1915 The Herts Guards
The Hertfordshire Regiment are sometimes referred to as the Herts Guards. They gained this nickname during their first year in France when they were assigned as a battalion to the 4th Guards Brigade and, as the only Territorial unit in the Brigade, they were quickly given the nickname. The battalion stayed with the 4th Brigade until August 1915 taking part in several battles near Béthune in Northern France.
The Regiment’s first offensive with the Brigade was on the 6th February 1915 with a successful attack in the area of Cuinchy Brickstacks east of Béthune, but in May that year the Battalion had its first experience of large scale casualties at the Battle of Festubert.
On the 18th May the 4th Guards Brigade were ordered to attack with the Hertfordshire Regiment reinforcing the Irish Guards. The attack did not reach its objective and orders were given to dig in on the position held, a gain of around 300 yards. The Hertfordshire Regiment had actually advanced a further 200 yards and had to fall back as they had no support.
By the next morning the trench covered a 300 yard front and was around 4 feet deep. While digging went on the Stretcher Bearers from the Companies not digging conveyed all the wounded to the rear. The new trench was heavily shelled on the 19th May but the Hertfordshire Regiment held it all that day.
As soon as it was dark the Germans redoubled their attack and the shellfire was so heavy that the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards had to wait two hours before they could relieve the Hertfordshire Regiment. The Battalion returning to their billets were described by Colonel Croft as “a weary but proud crowd”.
A Corporal from the Hertfordshire Regiment later remembered:
All night we were carrying away Irish Guards on stretchers, waterproof sheets or anything we could get. I remember one Irishman who was badly wounded who said, “Never mind me boys, we have lost our Battalion today, but there is still the 2nd Battalion left”, meaning the Herts Guards.
The next major battle the Hertfordshire Regiment were involved in was the Battle of Loos which started September 25th 1915. It was for his actions at this battle that Corporal Alfred Burt received his Victoria Cross.
Private Albert Hawkes
In December 1914 the 4th Brigade were travelling towards Bethune when they halted on the banks of the La Basee canal. The soldiers had marched 25 miles that day in full kit and, whilst they were waiting to be billeted, Private Hawkes, who was a trained concert singer, was asked to sing. The song he chose to sing was "A Little Grey Home in the West" which later became the unofficial anthem of the Battalion and he was often asked to sing it at future events.
Private Albert Hawkes survived the war and after the war he rose to the rank of Captain and was awarded the Military Cross. He died in 1959.