Monday, 16 April 2012 09:06

WW1 Croydon soldier's life told as part of exhibition

    The story of a soldier missing in action and a father who never gave up hope will be told in an exhibition dedicated to those lost in the Battle of the Somme.

    Charles Waller of Warrington Road, Croydon, was 22 when he marched into no-man’s land on July 1, 1916. He and around 20,000 others from the British Army never returned, in what is considered to be the worst day in the army’s history.

    Archivists at City of Westminster, Whitgift School and Ken and Pam Linge, a couple who have spent eight years compiling information on the 72,000 World War Two casualties with unnamed graves, have pulled together photographs chronicling the rifleman’s life.

    Ken Linge said: "We brought an album of his on Ebay. A picture tells a thousand words and with this we have been able to give a story behind the name."

    Charles Waller was born into a family of master builders originally from Sheffield.

    Moving to Surrey at a time of great growth for Croydon, the family rose in status, allowing Charles to grow up with his five sisters in comfort, receiving private education at Whitgift.

    A naive 21-year-old he left his apprenticeship as a carpenter to enlist in 1914 with the Queen’s Westminster Rifles.

    The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest in World War One, opening on July 1 and not concluding until November 18.

    Rifleman Charles’ body was never recovered but his father David never gave up hope, writing countless letters to The Imperial War Graves Commission, travelling to the unveiling of the Thiepval Memorial to all the lost men, and campaigning for Croydon Hospital, which nursed him to health earlier in the conflict.

    With no hier Mr Waller worked at the family business into his 80s dying aged 98 in 1958.

    Peter Daniel, from City of Westminster Archives, said: "It is a compelling and heart-wrenching story. It shows how the ripples of the war continued long after their deaths."

    With so much information available on Charles, he was a natural subject for the exhibition opening on April 19 at the Historial de la Grande Guerre, not far from Theipval, northern France.

    It includes an album of images, artefacts from his life and letters from his military service, kept by his grieving family.

    Other men from Croydon honoured in the exhibition include Company Sergeant Major John Moses Crowhurst and Private Frederick Percy Hallett, while it is estimated 2,500 men from the Croydon area were killed during World War One.


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