A Bedford man who was in the cavalry, riding his horse into gun and cannon fire during the First World War, was the first British soldier to be stood down at the end of the conflict.
Sidney Hall, who served in Bedford Borough police, survived the conflict despite horrendous casualties among the men around him, his experiences included seeing a horse blown up by a shell in front of him as well as bullets and shrapnel whistling past him.
In letters printed in the Bedfordshire Times & Independent in late November 1914 Mr Hall described having lost almost an entire troop in the fighting. He said the experience they have been through is too horrible to write about and mentions men who previously had not known how to pray doing so on a daily basis.
Sidney said he was thankful for the parcels he had received, but asks that no more tobacco is sent, as they are getting more than they can smoke. The freezing conditions are also mentioned, with a number of wounded men dying from exposure to the cold. Frostbite is also a problem.
The horrendous scale of the casualties suffered by his regiment is also written about – 77 men from one squadron in one day; with four such days recently.
He also talks about the ‘Jack Johnsons’ (a British nickname used to describe the heavy, black German 15cm artillery shell, named after an American boxer) which he describes as noisy and which made very big holes, but didn’t cause much damage. He signed off with love to all at home and to all at the police. He also asked his wife to give his son, Sid (Valentine) a kiss from him.
The Bedfordshire Police Museum has unearthed information from the archives and discovered that he was the first British soldier to be stood down (demobilised) at the end of the war.
January 16 marks 117 years since he joined the British Army in 1902, at the age of 17 while working as a hotel porter in Bedford. He signed up for 12 years in the Household Cavalry - First Life Guards.
He served in London and Windsor and then left the army in 1909 to transfer to the Reserves, after joining the police force. A search of newspaper articles from the time reported on PC Hall dealing with incidents such as begging and drunk and disorderly, which was a common occurrence.
He married Emily Floyd at Holy Trinity Church in 1910 and in 1911 they had a son, Valentine Sidney Hall, born on February 14. Sidney re-joined his old regiment in 1914 from the reserves and over the next few years was promoted, attaining the rank of ‘Corporal of Horse’ in 1917.
The next newspaper reports are after the end of the war in 1919 and provide further insight as to Sidney’s service, as well as his health. He had been involved in the first battle of Ypres, when the cavalry barred the way to Calais and the channel ports. Only seven of his squadron, including himself, came through unharmed.
He was also involved in other engagements without being injured, but eventually had to return to England suffering from bronchitis.
He was stationed in Knightsbridge Barracks, in London, after a period of ill-health. He was demobilised on December 9 at the Dispersal Camp Unit, in Wimbledon, with the number A/4, 000,001.
The issuing officer congratulated him on being the first man in the British Army to receive it.
Having survived the horrors of the war, Sidney’s life was irrevocably changed in an incident where he was severely injured whilst on duty in Bedford in 1928. A newspaper article published in the Bedfordshire Times & Independent told the story: just after noon, a bullock was being driven down a street when it knocked into several cycles stacked against a wall.
The startled animal ran off, which in turn caused a horse attached to a lorry to turn and kick on the pavement, injuring a lady and her young daughter. The horse and lorry then dashed off down the street towards where PC Hall was on point-duty. He tried to grab the reins, but was swung under the wheels of the lorry. He suffered a broken femur, a fractured shoulder and facial injuries.
PC Hall never fully recovered from his injuries enough to resume his duties as a constable. He was awarded a special pension of £2 18s 11d a week and his condition was reviewed annually. Reports from the town’s Watch Committee in the local newspapers indicated this continued for several years, the last of which was in 1934.
In March 1938, Sidney wrote to his old regiment asking for his discharge papers, as he wanted to join the local branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association.
In anticipation of another war with Germany in 1939, a ‘register’ was taken by the authorities. Sidney’s occupation was recorded as Police Constable (retired). He still maintained his connection with the police by taking in a lodger who was a PC, before he died on December 21, 1950.
In the register, his son was shown as a Police Constable living in Luton. He also followed in his father’s footsteps as a military reservist and died in Luton in 1994.
If anyone knows or is in contact with the Hall family, the Bedfordshire Police Museum would love to hear from you, by emailing email@example.com
The museum is open to the public via prior appointment by emailing Special Inspector Keith Jackson.