Bringing The Bedford Highlanders to Life

6th Seaftorth Highlanders

6th Seaforth Highlanders outside Bedford billet 1 Nov 1914

Thanks to local expert, Richard Galley and Bedford Borough Library, the Virtual Library now has a host of online information available to view on the ‘Bedford Highlanders’ project.

From August 1914 to May 1915, 20,000 soldiers from the Scottish Highlands arrived in Bedford to undergo training before being sent to the front. By May 1915, many of the troops had died here, struck down by measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever and pneumonia. The Highlanders had never been in contact with these diseases before and had no immunity – many were buried in Bedford cemetery.

CoventryRoadTo coincide with the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, the aim of the project was to develop content for the Virtual Library to focus on the Highlanders’ stay in Bedford in 1914/1915. This content features incredible photographs beautifully described by Richard about their time in Bedford, where they came from and why. Community Life spoke to Richard about his passion for this project and how he became involved…

“I was born and raised in Bedford, being educated at Bedford School. I have a lifelong interest in military history, particularly the two world wars and the contribution made by Bedford to both of them. Several years ago I began researching the story of the Highland Division’s friendly invasion of the Town having read the original 1915 pocket diary kept by Private Hugh McArthur, an 18 year old Argyll and Sutherland Highlander from Islay who was stationed in Bedford from August 1914 to May 1915 and who died during the fighting on the Somme in August 1916.

I find the story of the Highlanders’ time in Bedford hugely inspirational and believe that today’s community should be encouraged to take great pride in how our sleepy market town responded with such warmth, generosity, energy and enthusiasm to the sudden influx of 17,000 kilted Highlanders in the early days of the Great War. The strong bonds that were forged between the Highlanders and Bedfordians a century ago were genuine and enduring, many lasting to this day.
I was delighted to accept the invitation to add to the content of Bedford’s Virtual Library by helping to develop web pages dedicated to the story of Bedford and its Highlanders. The Virtual Library’s resource, coupled with Th e Higgins exhibition devoted to the Highlanders in Bedford (Sept 2014 – May 2015) will assist in raising the profile of what has sadly become a largely overlooked piece of the Town’s recent history. This coverage may prompt local families to find out more about their own potential links to the story.”

Richard Galley will give a talk on the Bedford Highlanders on September 24th, Putnoe Library, 10am. Tickets available at the beginning of September.
For more information visit www.bedford.gov.uk/libraries – click on ‘Virtual Library’, and click on the photo of ‘Wee Jock’!

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