Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
Charles Robert COLE (of Oare)
d. 23rd November 1918. Aged 36
Royal Welsh Fusiliers
(previously 4th Garrison Battalion)
Remembered with Honour
Lille Southern Cemetery
Plot 1, Row B, Grave 8
Died of Pneumonia
"FOR EVER WITH THE LORD FATHER, IF 'TIS THY WILL"
Charles was the eldest of seven children born to George Robert and Esther (nee Payne). His father, George, was employed as a Bailiff in Provender Farm, Norton, and then Pheasant Farm, Oare until he died on 13th December 1899 at the age of 40 - circumstances not known. His estate went to his widow and amounted to £172 10s. 6d. This family was very strongly centred for several generations around Faversham (Sheldwich, Graveney, Harty, Oare, Boughton). Charles' brothers were Albert E, George Edmund, Walter David, Sydney, Frank and Alec.
Charles remained at home with his mother at No.1 Pheasants Cottages, Oare. In 1911, Charles was a Gardener and Nurseryman. It should not be a surprise that he named his mother, Ester, as sole beneficiary of his Effects.
Soldier's Effects: Two Entries: £26 6s. 8d, including £9 War Gratuity. Identifies "Mother and Sole Legatee. Esther." Also £1 7s. separately logged for some reason.
Charles was posthumously awarded the Victory and British War Medals.
Without surviving military records for Charles, we have an implied enlistment date of September 1916 (War Gratuity calculation).
Even without much specific to Charles, his experience is worth exploring in some detail as his story speaks to those who were not fit enough (or too old) to serve in active combat at the Front. And yet, Charles found himself in France in guard duty until the final throes of the War were in prospect. From guard duty, he and his comrades very suddenly had to undertake a crash course in trench warfare - some of that training was received in trenches as they moved up to relieve experienced troops (Australians) in a quiet sector. Their role was primarily to support the Royal Engineers in making trenches and other defences stronger.
On 15th April 1916, the 4th Garrison Battalion was formed at Bebington. Garrison Battalions were generally formed from bodies of men who were too old, ill, or unfit to fulfil military service. They were responsible primarily for guarding and escorting of Prisoners of War. Charles probably fell into one of these categories of men who could not serve at the Front but served from the Depots in France. The 4th Garrison Battalion landed in Le Havre on 16th July 1916, a date that fits Charles' profile. They were attached as Army Troops to the Third Army under the command of Lieutenant-General Charles Monro.
This position remained unchanged until 1918 when the unit was renamed the 4th Garrison Guard Battalion and, on 16th May 1918, it came under the orders of the 176th Brigade, 59th (2nd North Midland) Division. On 16th July the Battalion was renamed the 26th (Service) Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
We know that Charles died from influenza in the 39th Stationary Hospital, France. At this time, most fatalities arising from Spanish Flu came from complications such as pneumonia. Some background material on this question has been duplicated under "additional documents", below (shared with the record of Ernest Black, R.N., who also died from influenza).
Without any indication of when Charles was struck off Strength to Hospital, it is difficult to discover his story.
We know that at the time of the Armistice, the 26th Battalion was sitting on the River Schelde, north east of Tournai.
"9th November: 1015hrs: Battalion moved forward as the enemy has evacuated right bank of SCHELDT. Battalion crossed near PECQ by footbridge and advanced in support of 178th Infantry Brigade. Billeted in GRAND RESET." This was just 29 kilometers directly east of the 39th Stationary Hospital that was for a time at Ascq (Lille), only a few kilometres away from the River Schelde.
The War Diary for the 4th Garrison Battalion/26th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, from its creation in May 1918 presents an interesting illustration of how every available British Army Unit had to be made available for the 100 day offensive that led up to the Armistice. No mention is made in these final days of the numbers of soldiers struck off back to Hospital.
Very quickly, the Garrison Battalion was transformed from an almost entirely "guarding and escorting" function into a fighting unit - if woefully inexperienced in the craft and practice. There was an intense process of training while relieving other troops in the Line.
The transformation was completed on 25th July, when the soldiers relieved the 49th Canadian Battalion, 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade into the Line around MERCATEIL (directly south of ARRAS). This was a quiet part of the Front and the following days and weeks were spent under intensive training to learn the craft of trench warfare and counter-attack.
On 2nd October, "Battalion passed under orders of 178th Infantry Brigade. Ordered into line to take over left sector of 61st Divisional front at HOUPLINES." Battalion embused at billets to relieve the 1/8th Worcester Regiment.
Thereafter, from 3rd October, the 26th Battalion was in pursuit of the retreating Germans. 3rd and 4th October the Battalion commenced pursuit of the enemy who were falling back towards LILLE.
On 11th and again on 16th October, the 26th Battalion went into pursuit of the retreating German forces skirting to the north of LILLE. On 17th October the War Diary records - "MARQUETTE: Battalion again forward at 07.30hrs. The third objective MARQUETTE gained without opposition. The inhabitants gave the troops an indescribable reception."
From here they moved swiftly east to RECUEIL on 18th October. On 19th October they passed through HEM to billet in SAILLY-LES-LANNOY - about 35 kilometres East of the jumping off point in HOUPLINES.
From LANNOY, the 26th Battalion marched to HULANS and then TOUFFLERS where the troops bathed and received further training before returning to the Brigade Reserve on 8th November. On 9th November - "1015 hrs: Battalion moved forward as the enemy has evacuated right bank of SCHELDT. Battalion crossed near PECQ by footbridge and advanced in support of 178th Infantry Brigade."
Ultimately billeted in DEPRE, N.W. of VELAINES as the Armistice was announced. The record after this shows an entirely uneventful time as the Battalion troops received "training and education."
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- The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald carried this report on 15th February 1919, which serves to illustrate how the epidemic was being experienced at home and how indiscriminate it was as to age, gender, or occupation:
THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC IN FAVERSHAM
The following interesting report on the influenza epidemic in Faversham during the past year was presented at the meeting of the Faversham Town Council last week:-
During the year there were two distinct outbreaks of Influenza, one in July and one in October, November and December. The former in this district was comparatively mild in character and only caused two deaths, but the latter was very severe and widespread and caused many deaths being the worst since 1890, if it did not surpass that in severity, as many believe.
|2 to 5 years||
|5 to 15 years||
|15 to 25 years||
|25 to 45 years||
|45 to 65 years||
|Over 65 years||
NOTE.- Over 80 per cent of the deaths occurred between the ages of 15 and 45 - the prime of life - not in extreme old age or infancy.
Six of these deaths should be referred to other districts.
It is difficult to estimate the number of cases that occurred; but between two and three thousand would not be an over-estimate I should say if all the slight cases are included; on this basis the case mortality is low; but the death-rate among the complicated cases was very high indeed; there were few deaths from influenza pure and simple; but when certain complications set in they were most refractory to treatment. Pneumonia was the most formidable symptom, but many died without any gross signs having developed; apparently from a general Toxaemia. In some cases the complications might have been attributed to exposure of want of early treatment, but in others they developed in spite of every care.
Previous attacks did not seem to afford any protection, in fact persons who had had attacks in June had second attacks in October.
The large number of cases and their severity made it very difficult to obtain proper nursing; the Cottage hospital and the Nursing Home were utilised for the worst cases. The infectivity of the disease seemed to be greatest where many people were gathered together, as in schools and factories, and seemed to be lessened by dilution with fresh air; free ventilation gave more protection from attacks than anything I could discover.
Leaflets were distributed based on the recommendations of the Local Government Board and large placards were publicly exhibited.
The Infant Departments and one Girl Department of the Public Elementary Schools were closed for a time; also all the Sunday Schools. Also the afternoon performances of the public entertainments in the town.
Owing to the impossibility of obtaining nurses or help of any kind, it was impossible for the Authority to make any public provision of this nature.
The outbreak was so universal that it was impossible to say that any particular occupation or district was effected more than others.
I am, Yours obediently, CHARLES J. EVERS. M.D., M.O.H.
The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald of 1st March 1919 also contained official advice on management that appear almost impossible to adhere to for large families in small homes or crowded tenements; the need to work to buy the food or doctor's time needed; soldier's at all times; naval personnel. All that said, subsequent research questions whether this influenza discriminated according to occupation.
THE INFLUENZA SCOURGE.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD PRECAUTIONS.
The following memorandum has been issued by the Local Government Board of precautions to be taken by the public:-
The golden rule is to keep fit, and avoid infection as much as possible.
The way to keep fit is to cultivate healthy and regular habits, to eat good food, and to avoid fatigue, shill and alcoholism. Healthy living does not of itself ensure against attack, but it makes the patient better able to withstand the complications which kill.
The early symptoms of influenza are usually those of a severe feverish cold. Though the actual cause of the disease is unknown, we do know that it is rapid in onset, that it is most infectious in its early stages, and that it is spread by discharges from the mouth and nose, and that it kills mainly by its complications. Every person suffering from the disease, no matter how mild the form, is a danger to others.
It is not always possible to avoid infection, but the risks can be lessened by - Health living, working and sleeping in well-ventilated rooms, avoiding crowded gatherings and close, ill-ventilated rooms, wearing warm clothing, gargling the throat and washing out the nostril, by wearing a mask and glasses when nursing or in attendance on a person suffering from influenza.
Do not waste money on drugs in the false hope of preventing infection.
Those attacked should go home, go to bed, and keep warm. Call in a doctor. Occupy, if possible, a separate bedroom or bed that is screened off from the rest of the room. When coughing or sneezing, hold a handkerchief in front of the mouth; the handkerchief should be boiled, or burnt if of paper. use a gargle, consisting of a solution of common salt (one teaspoonful to a pint of warm water) to which a few crystals of potassium permanganate are added - enough to make the solution pink. Be careful during convalescence in order to avoid relapse or complications. Avoid meetings and places of entertainment for at least one week after the temperature has become normal.
The mask, which may be made of gauze (four layers) or butter muslin (three layers), should cover the mouth and nose. To protect the eyes it is advisable to wear goggles.
It is stated that no drug has yet been proved to have any specific influence as a preventive of influenza.
[Note: the same newspaper carried claims from snuff retailers that those who took snuff appeared to be protected....]