Sergeant Charles Drayson Burch RND

Born 15 May 1888, Killed in Action 13 November 1916

This is Great Uncle Charles Drayson Burch, one of 21 children raised by my Great Grandfather Robert Burch of Woodnesborough, Kent.

Charles enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry as a Bugle Boy in April 1904 aged 15 years and 11 months. He was just under 5ft 2ins tall.

Up to June 1914 he was in and out of trouble. His military record shows numerous punishments. In March 1906 he failed to sound the Last Post for which he was given 6 cuts with the cane.

Charles served on a number of ships including the Kent, Thetis, and from 1912 to 1915 the Dominion.

The picture above is a postcard sent to my mother by Charles. Charles is playing the penny whistle and is third from the right at the back.

With a magnifying glass it is possible to read Dominion on the sailors hat bands.



In June 1915 he was attached to a strange craft - Monitor M3 which before the end of June changed its name to The Robert E Lee, then back to M3, then Lord Raglan and finally Raglan.
Four Monitors were initially built on the orders of Winston Churchill. Each carried twin 14 inch guns, and had a shallow draft. Effectively a floating gun platform. The Marines function was to man the secondary armament.

Monitor M3 Raglan

On the 25 September 1915 an entry on his ADM 159 record says Charles was transferred to the Royal Marine Brigade or Royal Naval Division as it became known.

Charles was in Gallipoli but further clarification of dates is required, his Active Service Record B103 shows he was promoted to Acting Lance Sergeant on 29 September 1915 at Mudros on the Island of Lemnos probably as part of the Gallipoli campaign, but it is uncertain how and when he got there and exactly what part he played.

We know that on 10 January 1916 the Royal Naval Division anchored in Mudros harbour after its evacuation as part of the general withdrawal from Gallipoli, and it was at Mudros on 19 April 1916 that Charles was promoted to Acting Sergeant.

The Royal Naval Division was reformed and on the 14 May 1916 they sailed to France on the Royal Marine transport ship Aragon, arriving in Marseilles on the 19 of May.

On November 12 they moved to the front line and were in their battle positions by 2:30. There were some casualties, 1 officer wounded and 30 other ranks killed or wounded.

The 63rd RND were preparing to attack the German defences north of the Ancre River, between Beaucourt and Beaucourt Hamel, as their part of the Somme offensive.

This was to be a difficult assault, the Germans were well dug-in in three lines of trenches, going up the high ground in tiers.

The theory of the action was that the artillery would lay down a creeping barrage and the troops would advance just behind it in order to catch the Germans still sheltering in their dug-outs.

About 4am the officers synchronised their watches and at 4:30 the men were roused and given rum and cocoa.

At 5:45 on 13 November 1916, Charles with 1RM fixed bayonets and went over the top in four waves to attack the German lines. On their right was the 188th Infantry Brigade and on their left they had the 1/7 Gordon Highlanders.

The Battalion War Diary describes the action. There was a very thick mist and no mans land was muddy and full of shell holes which made the advance difficult. As they got into the open they came under heavy artillery and machine gun fire.

By the time they had reached the first line of German trenches only two of the twenty-two officers were alive or un-wounded and all Company Commanders had been killed. This meant that the NCOs such as Charles, if he was still alive, would have lead the men. It is recorded that 50% of the total casualties were sustained in No Man’s Land before the first line of trenches was reached.

By 6.30 they had taken the first two lines of trenches, reports say they came under friendly fire from the British artillery who thought they were shelling the Germans. The action proceeded throughout the day but they were unable to take the third trench on the highest ground.

Charles' body may not have been recovered or he could have died from his wounds and failed to be identified due to the inevitable confusion of battle. He is in good company and he is commemorated on the Theipval Memorial along with another 73,000 men who also died that year and who’s bodies were not recovered, or identified.