WW1 Centenary: Staff Stories, Charles Wickers

I have recently started looking into my military family history and it has been a fascinating journey. I have discovered amazing stories of people I never knew existed. One of these people is Charles Wickers, my great great uncle. I would like to share just a little bit of his story with you.

Charles was born on 25th July 1884 in Bethnal Green, the eldest of eight children. He worked in the tailoring industry and lived his whole life in the same area; only moving a few streets away from the family home when he married Mary Ann Gibbons in 1908. His son and only child, also called Charles, was born a year later.

He joined the City of London Regiment (also known as the Royal Fusiliers), 7th battalion between 5th June – 22nd July 1915; his service number denotes the period he joined. Through research on Ancestry.com I discovered that Charles had two service numbers, 5180 and 352170. Knowing that the first few numbers indicates when a soldier joined, I decided to see if I could find out when Charles did. I found an amazing resource called ‘Army Service Numbers 1881-1918’. This website holds a great deal of information about WW1 but more specifically, lists of battalion’s service numbers and dates that show when the men would have joined. Using the 5180 number, I saw that it would fall into the category of June – July 1915. When the Territorial Force was re-numbered in 1917, the 7th Londons were re-numbered 350001 to 370000, hence his second longer number.

Charles was assigned to the 2/7th Battalion where all volunteers were sent. He was now part of the ‘The Shiny Seventh’, so called as the soldiers had brass buttons on their uniforms instead of the standard black buttons that the rest of the City of London battalions had.

From 1914-1916 the battalion undertook training and were stationed along the Suffolk coast to help with defences. During early 1916 the battalion made their way from Suffolk to Southampton, and left for France on the 26th January 1917.  When the battalion arrived in France the men were trained in trench warfare on a “quiet” section of the front.

During my research, a story that I particularly remember reading is of gas attack training. The men put on their masks and the gas was released. Before it reached the men however, the wind changed and it avoided the men, who found the incident particularly amusing. There was no spare gas so the training could not be repeated!

After many months of fighting within France the 2/7th pushed into Belgium, past Ypres and ended up just north of St Julien. There was fierce fighting here with the German and English lines being only meters away from each other. The battalion made their way up the English line, or what remained of it as heavy bombing had destroyed it. On the 28th August 1917 the men ‘dug in’ and used shell holes as cover. The line was shelled often and the next day, 29th August 1917, Charles was killed. He was 33 years old.

Unfortunately Charles does not have a grave and I have no picture of him. Although I am very proud to say that his name is listed on the Menin Gate, Belgium.

Katie Bishop, Searchroom Assistant

Uncover more First World War stories on the Great War West Sussex website and hear about the war in soldiers’ own words on the Military Voices website.

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