Chronicles: Charles Frank Guy – a Ventnor soldier on Imperial Service

Readers will be aware how the pages of the Chronicle have in recent years become host to remembering the lives of local men who lost their lives in the various major theatres of the Great War, including, of course, the fields of Flanders and the peninsula of Gallipoli. Among the Heritage Centre archives, though, there is an account of a young man who, as well as surviving the war, served in parts of the Empire. Aged nearly 18, Charles Frank Guy had signed up for a territorial unit: the Isle of Wight 5th Howitzer Battery, in January 1914. Born in 1896 in Upper Ventnor, above ‘Dovey’s’ (though it is not made clear quite where this was located), he came back to the Island, married in 1922, served in the local Home Guard during the Second World War, and lived to the grand age of 95.

As a young boy, he lived with his family at 4, Bruce Cottages (‘Up Shoot’). Very sadly, he lost his mother aged 10 and then, after leaving school, became a baker’s boy, delivering rolls and bread early every morning. For this, he was paid one shilling a day, plus food.

The IOW 5th Howitzer Battery was an army unit limited to Home Service, but later in the summer of 1914, Charles joined with a couple of pals (William Cass and William Russell) to sign up for Imperial Service as artillery men,  Royal Field Artillery Territorial Force, 2nd Brigade Wessex Division. They were called up on the outbreak of war in August and sailed from Southampton for India on the Union Castle line’s Cawdor Castle, escorted by HMS Hampshire (the vessel that was later sunk with Kitchener aboard). When they reached Egypt, they were held up on account of the German raider Emden being on the loose. They eventually sailed again with more escorts, landing in Bombay on the day in December 1914 when the Emden was sunk.

In India they were stationed first at Lucknow and then at Darjeeling. However, when the Turks declared war, they were posted to the defence of Aden, then a British Protectorate on the Red Sea and besieged from the surrounding Turkish territory. Charles’s unit remained here for some 18 months, intermittently firing their artillery. The heat was intense and the men used to bathe the horses in the sea. The horses could swim and the men clung on to their tails and were effectively towed along. To Charles, it seems that the Army cared more about the horses than they did the men: the quip was that it was easier to replace a man than a horse.

At some point while in Aden, Charles was injured and was invalided to a hospital in India. Once recovered, he went to the Signal School of Bangalore where he passed out top class, proficient in morse code, field telephones and in the use of heliograph (signalling by means of sunshine on mirrors). By the time war ended, Charles had the rank of sergeant. Among his original group on the IOW 5th Howitzer Battery, he believed he was one of a very few who returned to the Island, many having died in Mesopotamia, now Iraq.

Next week we will follow Charles’s life in later years, in Charles Frank Guy – A Soldier Returns.

Michael Freeman, Ventnor & District Local History Society. Photograph showing men of 5th Hampshire Howitzer Battery in Mesopotamia, is from the website The Observation Post.  This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle in 2016.