Henry Williamson at Felixstowe
Invalided home from the Front in June 1917 after being gassed, and following a period of convalescence and leave, Henry Williamson joined the 3rd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment on 15 October 1917. This was a Home Service battalion stationed at Landguard Fort on the east coast, just outside Felixstowe, and HW remained there until the war's end and the beginning of his Christmas leave on 9 December 1918. Following this leave he was sent to No. 1 Dispersal Unit at Shorncliffe, and then No. 3 Rest Camp at Folkestone, dealing with troops returning from abroad. He was demobilised on 19 September 1919.
There are few details available about the duties that HW undertook while with the 3rd Beds – Phillip Maddison in A Test to Destruction is assistant adjutant in the Orderly Room, and it seems reasonable to assume that this reflects HW's own position there.
There exist a few photographs of his fellow officers and their off-duty activities, and these are reproduced below, among other memorabilia.
Captain Charles O. Whitfield
'Witters' and HW remained lifelong friends
|Frank W. Hedges, VC|
|Denis Sisley, MC|
HW and his doubles partner Milling
The photograph is captioned by HW:
"Semifinals, Men's Doubles Tournament, Felixstowe, Aug '18"
|Milling (left) and unknown, holding HW's puppy Billjohn|
This irreverent postcard to HW's father also survives (note that it was sent to William Leopold's place of work rather than to his home):
The 3rd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment took its etiquette seriously, and required its 'temporary gentlemen' to act as officers and gentlemen. To that end it produced a booklet of its 'Rules of the Officers' Mess' in 1916; this copy was issued to HW:
After the war, in common with other regiments and units, the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (to give it its full name) held annual reunion dinners, until survivors became so few that they ceased. HW attended some of these, though he eventually gave up going to them.
Below are two menus for the 1928 reunion dinner, the first being Charles Whitfield's, which HW has signed for him. The second is HW's menu, signed by others and with additional notes by HW. Of interest too is that he used the menu as an aide-memoire for his forthcoming appointments that week!
HW has noted 'Hedges VC' – Frank Hedges won his Victoria Cross in September 1918. The action is described in Major-General Sir F. Maurice's The 16th Foot: A History of The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment (Constable, 1931):
Early on the 24th [September] the battalion was back on the battlefront to support the Northamptons in the attack on the brigade's final objective, the south-western edge of the Mormal Forest. The advance began at 4 a.m.; the country being very enclosed, the barrage was lost, and the two supporting battalions, the 2nd Battalion and the Royal Fusiliers, were soon mixed up with the Northamptons, while the enemy was making a determined stand on the ridge in front of Bousies. The check which resulted was resolved primarily by two men. Lieut.-Colonel A. E. Percival came up and coolly sorted out the confused mass of men in the firing line, reorganising the battlefront. Lieutenant F. W. Hedges of the Bedfords was attached to the 6th Northamptons, and his company was on the right of the brigade front. Crawling up the ridge with one sergeant, and followed at some distance by a Lewis gun section, he got on the flank of the line of German machine gun posts, killed the first German machine gunner and then disposed of two more machine gun posts, taking fourteen prisoners. The Lewis gun section then came up, and all the remaining machine gun posts were captured. This bold and courageous action, for which Lieutenant F. W. Hedges was awarded the V.C., enabled the brigade to sweep forward to its final objective.
HW's diary notes indicate just what a busy week he has planned for this tenth anniversary of the signing of the Armistice:
9. Friday. D Mirror Ticket. Dine Kit W. ? Kit W at 7, Nat Lib Club. [The Daily Mirror ticket was for the service at the Cenotaph the following Sunday, 11 November; HW wrote a piece on this which appeared in the paper the next day. Kit W is the composer Christopher à Becket Williams, who appears as the character 'Becket Scrimgeour' in ACAS.]
10. Sat – dine A.B. 75 Cadogan Gdns, at 8 [This is Arnold Bennett, the novelist and influential critic for the Evening Standard.]
11. Sunday Cenotaph. 10 am.
12. Monday. Lunch Garnett, 19 Pond Place, 1. p.m. [The writer and critic Edward Garnett, who did much to help HW's early career.]