Claude Charles Stafford and Richard (Dick) Calvert Stafford Bedford’s Gifted Athletes
by Linda Ayres
Claude and Richard Stafford were the only sons of Charles Calvert Stafford and his wife Florence, nee Chettle. Charles was a partner in the firm of Messrs. Stafford and Rogers Ltd., auctioneers, valuers and estate agents. Charles spent much of his life working, which left him no time for sports. This was in contrast to his sons, Claude and Richard, who excelled in more than one sport.
Richard (Dick) Calvert Stafford
Richard was born at 83 Station Road, St. John’s, Bedford, on the 23rd July 1893. Richard and Claude’s christening took place on the 20th October 1893 at St. Mary’s Church, Bedford.
Richard’s early years as an athlete
Richard went to the Bedford Modern School from 1900 to 1910. At the annual Bedford Modern School sports day held on the 10th and 11th April 1906, Richard came first in the high jump and the hurdles. As a runner he had a friendly rivalry with Donald Macpherson Grant* from Elstow County School, Bedford, who was described as an outstanding schoolboy. In 1909 Richard ran a quarter of a mile race with Donald in the inter-schools games. Donald won but Richard won the Senior Championship Prize of the school. The following year Richard won the mile flat with a strong lead, and made a new record for the long jump. He won the 100 yards sprint in eleven seconds and the quarter-mile. In the 150 yards he defeated Donald Grant by two inches in just under 16 seconds. While he was at the Modern School he won 35 cups, medals, and other sporting trophies.
Bedford Modern School Boat Club.
Richard was one of Bedford’s best oarsmen being one of the first four under the captaincy of his brother, Claude. His first big race was in the Bedford Regatta of 1910, when he rowed in the Modern School four in the Bedford Grand Challenge Cup race.
Rugby Career – Bedford Blues and England Caps
Richard started to play football almost as soon as he could walk. By the age of thirteen, he played in the Modern School Rugby Union first XV, as one of their youngest players. On the 20th March 1909, he made his debut for the Bedford Blues Rugby Club. In the first year after leaving School he won his first English cap. He became the captain of Bedford Rugby Club in September 1911. On the 20th January 1912 he made his England debut against Wales at Twickenham. By 1912 he had won four international caps, representing his country in all four international games in which he played. Richard stood six feet tall and weighed thirteen stone. He was without doubt the best forward in the country.
Richard leaves the Bedford Modern School
It was expected that Richard would go to Cambridge University after he left school. Instead he joined his father and Claude as a trainee auctioneer in the firm of Messrs. Stafford and Rogers Ltd. He was disappointed not to have gone to University but he hoped that by carrying on playing rugby it would be Bedford’s gain.
Richard’s Last Game
In early October 1912 Richard took a rest from one of the Bedford matches, thinking that he was suffering from strained stomach muscles. He started playing again on the 24th October for the East Midlands against Surrey, at Northampton, in which his team scored an easy victory over Surrey. The result: East Midlands 6 goals 5 tries (45 points), Surrey 2 tries (6 points). It was to be his last game. Three days later he became unwell.
The Bedford Mercury, Friday, 8th November 1912 reported: “I hear Stafford is likely to be confined to his bed for some weeks yet, and it is almost certain he will not be playing again until after Christmas. It is a great loss, both to the East Midlands and to England, for unquestionably in his present form he is far and away the finest forward in this country.” Franklin Welford in “Sporting Life.”
On the 8th November a London specialist was sent for. He diagnosed cancer of the spine, pronounced the case hopeless, and refused to operate, stating that, at the outside, Richard had but one month to live. He lasted just over three weeks, dying, aged 19, on the 1st of December 1912 in a Nursing Home in Kimbolton Road, Bedford.
Richard’s funeral was said to have been the largest in Bedford for more than 20 years, with shops closed and businesses suspended in the High Street. The funeral service at St. Mary’s Church preceded his burial at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Placed upon the coffin were Richard’s international cap and wreaths. At the graveside the Rev. G. G. Brown of St. Mary’s Church said the committal prayer as the coffin was lowered into the grave. Section F5. 238.
*Donald Macpherson Grant served in the First World War. The Bedfordshire Times and Independent of the 21st April 1916 reported: “Lieutenant D. M. Grant of the Canadian Infantry was wounded. He was the best known Etonian athlete – runner, cricketer and footballer. While at school he gained the highest honours at rugby this country could offer. In 1911 he played for Scotland against Wales. He also did a fine service for Bedford”. Donald died on the 8th December, aged 69, in San Francisco, America.
Claude Charles Stafford
The early years
Claude was born in Bedford in 1891. He was at the Bedford Modern School from 1899 to 1908. At the School sports day held on the 7th July 1904 Claude won the 75 yard swimming race. In April 1906 the Modern School held their sports day, in which he won three races – the hurdles, the half-mile and the 150 yards. The Headmaster, Mr. John Edward King, announced that the day had seen a new record in that the senior champion, Claude Stafford, was the youngest boy who had ever won it, being under 15.
Claude was in the Bedford Modern School Rugby Union 1st XV in the three-quarter line. In his last year at school he was captain of the 1st 1V. In 1908 he represented the School in the quarter mile Inter-School race with Elstow County School and won the race in 61 seconds. In 1912 Claude became the captain of the Bedford Rowing Club.
Bedford Rugby Union Club
As a three-quarter Claude played many games for the Bedford Rugby Union Club, being strong in defence. Claude retired early from the game because he and Richard worked for their father in the auction business and could not get the time off. Claude would stand in for Richard so he could play in a match on a Saturday afternoon.
First World War – Claude joins the Bedfordshire Regiment
Claude was a cadet at Bedford Modern School Contingent, Officers Training Corps. He insisted on volunteering for the war, and offered himself for the ranks, but received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. On the 10th August 1914 he moved with his regiment from Bedford, to Landguard Fort, near Felixstowe in Suffolk, as part of the East Coast Defence Force. He went to France with the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment, arriving there on the 12th September 1914.
Claude’s letter from the Front
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 9th October 1914 published a letter that Claude had written to his parents from the front. In his letter, dated September 26th he writes: “We are right at the front now, and sleep in the trenches. We are 250 yards away from the German trenches. They cannot do much damage to us, as our position is very strong . I am in perfect health, and get plenty to eat. I should love a bath or a good wash. Please send me some chocolate or cigarettes as we cannot get either. I have met several officers I knew before I came out. Hopkins was a master at Elstow School, and is one of the best. All our letters are censored so that I can’t give you any news, but shall have plenty to tell you when I get back, I hope to be home for a Christmas dinner.
We get plenty of excitement here. I think our people have just shelled the enemy out of some of their trenches. I sleep like a top through all the noise. I made my part of the trench lovely and warm with straw last night. It is very hot during the day and cold at night. We got hold of some tame rabbits and some fowls which we bought.
The German artillery is very good, but their Infantry is not so good. In fact, it is bad. Of course, we don’t mind that. I feel sorry for the inhabitants of the villages around us; they have had their houses blown to pieces. The airmen are very brave. They go over the German trenches, and are shelled at hard, but manage not to get hit. We can see shrapnel bursting all round them. I have got quite used to the shells and bullets flying about. We are all wondering where the Russians are. I have been over a good part of France, but of course, not nearly as much as the rest of the Battalion. I shall be glad when we land in Berlin. We are all very unshaven, but manage to get quite a lot of enjoyment out of everything. W.A.B. Walker, who used to be in the same form with me, is in the Regiment. It is no use sending the men clothing as when we advance, they will have to throw it away. We all carry as little as possible.”
At the time of writing this letter Claude was with his Battalion at the front line near Chivres-Val, Aisne, France.
Walter Arthur Beaumont Walker, who he mentions in his letter, became a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. He died of his wounds. aged 22, at the Somme on the 30th October 1914. His burial took place in Bethune Town Cemetery, Pas de Calais. Grave III A. 22. He is commemorated on the Bedford Modern School’s War Memorial.
Second Lieutenant Eric Arthur Hopkins, (also referred to in the letter) was the Senior English Master at Elstow County School. He was a Lieutenant with the 3nd Battalion Bedford Regiment. In November 1914 he returned home wounded from the front. On the 7th May 1915 he was killed in action, aged 29 years. He was among the long list of those who were killed defending Hill 60 south of Ypres on the Western Front. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial Panel 31 and 33, West Vlaanderen Belgium. He is also remembered on the Elstow County School War Memorial, which was moved to the South wall of the Church of St. Mary and St. Helen, Elstow.
Claude Stafford’s Final Battle
On the 13th October 1914 Claude was at Givenchy-les-la-Bassée, where fierce fighting erupted between the British and Germans. All day the trenches and the village were under heavy bombardment. About midday cannonade became terrific and nearly every house was damaged. Claude, aged 23, was killed on that day in the Battle of La Bassee.
Charles and Florence Stafford receive three telegrams
The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, Friday 23rd October 1914 reported “ On Saturday morning Mr. Stafford received a wire from the War Office saying that 2nd Lieut. C. C. Stafford, 1st Beds. Regiment was reported wounded on Oct 13th. No further details were received.
On Tuesday morning there came the following telegram: “Deeply regret to inform you that Lieut. C. C. Stafford, Beds. Regt., is now reported to have been killed. No further details received. Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy. – Secretary, War Office.”
The following expression of Their Majesties’ has been received by Mr. and Mrs. Stafford: “On His Majesties Service – Buckingham Palace, Oct 21. – The King and Queen deeply regret the loss you and the Army have sustained by the death of Lieut. C. C. Stafford in the service of his country. Their Majesties truly sympathize with you in your sorrow. – Private Secretary.”
Memorials to Claude
Claude is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais. Panel 10 and 11. After the First World War many communities, schools and churches in Bedford set up their own war memorials, inscribed with the names of those who had died. Claude is commemorated on the Bedford Modern School’s War Memorial. He is also is commemorated on the board in the club bar at Boathouse in Duckmill Lane, Bedford.
Charles Stafford’s Funeral
On the 31st January 1915 and just under four months after the death of Claude, his father died suddenly, aged 54, from a heart attack at his home, 11 Bushmead Avenue, Bedford. Charles’s funeral service at St. Mary’s Church, Bedford, preceded his burial at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. His grave is close to the grave of his son Richard. Grave ref: F4.30.
His wife Florence and their 19 year old daughter, Elsie survived him. Florence and Elsie subsequently moved to London. In 1918 Elsie married William M. K. Hepburn. Elsie died in Surrey, in 1931, aged 35 years. They had no children.
Researched by Linda S. Ayres
Photograph of memorial Linda S. Ayres
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 12th May 1899
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 22nd July 1904, and April 13th 1906
The Bedfordshire Mercury. 20th April 1906
London Gazette 22nd April 1913
The Bedford Record 30th May 1911
The Yorkshire Post. 25th October 1912
Bedfordshire Mercury. October 14th 1910 and 8th November 1912
Photo of Claude Charles Stafford Photo Bedford Standard
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Wikipedia
Bedford Modern School WW1 Website, Bedford Rowing Club War Memorial
Census Record. Family Search. General Register Office Records
August 04, 2021