Colonel, Prince of Wales' own Yorkshire Regiment (2nd Battalion)
Born: February 3rd 1863
Died: October 30th 1914
Age at Death: 51
Killed in action, Ypres, Flanders, October 30th 1914
Brighton College Register: Son of J. King Esq. 78 Regents Park Road, London.
CWGC family information: Son of James and R. Maria King; husband of Adela Margaret King, of 33, Evelyn Gardens, South Kensington, London. Served in the Sudan, Burmese, and the South African Campaigns (Brevet Maj., Twice Mentioned in Despatches).
A donation to the memorial statue has been made in honour of this soldier.
Colonel Charles Arthur Cecil King
Colonel King was one the oldest Old Brightonians to be killed in the First World War having been born in 1863 in Cape Town, then the capital of Cape Colony but now of course one of South Africa’s biggest cities. Little is known about his time at Brighton College other than that he was a pupil between 1877 and 1881 and was a member of Mr Allum’s House.
After leaving the school the young Charles King chose to become a professional soldier. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1882 aged 19 and then followed a career which sounds like a roll call of the Victorian colonial wars which comprised the British Army’s recent field experience prior to the start of World War One. In 1885 he saw service on the Nile expedition which attempted to relive the ill-fated Gordon at Khartoum and then fought at the Battle of Ginnis the following year, for which he was awarded the Khedive’s Star. In 1892 he was involved in the morally questionable Third Anglo-Burmese, after which he was awarded a medal and promoted to Captain in recognition for his performance in the action in the Katchin Hills.
In 1900, following the start of the First Boer War, he was appointed Adjutant in the 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment. His performance in the Boer War clearly attracted the attention of his superiors because he received a number of decorations as well as being mentioned in despatches for his coolness and effectiveness in action. After the conclusion of the war he was promoted relatively swiftly, a process which culminated with his promotion to the rank of Colonel in December 1913.
The war, of course, broke out the following year but before going overseas Charles King appears to have married, at the very late age of 50, Adela Margaret. It is possible that she was a long-standing mistress who he married in order to ensure that in the event of his death she would receive all the benefits made available to widows of serving officers.
On 30th October 1914 during the crucial sage of the First Battle of Ypres he was in command of the 2nd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, also known as the Green Howards, which formed a part of the 7th division of the BEF. The 7th division was not among those who fought in the very first actions of the war at Mons and on the Marne but was nonetheless a division of regular troops formed from among the regular battalions which gradually returned to Europe from various colonial postings during August and September 1914. It comprised, therefore, some of the only fresh troops available to John French as commander of the BEF when the campaign known as ‘the race to the Sea’ culminated in the mass slaughter on both sides in at the First Battle of Ypres.
From 16 October until 27 October the battalion held the cross-roads at Gheluvelt and suffered very heavy casualties before being withdrawn to rest at Sanctuary Wood. However, unfortunately the period of rest was curtailed because increasing German pressure meant that the BEF, still a very small force compared with the mass army it was to become, had to throw in its last reserves and as result the battalion went into line just East of Sanctuary Wood again the next day. The account given in the regimental history states the following:
‘At last on the 27th, we were moved back to SANCTUARY WOOD for a rest, but no sooner had we bivouacked, than the order came to move up into the advanced fire trenches immediately. The exhausted men, comfortably fixed up for the night, kits, blankets, camp kettles, etc. brought up from YPRES, fell in at once and no one grumbled. The Colonel was "very ill and worn out, but nothing would keep him from his men.
On the morning of the 29th, the enemy succeeded in breaking through a Regiment on our left, and threatened our left rear. The Line was forced to fall back under devastating fire for about half a mile - two platoons of "A" Company being the last to retire. Colonel King then reorganized the Battalion, collected anyone he could lay hands on from other Units, formed them up in the road, and led an attack with this scratch force. Colonel King's prompt and gallant action and the magnificent way it was carried out once again "saved the Line." Next day in an attack of overwhelming numbers of infantry and appalling bombardment, Colonel King was killed among very heavy losses of Officers and men. Still the men held on, and no enemy passed the GREEN HOWARDS, nor did the Battalion give a yard. Their strength was now three hundred, a Captain in command.’
A Battalion of approximately a thousand men was reduced to approximately 300 in strength by the time it was pulled out of line and among the officers some 16 were killed or wounded in the action including Colonel Charles King. Colonel Charles King is memorialised on the Menin Gate and in Richmond Parish Church, Yorkshire. Among the many tributes written following his death is the following which is very evocative of the spirit of 1914 while also making clear that there was more to Colonel King than the stern Victorian army officer of our twenty-first century imagination:
‘The bald statement of [Charles King’s] distinguished services … in no way conveys the sense of personal bereavement which is felt by those of all ranks who had the privilege of serving with him. The cheeriest, kindliest and most generous of friends. He was beloved by both his brother officers and by the men who served under him, taking a keen interest in all sports, he encouraged and shared in all their amusements. How many a dull hour did he brighten fir his comrades. How many a dreary station became happier and livelier for his presence! No kinder or more genial host could be found; his hospitality was proverbial and he was never happier than when entertaining his friends. The thrilling story of those last few eventful days before his death is a story that will live long in the annals of our Army, telling of a heroic struggle against well-nigh overwhelming odds. In this struggle he played a splendid part’.
Source: LEST WE FORGET PROJECT, Brighton College Remembers 2014/15
Also remembered on:
- Panel 33, Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
- Memorial tablet in Richmond Parish Church, Yorkshire