5th Battalion - Beds & Herts Regiment
The Territorial Army
The 5th Battalion The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, in common with all other units of the Territorial Army, was embodied on 25 August 1939. The Battalion, commanded by Lt-Col. A D Gaye, was in the 55th Infantry Brigade of the 18th Division. The other Battalions in the Brigade were the 1st Battalion The Cambridgeshire Regiment and the 5th Battalion The Sherwood Foresters.
One of its first tasks was to help in forming the 6th Battalion. which it did by transferring C and D Companies (representing Luton and Dunstable) en bloc to the new unit. Thus the 5th Battalion started the war with only Headquarters, A and B Companies from Bedford and Ampthill. For the first few weeks it was billeted in the Queens Park area of Bedford with Headquarters at the Drill Hall. A new recruit Company was formed at Ampthill.
During the first nine months of the war there was all too little time for the training and reorganisation so necessary after the drafting of men to the 6th Battalion. This was due to the very large number of guards and protective detachments which had to be provided. At various times the unit was responsible for guarding railway bridges or junctions at, among other places, Sandy, Oakley, Bromham, Sharnbrook and Leighton Buzzard and many airfields including Cardington, Cranfield, Henlow, Bassingbourne, Watton, Honington and Wyton. For the whole of this period - until the Dunkirk evacuation - the Battalion was always split up and only sporadic training was possible.
May 1940 found the Battalion in camp at West Tofts, eight miles from Thetford in Norfolk. There followed a period in an anti-invasion role in which the Battalion moved to Wroxham and then to North Walsham where on 23 August 1940 they were inspected by His Majesty King George VI.
On 9th January the Battalion left Thetford for Galashiels in Scotland, where it was confidently expected that, in common with the rest of the Division, they were to mobilise for overseas service. However, this proved to be a false alarm and by mid-April they were back in England - this time at Uttoxeter in Staffordshire. The stay here was a short one and in early May 1941 the Battalion made a short move of 25 miles to Merevale Park, near Atherstone in Warwickshire.
By this time the threat of invasion had lessened, although it still existed. The Home Guard had taken over most of the guard duties and serious training was now possible During this period many big exercises on a Divisional and higher basis were held Moreover, the 18th Division was on a high priority for equipment. It was now a well found, and fast becoming a very well trained, formation
In September 1941 it became known that the unit was to move to winter quarters at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield. not very far from Atherstone. Almost at the same time orders to mobilise for overseas were received. The move to Lichfield took place on September. By 17 October all leave had been completed and drafts had been received from the 2nd and 9th Battalions and the Infantry Training Centre.
On 22 October General Sir Henry Jackson, the Colonel of the Regiment, visited the Battalion and on the 27th, it left Lichfield for Liverpool, where they embarked on SS Reina Del Pacifico A week before the transport had been sent to the same port and loaded on the SS '"Bonnikom".
Before describing the voyage and subsequent events, it will be as well to mention a few personalities in, or closely connected with, the 5th Battalion The Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment.
The key officers in the Battalion at the time of embarkation were
- Commanding Officer - Lt-Col. D Rhys Thomas, ORE, MC (succeeded Lt-Col. A .D.Gaye who went to command the 7th Battalion in Dec. 1940)
- Second in Command - Major M A H Ditton
- Adjutant - Captain H.E.I. Phillips
- Quartermaster - Lt (QM) A Sale
- Company Commanders- Major TC Wells (HQ)
- Captain SH Thrussell ("A")
- Captain H L Hoppe ("B")
- Major H F.L. Sladen ("C")
- Major J F Robinson ("D")
The Commander of the 18th Division was Major-General M B Beckwith-Smith (who died as a prisoner of war in Japanese hands) and the 55th Brigade was commanded by Brigadier T H Massy-Beresford.