9 September 2014

Captain Edwin Milward Charrington

Edwin Milward Charrington, was born in London in 1891 and lived with his parents and sister at Eton Terrace, a few doors down from Lt Col Papillon's London flat.

Charrington had been about to move to China when war broke out but immediately put his job with the Union Insurance Company of Canton on hold and promptly enlisted in the Essex Regiment - most likely because his father Harry had been born in Chigwell and had also served during the Boer War.

Edwin joined 3rd Battalion but was immediately attached to 1st Battalion of the Sussex Regiment and sent to France to fight with them in February 1915, around the time the West Ham Battalion were still recruiting.

On the 5th of May, 1915 he was severely wounded during fighting at Fortun. His left arm was thoroughly shattered by shrapnel in an explosion which also tore off his nose completely and inflicted severe damage to the rest of his head. 

Incredibly, due to the skill of surgeons, he recovered his health and confidence and by November 1915, while the Hammers were on the troopship Princess Victoria sailing to France, he was working with the Army Signal Service in Bletchley Park, intercepting German communications traffic. Yet, he made continual requests to return to a combat role - despite having to wear an aluminium prosthetic ‘tin’ nose and other shocking disfigurements, including a "red, permanent deformity of the face".

Arriving at the West Ham Battalion on the 2nd of June, 1916, he was quickly appointed as  A Company's Commander and was a very popular Officer, no doubt due to his supreme confidence and "Carry On" attitude, despite being exempt from route marching due to obviously difficult respiration and severe discomfort in both wet and dry conditions.

He served during the Somme fighting with the Hammers, up until their action in November 1916 on the formidable Quadrilateral/Heidenkopf positions outside of Serre where he was seen to be killed while leading A Company in the first attacking wave. Sadly, his body was never found and he still lies somewhere in that mud and clay today. Only his name remains on the memorial at Thiepval. In his condolence letter to the family, Colonel Carter stressed that he had "the greatest regard for him and a high opinion of his capabilities as an Officer". 

Edwin Charrington was a very brave young man, a real character, "beloved by all who knew him". He was only 25 years old when he was killed in action, fighting for his country and the West Ham Pals.

In 2014, a musical play was performed by the Claygate Dramatic Society, directed by Belita Charrington, the wife of his direct descendant, Simon Charrington. They dramatised Edwin's last moments of life on 13th November 1916 and, somewhat touchingly, the audience were invited to join in with a hearty rendition of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles".

photos courtesy of the Charrington family