Private Charles Jennings

  • Private Charles Jennings, from the photograph that hangs at 26 The Avenue. (Courtesy Ray Johnson

40035 Private Charles Jennings enlisted at Oxford in 1917 with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, but either before sailing for France, or in France, was posted to C Company, 2nd Battalion the Royal Berkshire Regiment, Service number 50620. His nephew and great nephew, Ray Johnson and Steve Morrison, have provided information: a photograph hangs at 26 The Avenue and Steve has visited Crucifix Corner Cemetery three times.

Charles' sister - Steve's grandmother - passed on the family version: Charles had been killed by a sniper, buried with full military honours, but the grave was destroyed by artillery bombardment. Doubtless that version was designed to soften the blow to families back home. In fact, it seems that no-one knew how or when Charles was killed during the British retreat in spring 1918. 2nd Battalion, Berkshire Regiment, was heavily engaged between 20 and 27/28 April 1918 after the advancing Germans took Villers-Bretonneux village between Amiens and St Quentin. Battalion War Diary records that four companies of the Battalion relieved Australian troops overnight on 20 April outside the village and on 24/25 April recaptured it with 35 German machine guns and 300 prisoners. Charles is reported to have been killed by shellfire during the taking of the village, 24 April. He was 18 years and 10 months old. Battalion casualties (Other Ranks) that month were 55 killed or dead of wounds, 166 wounded, 19 gassed and 10 missing. They came out of the line for recuperation overnight on 27/28 April. Probably buried in a communal grave, he has an individual gravestone in Crucifix Corner Cemetery (ref: plot 111, row A, grave 13), Villers- Bretonneux, which holds more than 650 men and is close to where he died.

‘Private Charles Jennings has been killed in action in France. He joined up in June 1917 and went to France on 30 March past and was killed instantly by a shell, 24 April 1917. In writing of his death, his sergeant says “It is a great loss to us. He was such a willing man. Nothing was ever too much for him”' (Oxford Times, 8 June 1918).

Charles was born on 8 May 1899. His parents and sister lived on Crown Road and at some point on Bell Lane. His father James Jennings came from Cuddesdon and was a private coachman; his mother Elizabeth Ann Jennings nee Langston was from Beckley. The Wheatley Elementary school Log Book reveals that in 1913 the Rev. R. de M. Niven, General Diocesan Inspector of Schools, found the school ‘thoroughly satisfactory' on inspection, 23 July: Charles was awarded the Bishop's Prize from the Inspector. He was in the church choir for seven years. Before joining the Army he worked at the Cowley Steam Plough Works.

He had lived at 9 Bell Lane.

Royal Berkshire Regiment
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