The First World War
The Hertfordshire Regiment were amongst the first on the Western Front, a territorial force, these were not professional soldiers, but ordinary men and boys from our towns and villages, who found themselves no longer labourers, clerks or delivery boys but, after only three months training, soldiers in one of the bloodiest conflicts in history.
The Outbreak of War
Between 10th August and 2nd September 1914, 1,220 men enlisted at Hertford with 1,000 men joining Kitchener’s New Army and the rest going into the regular army or the special reserve. The 1st Battalion of the Hertfordshire Regiment was one of the first territorial units to go to France in November 1914 and they came under shell fire for the first time at the First Battle of Ypres on 11th November 1914, just five days after they had arrived.
1915 The Herts Guards
The Hertfordshire Regiment gained the nickname “The Herts Guards” during their first year in France, when they were assigned as a Battalion to the 4th Guards Brigade, the only Territorial unit in the Brigade, taking part in several battles near Béthune in Northern France. In September, the Battalion took part in the Battle of Loos. It was for his actions at this battle that Hertford gas fitter Corporal Alfred Burt became the first man of the Hertfordshire Regiment to be awarded the Victoria Cross. When a Minenwerfer shell landed in the trench, Alfred immediately ran to it, put his foot on the fuse and wrenched it out before it could explode, saving the lives of over twenty of his comrades.
1916 The Battle of the Ancre
The Battle of the Ancre (13–18 November 1916), was the final large British attack of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The Hertfordshire Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Page DSO, achieved a notable success in the battle advancing 1600 yards and holding their position.
1917 St Julien
On the 31st July 1917 the Hertfordshire Regiment took part in the opening battle of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele. Despite a successful morning during which they achieved their two main objectives, the afternoon’s fighting, outside the small village of St Julien was the single costliest fight for the Hertfordshire Regiment in the entire war. Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Page, ten Officers and more than 130 men perished. All the remaining Officers and more than 200 men were wounded and the 130 or so men who were still fit for duty finished the day commanded by the Regimental Sergeant Major, ably assisted by the Padre, Reverend Popham. In a letter to the Daily Mail in August 1917 Sir W. Beach Thomas wrote: “The highest sacrifice in the third Battle of Ypres was perhaps paid by the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment, who with other Territorials as gallant as themselves, took St. Julien and pushed forward deep into the enemy’s country beyond [..] Losing men all the time, but never checked, these troops pushed on a good 1200 yards to the next line of German trenches.”
1918 The Spring Offensive
In 1918 the Germans launched an attack known as the Spring Offensive. While the Battalion was advancing into the line near Foncquevillers, it was subjected to gas-shell bombardment and casualties were heavy. For the third time the Battalion had almost ceased to exist as a fighting unit, but it was combined with the 6th Bedfordshire Regiment and returned to the line to fight. 2nd Lieutenant Frank Young was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously, for his actions following the Battle of Havrincourt that September, in which he lost his life after several hours of hand to hand combat. The Regiment’s final battle was the Battle of the Sambre on 4th November 1918.
Over the four years of the First World War the Hertfordshire Regiment lost 848 men and around 2500 were wounded.
You can read the read the Regiment war diaries here
You can see film footage from the Imperial War Museum of the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment resting in the rear areas of the Western Front, autumn 1917, here