A very special bond of friendship – forged when 22,000 Scottish troops were billeted in the borough during the First World War - was remembered on Sunday.a
The town’s Foster Hill Road cemetery hosted the Scots Society Remembrance Service for all service personnel, and especially to commemorate the young men of the Highland regiments.
During the nine months from the outbreak of war in August 1914 to May 1915, when they departed, the town became a home from home for troops, who were part-time Territorials.
A memorial unveiled by the Lord-Lieutenant of Bedfordshire, Helen Nellis, and her counterpart from Argyle & Bute, Patrick Stewart MBE, reads: “The memorial, and the Scots Pine planted close by, commemorate the enduring bond of friendship that was forged between the people of Bedfordshire and the 22,000 Territorial Force soldiers of the Highland Division who were billeted in and around the town from August 1914 to May 1915, some of whom rest in this cemetery.
It also has quotes from the time from Captain Robert B Ross, of the Gordon Highlanders, and the then mayor, Harry Browning, to Major-General RB Allason.
Captain Ross said: “Our goodbyes were parched upon our lips, for Bedford had mothered us, and we had grown up as her children.”
Mayor Browning said: “The people of this borough will never forget the visit of the Highland Division. The friendships formed during the last nine months will last for many years to come and we shall watch for news of the Division as if they were our own people.”
Those friendships included at least one marriage, and offspring who are also helping to keep the memories of the wartime association alive.
One, a Lady Ruth, wrote on Twitter: “My grandfather was a WW1 Scottish Highlander, a Gordon Highlander.
“He came back to Bedford after the war and married Bedfordian Grandma. #proudgrandaughter.”
One of the members of the parade and service, Col Cadets (EA), tweeted: “A very fitting service for the Bedford Highlanders. Well done to all who took part and to the Friends of Bedford Cemetery for hosting us so well.”
The parade included veteran and serving soldiers, including men in kilts, led by pipers.
The troops became a familiar sight in the town and surrounding countryside as they trained and prepared for war.
The blog website http://bedfordhighlanders.blogspot.com says that the troops had originally been stationed in Bedford to be able to respond to a German invasion of the UK mainland.
However, during the winter of 1914 to 15, the remit of the first line Territorial battalions changed.
The British Expeditionary Force was struggling against vastly superior numbers on the other side of the English Channel, so they went from defence to offence.
At the war’s end, the division had earned a reputation for being one of the hardest fighting in the British Army, but in the process it sustained nearly 45,000 casualties – killed, wounded and missing.
However, the division’s losses weren’t confined to the frontline. Scores died of diseases like measles.
The remains of 33 men of the Highland Division who died of disease are buried in the military plot of Foster Hill Road cemetery. Among them is a new memorial...