Charles E. Bancroft.... a brave Soldier

Here is a story about Charles Ernest Bancroft, who died during the Battle of the Somme, at a place called Regina Trench  in France during  WW1, and who led a very interesting and colourful life prior to his early death.

 He was born in 1879 in Halifax, Yorkshire, although his birth date on  military records is wrongly shown as 3rd June 1886, the second son of Frederick and Emma Bancroft, and his father ran a substantial brushmaking business in the town,[to read about this click here.]

Charlie must not have wanted to follow in his father's footsteps into the family brushmaking business because in February 1899 he emigrated to Canada, at the tender age of 20 years old, and sailed from Liverpool  on the SS Scotsman, landing at Halifax, Nova Scotia. He then travelled throughout Canada and  the western part of the North America. We know from research carried out by his niece in the 1960’s that  he travelled through  the states of Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Mexico and Alaska.

Charlie had a very varied career....When he arrived in  Canada he was listed as a labourer, but then went on to become a Wheat Farmer, Cattle Rancher, Hunter and Gold Miner, and was reputed to have been and expert shot and first class Horseman. His hunting experience came in very useful on many occasions when he worked for the Government  on surveying expeditions in the Hudson Bay area of Canada.

When war broke out in 1915, Charlie was gold mining in Alaska and later that year he left for California from where he then travelled to Victoria BC, a distance of nearly 1200 miles, to enlist with the 102nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary force on 18th April 1916. Shown below are his enlistment papers, showing his work at the time described as a 'Cowboy and Miner'.

 No adult photographs of Charlie have been found, but this early one shown him when he was around 16 years old, shortly after his father's death in 1895. Details on the reverse of the attestation papers give an insight into his appearance..... It says he was 5' 6'' tall...had a girth of 38''... ruddy completion....hazel eyes...brown hair...and had a deformed left finger nail!

Attestation[Enlistment] papers

After enlisting, he travelled over to England in late July 1916 with his regiment, and on 12th August left for the front in France, having spent a few days on leave with his family in Halifax....probably the first time he had seen them since his emigration 17 years earlier....and it was to be the last time he would come home.
Sadly, it was not long before he met his untimely death in France on 21st October 1916 when his Battalion was involved in an advance from a place called Tara Hill, with the ultimate aim of taking the Regina Trench, near the town of Albert.

The Regina Trench was a German Trench dug into the top of the slope of a valley running from northwest of the village of Le Sars in a southwest direction, almost to the German fortifications at Thiepval on the Somme Battlefield. It was the longest such trench on the German Front during World War I, and was attacked several times during the Battle of the Ancre Heights. A Canadian Brigade briefly controlled a section of the trench on October 1, 1916 but were repelled by counter attacks.  Canadian Divisions again attacked Regina Trench on October 8, 1916 but saw no success. On October 21, 1916, Canadian Divisions again briefly captured sections of Regina Trench but were again pushed out by German counter-attacks. After a total of two months of attacks and constant shelling the trench was finally taken on  11th November 1916 by the 4th Canadian Division. However, its surrender may have been a fait-accompli, as in places the heavy sustained artillery barrage that had been directed at it, had reduced the trench to a shallow ditch in the chalky soil.
The attacks on Regina Trench had a heavy cost for Canadians forces, and account for the lion's share of the 24,000 casualties the Canadian divisions sustained on the Somme. Here is a detailed and graphic description of the events leading up to the assault on Regina Trench, and the  harrowing conditions the men had to endure due to the poor weather at the time. It is taken from a book called “From BC to Baisieux….The Narrative history of the 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion“:
…………On the evening of Oct.18th the 102ndBn. took over from the 87th Bn. The front line trenches on the left sector of the Brigade……The night was very dark and it was raining hard, so that the ground was a sea of mud with quagmire on every side, making the trenches almost impassable. As the men were lining up in the Support Trench, the enemy delivered a bombing attack on the left flank of the 87th Bn. Word was past down that the Hun was attacking, and that the  102nd was to come up on the double. This was done in absolute silence and as the men passed Headquarters, jumping over trenches and shell holes, they looked like phantoms in the dark, illuminated by the light of German flares and leaping to the crash and burst of shells. Here and there a man was seen to fall, the shelling being very heavy, but the bombers were driven off and the rest of the night spent in preparation for the morrow’s work. Rain continued and throughout the night there was constant shelling…..Day broke with rain pouring down in torrents, making the ground absolutely impassable and the Higher Command decided to cease operations until the 21st inst.
Never did the men of the 102nd better deserve their reputation for physique and tenacity of purpose than in their fight against the mud, after their exhausting night in the trenches. The mud was hip-high between the trenches and the men had to be literally dug out by their comrades as they sank exhausted in the liquid, glue-like substance. The weather cleared, and the ground became somewhat more dry and on the evening of the 20th the three companies were again brought into the front line. During the night of Oct. 20th-21st the three companies worked hard at digging assembly trenches in which to mass and at forming battalion dumps; the men worked magnificently and at dawn all was ready.
Zero hour was fixed for 12-06 pm, and at that hour the barrage opened and the men of the 102nd went “over the top” ; following the barrage like a wall, lying down until it again lifted and advancing as it , all in perfect uniformity.  The first two waves consisted of “C” Co. on the left and “B” Co. on the right. The remaining two waves were furnished by “D”Co. The moment that the barrage lifted over Regina Trench the men were over the parapet; the assault was carried out with such dash, vigour and impetuosity that the Germans were completely demoralised and immediately threw up their hands in surrender. The first wave passed 150 yards beyond the trench forming a screen; the second rounded up the prisoners and consolidated the positions secured, in which they were assisted by men of the third wave, whilst the fourth wave was occupied in carrying up supplies from the old dump to the new. The casualties sustained in the assault itself were very light, amounting to about five killed and ten wounded, as the enemy barrage did not come down until about six minutes after ours had started; the Germans however had suffered heavily and their trench was piled with dead and wounded.
Our casualties were to occur later, when within an hour and a half three separate counter-attacks were launched. They were all successfully opposed, but during the remainder of the day, and throughout the ensuing night and day, when “A”Co. arrived to relieve “D”Co., a constant barrage of shell fire was poured into our positions, with the result that the total casualty list showed 6 officers and 46 other ranks killed with 78 wounded. [N.B. It is not clear from the records whether Charles Bancroft died in the initial assault, or later in one of the three separate counter- attacks]
Such is the story of the 102nd Bn’s share in the capture of Regina Trench… was a great achievement….but the success was a costly one, and the casualty figures given above witness the price paid.”

 Here is the Army's record for Charles Bancroft, confirming he was killed during the assault on Regina Trench.

Circumstances of Death Register.

The photograph below shows exhausted Canadian soldiers returning from the Regina Trench after finally taking it in November 1916.

Canadian Soldiers - November 1916
 Most of the casualties are buried in a cemetery near the Regina Trench, about 1.5 km north east of the village of Courcelette. The cemetery has a total of 2279 burials of which 564 are Canadian. Sadly Charlie does not have a gravestone there, presumably because his body was never recovered from the battlefield.
Regina Trench Cemetry
His name does however appear on the Vimy Monument which is a memorial site in France dedicated to the memory of Canadian Expeditionary Force members killed during the First World War. It  serves as the place of commemoration for First World War Canadian soldiers killed or presumed dead in France who have no known grave, and lists Charles's name, as shown below.

Charles's Inscription on the Vimy Memorial

The Vimy Memorial

The most poignant and moving document I came across, whilst researching material for this article, is a copy of  Charles's Military Will, written in his own hand on 8th August 1916, just before he went off to France and two months before his death.

And to finish this story, I just want to show this short 3 minute film with music, showing what it was actually like on the front line at the Battle of the Somme, and the terrible conditions that the men of both sides had to endure.

1 comment:

Ulvika Norwegian Forest Cats said...

We do so enjoy your blogs, and you have obviously worked so hard to put all this work together. We are now living near Liverpool, near 40+ Bancrofts who are all related to Paul via his uncle who left Bingley to do National Service and stayed in Liverpool, married and started a whole new lovely clan of the family over here in NW. Striking family similarities, visually and skills--wise. The whereabouts of Victor, Paul's father, however, still remain a mystery. We did ask the Black Watch to inform Paul if he stopped drawing his pension. Maybe we should try again.
All good wishes,
Paul and Jane Bancroft or