Eighty nine years ago today, Charles Bristow was killed in action near Ypres. This is his story:
Charles was born around 1893/4 in Chailey. He was the son of Charles and Agnes Bristow and appears on the 1901 census living with his family at Ditchling, Sussex. The household comprised Charles Bristow (head, married, aged 37, a general farm labourer), his wife Agnes (aged 36) and their children: Elizabeth Bristow (aged 11), Agnes Bristow (aged nine), and Charles (aged seven). Charles senior was born in Chailey, his wife in Plumpton. Their two daughters were both born in Newick.
Charles appears to have emigrated to Australia around 1913 and first appears on military papers in October 1914 where he is noted as a trooper – and latterly driver – with the 3rd Light Horse Brigade Train. On enlistment at Melbourne on 20th October he is described as 22 years and one month old (which would make his date of birth around September 1892, and not as stated on the 1901 census return), five feet six and three quarter inches tall, ten stone, ten pounds in weight and with brown hair, hazel eyes and a medium complexion. His trade is given as labourer and his next of kin as his father, Charles Bristow of South Street, Chailey. He was given the army number 5040.
Charles was discharged medically unfit on 4th February 1915. Apart from two minor transgressions in January (being late for stable piquet and neglect of harness), both of which he was admonished for, his service appears to have been quite normal and was spent entirely in Australia.
He attested again on 27th March 1915 and this time was posted to D Company of the 24th Infantry Battalion, 6th Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. His attestation papers show that his previous military service had apparently suited him. He is noted as being eleven stone in weight and as well as his 107 days’ service with the 3rd Light Horse Brigade Train, service with the Royal Garrison Artillery in England is also recorded.
On 10th May he embarked at Melbourne aboard HMAT A14 Euripides and set sail for the Mediterranean, disembarking first in Egypt and then proceeding in August, to Gallipoli. His entry on the embarkation roll gives his address as South Street, Cailey, [sic] Sussex. It was while he was at Gallipoli that he was wounded on 29th November. Chailey Parish Magazine (having first noted in March 1915 that Charles was serving his King and Country), reports in October 1915 that he is with the 6th Infantry Brigade in Egypt
Charles’ medical records state that he had “slight” shell wounds to the head but from what he writes and from his subsequent lengthy periods of stay in hospital it would appear that the wounds were somewhat more severe.
He proceeded to Malta aboard the hospital ship HS Karapora, disembarking there on 4th December and transferring straight to St Elmo Hospital. On 7th January 1916, The East Sussex News published an article about him:
ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES
Private Bristow of the 6th Infantry Brigade, Australian Contingent, whose mother lives at Chailey, is in hospital at Malta, suffering from a shell wound in the head received at the Dardanelles. In a letter to his mother he said, “I am one of the lucky ones to get away alive as there was a terrible bombardment of the Turks. For nearly three hours I was buried and for two hours under the earth I was unconscious. I never want to go through such an experience again. Death is facing you the whole time. You could never imagine what it is like to have several feet of earth over you and at the same time to be struggling for breath. It was the biggest bombardment we had ever seen or heard, and ever want to see again. I am undergoing an operation in the morning but you must cheer up for I will soon be well again. We are certainly treated very well here.”
Charles was in hospital in Malta until 23rd March 1916. His record for that date notes: Scalp wound (shock); Amblyopia Diplopa. It then appears that he is being transferred back to Australia but he only got as far as Egypt. Between March and July 1916 he was in and out of hospitals and convalescent homes in Alexandria, Abbassia, Heliopolis and Tel-el-Kabir to name but a few. The cause of his admissions is noted as a re-occurrence of his scalp wound and Epididimitis.
On 2nd July 1916 by now with the 57th Infantry Battalion, AIF (having been taken on strength with this unit on 20th April), he was granted one month’s furlough to England and set sail from Alexandria on the 29th, arriving at Southampton on the 9th August. He obviously took his leave later that month – and presumably spent a good deal of that time at Chailey – but by 28th September he was reporting back at Perham Down Command Depot where he was classified B.1.A. In December he was back in hospital at Bulford where he spent a further 63 days. Finally, on 15th March 1917 he proceeded overseas from Folkestone, arriving at Etaples the following day.
Charles’ surviving medical history notes dated February 1917 report that he had “Giddiness when walking – headaches – pain in eyes.” There was also the physical evidence of his injury with “Extensive scar over aft paristal with apparent loss of bone. Operation for removal of shrapnel.”
On 21st March he wrote his last will and testament in his pay book in which he left his estate to his father. On 6th April he re-joined the 57th AIF in the field and then appears to have stayed out of hospital for the next five months. On 8th June 1917 he wrote another will which was lodged with the Estates Branch, Admin HQ AIF, again leaving everything to his father.
Charles Bristow was killed in action on 27th September 1917 near Ypres and is buried at Poelcapelle British Cemetery; grave reference: LIII.F.14. Later, the authorities returned to his father a disc (presumably an identity disc), wallet, photos, cards and two German shoulder straps. On 21st September 1922 they also sent Charles Bristow his son’s memorial plaque and scroll.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirms that 831 Private Charles Bristow of the 57th AIF was killed in action on 27th September 1917. It also adds the additional information that he was the son of Charles and Agnes Bristow of South Street, South Common, Chailey.