Private Charles Lancaster

44429 11th South Wales Borderers killed in action July 31st 1917 Age 25

 

Charles was the eldest son of William and Maria and was born in about 1892. His father was a builder and contractor in the Biddulph area. In 1901 the family resided at 8, Station Road. Ten years later, in 1911, they were at 83, John Street where Charles was described as a builder’s bricklayer – no doubt working for his father.

On February 6th 1914 he married Clara Cotterill of Whitemore Village. Charles was 23 years of age and described as a builder of 83, Lower John Street. He had a brother who enlisted in April 1915 with the Royal Engineers. On January 14th 1916 Charles also enlisted with the Royal Engineers, no doubt training with this unit for a while. At some point he transferred to the 11th Battalion South Wales Borderers (2nd Gwent) and was attached to this battalion when drafted out to France.

This battalion trained at Colwyn Bay and Hursley Park, Winchester with marching, musketry, discipline and trench work. For their final intensive instruction the battalion moved to Hazeley Down on Salisbury Plain. The 11th Battalion were now attached to 115th Brigade 38th Welsh Division and made ready for embarkation at the channel ports, crossing to Le Havre, on December 4th 1915.

The division spent the winter and into spring 1916 defending their lines in Flanders where Charles and his mates became accustomed to trench life. Normally five days in the front line then four or five days in a back area, still with the constant threat of shelling and if lucky a short period further back in a safe area away from enemy bombardment.

In June the 11th South Wales Borderers, who wore an emblem of a light blue tower on a dark blue rectangle on their shoulder, were found preparing for the forthcoming Battle of the Somme. Their role in the battle saw the battalion in action at Albert on July 3rd, followed on the 7th to the 14th with bitter fighting at Mametz Wood, a battle that caused many casualties in their ranks. The gallant soldiers fought machine guns and overwhelming enemy forces to capture the wood.

So decimated were the 38th Division after this battle that they were taken out of line for over a year to recuperate and refit. Without service records it is assumed that Charles came through the battle unscathed. This action ranks as one of the most bitter of the Somme offensives and today a stunning Red Dragon Memorial overlooks Mametz Wood in remembrance of the 38th Welsh Division.

It was 1917 before Charles and his mates were in action again. An account taken from the war diary says “After an uneventful winter in the trenches the Welsh Division found itself attacking the Pilckem Ridge on July 31st 1917, the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres. The two leading Brigades were to capture, as their three objectives, the German line east of the Ypres Canal, the German second line on the Pilckem Ridge, and a further ridge east of Pilckem known as Iron Cross Ridge. The 115th Brigade was then to pass through, push forward another 700 yards to the Steenbeeke and secure crossings over that stream.” The war diary went on to say “The attack started at 3.50am. The first two objectives were taken up to time but there was hard fighting at Iron Cross, and the 11th Battalion reached that area about 9am. To pass through they came under machine gun fire from some still untaken pillboxes”. In the dreaded Ypres salient at Pilkem Ridge this appalling battle took place in abysmal mud. The brave South Wales Borderers successfully captured the ridge but again a costly price was paid, losing many of their soldiers and sadly Private Charles Lancaster was amongst those that fell in the action at Pilkem Ridge on the July 31st 1917. Charles is now at rest in the Bard Cottage Cemetery, Boezinge near Ypres.

On September 1st 1917 the Chronicle reported his death as follows: “Biddulph Soldier Falls in Action. It is our sorrowful duty to record the passing of yet another local hero in the person of Private Charles Lancaster, South Wales Borderers, son of Mr. William Lancaster, builder, of Whitemore Village, Biddulph. Each week one hears that another of our heroic lads has given his all so that we and our children’s children may be spared the horrors of Belgium, and the news of the death of each one causes poignant grief among the soldier’s erstwhile friends and associates”.

The Chronicle went on describe Private Lancaster. “His devotion to duty, his earnestness, and his sangfroid in times of danger, won for him the commendation of his officers, while his genial nature was a sure passport to friendship among the rank and file.

The news of his death in action was received by his friends in sorrowful silence – which is perhaps the best tribute that could be paid to one who had died for them – but the name of the dead soldier, who had no pretensions to rank, will ever remain green in the memory of the good folk of Whitemore Village; indeed, the name will go down to posterity, for the manner of his passing entitles him to be classed among the Immortals”.

Michael Turnock & Elaine Heathcote.

 

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1918