On 3rd May, a Suffolk officer was posted missing whilst serving with the 5th Battalion, Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment.
Born at Abbey Oaks, Sproughton, near Ipswich, Captain Charles Harvey Churchman was originally commissioned into the 6th (Cyclist) Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, T.F., in August 1914. The youngest son of the tobacco giant Sir Arthur Churchman, he was educated at Rugby, and later Pembroke College, Cambridge, where upon the outbreak of war, he volunteered for war service and was promoted Captain in July 1916. He had prior to the outbreak of war, spent six months studying in Germany, where he had become fluent in its language.
Retained in England, for the 6th Battalion did not serve overseas, he was keen to see action and volunteered to transfer to the West Yorkshire Regiment, joining them in France in January 1917. On the day he was lost, he was leading his men into cation around the village Bullecourt. He had not originally been detailed to be part of the attacking wave, but such was esteem in which his men held him, that they specifically asked for him to lead them over everybody else. He wrote home the night before of how proud he was and how glad to go with his men into action.
Leading his platoon forward, they reached their final objective but were almost immediately cut-off by a savage enemy counterattack. With no chance of reinforcements of resupply, they bravely fought on. only when Captain Churchman was killed, did his platoon bow to the inevitable, and surrender. He was 22 years old when he died.
His Colonel wrote, a few days before his death to his parents at Sproughton; "Charlie is a perfect Officer, always cheery and absolutely reliable. His Company Commander relies on him above all others, and, better still, the N.C.O.s and men have a very great confidence in him, and he has proved himself a leader in every way. He has been through some very hard and trying conditions with them all, and has never failed for a moment."
A brother Officer wrote of his last moments gallantly making a dash for the German front line; "He and I are great friends, and we have worked together all through. One could not have wished for a better Subaltern than Charles. Nothing was too great for him to tackle, and he had the love and respect of his men. The whole Company followed him to a man."
Stricken by grief at his loss, and not having a grave to visit, his parents commissioned a portrait in his honour to hang in the family home. Using what scant photographs they had of their son, the original artists charcoal sketch is shown above. Whether the portrait ever reach reality is unknown.
With grateful thanks to Taff Gillingham for the above image.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
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