Major Ernest Arthur St George Bedbrook

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in New York.

The Grave of Major Ernest Bedbrook
The Grave of Major Ernest Bedbrook

Ernest Arthur St George Bedbrook was born at Chatham Dockyard in Kent on 23 April 1879, the seventh of the 10 children of James and Matilda Bedbrook.[1] His father became ‘Chief Inspector of Machinery in Her Majesty’s Fleet’.

Educated at St. George’s College, Wimbledon, he became a civil engineer and joined the Civil Engineering Department of the Admiralty and later London County Council; in the latter appointment he was involved in the design of Greenwich generating station. He then worked for Messrs. Rendel & Robertson, Consulting Engineers for the India Office,[2] and was European representative of the Pennsylvania-based Midvale Steel Co.

On 8 September 1904 he married Myra Gwendoline Russell Stares at Portchester.[3] The couple had two sons.[4]

Major Ernest Arthur St George Bedbrook
Major Ernest Arthur St George Bedbrook

Bedbrook was commissioned into The South Wales Borderers as a Second Lieutenant on 2 August 1915 and trained with the 9th (Reserve) Battalion before moving to employment at Woolwich Arsenal from September that year. He was soon appointed as an Assistant Inspector of munitions with the Inspection Department, subordinate to the Ministry of Munitions, in the United States. He arrived in New York onboard the RMS Saxonia in November 1915 to take up an appointment in Philadelphia, at which time he was transferred to the General List.

City Investing Building
City Investing Building

At the time of Bedbrook’s appointment, the Inspection Department was directed by Brigadier General F F Minchin[5] and the inspectors of munitions were appointed to tasks as required by the contracts being let and manufactured. The requirement to coordinate the inspection of munitions and the production of raw materials for the Ministry of Munitions led to the establishment in 1916 of the Production Department of the Ministry of Munitions, directed by Sir Ernest Moir Bt.,[6] and which subsumed the Inspection Department. Brigadier General Minchin left in mid-1916 to be replaced by Colonel L R Kenyon.[7] The centralisation of all of the parts of the British effort in the United States occurred in 1917, when the British War Mission was established under Lord Northcliffe,[8] and the headquarters of the Inspections Department was established in the City Investing Building at 165 Broadway. In 1918 the Department of War Supplies was established under the direction of Sir Charles Gordon KBE,[9] which, although responsible for the purchase and supply of materials required for war purposes, remained concerned primarily with business on behalf of the Ministry of Munitions.[10]

The Department of Inspection had begun its activities in September 1914 when an officer and two assistant foremen were dispatched from the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich to inspect wagons and another officer inspected small arms ammunition. The staff grew steadily in line with the increasing value of the contracts, from £13,000,000 in January 1915 to £450,000,000 in April 1916. It was the increase in contracts in the summer of 1915 that resulted in the posting of Bedbrook and others to the Department that autumn. By November 1916 1,336 examiners of all grades were employed by the Department, which reached its maximum size of 2,538 men and 192 women in March 1917. By 1918 the Department was organised into six sections for general munitions and raw materials inspection and three specialised sections—aircraft, gauges and mechanical transport; the latter organised under the Department for administration only. Another section, responsible for the inspection of small arms, was initially outside the Department but had been subsumed in 1917.[11]

It should be noted that the British policy was to purchase raw materials rather than finished goods; it was recognised that this was financially economical but expensive in terms of tonnage and shipping space.

Bedbrook was evidently good at what he did—he was promoted to Inspector in May 1916, Assistant Director in November that year, and Deputy Director in November 1917. In consequence, he was promoted to Major on 18 January 1918.

He was the first President of the Arista Society—a social club for members of the British War Mission.

Major Bedbrook was admitted to a private sanatorium in Manhattan suffering from appendicitis, undergoing surgery on 21 April. In his subsequent report to the Military Attaché, Brigadier General Kenyon stated that Bedbrook ‘was doing quite well until the morning of the 1st May, when he had a relapse from which he did not recover.’[12] He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx on 4 May, where the grave was marked with a private memorial. His grave is in the north-east part of the cemetery in Section 141, Butternut Plot, Grave 14224W, and shared with Lieutenant R A Bowlby. There are six CWGC commemorations in Woodlawn Cemetery.[13]

His service outside the United Kingdom meant that he was eligible for the British War Medal 1914-20.

The War Graves Photographic Project for the photographs of Major Bedbrook’s grave.

1. (Back) James Albert Bedbrook (2 February 1845-6 July 1902) married Matilda Anne Crocker (8 April 1845-15 April 1907) on 4 July 1867.
2. (Back) The prestigious company was led by the partnership of Frederick Ewart Robertson CIE and Sir Alexander Meadows Rendell KCIE, who were heavily engaged in the construction of India’s railway network.
3. (Back) Myra Gwendoline Russell Bedbrook (née Stares) (1882-26 June 1955).
4. (Back) Gerald Stares Bedbrook (23 May 1907-1987); and Basil Stares Bedbrook (18 March 1911-1991).
5. (Back) Major General Frederick Falkiner Minchin CB. (17 March 1860-12 July 1922). An officer of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, he was the Director of Ordnance Inspection in India from 1911 to 1915 before becoming Military Advisor to the Minister of Munitions. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1917 and promoted to Major General, and Director General of Ordnance in India, in 1918.
6. (Back) Sir Ernest William Moir, 1st Baronet Whitehanger. (9 June 1862-14 June 1933). A noted civil engineer, he was later appointed Comptroller of Munitions and Inventions.
7. (Back) Major General Lionel Richard Kenyon CB. (26 July 1867-23 February 1952). Commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1887, Kenyon had served on the Ordnance Committee, at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich and had been Deputy Director of the Ordnance Factories in India prior to his appointment to the British War Mission in 1916. He was made a Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1917, promoted to Brigadier General in 1918 and Major General, and Director General of Ordnance in India, on 30 October 1919.
8. (Back) Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe. (15 July 1865-14 August 1922). The newspaper and publishing magnate was hugely influential. His exposure of the ‘shell crisis’ led to the establishment of the new Minister of Munitions. Harmsworth lead the British War Mission from May to November 1917 and was appointed Director of Propaganda by Prime Minister Lloyd George in February 1918. 1st Baronet Harmsworth, 1904; 1st Baron Northcliffe, 1905; 1st Viscount Northcliffe, 1918.
9. (Back) Sir Charles Blair Gordon GBE. (22 November 1867-30 July 1939). A Canadian businessman, he was appointed vice-chairman of the Imperial Munitions Board, Ottawa, in 1916, and in 1917 became the representative of the Minister of Munitions. In March 1918 he was appointed director-general of War Supplies. He was made a Knight of the Order of the British Empire in September 1917 and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1918.
10. (Back) See: The British War Mission to the United States. (1917) Who’s Who in the British War Mission in the United States of America 1917. New York: Edward J. Clode; and The British War Mission to the United States. (October 1918) Who’s Who in the British War Mission in the United States of America 1918. 2nd Edition. New York: Edward J. Clode.
11. (Back) For a detailed description of the Inspection Department see: Munitions Organisation in the United States of America. (1922). History of the Ministry of Munitions. Volume II, Part III. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office. In particular: ‘The Inspection of American Munitions’. Munitions Organisation etc Op. Cit. Chapter VII. pp 94-104.
12. (Back) The National Archives. Public Record Office. (2 May 1918). Letter from Brigadier General L R Kenyon to the Military Attaché. ‘Major E. A St. G Bedbrook‘. WO 339/43274.
13. (Back) See also: Lieutenant R A Bowlby, Captain V W B Castle, Private E J Newbery, Cadet D H Rogers, and Captain G H Wallace.

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