Charles William Gillings
Served with Southend Borough Constabulary from Apr 1, 1914 and died on Jul 18, 1916.
Charles William Gillings was born in Orford, Suffolk on April 24, 1890, the son of William and Phyllis Marguerite Gillings of Great Barton, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk who had at least four other children. William Gillings was a police officer with Suffolk Police and in due course retired after completing thirty-five years service.
After he had left school, Charles obtained employment as a gamekeeper and worked on the estate owned by the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley House, Stamford. His real interest was to follow his father's footsteps and to join the police. He made his first application to the Metropolitan Police but was turned down because he was under age.
When he was twenty-one years old he successfully applied to join Grantham Borough Police and served with that force from February 16, 1912, to March 29, 1914, when he transferred to Southend-On-Sea County Borough Constabulary. He was at that time single, a strapping young man six feet one inch tall weighing thirteen and a half stones. He had a fresh complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes.
He received an excellent testimonial from his former Chief Constable Mr. J R Casburn:
'Gillings has been here just over two years and is a most painstaking officer. He is very steady, reliable and always attentive. I am certain he will prove a most capable officer, He is well liked by his fellows and the general public. I think very well of him.'
He patrolled the streets of Southend as Police Constable 53 for just six months and then on October 17 he submitted a report to the Chief Constable:
I most respectfully beg to apply for your permission to join His Majesty's Army for the duration of the war. Provided I return medically fit, should I be allowed to rejoin this force? I am Sir your obedient servant Chas. W Gillings.'
Mr. Kerslake granted his application and on October 20 Charles Gillings submitted a further report confirming that he had been accepted for the Army and he would resign on Wednesday, October 21 so that he could join his regiment the following day.
Private S/6258 Charles William Gillings joined 8th Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) forming part of the 26th Brigade of the 9th Scottish Division. Recruitment for the Division had started in August 1914, with the majority of the volunteers coming from the Highlands and the Lowlands of Scotland. It was the senior Division of the First New Army. What a sight they would have been with the tartans of the Black Watch, the Seaforth Highlanders, the Gordon Highlanders, the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and Princess Louise's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
Private Charles Gillings certainly looked resplendent in his uniform.
After initial training at Salisbury, the Division assembled around Borden. It suffered the usual scarcity of arms and equipment but nevertheless soon reached a high standard of proficiency.
On May 5, 1915, the Division was inspected by Lord Kitchener and shortly after were given orders for the move to France. On May 10 the following message from HM King George V was received:
'You are about to join your comrades at the Front in bringing to a successful end this relentless war of more than nine month's duration. Your prompt patriotic answer to the Nation's call to arms will never be forgotten. The keen exertions of all ranks during the period of training have brought you to a state of efficiency not unworthy of my Regular Army. I am confident that in the field you will nobly uphold the traditions of the fine regiments whose name you bear. Ever since your enrolment I have closely watched the growth and steady progress of all units. In bidding you farewell I pray God may bless you in all your undertakings'
The 9th Division commenced it's crossing to France on May 8, 1915, when advanced parties of artillery left Borden. Within the next few days the remainder of the Division followed, and by 15 May the Division was concentrated in billets to the South-West of St Omer. It was the first of the New Army Divisions to cross the Channel. They were trained in Trench Warfare by attaching units to the 6th Division in the line close to Armentieres.
The Division took over trenches east of Vermelles on September 2 and was instructed to make final preparations for what was to be its first major battle of the war.
The attack at Loos began on September 25 and was to be the first occasion that the British Army used poison gas. Having attacked the German position on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, the 5th Camerons (26th Brigade) became cut off and unsupported. The Battalion held off a number of counter attacks by the enemy. When eventually relieved only 2 officers and seventy men remained out of the 820 who had started the attack. Total Divisional casualties - Divisional Commander killed, 190 officers and 5,867 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.
After Loos, the Division was moved to the Ypres Salient where it took over trenches near Hill 60, and later in the Ploegstreet Wood area. In May 1916 they were ordered to the Somme in preparation for a major offensive. Given the heavy losses sustained by the Division it was reformed and the South African Brigade replaced the former 28th Brigade.
On July 2 part of the Division, the 27th Brigade, relieved part of the 30th Division then holding Montauban. On July 3, the 27th Brigade attacked Bernafay Wood and was successful in taking all of its objectives.
On July 14 the Division was sent to attack Longueval with a secondary objective of clearing and securing Delville Wood. The assaulting troops were moved to their positions during the night advancing up the northern slopes of Caterpillar Alley with the 27th Brigade to the left and 26th Brigade on the right. The 8th Battalion Black Watch were on the extreme right of the advance with the additional problem of having no protection from the German positions located in Trones Wood and Waterlot Farm. The assault positions were reached at 3am without any serious consequence. The attack commenced at 3.25am with a concentrated creeping barrage intended to keep the Germans in their trenches and away from manning their machine guns until the advancing infantry was almost upon them. The attack went reasonably well but the 8th Black Watch had considerable problems with a machine-gun nest positioned on the south east corner of Longueval and two field guns located on the south western edge of Delville Wood. The machine gun position was eventually taken at 5pm.
The Battalion made an advance into Delville Wood but this had to be withdrawn owing to lack of support and stiffening German resistance. By midnight, the 8th Black Watch had secured positions around the central square of Longueval and a line extending towards Delville Wood. Other Battalions of the 26th and 27th Brigades had also secured positions in the village.
On July 14 the South African brigade, which had replaced the Scottish battalions as the 28th Brigade, was initially held in reserve but was then brought up to help to clear and secure Longueval. In the early hours of the 15th they were ordered to attack Delville Wood at dawn. After some initial success the Brigade met strong resistance from the enemy who were easily able to push reinforcements into the wood through an elaborate trench and tunnel system. It was determined that Delville Wood should be taken at all cost as both the wood and Longueval were key to further planned advances.
During the 16th and 17th the South Africans were subjected to persistent shelling and continued counter attacks in the wood by the Germans. As time progressed the wood was reduced to tree stumps with fallen and splintered branches adding to the difficulties and confusion of those fighting.
At 8am on July 18 the Germans began a heavy bombardment which preceded a further counter attack with overwhelming numbers there was real danger of not only the wood but also Longueval being completely retaken. Just after 6pm Lt Col Gordon of the 8th Black Watch decided to mount a counter attack and on advancing across the central square towards the wood his troops were confronted by the enemy pouring out of the south-west corner of the wood. The Highlanders charged forward taking the far larger German force by surprise. The Germans retreated into the wood followed by a number of the 8th Black Watch who continued their charge and became engaged in close fighting in the wood where a number found their final resting place.
The South African Brigade continued to hold the wood till July 20 when the 9th Division was relieved by the 3rd Division. When Colonel Thackery left the wood he led out two injured officers and 140 other ranks, the remains of nine and a half companies totalling 1,500men. The 9th Division had lost 314 officers and 7,203 other ranks as casualties during July. It was not until September 3, 1916, that Delville Wood was finally secured.
The Divisional historian of the 9th Division recorded:
The defence of Delville Wood by Lt. Col. Thackery's small band rightly takes its place as one of the classic feats of war. But, though less well known, the charge of the Highlanders that saved Longueval when a serious disaster seemed inevitable, is an achievement that ought to secure a lasting place in our military annals. Not merely does it illustrate the unflinching courage of the Highlanders of the 26th Brigade, but it is a brilliant example of the value of a prompt counter-attack boldly carried out by even a few men against a resolute and numerous enemy.
Charles Gillings took part in the counter attack on July 18 and returned to Longueval with a small group of men after the successful attack. One of the group was injured and whilst Gillings was rendering first aid to him a shell exploded killing Charles Gillings and four others. He was buried 150 yards south of Longueval Church.
Sadly Longueval was the scene of further shelling during the war and the grave of Private Gillings was disturbed. His body, if ever recovered, was not identified and he is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing on the Somme at Thiepval. He was twenty-six years old when he died.
William Gillings wrote to the Chief Constable of Southend Police on August 13:
On September 13, 1916, the Watch Committee were informed of the death of Constable Gillings and asked that the sympathy of the Corporation be conveyed to the relatives of the officer.
Mr Kerslake, the Chief Constable, wrote to Mr. Gillings and in October received a letter from Charles Gillings' elder brother, Driver H Gillings, thanking him for the kind and sympathetic letters sent to his father. He went on to say:
'I feel I should let you know that of all the letters he received the ones you so kindly sent are the most treasured and my father particularly treasures them very, very highly indeed and is so proud of them that he always carries them about with him and his greatest pleasure is to show them to anyone whom he may meet who may make any reference to the death of our brother.'
He closed his letter saying, 'I am myself proceeding to the front at any minute.'
William Gillings also received letters that contained the following extracts:
'The losses of the Regiment in this action, which lasted from 14th to the 19th were heavy. The Regiment throughout this period upheld its highest traditions and nothing could have exceeded the courage and determination of all concerned in a position vital to the interests of the British Army.'
Colonel 8thBattalion Black Watch.
'I need not tell you how very deeply I sympathise with you in your loss. It must be difficult for you to find any consolation, but it must always mean something to you to know that he died in an action which added to the already high honours of his regiment. The name of Longueval will not be forgotten by the British Army.'
Captain 8th Battalion Black Watch.
'I often met your son and had a talk with him a few days before he went into action. He has offered up the greatest sacrifice a man can offer, in that he came out here, leaving everything behind him to face and find death. You may well be proud of him, as we all are of the brave lads who rest here.'
Chaplin 9th Division.
Those Sergeants I lost at Delville
On a night that was cruel and black,
They gave their lives for England's sake,
They will never come back.
What of the hundreds in whose hearts
Thoughts no less splendid burn?
I wonder what England will do for them
If ever they return?
Robert E Vernede. Died of wounds 9th April 1917.