipers who shot our men as they fired and threw bombs out of the trenches."

"The 1/5th KOYLI sent 2 companies to reinforce the 1/4th, the remainder of the battalion being held in readiness in Ross St. Trench. The evacuation of the 'A' line was completed by 7.30 a.m." The OH cites the use of the new 'egg' grenade by the Germans as an important feature in the enemy's success in the attack. The casualties in the 1/4th were 20 killed and 180 wounded. The War Diary recorded 37 killed on the day."

The 'A' Lines were sited in the original German front line and ran roughly from Ulster Tower down towards the Ancre, crossing the track that now leads from Ulster Tower to St Pierre Divion, so the 1/4th were at Thiepval rather than La Boiselle on 7th July 1916.

An obituary was also provided by the "Batley News" 2 which confirms the fate of William Henry Bedford as follows:

"Two Brothers Gone - A Middlestown Clerk Killed - Private Wm. Henry Bedford, K.O.Y.L.I., youngest son of Mrs. W. H. Bedford, Cliffe Cottage, Middlestown, has died in hospital in Rouen. He was 21 years old, and joined the Forces in October 1914, prior to which he was employed in the office of Denby Grange Colliery. He was educated at Middlestown St. Lukes School and Ossett Grammar School. He received serious gunshot wounds in the left arm and left thigh. Much sympathy will be felt for Mrs. Bedford, who has now lost two sons. On March 1st, Second-Lieut. Cecil C. Bedford (Manchester Regiment) was killed in Mesopotamia."

William Henry’s mother, Mary Bedford, died in early 1919 and later that year administration of William Henry’s estate was granted to his brother, Francis Ingham Bedford. William Henry’s effects totalled £37 12s 3d. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records include the address of William Henry’s sister, Miss Dorothy M. Bedford, 99, Park Grove, Barnsley, Yorkshire.

Battle of the Somme

Above: Battle of the Somme, July 1916.

Private William Henry Bedford, aged 21 years, son of William Henry and Mary Bedford, of Middlestown, Wakefield, Yorkshire, died of his wounds at Rouen on the 14th July 1916 and is remembered at grave reference A. 29. 15 at the St Sever Cemetery, Rouen,3 Seine-Maritime, France. St Sever Cemetery and St Sever Cemetery Extension are located within a large communal cemetery situated on the eastern edge of the southern Rouen suburbs of Le Grand Quevilly and Le Petit Quevilly.

During the First World War, Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen. A base supply depot and the 3rd Echelon of General Headquarters were also established in the city.

Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war. They included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross, one labour hospital, and No. 2 Convalescent Depot. A number of the dead from these hospitals were buried in other cemeteries, but the great majority were taken to the city cemetery of St. Sever. In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension.

St. Sever Cemetery contains 3,082 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. There is also 1 French burial and 1 non war service burial here.

References:

1. "Saturday Soldiers - the Territorial Battalions of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 1908-1919", by Malcolm K. Johnson, published by Doncaster Museum Service (2004), ISBN 0903524309, 9780903524308

2. "Batley News", 29th July 1916

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site