For the 12th Battalion, they had only been in France a fortnight when their first member was lost. Lost not to enemy action however, but to a tragic training accident.
On 18th June 1916, the Battalion were deep in training. Upon arrival in France, 'A' and 'B' Company's were sent to be billeted at Chocques, whilst 'C' and 'D' Company's were send to Lebeuvriere. In their respective camps, the hard work began. A strict routine of "bombing, attack, digging and repairing trenches and musketry" began. A special course in gas was also prepared so that the men could get used to wearing their newly issued 'tube' helmets.
Grenades were a new-found novelty for the men of the Battalion. No training had been given in England for the use of such weapons. The recently introduced No. 5 grenade, or "Mills Bomb" was the latest in a long line of grenades to be issued to the British Army. Its simplistic fragmentation design, combined with a reliable priming and arming system, ensured that in a modified form it was to remain with the British Army until the Falklands war of 1982. It had been introduced the previous May, but sufficient stocks had not been ready for the battle of Loos in September.
On the fateful day, the Battalion War Diary noted that four men had been badly wounded by an accidental grenade explosion at the 12th Divisional School at Le Beuvriere near Bethune. All men suffered heavy concussion and multiple wounds caused by the fragmentation of the grenades' casing. One man's injuries were so severe that he died the following day in hospital.
Born in Marylebone in 1897, Percy James Bedward was an early member of the Battalion. Unemployed at the outbreak of war, he tried several times to enlist in London. He'd failed to get into his local Regiment; the Royal Fusiliers in early 1915 due to his short stature. Frustrated, he went north to Suffolk to try and enlist there. This time he was successful.
The son of Thomas and Margaret Bedward, of No. 22 Sarsden Buildings, St. Christopher Place, the family lived in the ground floor room of converted series of Georgian Mews houses off Wigmore St., London. Like many, Percy probably saw the Great War as an escape from the continual drudgery of this life and was keen to serve to get away from such an existence.
His family were abhorrently poor. Such was their poverty that they could not at first, afford an inscription for their sons headstone. After much saving, they managed to have the single word "Peace" applied when it was erected in 1923. St. Christopher's place was badly bombed during the Blitz in 1941, but today the street is one of affluence and prosperity, a thriving shopping thoroughfare in the heart of London. A world away from what it was one hundred years ago.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.