The 4th (Special Reserve) Battalion
The 4th Battalion were the 'Special
Reserve' battalion of the regiment, sometimes
referred to as 'Extra
Reserve' and 'Extra Special Reserve', but essentially
the second reserve battalion. The origins of this battalion
go back to 1757, when it was originally formed as one of the
two County Militia battalions. Part of Haldane's
reforms (called the 'Territorial
and Reserve Forces Act 1907') saw the raising of a secondary
Reserve Army under different terms and conditions to the existing
Reserves, and the two Militia units were redesignated as the
3rd (Reserve) and 4th (Special Reserve) battalions of the regiment.
The 4th Battalion's service in the Great War
The battalion was based at Bedford when
war broke out on the 4th August 1914, and were moved to Felixstowe
to provide home defence around Harwich as well as drafts for
the front line battalions. After the disaster on the Somme in
July 1916, the 4th Battalion, along with the equivalent units
from other regiments, was mobilised and sent to the Western
Front. They landed in France on the 25th July 1916 and were
formed - with other similar battalions - into the 190th Brigade
of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, where they would remain
until the end of hostilities. The 63rd (Royal Naval) Division
was a three brigade division, of which the 190th Brigade was
- 4th Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment.
- 7th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers.
- 1st Honourable Artillery Company [left
in June 1917].
- 1st/28th Battalion, the London Regiment
[known as "The Artists Rifles", who joined 28th June 1917]
- 10th Battalion, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers
[left in October 1917].
The battalion was engaged in the following major
battles throughout the war:
they were engaged in the Operations on the Ancre (also called
the Battle of the Ancre) in November.
they were involved in the continuing Operations on the Ancre,
specifically at the actions at Miraumont in February. During
the Battle of Arras they were heavily engaged in the Second
Battle of the Scarpe (when they captured Gavrelle) and the phase
of Arleux in April. In the Battles of Ypres 1917 (also referred
to as the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele), the battalion
were engaged during the Second Battle of Passchendaele in October
and November. Their final battle of the year was a localised
defensive battle called the Action at Welch Ridge in December.
the battalion were again heavily engaged in a series of major
battles. They were in the opening phases of the First Battles
of the Somme 1918 (also called the German Spring Offensives,
Operation Michael or Kaiserschlacht), specifically during the
Battle of St Quentin and the First Battle of Bapaume in March,
as well as the Battle of the Ancre in April. The Second Battles
of the Somme 1918 saw the battalion engaged in the Battle of
Albert in August, and during the Second Battle of Arras 1918
they were engaged at the Battle of Drocourt-Queant in September.
They were next involved in the Battles of the Hindenburg Line,
specifically at the Battle of the Canal du Nord in September
and the Battle of Cambrai in October. The final action of the
war would be during the Final Advance in Picardy, namely at
the passage of the Grand Honelle.
There are many people of interest who served
in the ranks and file of the 4th Battalion, two of whom are:
- Captain (Acting Lieutenant Colonel) John
Stanhope Collings-Wells V.C., D.S.O. was the Battalion's
Commanding Officer from late in 1916 until his death in March
1918, earning the deserved reputation as one of the regiment's
finest leaders of the war. He won both the Distinguished Service
Order and the battalion's only (posthumous) Victoria Cross
whilst serving in the Battalion.
- Hollywood Actor and Director Charles
Laughton of the Hunts
Cyclists and later the 4th Battalion of the Bedfordshire
regiment, who's war record has been researched in detail by
Martyn Smith and Gloria Porta and can be seen here.
Commanding Officers of the 4th Battalion
The following Officers
led the battalion throughout its service during the Great War:
James Edward Hubert GASCOYNE-CECIL (The Rt. Honourable Marquis
of Salisbury) commanded the battalion from the 29th October
1892 to 8th January 1915, when he retired.
Richard Page CROFT took over from 8th January 1915 to 4th
September 1916. He took the battalion out to France.
- Major Aynsley E.
GREENWELL commanded between 4th September and 20th October
(Acting Lieutenant-Colonel) John Stanhope COLLINGS-WELLS,
V.C., D.S.O., from 20th October 1916 to 27th March
1918, when he was killed winning the Victoria Cross during
the Spring Offensives.
Arthur Gabell MacDONALD, D.S.O., took over between 22nd April
and 3rd May 1918, at which time he was promoted to the General
Richard Brodnax KNIGHT commanded between the 3rd and
20th May 1918.
Frederick William SMITH, D.S.O., D.C.M., 20th May to 22nd
July 1918, when he returned to England ill.
- Major Arthur Gracie
HAYWARD, M.C., 22nd July to 22nd September 1918, after which
he moved on to command a Devonshire battalion.
Charles Cecil HARMAN, D.S.O., M.C., from 22nd September 1918
until the battalion was disbanded in 1919.
The 63rd (Royal Naval) Division
The 63rd Division was a unique unit, as it was
originally formed from the "surplus reserves" the Navy found
it had in August 1914. As the extra men could not be physically
fitted into the maritime activities of the British Navy, they
were used to form an additional land based division and named
the Royal Naval Division. Coming under the command of the Admiralty
as it did and in keeping with the traditions of the Royal Navy,
most of the battalions within this division were not given numbers
but named after Naval commanders, with the rest being Royal
With hardly any personal equipment, armed with
ancient weapons and with no supporting units, the hastily improvised
division was shipped to help with the defence of Antwerp early
in October 1914. Despite a gallant attempt, the outcome was
never in any doubt and they were overrun, with the survivors
being returned to Britain for retraining and re-fitting, as
the division was all but rebuilt.
The following year saw them moved to take part
in the fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsular. Again, the division
suffered heavy casualties and were moved to the Western Front
upon their evacuation, where they served the rest of the war.
In April 1916 the division was moved to the command of the land
armies and, despite their objections, was renamed as the 63rd
(Royal Naval) Division. That July also saw the structure change
further, with the introduction of an infantry Brigade (the 190th),
which included the 4th Bedfords.
The Division was extremely well led from the
top down, with the units within it being very highly motivated
and displaying a tremendously stubborn streak when events transpired
against them. As a result, by the armistice in November 1918,
the division had suffered almost 48,000 casualties but had earned
themselves a reputation as one of the British Army's top divisions,
with some arguing that they were the best.
Although the Division itself was disbanded and
would never be reformed again, today's Royal Marine Commandoes
have kept their 'elite' status very much alive.