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Jon6640

Dammed Long Shift!

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Jon6640

Forum members may know the story of Sapper Bedson. I take the following from Captain W.Grant Grieve's "Tunnellers"

"At 6.30 on the morning of 10th June 1916, the enemy fired two heavy mines at the shoulders of the salient just outside his own lines. Blue clay was exposed in both the craters indicating that the galleries from which they were blown were at a considerable depth. As was his practice, these craters were incorporated into his trench system, sniping and bombing posts and machine gun positions being constructed in the forward lips.

The northernmost of these blows was almost directly above our S.P.13 gallery, and was fraught with disastrous results to us. The main gallery between 1,250 feet and 1,500 feet was completely smashed in, and twelve unfortunate men working at or near the face were trapped, imprisoned in the confined space in the undamaged end of the gallery. Their predicament was desperate. Every breath they breathed poisoned the fetid, though precious, air so vital to their very existence…. Was there no hope of release? Must they all suffer the tortures of a lingering death in the utter darkness 100 feet below ground? There was just a chance, feeble enough, and the knowledge that their comrades would spare no efforts to effect their release no doubt gave them hope. Rescue and repair gangs were rushed to work with all possible speed, the miners gallantly working in frantic haste in an endeavour to release their entombed mates. It is traditional with miners that they never spare themselves or despair of rescuing their comrades. Night and day they strove with relentless determination amounting almost to a frenzy. For six and a half days they toiled with breathless energy, their half-naked bodies begrimed with clay and bathed with the sweat of exhaustion and anxiety, straining every muscle lest they should be too late. At last, it seemed an age, the broken ground was passed and a connection made to the undamaged gallery. By this time, however it was quite hopeless to expect to find the men alive. An eager search proved their worst fears to be only too well founded. Body after body was found-eleven in all. It was presumed that the twelfth man was buried under the fallen gallery. The workers were therefore withdrawn to allow the foul air to clear from the gallery.

Later they returned to the gallery, and to their utter amazement they discerned in the dim, uncertain light, something moving. This, they thought, surely must be supernatural. Under the circumstances they well may have been pardoned for showing some diffidence. But their apprehension was momentarily only; scarcely believing their eyes, they saw the sole survivor crawl back from a living grave.

This man, Sapper Bedson, told how the entombed men had collected at the broken end of the gallery, where a little air was coming through the air pipe which they had disconnected. They then began by turns to dig their way out. This effort they soon abandoned and spaced themselves along the gallery. Gradually, however, they were overcome by the foul air, and in three days all but one were dead. Bedson, however, was an experienced miner. He avoided the broken end, where heavy air accumulated, and lay by the face, which was a little higher. He comforted himself by the reflection that a party of coal miners were entombed for thirteen days and then rescued alive.

He kept his head marvellously. His only food consisted of two army biscuits and a bottle of water. He dare not eat the biscuits nor drink the water. From time to time he rinsed out his mouth with water and returned it to the bottle. To keep himself warm he improvised a suit from sandbags. Every night he slept on a crude bed made by placing sandbags on a bogie truck, winding up his watch before retiring! And when after six and a half days he was rescued – hauled through a small hole in the broken ground – his first words were: “For God’s sake give me a drink! It’s been a damned long shift!” He was taken to the shaft on a mine stretcher placed on a bogie wagon in charge of the M.O. At the shaft he was rested for two hours. During this time his mind was quite clear and he could answer quite sensibly.

Even then Bedson’s perils were not all over. As he was being carried down the communication trench he and his stretcher party had the narrowest of escapes from shell-fire!

Bedson had already his share of war’s scars. Wounded on this very front in 1914, after recovery he was sent to Gallipoli, where he was wounded again. Now, returning to Flanders – this time as a Tunneller – he had to undergo an ordeal grave enough to try the stoutest heart. Yet when he had recovered from his appalling experience, his first act was to volunteer to return to his old unit! It was rightly considered, however that he had “done his bit,” and he was given a job at the Base Depot."

He must have been some man! I can't however find his medal index card and wonder if anyone knows any more about the man, like where he was from and what happened to him after the war.

Jon

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MelPack

Jon

I have to say that is a great story!

Is there any reason why you have discounted William H Bedson Yorks & Lancs 17141/RE 146336.

He fits the bill completely save for the wounding in F&F in 1914 - served in Gallipoli, miner from Conisborough nr Rotherham. re-mustered from Class W, tunneller with engineers etc . His service papers are on Ancestry.

Regards

Mel

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Jon6640

Mel,

What can I say I must have missed him (to my shame!)

Does anyone have access to ancestry?

Jon

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agedpink

An amazing story can't wait to find out more!

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iain mchenry

The Sapper Bedson story is well known, if memory serves me right he was with 250th Tunnelling Company when the Petit Bois incident happened. The other 11 Tunnellers who were trapped with him and died are buried in a row in Kemmel Chateau Cemetery.

Iain

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Tom Morgan

A couple of years ago I was guiding a school group and one of the students asked if it would be possible to visit a grave - it was his great grandfather or his great uncle, I forget which. Anyway, when I saw the cemetery details I realised at once that it had to be one of the 11 victims of the Petit Bois incident, buried at Kemmel Chateau Cemetery. Of course I was able to tell the student exactly what had happened to his relative - not very often that you are able to do that. He was very proud to know that his relative was quite a famous soldier even though hardly anyone would know his name - everyone who had read about Spr. Bedson would have thought quite hard about his eleven comrades. I had known about these eleven ever since I read "War Underground" in the mid-60s and had actually thought about them very often, without ever knowing their names.

Tom

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iain mchenry

I am currently photographing every British and Empire Tunneller to be buried in the Salient. Here are the details of the other 11 that were with Spr Bedson. They are all from 250th Tunnelling Coy RE. Major Cecil Croppers lads:

132131 Spr Adam WRIGHT

146304 Spr Joseph WOOD

112596 Spr W VOWLES

151267 Spr W THOMAS

139177 Spr James SMITH

136297 Spr G QUAYLE

139132 Sjt H LAMBERT

146565 Spr R KELLY

121625 Spr G GRANT

121898 2nd Cpl A GRAHAM

147615 Spr William CULSHAW

Just for info there are 5 more members of 250th TC in Kemmel Chateau, died on different dates. There are also 2 other Tunnellers from 2 other Tunnelling Coys in the cemetery.

Iain

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Jon6640

Thanks to Iain we can now put names to the men who died, a bit of cross reference with the MIC's reveals their first names apart from Sapper KELLY:

Name: WRIGHT, ADAM

Initials: A

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 132131

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 18.

Name: WOOD, JOSEPH

Initials: J

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 146304

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 19.

Name: VOWLES, William

Initials: W

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 112596

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 13.

Name: THOMAS, William

Initials: W

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Age: 25

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 151267

Additional information: Son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Thomas, of 9, Merton St., Stalybridge.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 16.

Name: SMITH, JAMES HENRY

Initials: J H

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Age: 25

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 139177

Additional information: Son of Mrs. J. Smith, of 10, Broad St., Dagenham, Romford, Essex.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 14

Name: QUAYLE, George

Initials: G

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Age: 32

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 136297

Additional information: Son of the late John Thomas and Dinah Quayle, of Dalton-in-Furness; husband of Sarah Annie Quayle, of 13, Skelgate, Dalton-in-Furness, Lancs.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 15.

Name: LAMBERT, Herbert

Initials: H B

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Serjeant

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Age: 40

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 139182

Additional information: Husband of Elizabeth Ann Lambert, of 55, Coldcae Rd., Abertridwr, Cardiff. Native of Lindridge, Worcs.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 20.

Name: GRANT, George

Initials: G

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Age: 43

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 121625

Additional information: Son of Robert and Elizabeth Grant, of Larkhall, Lanarkshire; husband of Annie Wardlaw Grant, of Blossom Cottage, Saline, Oakley, Fife.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 17.

Name: GRAHAM, Adam

Initials: A

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: 2nd Corporal

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Age: 41

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 121898

Additional information: Husband of Elizabeth Boyd Graham, of 10, George St., Stirling.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 11.

Name: CULSHAW, WILLIAM HENRY

Initials: W H

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Age: 38

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 147615

Additional information: Son of Mr. and Mrs. H. Culshaw, of Brierley Hill; husband of Elsie Culshaw, of 2, Plants Hollow, Brettell Lane, Brierley Hill, Staffs.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 12.

Name: KELLY,

Initials: R

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Sapper

Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers

Unit Text: 250th Tunnelling Coy.

Date of Death: 15/06/1916

Service No: 146565

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: D. 10.

Here are the MIC's for KELLY's service number:

Medal card of Hardy, Wilfred V

Corps: Army Service Corps

Regiment No: 146565

Rank: Corporal

1914-1920 WO 372/9

Medal card of Cranston, Jonathan

Corps: Northumberland Fusiliers

Regiment No: 868

Rank: Private...

1914-1920 WO 372/5

Medal card of Bennett, Henry

Corps: Labour Corps

Regiment No: 146565

Rank: Private

1914-1920 WO 372/2

Medal card of Cranston, Jonathan

Corps: Machine Gun Corps

Regiment No: 146565

Rank: Private

Also spookily I have a close family member who lives on the same road as Sapper CULSHAW

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iain mchenry

Nice one Jon. Just out of interest are the houses on Brettell Lane be the originals that existed when Culshaw went to war?

Regards

iain

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Jon6640
I had known about these eleven ever since I read "War Underground" in the mid-60s.

The entry from Alexander Barrie's excellent 'War Underground':

To the right, 250 Company was having almost as hard a time of it. By early June, Hollandscheschuur Tunnel had been forced 800 feet across no-mans land in the face of persistent flooding, accurate German mortar fire (aimed deliberately, it seemed, at the mine entrance) and heavy German countermines. At Peckham, a miler and a half further south even worse trouble had been met. Here a short, quiet spoken, former coal-mining Welshman, Second-Lieutenant Haydn Rees, had been exhorting the men to conquer what, at timed seemed impossible odds: the clay alone was a serious hindrance; it swelled uncontrollably. Timbers, that proved strong enough in other tunnels, snapped like cheese sticks and had to be replaced with massive seven-inch balks. The floor wracked so badly that a wooden tramway laid to spoil-removal trolleys had to be ripped up and replaced. As elsewhere, mortar fire had had a devastating effect on progress; and on April 29th an unexpected raid, that looked as if it might succeed, had sent Tunnellers rushing to the firestep, to fumble with unfamiliar rifles. But, when morale was low, Haydn Rees pointed out that they were really fortunate to be where they were; for Peckham was the only tunnel site along the ridge where German counter-mining was wholly absent. This was curiously true. German miners were fighting back with spirit to the north and south, but at Peckham they never came close enough to be heard – though geophones were constantly manned in case.

The most dramatic spring and early-summer advance of all was made at Petit Bois, in the long fateful tunnel where Norton Griffiths’s machine and the controversial new digging method had both failed. By early June Cropper’s men had kicked their way through 1,600 feet, despite more of the mortar fire and endless trouble with the maddeningly swollen clay. Electric lighting and compressed air ventilation plants had both been installed. At 1,600 feet the tunnel was to divide into a two pronged fork to allow twin charges to be fired. Early on the morning of June 10th, twelve men were down at the fork when surface workers felt the ground give the, by now, unmistakable quiver of a major mine shock. Two spouts of clay erupted from just of the German line and fell back to form ominously blue crater rims, easily seen from the British side. The blueness meant the mines had been deep as well as powerful. The Petis Bois workers had been heard Germans standing on the bottom of an old crater overhead. This was their reply. With one charge in particular they had aimed well: it was almost directly over the tunnel.

A rescue squad in Proto anti-gas equipment was rushed to the scene. They reported a grave situation: a blockage had been found 1,250 feet in from the entrance shaft; it looked as if 300 or more feet of tangled debris might have to be cleared to reach the men. Their chances of survival wee now rated poor. Probably they had already been crushed, or if they escaped that, gassed. In any case, it would take many hours – maybe several days – to reach them and there was little likelihood that the air trapped near the fact would last out. But Cropper ordered an all-out rescue attempt to be made on the assumption that there might be survivors.

After a hurried consultation of officers, it was decided that instead of clearing the debris, a new bypass tunnel would be driven alongside. Periodic probes would be put out to see where – if anywhere – the old tunnel could be re-entered.

Haydn Rees, knowledgeable about rescue work from his days in the collieries of Wales, was called from Peckham tunnel to join with other officers in running the operations. The men sprang at the clay and tore their way through it at incredible speed. Normally, 15 feet a day was considered good. But the Petit Bois rescue teams held an average of 40.

In fact the trapped men had all survived the concussion of the mines. IT had come with fearful suddenness – the crash of the explosion, the slow rumbling and splintering of wood as the walls and roof closed in behind them, and the sudden total darkness. But no one had been hurt. They had picked themselves up and crawled towards the broken end of the narrow tunnel to inspect the damage. There, when they found they were trapped, an argument had begun. Some had thought they should try and dig their way out. One rock of a man in particular, Sapper Bedson from Cumberland, had said No. Bedson was an experienced miner from the White Haven collieries; his advice was to lie still, so conserving energy and air for a long wait; in time help would come.

It was too much to ask of trapped men. They clawed in turns at the wreckage, gripped by now by an animal instinct for freedom that reason could not, for the moment, reach. But the foetid atmosphere soon stopped them, and brought them down, fighting painfully for air.

They gathered eventually by the fallen end of the tunnel where a little air still seeped though a break in the ventilation pipe. It was no more than a trickle and next to useless. But they breathed it deeply and in hope. Then, shortly after three in the afternoon, the trickle calamitously stopped. Death was coming very close.

At five o’clock, Bedson advised the others to spread out and make his own way slowly to the face of the tunnel. There he made himself a bed of sandbags, lay down, removed the glass from his watch so that he could feel the time, and placed water bottle beside him. The face end was slightly elevated and the air a trifle less foul.

The others remained where they were for a while, gasping together at the opposite end of the tunnel. Bedson half dozed. At about three o’clock in the morning a Sunday, he heard them spreading themselves out at last. Soon there was silence but for a cough, an occasional moan and the jerky, exaggerated breathing of eleven men slowly suffocating to death. The first died that Sunday afternoon. The others followed. By eight o’clock on Monday evening, all but Bedson were gone.

On the Tuesday, the rescuers uncovered a damaged length of ventilation pipe which they repaired in the hope that some air might find its way through. A little did, enough for Bedson to detect a slight in the atmosphere quite quickly. Each day he made a slow, painful journey to the fallen end. There he listened for sounds of help coming. Day after day and none could be heard. As he crawled past his comrades he paused by each one to make sure he was dead. Every 24 hours he wound up his watch. Thirst was a worry. He had about a pint of water to keep him going. Often he took some into his mouth and swilled it round but always put it back in the bottle. With massive resignation, he waited.

On about the fourth day, though work went on at top speed, hope was abandoned by Rees and the other rescuers. Twelve graves were prepared in a village churchyard and left ready. Then at last, after six and a half days, contact was made. An officer peered in on the Friday morning, saw the row of dead men and withdrew from the appalling smell to let clean air drift through. He carried the news to the surface: All dead.

Bedson neither saw nor heard them: he was slowly aware of a pressure drop and crept off to investigate the reason. He was standing at the hole when the rescuers returned in the afternoon. They gasped for a moment, wordless with surprise. “It’s been a long shift,” Bedson murmured. “For God’s sake give me a drink.”

Harvey heard of the incident with amazement, and at once sent word that he wanted to question the indestructible Bedson, whose mind, even when he first emerged, had been described by a doctor as “clear and rational”. But he was too late. The medical corps had rushed him home to recuperate. And one of the graves in the churchyard went unused.

Jon

Nice one Jon. Just out of interest are the houses on Brettell Lane be the originals that existed when Culshaw went to war?

Regards

iain

Im not sure, but I've got to do some work near Brierley Hill next week so I'll see if I can make some time to take a look.

Jon

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iain mchenry

I have a copy of a few pages of the 250th Tunnelling Coys diary, from a previous project. The entry in the diary informing of the Petit Bois incident is on the 11th June 1916 and basically states that at 6am on the 10th June 1916 the enemy sprang a mine at M.24.a.6.9 over our deep gallery within his wire. 150feet of the gallery was destroyed. 12 men trapped at the face. Repair and rescue work pushed with all possible speed.

Unfortunatley I dont have a copy of the diary entry that mentions the result of the resuce work, but will do soon.

Regards

Iain

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Jon6640
I have a copy of a few pages of the 250th Tunnelling Coys diary, from a previous project. The entry in the diary informing of the Petit Bois incident is on the 11th June 1916 and basically states that at 6am on the 10th June 1916 the enemy sprang a mine at M.24.a.6.9 over our deep gallery within his wire. 150feet of the gallery was destroyed. 12 men trapped at the face. Repair and rescue work pushed with all possible speed.

Unfortunatley I dont have a copy of the diary entry that mentions the result of the resuce work, but will do soon.

Regards

Iain

Brilliant, can't wait. I'm amazed that there is so little if you google Sapper BEDSON.

Jon

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Simon Jones

William Henry Bedson

17141 Y & L

146336 RE

There is a burnt record for Bedson - I am sorry as I am in the last stages of my book on Underground Warfare in WW1 and I can't post much at present. In three weeks I'll be less under pressure. SWB roll shows Bedson was discharged because of an earlier bayonet wound!

Cropper (OC 250 Coy) told Barrie in 1960 that he couldn't get awards for the rescuers owing the the secrecy of the Messines Op.

Bedson was at Cadeby Main Colliery (not Whitehaven as stated in Tunnellers) and so may have experienced the disaster of 9 July 1912 when an explosion killed thirty five miners and then a second about eight hours later killed fifty-three taking part in the rescue.

S

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Jon6640

Thank you Simon, when will your book be out?

Jon

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Simon Jones

Later this year, Jon , if all goes OK.

It has been a damn long shift, although nothing to compare to Bedson's.

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Simon Jones
Thank you Simon, when will your book be out?

Jon

Finally... out in February 2010. Here is the Amazon link: Underground Warfare 1914-1918

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ubique166
I have a copy of a few pages of the 250th Tunnelling Coys diary, from a previous project. The entry in the diary informing of the Petit Bois incident is on the 11th June 1916 and basically states that at 6am on the 10th June 1916 the enemy sprang a mine at M.24.a.6.9 over our deep gallery within his wire. 150feet of the gallery was destroyed. 12 men trapped at the face. Repair and rescue work pushed with all possible speed.

Unfortunatley I dont have a copy of the diary entry that mentions the result of the resuce work, but will do soon.

Regards

Iain

Hi Iain,

My great grandfather was killed on 10th Oct 1916, whilst attached to the 250th,, and buried in Kemmel Military Chateau. I don't suppose you have the record of then do you? He was called Jeremiah O'Connell, East Surrey Regt.

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ubique166

I also have a picture of what seems to be the 250th Tunnelling Coy photo outside a barrack block called Ypres. It may Have Spr Bedson, etc. and my great grandfather on it, my Uncle, the eldest of the family doesn't know, but the 100kb limit on this site prevents me from posting it.. any ideas??

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J Banning

Remembering the 12 men of 250TC trapped 90ft beneath Flanders 100 years ago today. Of those twelve, only Sapper Bedson survived in what is one of the most extraordinary stories of the tunnelling war.

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Guest

Simon I dont know if you remember contacting me regarding William Henry Bedson. I'm his great great neice. You were looking for a photo of him. Did you ever get one?

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kim Lawton

Hi my name is Kim Lawton and my maiden name was Bedson, I have just discovered that Sapper Bedson was my Great Grandfather and would love to know more about him and the story, does anyone know where i can get more information and possibly a photograph of him

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Terry_Reeves

Kim

 

Welcome to the forum. There are several men of that name who served. Can you provide some more in formation such as first name(s) date and place of birth, or perhaps his trade of profession?

 

TR

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Michelle Young

Kim has another query running here

 

Best to reply on that thread 

Michelle 

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