Bedfords depart for "the promised land"


At one o'clock in the morning on Monday, July 26th, 1915, half of the 1/5th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment left St Albans for what a signalling sergeant later described as "the promised land". An hour and a half later the remainder left the town to a "really good send-off from the people of St Albans". The men were confident and in good spirits, blithely unaware of the horrors that lay ahead in Gallipoli.

On Monday, August 23rd, 1915, the Luton Reporter carried the following report, based on a letter from the unnamed signalling sergeant.

"At last the 1/5th Battalion is to take part in the war of all wars." This is the strain in which a signalling sergeant who has from time to time kept one of our Bedford contemporaries posted with the doing of the Bedfordshire Territorial infantry writes from the troopship on which the 1/5th set sail and, he adds, "Led by one of the youngest, and at the same time one of the smartest and most efficient commanders in the Army, we feel confident that whatever task is allotted to us we shall render a good account of ourselves."

The letter, which was written on August Bank Holiday, gives a chatty and interesting record of the Battalion's experiences since their departure from St Albans.

"We started on our journey to 'the promised land' on Monday, July 26th," says the sergeant, "and we had a good send-off from the people of St Albans, the first half of the Battalion leaving there at 1am, and the remainder at 2.35am. The good people who inhabit the vicinity of the 1/5th at St Albans mostly stayed up all Sunday night in order to see us off. At two stations along the route, as well as the starting point, hot tea and coffee were served out to the troops, for which we were extremely grateful. The men were in good spirits at the prospect of soon entering the fray, and the long railway journey was enlivened by songs and cheers.

"Embarkation was carried out without a hitch, and at sunset we saw the last old dear old England - at least for some time. All went well on board until about the second day, when some strange malady [sea-sickness?] appeared amongst the men, many of whom complained that the ship would not keep still, and they hung over the rails with white faces and made weird sounds.

"Others who had not yet been attacked by this strange malady were so intent upon watching their antics that oft-times they fell a victim themselves! However, the magnificent physique and health of the men soon pulled them round, and we are now as chirrupy a set of lads as one would wish to see, in spite of the hot weather.

"We do look 'knuts' with our new suits on, and oh, the helmets! It is difficult to recognise even your best pals with their helmets on, and all of us have had our heads practically shaven."

[The Luton Reporter: Monday, August 23rd, 1915]