Sergeants of "C" Company, The RCR, at Wolseley Barracks about 1922. Shown are CSM W.H. Hayes, RQMS G.S. Grace, QMSI W.R. Roberts, and Sgt R. Bedell.
By: Captain Michael M. O'Leary, The RCR
The Permanent Forces of the Empire Beyond the Seas Medal awarded to Sergeant Robert Bedell for his First World War service. Bedell would also have received the First World War trio; consisting of the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal.
Robert Bedell was born on 13 Mar 1882 at Manchester, Lancashire, England. He emigrated to Canada and was is shown in the 1901 Canadian Census to be living in Kingston, Ontario. He was serving in the Royal Canadian Artillery at the time of the census, which recorded his occupation as "Soldier." Bedell served a three-year Permanent Force engagement with the Artillery from 1900 to 1903. Bedell's service records also note a subsequent period of service of 2 years, five days, with the Royal Canadian Dragoons between 1903 and 1905. It was on 3 Oct 1905 that Robert Bedell re-enlisted in the Permanent Force at Toronto, ON, for service with The Royal Canadian Regiment.
It is possible that one of Bedell's motivations for repeated enlistments in the Permanent Force was the ready access to medical care. Two months after joining The RCR, on 3 Dec 1905, he was admitted to Hospital at Toronto for six days and treated for gonorrhea. Shortly after being discharged from hospital he was transferred to the Regiment's newest station, Halifax, arriving there on 13 Dec 1905. The next day he was again admitted to hospital, this time for five days of treatment for architis. Bedell's medical problems continued in the new year with another trip to hospital in Feb 1906 for rheumatism.
After that spate of illnesses in 1905–06, Bedell's record appears to be clear until 1912. On 7 Mar 1912 he was admitted to Hospital at Halifax for 16 days and treated for an inflammation of the nose. A few months later, on 6 Jul 1912 he returned to hospital for another eight days, this time for a diagnosis of eczema. This latter malady would be a recurring affliction, with hospital admissions also recorded for April and August 1914. During August that year he was also treated for a contusion of the ankle. Bedell's medical problems may not have been completely out of the ordinary. In a pre-antibiotic medical system, diseases which today might be treated with a simple outpatient prescription could require more careful tending by medical staff to treat, requiring periods of hospitalization. Bedell's file does note that by the time of his ankle injury in August 1914 he was a Corporal, an unlikely promotion if he had been considered a malingerer or shirker.
Corporal Bedell, as a soldier of The Royal Canadian Regiment, proceeding from Canada for the first stage of his wartime service, arrived with the Regiment in Bermuda on 14 Sep 1914. The RCR served in Bermuda, performing garrison duties, for almost a year before handing off the garrison to the 38th Canadian Infantry Battalion. During that year of service, Bedell was medically examined for re-engagement in October 1914, and found fit. That month he re-engaged for a further three years service in the Permanent Force. He is listed on the Regiment's nominal roll of those serving in Bermuda in November 1914 as the Band Corporal.
In August 1915, The RCR returned to Halifax before proceeding overseas to England. When questions arose concerning the applicability of the Permanent Force enlistments with regard to overseas service, every member of the Regiment was required to sign an Expeditionary Force attestation. This also ensured they were committed for the duration of the war, and would not be able to return home at the expiry of their latest 3-year Permanent Force contract.
Sergeant Robert Bedell attested for overseas service in the CEF on 25 Aug 1915. At the time of his attestation, Bedell was described as 33 years old, 5-foot 3 inches in height, with a "fresh" complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. A married man, Bedell recorded his wife as his next-of-kin; Mrs. R. Bedell, of Wellington Barracks, Halifax, N.S. Mrs. Bedell's address later changed to 121 Chebucto Road, Halifax, possibly a sign that CEF soldiers serving overseas had no entitlement to Married Quarters. Bedell also confirmed his prior service as three years with the Royal Canadian Field Artillery (1900–1903) and two years, five days, with the Royal Canadian Dragoons (1903–1905).
On 26 August 1915, Robert Bedell and The RCR sailed from Halifax aboard the S.S. Caledonia, a ship one officer described as having been "condemned twice by a board as unfit for troops being merely a converted and odorous cattle boat." It was on 6 September that the soldiers of The RCR walked down the gangplank in Plymouth and entrained for Shornecliffe. Training for service in France would commence, and continue until they crossed the Channel to France in November.
Late in September of 1915, Bedell, regimental number 4565, would be assigned the CEF service number 477057. As the CEF worked to rationalize the confusion of service numbers after many early units assigned their own regimental numbers as they recruited soldiers, The Regiment was assigned the CEF number block "477000– Regiment in alphabetical order.
On 1 Nov 1915, Robert Bedell disembarked at Boulogne. He went through the Regiment's introduction to trench warfare, experienced first hand the CEF's trials with operational use of the Ross Rifle, and the issue and evolution of new equipment such as gas hoods, the precursor to the well-known gas masks used later in the war.
An old soldier, the wear and tear of trench service would soon take its toll on Bedell. He was admitted to No. 8 Casualty Clearing Station, suffering from secondary stage syphilis and flat feet, on 15 Feb 1916 and immediately transferred to No. 6 Canadian Field Ambulance. The next day his medical evacuation continued on No. 19 Ambulance Train to No. 1 Convalescent Depot, Boulogne. Admitted here on 17 Feb 1916, he was then transferred to No. 9 Stationary Hospital, Havre, to be treated with other sufferers of venereal diseases.
While these maladies did not preclude Beddell from working, he was discharged to duty and assigned to No. 1 Camp Details starting 29 Feb 1916. One of the effects of being hospitalized for venereal disease was the forfeiture of part of a man's pay. Accordingly, Robert Bedell's pay was debited 50 cents per day from 15 to 29 Feb 1916.
He was hospitalized again, for the same ailments from 6 to 26 Apr 1916, after which he was discharged from No. 9 Stationary Hospital at No. 12 Camp, Harfleur, to the Canadian Base Depot at Havre where he was immediately admitted once again to hospital for a further 10 days.
Bedell's periods in hospital, plus his reduced pay, did not stop him from finding ways to amuse himself. In the tradition of some old soldiers in any time and place, he managed to fall afoul of the military justice system while inebriated and was arrested for drunkenness on 27 April, 1916.
On 2 May 1916 Sergeant Robert Bedell was court martialled, the brief summation in his service record reads:
"In arrest awaiting trial 27 Apr 1916. Tried and convicted by FGCM 2 May 1916 of When on active service, Drunkenness and sentenced to be Reduced to the Rank of Corporal. Confirmed by Brig-General J.A. Aseer, Base Commandant, Havre, 2 May 1916."
477057 Sergeant Robert Bedell, The RCR
Field General Court Martial
Havre, 1 May 1916
President: Colonel F.W.G. Tothill, O.C. No. 1 General Base Depot
Prosecutor: Captain Paul Goforth, Adjutant Canadian Base Depot.
Accused: 477057 Sergt. Bedell, Robert, Royal Canadian Regiment
Charge: Sec 19. A.A., When on Active Service, Drunkenness, in that he, at Havre, on 27th April, 1916, was drunk.
Sentence: to be reduced to the ranks.
"Confirmed, but sentence mitigated to Reduction to the rank of Corporal." – JA Aseer, Brig. General, Base Commandant.
Bedell made the following statement in requesting mitigation of punishment:
"I had been in hospital up to the evening of 26th April 1916 and on the 17th I was out on the Rouelles Camp and I was feeling very unwell. About 12.15, I went into the Sergt's Mess, and between then and 2 p.m. I had 3 or 4 glasses of whisky. I took them because I wasn't feeling well. I think it must have been the heat of the Mess that acted on the whisky, as after I left the Sergeant's Mess about 2 p.m. I have no recollection of what happened. I wish to ask Lt. Fenton about my character."
"I have been in the Regular Forces of Canada for 15 years and a half. I have been 10 1/2 years in the Royal Canadian Regiment. I have been 7 years a non-commissioned officer; 6 years a Corporal or Sergeant. I have been 3 1/2 months in the trenches and have only been sent to base for a sprained ankle and would be fit back to the front."
Lieut. W.S. Fenton, The RCR, spoke on Bedell's behalf at his Court Martial:
"I have known the accused for the last 15 months. He has always been a very good and hard working N.C.O. The accused and I came out together, and have been up together at the front for 5 months. Sergt Bedell has always born a good character. He has always been a great help to his officers, under adverse conditions, in keeping the men well in hand, and keeping up a cheerful tone in the Regiment."
Bedell's Company Conduct Sheet was presented at his Court Martial. The Sheet was clean, noting only that the last entry in his sheet had been on 7 Mar 1914 and that his last occurrence of drunkenness was 9 Apr 1908. His character was recorded as "Good."
The first witness for the prosecution, Captain P.S. Robinson, 18th Battalion, stated:
"At Havre on the 27th April 1916 at about 3.30 p.m. I was present at a rehearsal of the Canadian base Depot Orchestra in the Y.M.C.A. Hut, Rouelles camp, when I saw the accused, who I now identify. He was drunk. I ordered two Sergeants of the Orchestra to take him out and out him under arrest. While he was being taken out, he seized a piece of chalk from a billiard table and threw it in my direction, narrowly missing myself and Captain Hiley, the Chaplain of the Depot."
A second witness, 43548 B.S.M. E.D. Latham, 4th Battery C.F.A., also stated that he saw Bedell in the Y.M.C.A. Hut and that Bedell was drunk.
Bedell was handed over to the Canadian Base Depot Provost Sergeant, 28984 Acting Sergeant P. Jorgensen, 16th Battalion, and confined by him in the Guard Room. A/Sgt Jorgensen also confirmed to the court that Bedell was drunk at the time. This confirmation was also provided to the court by that day's Corporal of the Quarter Guard; 432473 Cpl W.G.L. Page, 49th Battalion.
Bedell chose not to cross-examine any of the four witnesses.
Short and to the point, by early 1916, the British and Canadian forces would have built enough collective experience in the conduct of courts martial that Bedell's would have been a simple affair and quickly dealt with.
A week after his trial, on 7 May 1916, Corporal Bedell rejoined The RCR in the field at Camp "E." They would stay here until returning to the trenches for an eight-day tour on the night of 7/8 May. During this tour in the trenches, Bedell would be evacuated on 13 May 1916 and admitted to No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station for 13 days to be treated for burns on his right hand and wrist. Unlike soldiers who were wounded by enemy action during that tour, Bedell's injury did not merit him being identified in the Battalion's War Diary.
Discharged to duty on 26 May 1916, Bedell returned to the unit. His performance must have been meeting expectations, and with no lingering career effects of the court martial, Robert Bedell was promoted again to the rank of Sergeant on 24 Jun 1916. ON this date he also completed a new will certificate in his soldier's Pay Book. In doing so he stated the following: "I, Robert Bedell, No. 477057, serving in the Royal Canadian Regiment, do leave everything I own to my wife Albertina Bedell, address; No. 5 C Block, Wellington Barracks, Halifax, N.S."
Bedell soldiered on through the rest of 1916 and all of 1917. His service record records no more illness, injuries or disciplinary problems. Not until 24 Jan 1918 is there cause for a new entry when he was granted 14 days leave to England.
While he was on leave in England, Bedell's medical problems resurfaced. On 4 Feb 1918, he was admitted to hospital in England and posted to Nova Scotia Regimental Depot at Bramshott. The Nova Scotia Regimental Depot (NSRD) was part of the regional reinforcement structure established in 1917, the NSRD received soldiers from new battalions raised in Nova Scotia, and alloted them in reinforcing drafts to fighting battalions with that regional affiliation. Since The RCR was headquartered, and had the bulk of its unit strength, at Halifax, Nova Scotia, before the War, it was associated with the NSRD. Accordingly, when soldiers of The RCR were transferred back to England, either wounded or sick, they first went to the NSRD which administered them while they were in England.
Bedell's Medical Case Sheet described his problem as follows: "The arches of both feet are fallen to a severe degree. On marching, particularly uphill, severe pain is caused over the dorsum and up front of legs." By 11 Feb 1918, he was admitted to the Granville Special Hospital (orthopaedic) at Buxton for assessment and treatment of his flat feet. Bedell's Medial category was recorded on 19 Feb 1918 as "Biii" (capable of sedentary work as clerk) and "not likely to be painless in six months." At the end of that months a Medical Board confirmed his medical category as "Biii".
This categorization would set Bedell on a path back to Canada. Discharged from hospital on 14 Mar 1918, he was posted to the NSRD Depot Coy at Bramshott. At the end of March he was sent "on command" to the Canadian Command Depot at Buxton to await his sailing date. On 9 April, 1918, Robert Bedell sailed from Liverpool for Canada aboard the S.S. Mauretania. This Cunard liner, sister ship to the Lusitania, was first used by the British as a troop ship in 1915 to support the Gallipoli campaign. She also served as a hospital ship until before returning to carrying troops between Halifax and Liverpool and later conveyed American soldiers across the Atlantic after the U.S. entered the war.
Bedell arrived in Halifax on 16 April, 1918, and was taken on strength of No. 6 Casualty Company at Halifax. On 14 May 1918, he was transferred to No. 6 District Depot, Halifax, from which he was immediately transferred again, this time to the 6th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment then performing garrison duties at Halifax. He would remain with the C.G.R. until January 1919 when he transferred back "home," to The RCR Base Depot.
Sergeant Robert Bedell was discharged from the CEF at Halifax on 23 Apr 1919 on demobilization. The "special qualification for employment in civilian life" listed on his discharge documentation was "Musician." Even as his CEF discharge was being actioned, Bedell must have already had matters in place for his continued service with the Permanent Force. Out of a post-war regimental number series used by the Regiment starting with 12000, Bedell was assigned the service number 12035.
Throughout the war, Robert Bedell faithfully sent assigned pay home to his wife. As a Sergeant he earned as mush as $1.35 per day plus 15 cents daily Field Allowance plus $30 Permanent Force Allowance paid monthly when he was entitled to it. The rates varied as did his pay when his rank rose and fell, but he always sent home part of his pay plus the Permanent Force allowance he also received. A note in Bedell's pay records state that his separation allowance payee, i.e., his wife, in April 1918 "moved into Government Quarters from 1st April and commenced to draw rations, entitled to no further P.F. Allowance (dated 6 May 1918)." It is also noted that he had been receiving this allowance for some period when not entitled, resulting in an overpayment of the P.F. Allowance of $356 which had to be repaid. At the end of the War, On discharge from the CEF, Bedell was also entitled to a War Service Gratuity of $420.
Robert Bedell shows up in the records of The Royal Canadian Regiment in the post-war period through mentions in the regimental journals. The first occasion of this in surviving copies is an anecdote by Bedell's fellow bandsman Pte Henry Lewis "Chokey" Bright who served with the Regiment in the Permanent Force and as as soldier of the CEF. (PF 9582 / CEF 477106 Pte Henry Lewis "Chokey" Bright; TOS The RCR 13 Feb 1912)
Mr. H.L. Bright, 1714 Charles St, Portsmouth, Ohio, USA, who served as a Bandsman in the Regiment during and after the late war, and known to his intimate friends as "Chokey", sent us in the following story in which ex-Band-Sergeant Bedell and himself figured as the principals.
Mr. Bright says "he is getting lonesome for news from his old comrades" and would be very pleased to receive a letter from any of them at the above address. Incidentally we would like to have the address of the other half of the story, "Bobby," if any of our old comrades know it.
Mr. Bright says that he and his family are in the best of health and that he is doing well financially.
It was around Christmas, 1916. The Canadian Corps were occupying the Vimy Ridge Sector of the front, and at this time the incident occurred, The RCR was in billets at Viller-au-Bois. One day "Bobby" Bedell, our Band Sergeant and I received an invitation to attend a Smoking Concert given by a Supply Company (I think it was). So Bobby, armed with his cornet, and I, with my fiddle, started out, and eventually reached our objective which was located somewhere in the woods behind St. Eloi.
The concert was a great success and the man who mixed the rum punch certainly knew his job. But every good thing has an ending and although we started out from out billets that afternoon—full of hope—we were returning—full of spirits—very full. We were being accompanied home by a Sergeant of the Princess Pats, who had great difficulty in keeping us in a straight path. We stopped for a rest, and Bobby fell down an embankment. The Pats' Sergeant with great difficulty got Bobby up, then I fell down the hill, and as our good friend was getting me up, Bobby again came rolling down. Just as the Sergeant was giving us up as hopeless, he espied a soldier standing near, who proved to be a friendly Traffic Control man and who helped to guide Bobby to a nearby hut and they decided to let him rest there for the night.
I managed to reach my billet in Villers-au-Bois safely. It appears that towards morning Bobby woke up feeling very cold and found that on either side of him were sleeping soldiers.
"Eh, Buddy, got a match?" said Bobby, nudging one of the forms next to him. Receiving no answer Bobby tried to ease the blanket from his companion. Something in the atmosphere caused Bobby to look more closely at his company and he found to his sorrow that they were past waking. He had been put in a morgue in the cemetery and during the night bodies had been brought down from the front line and were placed there for burial the next day. Bobby lost no time in getting out of that hut, but his troubles were not yet over. Dawn was just breaking and he saw an army of rats, thousands strong, running across the road. The experience was enough to drive an ordinary individual on the water wagon—but Bobby, hard shell crab that he is, was waiting at the estaminet as usual for the noon issue. The incident was never quite forgotten, and Bobby is never tired of relating the yarn when he finds someone who has not heard it.
On 1 Feb 1932, No. 12035 Sergeant Robert Bedell (late R.C.R.) is identified in General Order No. 17 of 1932 as a recipient of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. His award was also published in the regimental journal, the Connecting File Vol XI, No. 2, dated April 1932.
Robert Bedell was mentioned once more in the regimental journal, The Connecting File; Vol XVII, No. 1, dated January 1938, when it reported in the Old Comrades column that "Ex-Band Serjeant Robert Bedell is a patient in Westminster Hospital, London, Ont."