25 August 2012

Capt Charles Graham Carson, MC

One of the original officers of the West Ham Battalion was from Congleton in Cheshire. Charles Graham Carson was the son of a local Magistrate and had been studying medicine at Manchester University when the Great War broke out. Like so many he volunteered for service with Lord Kitchener's 'new army' and enlisted as a Private in his local Regiment where he was quickly recognised as being definite 'officer material'.

I've not been able to discover why (and I must admit it really does intrigue me!) but following his officer training, Charles Carson specifically requested the West Ham Battalion as his unit. The Mayor of West Ham signed off his application personally and he joined the Hammers as a 2/Lt on their first parade at St. Lukes Church. He was a very capable soldier and held the respect of his men and fellow Officers, eventually becoming Captain and the Commander of C Company.

In France, the West Ham Battalion were sent to the Somme battlefield in July 1916. It was here they endured a very kinetic few days defending the recently captured Delville Wood. After three weeks of fighting the Germans had been beaten out of this 'devils wood'. Now they wanted it back. Their counter-attack was of nightmarish intensity and at times almost suicidal.

Charles Carson was leading his men of C Company as they held the Front Line, although in reality it was merely a series of shell holes. They endured wave after wave of German infantry attacks, heavy shelling of their positions and a multitude of snipers sneaking about wearing British helmets. At one point, the HQ dugout was 'crumped' with all the senior Officers wounded.

Still the West Ham Battalion grimly held on.

Carson ended this tour of Delville Wood being evacuated out on a stretcher. He had been wounded in the wrist at one point, but stayed at his post and kept C Company together. Finally he took a machine gun bullet to the knee which required evacuation to hospital for recovery.

During this intense period the Hammers resistance was unbelievable and a number of the originals in the battalion were awarded the Military Medal for their bravery. Norman Bellinger was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the way he organised his stretcher bearers and, along with Captain JD Paterson, Charles Carson was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry in the field.

No doubt he then enjoyed a peaceful period of clean hospital sheets, hot food, pretty nurses (not in that order) and then an extended leave back home in Cheshire (or to what/whoever it was that had first drawn him to West Ham) which would have included a visit to Buckingham Palace to receive his medal from the King.

Carson returned to the Hammers in France at the end of October 1916 and for the next few weeks prepared his men to attack the German position known as the Quadrilateral ('Die Heidenkopf'). This was a well defended position, and the attack didn't go at all well for the West Ham Battalion on November 13th.

Carson was in command of C Coy, leading the 2nd wave through the mud on the right flank. He and his men bravely managed to take their primary objectives but he was severely wounded in the chest as they advanced and attacked another position.

Somehow (and perhaps it is a clear indication of the way his men felt about him) Carson was taken, just about breathing, back to the Hammers aid post. Dr Holthusen, the Medical Officer, must have glimpsed that slim hope of life remaining and evacuated him to hospital in Rouen.

Charles Graham Carson was a strong man and fought on for a number of days but his wounds were simply too much for his body. Back home in Congleton, his family got the dreaded 'hat-trick' of telegrams within the space of a few days: he was at first 'Missing' in action, then he was found alive but 'Wounded' and then finally he had 'Died of Wounds'...

He was 22 years old and their only son.


His gravestone states 
"Thy will Be Done"