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CHARLES APPLETON

Service Number : 9195
Rank : Private
Unit / Ship / Squadron : 2nd Battalion
Date of death : 24/11/1914
Where : Merville, France
Age : 22

Wife :

Unmarried

Parents :

George and Jane Appleton
‘Wood Villa’, Prospect Rd., Cove

Charles Appleton was born at Pamber, near Tadley, Hampshire in the first quarter of 1892, the first of three children born to George and Jane Appleton.  By 1901 the family were living in Prospect Road, Cove where George was a bricklayer [[1],[2]].  Charles or Charley joined the regular army around the end of 1910 [[3]] and in the 1911 census [[4]] was recorded in Lucknow Barracks, North Tidworth near Andover, as a private in the 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, presumably in training.  Sometime before November 1914, perhaps on completion of training, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion.

The 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment was serving in Egypt when war was declared; it arrived back in England on 1 October 1914 and was attached to the 23rd Brigade of the newly-formed 8th Division which was assembling under canvas at Hursley Park, a military camp between Winchester and Eastleigh.  The 8th Division was made up of regular army units from various points around the British Empire.  It moved to France in early November 1914 as reinforcements for the small and hard pressed British Expeditionary Force (BEF) which by this time had moved north to occupy a sector of the front around the Belgian town of Ypres.  The BEF was fighting alongside the much larger French forces to hold back the German attack through Belgium into France, an attack which threatened the channel ports and hence British control of the English Channel.

The battalion war diary [[5]] records that the battalion left Hursley Park at 2.30am on 5 November in pouring rain and marched to Southampton where they embarked on the SS Bellerephon of the Blue Funnel Line.  They crossed the channel overnight and landed in Le Havre on the morning of the 6 November.  They pitched camp in Le Havre and on the 8th began a train journey to Strazeele (about 12 miles south-west of Ypres) with stops at Rouen – where they were given coffee, Abbeville, Calais and St Omer.  They arrived in Strazeele about 10am on the 9th and marched about 5 miles to billets at Neuve Berquin just outside the town of Merville.  Here they remained for a day while the officers visited the British trenches.  On the morning of the 11th the battalion marched about 11 miles north-east to Neuve Eglise or Nieuwkerke, just inside Belgium and about 7 miles south of Ypres; here they were billeted in local farms.  The diary continues:

“12 November, Neuve Eglise  Received orders at 9am to take over trenches of W. Kent and K.O.Y.L.I. [King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry] at 5 pm.  Battalion paraded at 3 pm and marched to trenches, which we took over after dark.  Had 1 N.C.O. wounded and 1 man broke his ankle.  P.A.S.L.I. [Prince Albert’s Somerset Light Infantry] on right with Dorsets in support.  French on our left with Scots Greys in support.
13 November, Neuve Eglise  In trenches all day. Heavy shelling on both sides.  Relieved by W Yorks between 7 pm and 12 midnight.  Heavy fighting at Ypres.
14 November, Neuve Eglise  Got back to billets about 2.30 am all wet through.
15 November, Neuve Eglise  In billets all day.  A and B Company digging from 5.30 pm to 9.30 pm [presumably trenches].  Cold and wet.
16 November, Neuve Eglise  Orders received at 11 am for Battalion and 2/ W. Yorks to proceed to Dranoutre [Dranouter] on morning of 17th.
17 November, Neuve Eglise  At 3 am orders for Dranoutre cancelled and Battalion ordered to proceed with Brigade, other two battalions of which had arrived on 15th, to Estaires [about 5 miles south-west of Neuve Eglise] at 8.30 am.  Battalion paraded at 8 am and led Brigade.  Billeted altogether in a school at Estaires where we arrived about 12 noon.
18 November, Estaires  Battalion paraded at 3.30 pm and marched to trenches south of Rue de Bacquerot [about 4 miles south of Estaires and close to Neuve-Chapelle] via La Flinque where it took over 1/2 the trenches of 2/ R.B. [Royal Berkshires] and 1/2 those of 2/ Lincolns. Fire attack during relief.  Very cold with snow storm.
19 November, Trenches  Two inches of snow.  One man killed in trenches.
20 November, Trenches  In trenches all day.  One man killed and two wounded.
21 November, Trenches  Relieved by 2/ Scottish Rifles between 5pm and 7pm.  We lost 1 man killed and 3 wounded during day.  Went into billets at La Flinque as brigade reserve.  Freezing hard.
22 November, La Flinque  In billets.  German aeroplane captured nearby.  Freezing hard.
23 November, La Flinque  In billets.  Local reserve.
24 November, La Flinque  Battalion paraded at 4.30 and marched to trenches taking over from 2/ Scottish Rifles.  Had 2 men wounded in taking over.”

Charles death certificate [[6]] records that he died at No. 7 Clearing Hospital in Merville on 24 November.  He died from appendicitis, an illness which presumably developed while he was in the billets at La Flinque.  The Casualty Clearing Hospitals, later renamed  Casualty Clearing Stations, were part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Aid Posts and Field Ambulances.  Only the most urgent operations were performed there, the rest being sent on by train to a Base Hospital.  Writing after the end of the war the Matron-in-Chief recorded:

“In most cases the Clearing Hospitals had taken up their position in buildings in either schools or seminaries, or such like establishments, where no equipment of any kind was available. The Clearing Hospital itself was little better off for equipment than a Dressing Station. There were no beds; stretchers and blankets were provided, and for the rest there were only the barest necessities and these very scanty in number.”

Private Charles Appleton died twelve days after his battalion reached the front and only eighteen days after landing in France.  He is buried in the Merville Communal Cemetery, Merville, France (grave reference I. L. 34).


[1] GRO Index, Jan – Mar 1892, Basingstoke registration district, vol. 2c, page 189
[2] 1901 Census, RG13/1104, folio 24, page 10.  The National Archives
[3] Based on service number (9218 attested 4 Jan 1911)
[4] 1911 Census, RG14, piece 12063. The National Archives
[5] War Diary for 2nd Bn, Devonshire Regiment, WO 95/1712/1. The National Archives
[6] GRO War Death Army Other Ranks (1914 to 1921), vol. I.59, page 290