On the 2nd of December 1914, Private 8767 Charles Bone of the 2nd Bn. Royal West Surrey Regiment , known to one and all as “The Queen’s”, is preparing to return to trenches just east of La Boutillerie, the battalion was about to relieve the 2nd Royal Warwicks.
The 2nd Queens had just had two days out of the front line in local reserve with the men getting their first chance to clean up in a “bath house” since arriving at these trenches at night eighteen days ago. They were fighting the elements as much as the Germans dug in opposite. Despite precautions taken against frost-bite, the oiling of feet and issue of winter clothing etc., the men were suffering in the bitter cold, especially with bad feet. The Germans had not been overly active, but occasional shelling and sniping had taken a steady toll of casualties, while others were reporting sick and being sent to the rear. Private Bone is a reservist, he had served in both the first and second battalions of the Queens before the war. He is 29 years old, married, and his son, another Charles, is just six months old. Did he take the chance to scribble a few lines home before going back into the trenches again ?
Charles Bone was born in 1885 in Carshalton, Surrey, the fourth child of George William and Emily Bone (nee Clark). Charles was one of eight surviving siblings, and had three brothers. Both his parents were from Banstead, and the family had moved to Mitcham around 1890 when Charles was five years old. Like his father, Charles worked on the land, and described himself as a farm labourer. Several years of hard physical outdoor work in all weathers had given Charles a hardy constitution. Now aged twenty, Charles Bone had decided to leave Mitcham and seek a bit of adventure. In some ways, the army life might have seemed a softer option than his current existence, and he was just the kind of rugged individual the army would welcome as a recruit.
On 8th December 1905, Charles Bone made his way to the Croydon recruiting centre of the Royal West Surrey Regiment, and enlisted, becoming Private 8767 of the Queens. He passes his medical at the Stoughton Barracks, Guildford a day later, where his height, weight, etc. are recorded for later comparison. Charles stands 5ft 51/2 ins. tall, weighs 122 lbs, and has a ruddy complexion, blue eyes and sandy hair. Like any new recruit, he is inducted into army life – issued with kit and pay book, learns the rule and regulations, and is subject to strictly enforced discipline. He learns about the regimental traditions and marches to the regimental band. Hours of drill and exercises follow, with instruction in musketry and practice on the ranges. Off duty, he no doubt sampled the local watering holes and other delights of Guildford. Charles Bone remained at the Regimental Depot during the winter of 1905.
His phase as a raw recruit ends on 29th March 1906 when he is posted to the 2nd Battalion who are stationed at Shorncliffe camp, Sandgate, overlooking Folkstone and the Channel.
Charles moves to Colchester before the year is out, where he learns he is to go to India with a 1st Battalion draft. Departing in early February 1907, the sea passage via Gibraltar, Suez and Aden takes about three weeks on board the HM Troopship Plassy, in fairly cramped conditions. Charles would spend as much time as possible above deck in the fresh air. He lands in India on 27th February 1907.
Over the next three years, Charles Bone is stationed at Sialkot, Barian, Dehli and finally Agra. Like so many others stationed in India, he suffers from repeated attacks of malaria. At the end of 1908 all but two companies of the 1st Queens had gone to Aden. Charles was one of those who remained at Agra, finally leaving India early in 1910. The separate parts of the 1st Battalion both make for home and on reaching Gibraltar in February 1910 met up with the 2nd Battalion for the first time since Malta in 1894. At this point, the regimental history records that “One officer and 206 other ranks were handed over to the 2nd Battalion”. Charles rejoins the 2nd Battalion and remains in Gibraltar on garrison duty for nearly two years, where his malaria returns. Charles departs with the 2nd Queens for Bermuda on 3/1/1912, arriving on 16/1/1912.
Charles Bone’s 7 year term of engagement expires while he is in Bermuda and on his return to Britain in January 1913, he is officially transferred to the Army reserve on 16th January 1913. Apart from the obligations of being on reserve for the next five years, Charles probably thought his army days had, for the most part, come to an end.
At this time, the Bone family home was at 58 Sibthorp Road Mitcham, and his relationship with Margaret Mary Sallis, who lived in nearby Fountain Road, led to their marriage by Reverend Roberts at St.Marks Church on 20th October 1913. Their son, given the name Charles, was born in April 1914. Charles was now 28 years old, and with the new responsibilities of everyday life probably gave little thought to the European situation. The war will change everything.
At the outbreak of war the 1st Queens were at Bordon Camp, Hampshire. Brought up to strength with the arrival of reservists, there were a few days of non-stop musketry practice, route marching and open order drill. The 1st Queens set sail for France from Southampton on the SS Braemar Castle, leaving harbour at 8.15pm on 12th August 1914 with a destroyer escort for destination “unknown” ….
The 2nd Queens were in Pretoria, South Africa. They did not return to England until the 19th of September 1914. They joined 22nd Brigade, 7th Division who were concentrating in the New Forest, Hampshire. The 2nd Queens landed at Zeebrugge on the 6th of October 1914, supposedly to assist in the defence of Antwerp, but they were soon drawn into the First Battle of Ypres.
The fragments of surviving service papers show that after Charles Bone received notice of mobilisation within days of the 4th of August 1914, and that he was posted to the 3rd (reserve) Battalion, based initially at Guildford.
Over the next weeks, news in the press on the Army’s progress would be of less importance to Charles than the Army rumour mill, as he kept abreast of events in France. The 1st Queens were at Mons, on the long retreat, and had fought on the Marne and Aisne, before moving North to Flanders, where they were in action by 21st October. The 2nd Queens had already reached Ypres on the 14th October.
All this time, Charles Bone must have wondered when he would actually go to France, and would have been perfectly aware of the losses already sustained by the Queens. Something any soldier would downplay with their wife and family. Finally, on 31st October Charles Bone embarks for France, landing on 1st November 1914 with a large draft of over a hundred men drawn mostly from the original members of the 3rd Battalion but with some old hands like Charles and recruits from 1913. Charles Bone was to join the 2nd Queens at Ypres.
The date of his arrival in France corresponds to fierce fighting at Gheluvelt, just east of Ypres on the Menin road. It was a disaster for the 1st Queens, the battalion had been reduced to just two officers and 32 men. It had lost nine officers, and 624 NCOs and men were killed, wounded or missing in a little over 24 hours. Their CO, Lieutenant-Colonel B.T. Pell, DSO, with a broken leg, had been taken prisoner, and would die in captivity.
The 2nd Queens had already suffered heavy losses – 178 casualties on 21st of October, 25 casualties on 24th of October, 12 casualties on 27th of October, 13 casualties on 28th of October , 92 casualties on 29th of October, 90 casualties on 30th of October, 99 casualties on 31st of October and 1 on the 1st of November.
The earliest Charles Bone is likely to have joined 2nd Queens is on the arrival of the draft referred to in the battalion war diary on the 4th of November. As part of the much depleted and exhausted 22nd Brigade, the 2nd Queens were withdrawn about a mile and half from the Gheluvelt area toward Dickebush. But men of the new draft have a baptism of fire as the 2nd Queens are part of a Brigade attack at Zillebeke at dawn, in heavy mist, on the 7th of November. The two lines of the 2nd Queens took the first German trench at the charge in the face of heavy machine gun fire, and held the line all day until relieved by reinforcements. But it was a costly action with a further 97 casualties.
On the 9th November, what was left of the 22nd Brigade moved to Bailleul and then marched to Merris on the 10th November. Reorganisation and the arrival of further drafts bring the 2nd Queens up to strength. On the 14th November they move from Merris, via Sailly and Fleurbaix to trenches occupied by the Cameronians at La Boutillerie. (Henry May had been awarded the VC for his action here on the 22nd October).
The 2nd Queens set about improving the trenches and dugouts over the next four days, assisted by a working party from the 8th Royal Scots. On the 18th, when they leave the trenches for a rest at Rue de Bataille near Saiily, they do so in small groups. Even so, they lose men to stray bullets. The war diary notes:
It’s around this time that an article appears in the Surrey Advertiser, which is reprinted in the Surrey Comet a little later, detailing the ordeal of the Queens at Gheluvelt.
Anyone seeing the casualty lists printed in the Surrey press before would have guessed at a possible disaster. Such news would only increase the anxiety of the families of men serving with the Queens. Like most men, any letters Charles Bone wrote home would have sought to allay these fears and minimise the danger he was in. He would, no doubt, ask for any comforts they could send him.
The 2nd Queens return to the trenches at La Boutillerie on the 20th November and for three more days they work on improving communications trenches and new dugouts with the help of Royal Engineers. The war diary comments : “Usual sniping, but nothing unusual happened”. Yet two more men are wounded ,while others report sick. They leave the trenches at dusk on the 23rd and return to Rue de Bataille. The men don’t get a break as close order drill precedes an inspection and speech from the G.O.C. Inspection over, the 2nd Queens return to the trenches late on the 26th. The chance for a proper relief comes on the 29th when the battalion marches to billets at Rue Biache near Fleurbaix. The war diary describes the next two days:
A curious incident occurs on the 1st of December:
The 2nd Queens return to trenches at different location at La Boutillerie. There is always risk of casualties when leaving or entering trenches, and this occasion is no different. The war diary entry for the 2nd December simply states:
If the entry in “De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour” for Charles bone is correct, he passes down the casualty chain and reaches the no.10 ambulance train bound for Boulogne late at night on the 2nd December. Severely wounded, Charles dies on the train around midnight and was buried at the Boulogne Military Cemetery, the final resting place of other men from Mitcham.
His wife Margaret will receive notification of his death by letter or telegram within a few days of Charles Bone’s death. With a young child to support, things must have seemed very bleak. Margaret was close to her younger sister “Louie”, Alice Louisa Sallis. Louie had married before Margaret in the Spring of 1913. She married Samuel “George” Burge (one of my Grandfather’s cousins) and their son Reuben George Burge was born on 18th October 1913. Samuel had volunteered in September 1914, he was training with the East Surreys and still in England. Now Louie had to comfort her sister, wondering what the future might hold for herself and her own child.
By the spring of 1915 Louie would be widowed too. The two sisters Margaret and Louie had worked together making fireworks at the Pain’s factory at Eastfields, Mitcham before the war. The Pain’s factory developed and made military pyrotechnics during the war years. Whether either Margaret or Louie had to, or could with young children, work again at the factory is unknown. By the end of the war, widows Margaret Bone and Louie Burge are living at 38 Fountain Road, while their parents and younger siblings are at 45 Fountain Road. Still close to the Bone family in Sibthorp Road.
Charles Bone’s mother Emily had not lived to see the end of the war. She passed away aged 62 in 1917, and was buried at Church Road cemetery on 23rd May 1917.
The two families ensured Charles Bone’s name appeared on the Mitcham War Memorial when it was unveiled in 1920, and on the “Roll of Honour” in St.Marks Church, where Margaret and Charles were married.
Whether out of necessity, or not, Margaret Bone had re-married in mid-1920 to Harry Edward Groom. They continued to live at 38 Fountain Road for many years.
Charles Bone’s father passes away aged 73 in 1925 and is buried with his wife at Church Road cemetery on 8th August 1925. His son stays with Margaret in Fountain Road, and marries Mary Matilda Bates in 1937. A year later Margaret is widowed again in 1938, when Harry Groom dies aged 47. Margaret will live until 1967.
Footnote 1: The entry in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour for Charles Bone states:
“enlisted on 5th Nov. 1904; served with the BEF in France from 12th Aug. 1914; was wounded during the retreat from Mons and again severely in the back, near Ypres, “ Dec.1914 s ….”
This suggests an alternative narrative for Charles Bone’s war. But while his Medal Index Card records he entered France on 12/8/14, was in the 1st Queens and his name appears in the 1st Battalion’s “1914-Star” Medal Roll, he is recorded as only serving in the 2nd Queens on the British and Victory medal roll. This corresponds to his CWGC entry. With the events at Gheluvelt on 31st October easy to see how this confusion might have arisen in the Battalion’s records. This blog entry has been written on the assumption that the surviving burnt fragments of his service papers represent a true record of his service, here he is clearly recorded as landing in France on 1/11/14.
Footnote 2: Two officers of the 1st Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), who occupied the trenches at La Boutillerie immediately before the 2nd Queens, made a remarkable photographic record of events there in October and November 1914. This is just one example: