Private Charles Henry SMITH
(Lance Corporal on CWGC record; Sergeant on Medal Index Card)

South Staffordshire Regiment
7th Battalion
Service Number:
Date of Death:
16 August 1917 - Died of wounds
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
IV. C. 40.

Personal History:
The SDGW database states that Charles was born Whitechapel, Middlesex, although birth records have no 'Charles Henry' born in that District in the period 1887/8. Similarly, the 1891 and 1901 Censuses have a number of possibilities, but nothing definitive to identify Charles' parentage.  
In 1911 the Census throws up four possibilities - two are married, and it is known that 'our' Charles did not marry until 1915, and one is a serving soldier, with the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers in India. This soldier, however, was killed in action on the 2nd March 1916.

That leaves the fourth 'Charles Henry', boarding at Buckingham Villas, Slough, in 1911 (Census RG 14/7846), employed as a "Railway Porter". It is possible that he might have transferred to Buxton to work on the railway, but without more evidence this can only be speculation as neither the 1891 nor the 1901 Census is definitive of a Charles Henry born in Whitechapel, Middlesex.

What is known is that Charles married Ethel Ferns, aged 20, residing at 48 Bennett Street, Buxton, on the 30th April 1915. In the same quarter their daughter, Phyllis M., was born. (In the December quarter 1918 another daughter, Ethel R. - surname 'Smith', was born to Ethel, although clearly Charles could not have been the father.) The SDGW database shows them living in Buxton at the time of his enlistment. After the War Ethel moved to 26 Russell Street, Altrincham, Cheshire. [N.B. Ethel was born in Bagnall, Staffordshire, and in 1911 (Census RG14/16767) was employed as a Housemaid at Repton School, one of Britain's foremost Public Schools.]

The Marriage Certificate gives the name of Charles' father as "Henry Charles" a 'Clerk', and Charles' residence as "Jersey Island - Army", suggesting he was based there at the time of his marriage. This extra information does not, however, help to locate where he was born from available Census Records.

Military History:
Charles enlisted at Bristol, Gloucestershire. Unfortunately, his Service papers have been destroyed during a Second World War bombing raid. His Medal Index Card shows that he entered the War, in France, after the end of 1915 as he was not eligible for the '1914-15 Star' Medal.

His 7th (Service) Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment had been formed at Lichfield in August 1914 as part of K1 (Kitchener's First New Army) and became part of 33rd Brigade in the 11th (Northern) Division. It moved initially to Grantham, then on to Frensham in April 1915. It sailed from Liverpool in early July 1915 for Gallipoli, landing at Suvla Bay on the 7th August 1915. The Battalion was evacuated from Gallipoli in December 1915 and moved to Egypt via Imbros. All this, of course, before Charles joined them.

The Battalion returned to France in July 1916. The 11th Division then took part in the several operations during the Battles of the Somme, including The capture of the Wundt-Werk (Wonder Work) on the 14th September; The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15th - 22nd September, and The Battle of Thiepval Ridge, 26th - 28th September 1916.

The following year, 1917, Charles' Battalion fought at The Battle of Messines, 7th - 14th June, and later, during the Third Battle of Ypres, The Battle of Langemarck, 16th - 18th August. It was during the first day of this Battle that Charles died of his wounds. The Battalion History for this period reads as follows:

"Next day, 11th August, the Battalion on the right (17th Royal Fusiliers) attempted to drive out the Germans in Warlingham Crater, but the opposition was too strong.

Next day, 12th August, after a further attempt, they succeeded in winning the near lip of the crater. The 5th Brigade, on the right of the South Staffords, put down a Stokes gas shell bombardment, and the Germans retaliated with a heavy bombardment on this front, which was maintained for three days; and on the 27th the 2nd Battalion was relieved by the 1st King's Liverpool Regiment and moved into support at Windy Corner, Village Line, where they remained until the end of the month of August, furnishing mining parties, drainage parties, and doing "housemaids' " work in the communication trenches."

It is most likely that Charles received the wounds from which he subsequently died during the German bombardment between the 12th - 15th August. Bard Cottage Cemetery is in the village of Boesinghe (now Boezinge) which directly faced the German line across the Yser canal. Bard Cottage was a house a little set back from the line, close to a bridge called Bard's Causeway, and the cemetery was made nearby in a sheltered position under a high bank.

There seems to have been no base Hospital or Casualty Clearing Stations located so close to the front, so the likelihood has to be that he died and was buried shortly after receiving his fatal wounds. Four other men of Charles' Battalion died during this bombardment and five more during the Battle of Langemarck itself.

· I am grateful to Frederik Sohier for the photo of Charles' grave
· I am also grateful to Colin Taylor for the information from the Battalion History.
· ..... and also to Keith Taylor for the details from Charles and Ethel's Marriage Certificate.

Link to CWGC Record
Charles Smith's grave