Postcard No. 4 & Coincidence No. 294

old postcard 1914 WW1 kings royal rifle corps

old postcard 1914 WW1 kings royal rifle corps

This is what is written in ink on the postcard:

Dear Aunt & Uncle,

I suppose you know by now I have enlisted. I am at present stationed at Aldershot, where we are busy training. I’m quite well, and worked hard, but quite content. In peace time we are dressed in the dress shown on the card.

Love to all, your loving nephew, CWW/GWW

The card was sent to:

Mr & Mrs Whitney
5 County Road
March
Cambs

So that makes him CW/GW Whitney.

He sent the card on 12th September 1914 from Aldershot, a big army town obviously, and just two months after the declaration of war. There are also the words Malborough Lines(?) on the postmark. Lines seems to be military jargon for something to do with barracks, probably lines of or between buildings. It was postmarked at 8.15pm across its Half Penny stamp bearing the head of George V.

The destination of the card, March, is a Fenland market town in the Isle of Ely area of Cambridgeshire. In 1914 it was the county town of the Isle of Ely (a separate administrative county from 1889 to 1965). March was once an island surrounded by Fenland marshes, the second largest in ‘the Great Level’, a 500 square mile area of The Fens.

On the front of the card is a watercolour illustration of a soldier from The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Signed JMN. The front includes a list of the regiment’s Battle Honours including “Martinique 1762, 1809” and “Defence of Ladysmith”. The summary of History and Traditions mentions “the Afghan War, 1879-80, including Roberts’ famous march to Kandahar, and the Battle of Kandahar”. There seem to have been subsequent Battles of Kandahar in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Plus ça change.

A quick search online has revealed: Charles William Whitney

A/3092 Cpl, 7th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Killed in action 15-9-16, age 26. Son of Charles & Elizabeth Whitney, 4 Station Rd, Chatteris; husband of Alice Whitney. Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

So our man only survived two more years and three days. 15th September was the day my wife was in labour with our first-born son.

Chatteris is only 9 miles away from March, being one of the four market towns in the Fenland district of Cambridgeshire, alongside Huntingdon, March and Ely.

The regimental badge on the front of the card shows the motto “Celer et Audax”. I’m going to guess that means Speed & Boldness – and now I’m going to ask Prof. Google… yup, close – Swift & Bold, now the motto of The Royal Green Jackets. Their badge is similar, just with a circle of laurels around the cross. They were formed in part from The King’s Royal Rifle Corps in January 1966.

The card was “British Printed” by G&P which seems to stand for Guards Posted, military being their specialism.

I wonder how Charles felt when he was first posted as a guard? and whether he ever got to see his uncle and aunt again?

A bit more googling and I found a photo of Charles…

ct06101916whitneycwpic charles w whitney soldier WW1

…and this information:

Corporal Charles William Whitney 7th Bn, A Coy, A/3092 King’s Royal Rifle Corps

Died 15 September 1916

Charles William Whitney was born in around 1890 in Bury Huntingdonshire England. In 1901 he lived with his parents Charles and Mary Elizabeth Whitney and his brother Laurie Stonecliffe (who also died in the war) in Station Road, Chatteris. His father was a mining engineer by trade.

In 1911 Charles boarded at 15 Church Road in Erith and was a school teacher at Dartford Elementary School. Before the war Charles had been an assistant master at King Edwards School.

By the time of his death Charles was married to Alice and lived at 24 Topsfield Parade in Crouch End, London, his parents still lived in Chatteris. Charles enlisted in Hammersmith in August 1914, having only held his current teaching post for 3 months, and joined the 7th Bn King’s Royal Rifles Corps, going out to the front on May 1st 1915. His battalion were part of the 14th Light Division in 1916. They, along with The New Zealand Division and 41st Division were successful in capturing the village of Flers on 15.9.16. English Newspapers reported that ”A tank is walking up the High St of Flers with the British Army cheering behind.” Sadly Charles wasn’t amongst them. A letter in the Cambs Times, 6th Oct 1916 records a letter from his Captain stating that Charles was instantly killed by a shell. He was a signaller. Charles has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.

Project File contains: • CWGC certificate • Cambs Times 29 Sep 1916, 6 Oct 1916, photo • 1901, 1911 Census • Soldiers Died • Medal Card • Picture of name on Thiepval Memorial

I can’t recall where I bought this card for 50p. It might have been in Ireland, at an antique fair in England, not sure. But the weird thing is this man lived only 2 miles away from where I am sitting in my backroom, his last address being in Crouch End, despite his origins in The Fens.

What are the chances – a postcard posted in Aldershot to Cambridgeshire by a man from Cambridgeshire should end up two miles down the road from his final address in London?

whitney-charles-william-ccanthiep thiepval memorial

Charles William Whitney on the Thiepval memorial

Charles William Whitney on the Thiepval memorial

His younger brother Laurie (three years his junior) ended up in Ealing before he left for the war. Laurie Stonecliff Whitney was Company Quartermaster Serjeant for the 1st Huntingdon Cyclist Battalion (The Fens are good for cycling being as flat as it comes so probably have a strong bicycle tradition). Laurie died two years after Charles on 11th July 1917. He had been born at Bury in Huntingdonshire (in 1893) but breathed his last (age 23, the age I met my wife) in Scarborough, where he would have been in hospital wounded.

whitney-laurie-stonecliffe-ccan-358x538

Charles’ brother Laurie – buried at Chatteris Meeks Cemetery

On the last Remembrance Day I wrote a post about a local casualty of the Great War, John Parr, who had the tragic distinction of being the first British soldier killed in action. He was from one mile down the road from this back room. By coincidence, he too was in a cycle brigade, a reconnaissance cyclist.

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4 comments so far

  1. […] It’s a subject I’ve been immersing myself in recently through found postcards like this one. Found stories was at the heart of the next session, the highlight of the day for me because of […]

  2. rfgkrrc on

    That’s a truley touching story. I’m new here love to follow stories like these as my late father joined 48- 50 at 18…removed in Winchester….

  3. rfgkrrc on

    Demobed 😊


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