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20th May, 2022

100 years ago - Redditch soldiers attack the German trenches

Ross Crawford 18th Aug, 2017

THIS week 100 years ago British casualties were mounting up as the Third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, intensified.

Right in the front line were soldiers from Redditch and we’ll describe the fate of two of them here and leave three for next week.

They are Gunner Charles Edward Wilkes, who’s grandson still lives in Redditch, and Private Albert Harding Bradley.

August 16 marked the beginning of the Battle of Langemarck, a continuation of the attack started on July 31 but which had stalled due to heavy losses and atrocious weather.

Charles was born in 1890, the son of George, a needlemaker, and Rosa Wilkes and the family lived at 14 South Street.

By the time he was ten Charles was working as a needle eyer. He married his wife Elise in 1910 and they had a son, also called Charles.

By 1911 he was working as a collier and living near Walsall, however by the time of his death they were back in Redditch, Elise living at Back 15 (a back to back) 2 Ipsley Street.

Charles had joined the 126th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery a territorial unit which fought at Passchendaele.

He was killed in action, aged 27, possibly by a German counter artillery strike, as his unit supported the advance on Langemarck.

He left a widow, Elise, and four children and is buried at Track X Cemetery between Ypres and St Julien and is remembered today on the St Stephen’s war memorial.

Albert was born in in 1886 to George and Elizabeth Bradley, and by 1911 the family were living at 20 Prospect Road and Albert was working as a brass polisher.

He married Alice Kate and they lived at 56 Lodge Road before he joined the 1/7th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment.

On the morning August 16,1917 the 1/7th were part in support of the 145th Brigade, who’s attack across the Steenbeck brook collapsed in the face of murderous German fire.

It is not known how Pte Bradley died but ‘D’ Company of the 1/7th was called up into the attack, losing 15 men to shell fire.

Pinned down for the rest of the day, that evening it was decided to send ‘C’ Company to take out the German strongpoint Maison du Hibou.

For some reason this is attempted without artillery cover and is a costly failure, killing nine, wounding 37 and with 12 missing.

A further attempt, this time by ‘B’ Company, and with artillery support in the early hours of August 17, also fails with the loss of three men killed, 12 missing and 30 wounded.

As August 17 dawns the 1/7th are relieved by the 1/8th Worcs, an entry in the battalion diary reading: “an extraordinary good relief taking into account the amount of hostile shelling.”

Albert has no known grave but is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium, and on the war memorials at St George’s Church, St Stephen’s Church and St Stephen’s C. of E. School.

With thanks to: Remembering Redditch’s Fallen Heroes; The Diary of the Worcestershire Regiment; Remembering Battle of Passchendaele by Jill Coombes.

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