Card: 'God Bless our Fighting Men', carried by Widow of Charlie Matthews
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|Subject||Mathews, Charles Samuel|
|Title||Card: 'God Bless our Fighting Men', carried by Widow of Charlie Matthews|
|Notes||My grandfather, Charles Samuel Matthews, enlisted in Kitcheners Volunteers army in September 1914, barely a month after the War began. He was 22 years old and gave up a secure job as a railway porter to become a soldier in the 10th battalion of the Essex Regiment.|
The 1000 men recruited to form the 10th battalion was sent to the training camp on Shorncliffe Downs Folkestone. The response to the call to arms almost overwhelmed the Military administrators, recruits had to wear the civilian clothes they arrived in, there were no uniforms and food at the camp was in short supply. The recruits, mostly from East London, became angry We didn't come down ˜ere to be blinkin well starved. We came to fight the Germans said the spokesman for a number of the recruits as they confronted the overwhelmed young army captain trying his best to cope with the chaos. The captain explained that he was trying his best to create order out of chaos and was willing to fight any man who said otherwise “ he seemed disappointed when nobody took him up on the offer, the complainants burst into laughter and ended up cheering the captain.
The battalion was ordered to Hyderabad Barracks, Colchester in October 1914, and was kitted out in Kitcheners Army Blue uniforms “ very badly made outfits “ the men hated them but had to wear them “ however a section would club together to buy a khaki uniform and each man wore it in turn when they went home on leave.
On Sunday 25th July 1915 the 10th battalion sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne. Private Matthews left behind his young wife, Elizabeth, his 3 year old daughter and 15 month old son.
I have retraced my grandfather's steps through France with the aid of the battalion War diary.
The battalion were part of the 53rd Infantry Brigade of the 18th Division commanded by Major General Sir Ivor Maxse, a small part of the enormous allied army that went over the top on 1st July 1916 “ the first day of the battle of the Somme. A continuous bombardment of the German trenches and fortifications by the allies was commenced on 24th June 1916. It was assumed that the bombardment would kill most of the German soldiers, the bombs would have cut the defensive wire round their trenches and the allied troops would be able to take the German positions almost unchallenged. But that did not happen. The allied losses on that first day were horrendous.
The bombardment had ceased in the early hours of 1st July 1916 and immediately before the battle commenced several large mines were blown up by the allies at 7.30 a.m. “ Lochnagar was one of those mines; other craters have been filled in but Lochnagar crater at La Boisselle was bought by an Englishman some years ago and remains an awesome reminder of the horror of 1st July 1916.
Charles Matthews survived that first day and at some time had been promoted to lance corporal; he was awarded the Military Medal for his action s during the first week of the battle of the Somme, but exactly what he did we have been unable to ascertain.
The Military Medal was introduced in 1916, and award for N.C.O.'s and other men in the ranks, previous awards had only been given to officers.
Lance corporal Charles Matthews was killed in Delville Wood on 20th July 1916. The situation in the wood was chaotic that night and General Sir H. Rawlinson recorded in his diary for 20th July 1916 the situation in Longueval and Delville Wood is no better, our attack went wrong this morning and I fear that we shot at each other.
My grandmother was away from home when the dreaded telegram arrived “ she had taken her 2 children with her to pick hops in Kent “ somehow the news got through to her and she returned immediately to the family home. It took years for her to accept that her husband had really been killed in action - she went on false errands to hospitals searching for him among the wounded but finally came to accept his death.
In 1916 a special committee decided that a bronze plaque and a scroll would be sent to the families of the soldiers killed in the war. A competition to design the plaque and scroll were launched “ Mr. B. Carter-Preston, the sculptor, won Pounds 250.00 for the design for the bronze plaque “ there was no prize for the design of the scroll “ it would seem that several people had an input into the item.
Suitable paper and ink for the scroll were proving difficult to obtain and production of the scroll was not started until January 1919. The plaques were not produced until late December 1918 because of a shortage of bronze.
The scrolls were dispatched together with a printed covering letter bearing the printed copy of the King's signature and the plaques were sent under separate cover.
My grandmother never had sufficient money to pay a visit to France but received souvenir rolls and invitations to go on tours of the battlefields. The souvenir roll was never returned as the accompanying envelope was never used “ even 2/6d was hard to come by.
I doubt whether my grandmother realized that her husband had no marked grave, some 35 years after her death, having been shown souvenirs by my mother I began my research and wrote to the War Graves Commission. My grandmother always kept the prayer card with her treasures.
In 1996 I visited Delville Wood on the anniversary of grandfather's death “ the wood is replanted and the original rides restored. Money was raised by public subscription in South Africa to purchase a site and raise a memorial there for so many South African soldiers who were killed in the Wood. The 1st South African Infantry Brigade entered the wood on 15th July 1916 and were ordered to hold it at all costs. The South Africans had penetrated the German lines and were attacked probably from three sides “ their losses were considerable. Other allied forces were sent to the wood in support but many paid dearly with their lives. Delville Wood eventually fell to the British on 16th September 1916 by which time the wood had been pulverized and only one tree was left standing “ it was still standing in 1996 amongst the newer plantation.
Many bodies were never recovered from the wood and the memorial now serves as the South Africa national memorial to those South Africans who have died in military campaigns throughout the world.
Many South Africans have made the journey from their homeland to take part in a memorial service held at Delville Wood in July on a date as near to those terrible events of 1916. The site now has a museum and a Visitor center.
On the opposite side of the road to Delville Wood lies Delville Wood cemetery “ the War Graves Commission keep it beautiful along with all the other British military cemeteries that I have visited in the Somme area.
There are many graves in the cemetery, which contain some un-identifiable bodies, some headstones bearing Regimental badges but others are even without this identification and bear only the inscription A Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.
I have stood in front of un-identified graves wondering if my grandfather lays beneath, or, was his body still in the wood as so many bodies are “ the missing are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial which I visited and signed the memorial register.
There are so many missing soldiers of the battle of the Somme because at that time only one red dog tag was worn; as soon as it was possible these dog tags were removed so that army authorities and families could be informed about the death, but often the bodies could not be removed for some time “ conditions did not permit such recoveries, and the bodies would become unrecognizable in time from September 1916
Soldiers wore 2 dog tags, the red one and a green one, both bearing the same information; the red one was collected initially and the green one left to identify the person when it was possible to recover bodies.
My grandmother received grandfather's M.M., British War Medal, 1914-15 Star and Allied Victory Medals sadly only the paperwork from the record office at Warley in respect of the British war Medal remains.
|Copyright||The Great War Archive, University of Oxford / Primary Contributor|
|Digital repository||The Great War Archive, University of Oxford|
|Contributor Name||Barbara Millett|