The reception of the 1/5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment at the Luton Town Hall on Saturday evening [June 5th, 1915] was responsible for a scene unparalleled in the history of the borough. Never before has the whole battalion been seen in the town, and this in itself made it a noteworthy occasion.
In addition, there was the probability that it might be the last opportunity Luton would have of seeing the battalion before it went abroad. In these times a battalion is here today and gone in the night, and at any moment we may hear that the battalion is no longer in the country.
This very fact alone would have justified a demonstration of the popular sentiment, and if any further excuse were needed it was to be found in the fact that the battalion was made up largely of our own men, who came in as a body for the first time since mobilisation, and for the first time under a commanding officer who is also a Lutonian. Lieut-Col Edgar W. Brighten brought his men, who have done a trek of over sixty miles in three hot days, into George Street exactly as the clock was striking seven, and they could not have desired a more cordial reception.
Chief Constable Teale, Inspector Janes and other police officers kept the ground well cleared for the troops, and until the reception by the Mayor [Councillor Walter Primett] and other leading townspeople was over one could hardly tell the size of the crowd which had been drawn together.
But when, the troops having resumed their march to Luton Hoo, the public were free to take up the whole roadway, it was really surprising to see what a crowd had gathered. Indeed, townspeople able to speak with the authority of long years of experience, said that such a crowd had never before been seen in George Street.
Saturday evening's gathering will go down as one of the most memorable occasions in the history of the borough. The Mayor's invitation to residents to decorate their premises was well responded to in the principal thoroughfares, a gay show of flags and bunting being made along the line of route from New Bedford Road to the end of Park Street, and in some of the side streets also.
A temporary platform had been erected outside the Town Hall, and on this the Mayor was accompanied by various members of the Town Council, the South Beds Recruiting Committee and other prominent townspeople. The Mayoress and a number of other ladies has seats at the windows of the Town Hall.
The Mayor, on behalf of the town, gave the battalion a very heart welcome. They belonged, he said, to a county which had sent out men who had done some wonderful deeds on the field of battle. The Bedfords had accomplished many notable exploits, and had done noble deeds for their country. Probably, in a very short time, this 1/5th Battalion would be called to face the enemy.
"Many of you," said the Mayor, "have given up lucrative positions, and broken away from your home circles, to stand in te breach in your country's hour of peril and danger. We honour every one of you. And when you are called upon to meet this most unscrupulous enemy, the vilest enemy that ever fought in battle, I trust you will cherish the thought that we are thinking of you, and that we shall bear you up, not only in our thoughts, but in out prayers also."
Lieut-Col Brighten was cheered before replying. He said it would be difficult to express what they all felt at the reception which had been accorded to them. They felt they were at home and were most gratified at being received in this way.
They were proud to belong to the Bedfordshire Regiment, and when their time came they intended to do their part. The men were proud of the battalion. All worked hard and tried to do their best, but the proudest man in the whole battalion was himself.
The battalion then moved off to Luton Hoo, where the bivouacked for the night on the high grounds just inside the Park Road entrance. But all the men who had homes in the town were given permission to go home for the night, on the condition that they turned up for church parade the following morning.
The band did not go back with the battalion as arrangements were made for them to give concerts at Wardown in the afternoon and evening under Bandmaster Goodger.
[The Luton News, June 10th, 1915. Pictures by W. H. Cox]