Some Memories of the Great War 1914 - 18
Memoirs, August 1960
By Edward Lawrence
I have a vivid recollection of August 4th 1914. On a beautiful summer’s day, it was, that we declared war on that Bosche tyrant, Kaiser Wilhelm II, whose troops had overrun Belgium.
The Herts Militia
Hertford, my native town, being a garrison centre, was at once transformed by military activity. The Herts Militia, a reserve battalion of the 4th Bedfordshire Regt., mobilised for war at once. And it was a stirring sight to see this tough bunch of old sweats assemble on parade, as fine a body of men as any in the British Army.
What a send off the townspeople gave them when they marched to entrain at the station, on their way to France. And how gallantly they fought in those fateful early days, at Loos and other places. And many of those gallant lads fell in action in that terrible inferno of the Somme.
We had another gallant band of fighting men too, whom I shall never forget: the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regt. (T.A.), one of the first of the “Terrier” battalions to see active service, the very first being a battalion of London Scottish. The Herts covered themselves with glory right through the war and earned themselves the title The Herts Guards, being brigaded with The Guards of the regular army, and fighting with great distinction at Givenchy and other very tough spots. At the battle of St. Julien they were badly mauled by the Bosche and lost many officers and men, including their commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Page D.S.O. The Regt. boasted two winners of The Victoria Cross: Corporal Burt of Hertford and Second Lieut. Young.
The most famous commanding officer of the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment during World War 1 was a native of Ware, Lt. Col. Sir H. Page Croft, whose estate was “Farnhams Hall”, Ware. He was late Brigadier General Lord Croft. This officer was extremely popular with his men, and what a fine figure he was when in uniform. The family were highly thought of in the local society circles.
One of the most popular members of the original No. 1 company of the Herts Regt., and a real stalwart of the Territorial movement from its earliest days, was Company Sergeant Major R. J. Joyce of Bengeo, a man highly respected by all who knew him. He was on active service in France right through the 1914-18 period with the boys. As were Sergeants F. Kimmell, W. Kimmell, J. Ambrose and E. Purton, of my own personal schoolboy days. All were 3 or 4 years older than I.
The latter was commissioned during the later part of the war in the Royal Air Force, and flew on anti-submarine patrol in airships. These were non rigid types and nicknamed “Blimps”, and the scene of their patrols was mostly in the Western Approaches, Irish Sea area.
The Herts covered themselves with glory right through the war and earned themselves the title The Herts Guards
The most stunning military sight I ever saw was the march past our home of the East Anglian Division from Bishops Stortford to Hertford. The march past, onsisting of 20,000 troops in close marching order, was continuous from eight in the morning until 1.30, each battalion in column of fours, with their band at the head, the lads swinging along carrying full pack and singing the famous songs of the day – Tipperary and Pack Up Your Troubles.
I must confess that this particular event still brings a lump to my throat. It was the most moving sight I have ever experienced in my whole life, to me absolutely unforgettable, tragic, yet glorious.
In the earlier days of the war, aerial attacks on this country were confined to Zeppelin airships flown by German naval crews. For a time, they caused considerable consternation here, but after a time pilots of the old Royal Flying Corps learned how to deal with them and many were shot down in flames.
On the night of October 13th 1915, a number of these craft flew all over East Anglia and dropped bombs at random at various points. One passed over Hertford and dropped bombs, doing a certain amount of damage and killing, among others, The Borough Surveyor and organist of All Saints Church.
Many people in this country think that the craft shot down at Cuffley, by Lt. W. Leefe Robinson V.C., was the first one destroyed in that campaign. It was not so, neither was it a Zeppelin. It was an airship of the Schutte-Lanz type, which was rather more than 400 feet in length and was of wooden framework internally.
Zeppelin at Potters Bar
The one shot down at Potters Bar, by Lt Tempest, was a Zeppelin, about six hundred feet in length and of latticed aluminium framework internally.
The airship crews were brave men, and I salute them. They did their duty for their country, as did our lads for England
I inspected the wrecks of both of these airships. The latter I actually saw shot down – it was like a flaming torch. The crew met a terrible end; they were burnt to cinders, there being no parachutes in those days. The Commnader, Kapitan Heinrich Mathy, leapt out of the burning craft and fell flat on his back. The impression of his head and shoulders made in the turf where he fell was over one foot deep. The Herr Kapitan Mathy was still breathing when he was found, but died shortly afterwards.
I saw this myself. This great officer had been in every raid on London. The airship crews were brave men, and I salute them. They did their duty for their country, as did our lads for England.
Shortly after this, use of airships was abandoned by the enemy, and he turned to bomber planes. London was attacked in daylight. I saw this raid, which was carried out by about 20 planes. These flew in formation and moved with perfect line of flight, as would guards on parade on a barrack square. This was the first squadron formation I had seen. It was most impressive to watch. This business, however, was soon checked. The crack squadron of Bristol fighters were brought back from the front, commanded by Capt Brian Baker D.S.O. M.C. Croix de Guerre, a very famous officer whom many Hertford people knew personally.
At this time, the East Herts Golf Links was used as a Flying Corps landing ground, and I saw many types of fighter aircraft on the ground at close quarters, and many famous pilots in person, including the celebrated Capt. Albert Ball, V.C. D.S.O. M.C., who destroyed 43 Bosch planes in France. This great pilot was unfortunately killed in action at a later date, during an air battle with the crack fighter squadron of the Bosch air force, commanded by Capt. Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, who in his turn was finally shot down and killed by Capt. Roy Brown, a Canadian officer in the Royal Flying Corps.
The School of Instruction
With the army reaching its maximum peak in manpower, it became imperative that sufficient N.C.O.s be trained to handle them on active service. So it came about that the School of Instruction was formed at the barracks of the Herts Militia in the town. Bayonet fighting and the use of the machine gun were high on the list of activities.
The officer in command of the school was Lt. Colonel Sir H. Delves-Broughton, and the adjutant was Capt. Massey-Beresford, aided by Lieut. Blackburn-Mays. A famous boxing champion was also on the staff, Sergeant Pat Q’Keefe, the British middle-weight champion at that time, and another outstanding army boxer, Sergeant Zimmer, who was very well known in amateur pugilism.
End of the War
When the war finally ended on November 11th 1918, there was much relief and a great deal of celebrating, which under the unfortunate circumstances, alas, I could not join in, having had my two brother killed in action and many of my friends also. This I am sure was understandable. Our little community of about 30 or so families paid a very heavy toll in lads who fell in action. My one regret is that some mark of our remembering them was not erected nearby.
Our little community of about 30 or so families paid a very heavy toll in lads who fell in action. My one regret is that some mark of our remembering them was not erected nearby
The list of those of our boys who fell was:-
Arthur Wagstaff (Herts. Militia) Killed Loos 1915.
Ernie Day (Australian Infantry) missing.
H. A. Lawrence (Royal Berkshire Regt.) November 12th 1916 Grandcourt
E. G. Lawrence (Royal Field Artillery) March 24th 1918 Arras
The others who came through safely were:-
Fred Kimnell (Sergeant 1st Herts. Regt.)
Wally Kimnell (Sergeant 1st Herts. Regt.)
Tom Ambrose (Sergeant 1st Herts. Regt.)
Ernie Purton (Sergeant 1st Herts. Regt., Later 2nd Lieut: Royal Air Force)
Ken Wagstaff (Royal Navy. H.M.S. Implacable
W. H. Lawrence (Bedfords & Lovat’s Scouts)