This is a story about a brave soldier who fought for King and Country in the Great War of 1914-1918 and his tragic death 36 years after the war had ended.
Philip was one of nine children born to Philip and Rose Bedford of New Street Darfield near Barnsley.
The Bedford family were no strangers to Army life; Philip’s late father was a Sergeant Instructor in the 42nd Black Watch, his brother Henry was in the Royal Horse Guards Artillery and his brother Samuel (Sammy) was in the York and Lancaster’s Regiment 14th Battalion (2nd Barnsley Pals)*
All three Brothers previously worked at the Houghton Main Colliery where they left to join the army and fight for King and Country.
Philip at the age of 23, answered Kitcheners call and enlisted in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (K.O.Y.L.I.) 7th Battalion, one of the many coal workers of Yorkshire who were lured by the offer of regular pay, three meals a day and the adventure of a life time with their best mates.
The 7th Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. which was formed at Pontefract on the 12th September 1914 became attached to the 61st Brigade and went into training in Aldershot, then onto Witley and finally to Salisbury Plain were the Division was inspected by King George V. and found to be ready for war.
The Battalion left Salisbury Plain on the 22nd July 1915 and went by train to Southampton were they boarded the Mona’s Queen, a passenger ship which had been commissioned by the government as a troop carrier for the duration of the war. They crossed the English Channel to Le Have arriving the following day and stayed at a rest camp at Sanvic.
On the 24th July they bordered a train bound for Arques a journey of 182 miles where they went into billets. On the 28th July they route marched to La Creule near Hazebrouck were they rested over night. The following day they marched to their destination at Steewerck near Nieppe close to the Belgium boarder, where they received training in trench warfare. This training which would be of the utmost value for their morale, and knowledge of trench routine which ultimately could save their lives.
After their training the 7th/K.O.Y.L.I. took over trenches of its own as a fully fledged fighting unit, and were destined to spend the remainder of the war on the Western Front, where they would see action on many famous theatres of war.
Ypres, Passchendaele, and the Somme
The trenches they occupied were typically 3 meters deep by 2 meters wide, mostly filled with mud and water. Sanitary conditions were poor, and the Soldiers were unable to bathe for weeks at a time and found it difficult to rest and sleep, they also lived in constant fear of being buried alive by shell fire. The trenches were infested with rats, and many Soldiers suffered from cholera, gangrene, trench foot, and trench fever, if that wasn’t enough, there was always the constant threat of gas attacks, and when it was finally time to go over the top, they all knew that they were forbidden from turning back, and had no choice but to advance. Even their injured mates had to be left where they fell.
In August 1916, Phil was sent home suffering with trench fever and returned to duty in early September 1916, where the 61st Infantry Brigade found themselves in action in the Guillemont and Ginchy areas of the Somme. The onset of fierce fighting and gas attacks resulted in many casualties, and this is probably where Phil is thought to have sustained shrapnel wounds to his shoulder and back which would cause him pain and suffering for the rest of his life. After treatment he returned to his unit and in October was awarded a Wound stripe to signify that he was a wounded soldier.
Ironically, two months earlier and just 10 miles away at a Village called Serre, his younger brother Sammy was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916. Sammy was just one of tens of thousands of under aged soldiers who joined the Pals Battalions’ for comradeship and adventure, but paid the ultimate price for King and Country.
Phil was finally given a honourable discharge on the 29th December 1917, and received the following medals; the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the Silver War Badge, which was awarded to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness from military service in World War 1. The lapel badge was made from sterling silver and worn on the right breast of their civilian clothes.
His Battalion went on to fight many heroic battles on the Western Front before it was finally disbanded on the 20th February 1918.
Phil returned home and went to live with his Mother Rose Bedford. He was one of many men who came back from the War suffering from serious injuries and the effects of mustard gas and shell shock, better known now as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Tormented by his experiences and not being able to return to his former work, family recollections indicate that Phil never fully recovered from the traumas he endured. He suffered from depression and financial difficulties which only added to his already devastated life.
Our family have fond memories of Phil, my sister Ann in particular, can recall visiting their house each week and do her grandmother’s hair, whilst listening to her uncle Phil play the organ in the parlour.
He looked after his mum for many years through her old age until she passed away at the age of 90 in April 1954. Shortly afterwards in May 1954, Phil aged 63 took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed. We can only presume that with the loss of his mum, he lost his will to live and wanted to put an end to his pain and suffering.
Whether people agree that this was the right or wrong way for someone to end their life I cannot say. All I know is that I am proud of my Uncle’s for doing their ‘bit’ for King and Country and I am sure if they were around today, they would be the first to volunteer again to keep our Country great and safe for all of us to enjoy.
I have dedicated this story to his Regiments Museums Archives who have provided me with the Battalions War Diary’s which has helped me put his story together, for which I am deeply indebted.
By Richard Ward – Philip’s Nephew