Charles Copeland was baptised on July 3rd 1877, the son of George and Alice, née Nixon. George and Alice were both born in Biddulph. In 1881 Charles was living in Bridge Street, Biddulph, with his parents and siblings: John, George, Mary, Betsy and Harry. By 1891 the family had moved to Goldenhill and were living at an address in High Street.
He married Ellen Downing in 1898 at St. John’s church in Goldenhill. In 1901 they were living at 4, Wesley Street, Goldenhill with their two daughters, Doris born 1898 and Alice born 1900. Another daughter Hilda was born in 1902.
Ellen died early 1911 and so did not appear on the 1911 census. Charles was working as an ironstone miner and living at 39, John Street, Goldenhill with his three daughters.
Charles enlisted in the early days of the war. On September 29th 1914 he enlisted at Stoke-on-Trent in the 8th battalion North Staffordshire Regiment. The address he gave was 36, Navigiation Road, Burslem. Not a tall man, he was just under 5ft 4in. He gave his age as being 34 when he was in fact 37. As young men said they were older than they actually were it seems that older men said that they were younger. They all wanted to serve their country. He obviously rectified this later as at the time of his death his age was given correctly.
After his goodbyes to the family he travelled south to Bristol where all the new recruits were to carry out their basic training. More intensive training then followed at Weston-super-Mare and Tidworth.
With training complete, the battalion attached to the 19th Western Division. King George V inspected them on June 20th 1915. Many of the men from the Biddulph area who served in the 8th Staffords would have been known to Charles. Soon after the inspection the division received orders to prepare for war. ID tags were issued and kit packed, the mates boarded a troopship to cross a dangerous English Channel, taking all night and they arrived in France on July 18th 1915, moving forward to their assembly at St. Omer.
Placed in the line they soon became accustomed to the trench warfare routine and late September found the infantry troops in a supporting and diversionary role during the action in the Battle of Loos. The 8th battalion spent their first winter defending their line in the Bethune area of Flanders. Four days in the trenches, four days in the back area and four days in a safe rest area was the normal routine. There was no Christmas truce this year.
In January 1916 the pals remained in the Bethune, La Bassee and Laventie district of Flanders, and it was whilst in this area during an enemy artillery bombardment on the January 17th that 39 year old Private Charles Copeland sadly died from shellfire. He is now at rest in the St. Vaast Post Military Cemetery at Richebourg-L’Avoué.
The following is an extract from the Chronicle: Chronicle Feb 5th 1916 – Soldier killed by a shell
Pte Charles Copeland of Goldenhill, brother of Mr J. Copeland of High Street, Biddulph has been killed in France.
He was killed in his dug-out by a shell on 17th January. Pte Copeland was about 40 years of age and leaves three children. Writing to Mr J. Copeland, Sergt. A Chell, a native of Biddulph now stationed with no. 2 Company, NSR says: “I feel I must send you a few lines to express my sorrow at the death of your brother and my dear comrade. I can assure that he will be greatly missed by all his comrades at the front as he was a very brave soldier and was always ever ready to give a helping hand and cheery word to others. He was held very dear by the officers, the NCOs and men of his company.”
His effects were sent to his eldest daughter, Doris, who was 18 at the time of her father’s death and still living in Goldenhill, presumably with her sisters aged 16 and 14. He was posthumously awarded the 15 Star, Victory and British medals.
Charles is not commemorated on any of the Biddulph area memorials.
Elaine Bryan and Michael Turnock.