The soldiers who gave their lives for us - archives reveal stories of men commemorated at Southend Methodist Church

Bedfordshire Regiment. PNL-140610-151256001
Bedfordshire Regiment. PNL-140610-151256001

Stories about Bedford men from the First World War have beendiscovered by archivists, following the T&C’s appeal last week.

The Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has found the stories about the lives of the soldiers commemorated on a plaque in Southend Methodist Church, which is being sold. The plaque is to be re-dedicated at Kempston East Methodist Church and the search is on for relatives who will be invited to attend.

Here are their stories:

42410 Private Herbert Kidman Chillery, 2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment.

Herbert, 33, was killed on October 1, 1918 and is buried at Masnieres British Cemetery, Marcoing. He was the son of Frederick and Hilda Chillery and his wife’s name was Lizzie Jane, and after the war she lived at 1 Eastville Road, Bedford but it appears that she and Herbert lived at Wilstead Road, Elstow.

He had been born in Girtford and was a shoemaker’s apprentice in 1911.

His entry in The National Roll states that he joined in July 1916, probably conscripted. He went to France in 1917 and was wounded in August, invalided back to England but sent out again eight months later as British armies fought to stem a massive German offensive. In August, British and allied armies themselves went on the offensive which did not cease until the Armistice. He was killed in fighting near Cambrai, where he had been wounded in 1917. His entry in The National Roll of the Great War for Bedford ends: “His life for his country”.

1329 Sergeant Thomas W Billingham, 2nd/1st (East Anglian) Field Company, Royal Engineers.

Thomas died on November 25, 1915 of dysentery on Malta and he is buried at Pieta Military Cemetery, Malta. He joined up in September 1914 and sent to Gallipoli in July 1915. He fought in actions at Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove but contracted dysentery, along with many others under the hot, insanitary conditions of life hemmed into cramped beaches and the hills above them. He was evacuated to Malta but died.

He lived at 36 Muswell Road, Bedford, his widow Ada moving to Eastbourne. His entry in The National Roll of the Great War for Bedford ends: “His memory is cherished with pride”.

 William Freeman, described as serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment, posed a problem for the archives research. There was a 19196 Lance Corporal William Freeman who died on July 11, 1916 with the 2nd Battalion on the Somme and is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial to the missing. However, he is listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as being son of a man from Thomas Street, Leighton Buzzard (actually Thomas Street, Heath and Reach, where he had been born according to the publication Soldiers Died for the Bedfordshire Regiment).

Another William Freeman, 10496 Corporal in the 6th Battalion was killed on July 23, 1917 and is buried at Pond Farm Cemetery, Wulvergem, near Ypres. He was from Beeston, near Sandy. No other man named William Freeman died with the regiment. The likliest explanation seems to be that William had a relative (a parent, a brother, a sister) who worshipped at the church in South End and had him inscribed on the memorial. Both Heath and Reach and Beeston had sizeable Wesleyan Methodist chapels, that in Beeston being in The Baulk, where 6th Battalion William also lived, making him, perhaps, slightly the favourite candidate.

1268 Sapper Edmund Lilley of 1st (East Anglian) Field Company, Royal Engineers died aged 21 on September 26, 1915 and is buried at Chocques Military Cemetery near Bethune. He was the son of Charles and Josephine Lilley of 32 Southville Road, Bedford. He had been born in Wellingborough as that is where his mother was from, his father being from Kempston.

His father was the son of George and Catherine Lilley and George, Edmund’s grandfather, was the brother of Matthew and William Lilley.

They became well known in 1829 when they were both hanged for attempted murder. They were poaching in Bromham Wood in 1828 when gamekeeper Tom King was shot at by Matthew.

78995 Private Frank Reginald Notley, 23rd (1st Sportsman’s) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.

He was just 18 when he died of wounds on August 28, 1918 and is buried at Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension. His parents were George and Emily.

The 2nd Division, of which 23rd Royal Fusiliers formed a part, took part in the Second Battle of Bapaume between August 21 and September 1, 1918 during the British advance and was likely where Frank was wounded.

He had transferred to the Royal Engineers from 53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, a unit which existed solely to give basic training to new recruits.

 17776 Lance Corporal Richard Frank Chillery was Herbert’s brother and was just 20 when he died. He served with 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. Born in Bedford, his parents’ address is given as 200 Elstow and he was a farm labourer in 1911. He is buried at Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez. His other siblings were Winifred, Alfred, Fred and Angelo. He was killed, along with 58 of his comrades, on the first day of the Battle of Loos, September 25, 1915, a muddled affair which ended in stalemate.

The 2nd Bedfords, part of 7th Division, were ordered to make an attack across completely flat country to seize Hulluch, a mining hamlet south of la Bassee. The attack got as far as the open ground between the first and second German lines and then stalled in the face of machine gun and rifle fire.

His entry in The National Roll of the Great War for Bedford ends: “He died the noblest death a man may die, fighting for God and right and liberty”.

A man with the number 17769 from Hartington Street, Bedford – Herbert Lawson – was killed in the same attack and it is likely that he and Richard joined up at about the same time.

Another brother, Fred, joined the East Anglian Royal Engineers (the same unit as Billingham and Lilley) as a Territorial in November 1913.

He survived the war, ending up as an engine driver (fortress) in 357th

(Waterworks) Company, Royal Engineers in Egypt.

 If you know of any relatives of these soldiers, contact Arshad Mir on 01234 271599.