Bedford, William James Riland
Bill Bedford was born on 16th April 1898, the only son of Canon William Campbell Riland Bedford and Eleanor (daughter of Sir James Timmins Chance, 1st Baronet), Rector of Sutton Coldfield. He entered Chernocke House in Short Half 1911. Although not particularly prominent in School life, either academically or as a sportsman, he did manage to be on Dress for XVs. On leaving Winchester in 1915 he went to RMA Woolwich and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Royal Field Artillery. He served in France and Belgium from 1917-1918, being wounded and ending the war with 10 Reserve Brigade. He then served as ADC to the General Officer Commanding 3rd Division in Palestine, and saw service in Iraq in 1920. Promoted to Captain in 1929, that year he married May Conyers Clerk, daughter of Major Henry Clerk (E 1868) of Bishopstone, Salisbury.
He was posted to the Staff College in 1934 and from 1936 onwards gained considerable staff experience in Egypt, being GSO3 of the Mobile Force in 1936 and GSO2 from 1939. With the rank of Lieutenant Colonel he served in Malta, before taking command of 152 (Ayrshire Yeomanry) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, equipped with 25 pounder field guns.
In November 1942, shortly after being attached to 6th Armoured Division, they sailed for Tunisia and from January the following year were in continuous action. By the time of the final advance on Tunis in late April 1944 they were in the forefront of the action. The initial breakthrough was to be made by 46th Infantry Division, at Bou Arada with 6th Armoured Division advancing through the gap created in the enemy’s defences. Over 200 guns were allocated to support the two attacking brigades of infantry, with back up provided by the tanks of 51 Royal Tank Regiment.
On the opening day of the offensive, Bedford’s unit was allocated to give fire-support to 138 Infantry Brigade. The operation proved difficult right from the start, and what had been intended to take five hours in fact took over thirty. The Ayrshire Yeomanry was providing seven mobile observation posts, mounted in tracked vehicles, to co-ordinate the fire support. Bedford was in a Bren-gun carrier with a party containing many senior officers of the brigade as it moved across the open ground in front of the hills being attacked, near Gafour. Heavy shell-fire was falling on the advancing British forces, and at an awkward moment one of the vehicles shed a track. As Bedford’s group stopped, the Germans took advantage of its immobility, as one of Bedford’s officers, Captain Box, later recalled: “I heard a high-pitched whistle and flung myself flat on the corn. A 105mm shell had dropped on the track about twenty yards away on my left, and as I scrambled to my feet I saw the Colonel of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry emerge from the smoke with a look of extreme agony on his face and half of his left arm missing. I dashed forward and found the Battery Commander on the spot too. He said, “The Colonel has been hit,” and I thought for a moment he meant the CO of the KOYLI, but a glance behind our Colonel’s carrier showed me that he was mortally wounded and could not live for more than a few minutes. He died without regaining consciousness. Three of his carrier crew were also killed outright, and the CO of the Lincolnshire Regiment was also killed. Truly a disastrous shell.”
His second-in-command was Lawrence Richardson Younger (I 1915-1920) who took over on Bedford’s death, but was himself killed by shell-fire four days later.
Bill Bedford lies in Grave 16.F.20 of the Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia
- Surname: Bedford
- Forenames or initials: William James Rilands
- House: A
- Years in School: 1911-1915
- Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
- Regiment: Royal Artillery
- Date of Birth: 16th April 1898
- Date of Death: 22nd April 1943
- How Died: Killed in Action
- Location in War Cloister: Inner D1
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery: Grave 16.F.20