Private Charles Marsden
16690, 2nd Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers
who was killed in action on 1st October 1915, aged 22
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Loos Memorial (Panels 22 to 24)
Charles Marsden Snr was born in the small village of Letwell, near Worksop in 1859, the eldest son of farm labourer Moses Marsden and his wife Mary. By 1881, he was lodging with the Pearson family at 29, Speedwell Terrace Blocks, Staveley, and working as a coke burner.
Margaret Simpson was the daughter of Staveley born coal miner John Simpson and his wife Hannah. Born in Staveley in 1866 she lived with her parents and siblings on Chesterfield Road. At the age of 14, she was living in as a general domestic servant with the family of postman George Kirman at Neville Street in Brightside Brierlow, Sheffield.
Charles and Margaret married at Staveley on 26th June 1886 when he was 26 and she was 20. By 1891, the couple were themselves living on Chesterfield Road and had a son, Arthur Edward, and a daughter, Agnes. Charles was employed by the Staveley Coal and Iron Company and worked in the Furnace at the Ironworks. Their third and last child, son CHARLES WILLIAM, was born in the summer of 1893 and, when Charles was 7 years of age, the family were still living in the same 2 up, 2 down cottage at 42, Chesterfield Road, just a short distance from Staveley Works.
Charles Senior died on the 23rd August 1909, aged 50, leaving his widow, Margaret, to bring up her three children alone. Daughter Agnes was still living at home when her father died but had left by 1911 when the census taken in April of that year recorded just Margaret and her two sons living in the cottage. Arthur Edward was now 22 and working as a machinist at the local Iron Foundry whilst younger brother, 17 year old Charles William, had been taken on at the works as an apprentice moulder.
Three years later, Arthur married butcher’s daughter, Mary Ann Millard, on 27th January 1914 and the couple lived with her widowed father at 149, Barrow Hill, one of the block cottages built for the Staveley Coal and Iron Company.
Charles William was a “popular member of the Staveley Town Troop of Boy Scouts attaining the rank of Assistant Scoutmaster” and was “well known and respected in his native town of Staveley.”
When war broke out in 1914, Charles was “engaged on munition work in Sheffield, but the call of his country was so strong that he left the workshop and donned the khaki.” He enlisted at Sheffield and, according to the Derbyshire Courier newspaper, he “enlisted in January of the present year (1915) sailing for France the following month.” Medal Rolls show that Charles actually arrived in France on 10th March 1915 where he may have received further training before being posted to the front to join 2nd Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (16690) as a Private in 84th Brigade, 28th Division.
The Spring of 1915 was an eventful time for Charles and his family. Not only was he preparing to embark for France but his sister, Agnes, married Heber Dronfield and his mother, Margaret, died on 2nd February 1915. With no family home to return to, it is likely that Charles lodged with his elder brother at Barrow Hill.
The Pre-War Regular Army, 2nd Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, had been virtually annihilated on the 24th of May 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres and by September very few of the battalions original ‘old sweats’ had remained, the formation now consisting mostly of reservists and men drafted in from other regiments, the majority of whom had never been in combat before.
The Derbyshire Courier reported that Charles had “experienced hard times, and has been in several important engagements, during one of which the forefinger of his left hand was shot away.”
During September the worn out 28th Division had been taken out of the line at Ypres and sent to Second Army Reserve near the town of Bailleul, eventually going into billets at a village named Rouge Croix, midway between Bailleul and Hazebrouck, where they had hoped to find some well-earned rest and await the arrival of much needed reinforcements.
The Battle of Loos: Compared with the small-scale British efforts of spring 1915, this attack of six Divisions was a mighty offensive indeed – so much so that it was referred to at the time as ‘The Big Push’.
Amongst the units that had begun the march to hell were the Second Northumberland Fusiliers who had boarded buses at a village, ironically named Paradis, which had taken them to the town of Bethune, from where the men had marched the two and a half miles to the village of Sailly Labourse. Fighting had continued relentlessly throughout the 29th of September, the trenches at the Hohenzollern had by this time been pounded by artillery so much that they were barely recognisable. The Germans had attacked the eighty fifth brigade time and again with bombs, nonetheless the men had grimly held on to their positions. During the afternoon the 2nd Northumberland’s had moved nearer to the battle and had spent the night in the village of Annequin.
The following day orders had been received to relieve the exhausted 85th before dawn on Friday the first of October. The portion to be taken over by the battalion had been ‘Big Willie Trench’. With the narrow trenches clogged with wounded and leaderless men the relief of 85th Brigade had not gone as planned. Before the battalion had had a chance to survey their surroundings, German bombers had crept down a position known as ‘South Face Trench.’
Reaching the junction of ‘Big Willie’ and a trench named ‘West Face’ the attacking force had divided into two. One had worked its way to the west driving the men of ‘D’ Company back along ‘West Face’. The second party of bombers had worked their way eastwards down ‘Big Willie’ and had subsequently taken a hundred yards of territory from ‘C’ Company. Despite a desperate fire-fight the bombers had been stopped and barricades had been built to contain them. With the four companies of Fusiliers effectively split in two and with no communication between the two halves Brigade Headquarters had immediately ordered a counter attack to retake the lost ground ‘at all costs’, a task easier said than done. Throughout the day the beleaguered ‘C’and ‘D’ Companies had attempted to push the enemy out of ‘Big Willie’, the battalion’s commanding officer Major Charles Armstrong and several officers had been killed during the ferocious fighting, so too had many ‘other ranks, their bodies littering the by then smashed position.
Meanwhile, the struggle for the possession of the Hohenzollern Redoubt and ‘Little Willie Trench’ had continued remorselessly throughout the second and third of October. The remnants of the exhausted Second Battalion had subsequently been withdrawn from the line and placed in reserve at their former campsite at Annequin, where the Battalion had called the customary roll that had disclosed that between the first and fourth of October the Battalion had suffered two hundred and fifty three casualties, which had broken down as five officers including the battalion’s commanding officer [Lieutenant Colonel C.A. Armstrong] killed, ten officers wounded. Of the ‘other ranks’, twenty-three had been killed, one hundred and fifteen were wounded, and a further one hundred were posted as missing [believed killed]. Source : Paul Allen ‘Neath a foreign sky’
It was not until the 4th December that a local newspaper stated that the Marsden family had been officially notified that their brother Charles had been missing since 4th October 1915, the date when it was reported. The official date of his death is given as 1st October 1915.
The names of the missing of the battle of Loos are carved into stone tablets, which are fixed to two fifteen feet high walls on either side of ‘Dud Corner’ Cemetery [where a further 1,700 officers and men are buried]. The panels are numbered according to the regiment. Panels 22 to 24 are dedicated to the officers and men of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Amongst them can be found the name C.W.Marsden and also that of another local soldier, Thomas Frisby, from the same battalion who was killed on the same day.
Charles William Marsden was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
© Ann Lucas