Charles Walter Gillett

Mary Norris

Charles was born in Charlbury Oxfordshire at the beginning of 1897, the son of George John and Fanny Charlotte Gillett, nee Carvill. He was known as Wally within the family. His father George was a painter and decorator although on the 1901 census he is listed as a sign writer. By then the family had moved to Dudeney’s Passage. By 1911 they were living at Ivy Cottage, St John Street. Wally had seven siblings but his immediately younger brother died aged two the year Wally was born. Wally was working as a Telegraph Messenger for the GPO in 1911.

Wally in the uniform of a pioneer RSR c.1915

Initially Wally enlisted in the 5th Battalion the Royal Sussex Regiment and was numbered 1725. This number relates to an enlistment date in January 1914. The 5th Battalion was a Territorial Force and Wally would have been part of ‘D’ Company. He was listed as a drummer but a family photograph shows him as a bugler. Although a territorial company, the men volunteered for overseas service and Wally was included on the intercessions list at St John sub Castro in September 1914.

They left for France in early 1915 and on 21/02/1915 were attached to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division. They fought at the Battle of Aubers and were transferred, as a pioneer battalion, to the 48th Division.

The RSR suffered very heavy losses at the Battle of the Boar’s Head on 30/06/1916, and the pioneers were drafted to join the 13th South Downs Battalion. As this was a general service battalion Wally was renumbered G/18199.

It was soon realised that the next area of concern was at Thiepval, on high ground and very well defended. A battle plan was formulated for 03/09/1916 and the battalion spent the few days before this in billets at Mailly-Maillet. The 13th Battalion, which was still very depleted, were meant to be in reserve but in the event were detailed to follow the 11th Battalion into No man’s Land. Zero hour was 05:10.

At the end of the day losses to both battalions were very large, with the 13th losing about a third of their strength. It is not clear when Wally was killed but his parents were told he had been hit by a sniper while carrying a message from HQ to the front line.

Wally is buried as C W Gillett in the Hamel Military Cemetery in plot II A 35. He was entitled to the 1915 Star, and the War and Victory medals. These along with his effects were sent to his parents, who were then living at 119 High Street (School Hill).

Wally is remembered on the St John sub Castro Memorial as well as at St Anne’s and also on the Lewes War Memorial.

This page was added on 29/10/2020.

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