Stop number ORANCE 2: Now look for a grave which is immediately opposite the gate which says Charles William James Heath. You are now at the grave of the Heath family.
Memorial to C Heath
Read Charles Heath’s story below and when you are ready to move on go to the dot/circle for R Harrall.
Charles Heath's memorial
Shaftesbury Street (SWOP HWS46679S)
Charles Heath 1895-1916
I lived not far from here – Shaftesbury Street, along the West Wycombe Road. I’m not here now though – my body is actually buried in some far flung French field. So, how did I end up there?
My name is Charles Heath, and I was born back in 1895 – one of 9! I had 5 sisters and 3 brothers – I was in the middle. Our house was always noisy, but loving. My mum Ada looked after us all, and my dad Charles, who I was named after, worked as a chair maker to keep us afloat. I did alright at school, but left after a few years to become a carpenter. I worked for Mr. Nash of Temple End making bits and pieces of furniture. My great love in life was the church, I was a proud member of the congregation at St Johns. I often sang in the choir, and helped to spread the message to the people of High Wycombe.
When war broke out, my dad wasn’t long in signing up, and I soon followed. We didn’t go for the Bucks, as many did. Dad joined the Queen’s Own, 1st Batallion, and I joined the 79th Field Company of the Royal Engineers – my background in carpentry could be put to good use. Dear Mum was sad to see us go, but we went anyway. I saw a lot of action on the Somme – Albert, Bazentin, Delville Wood. These make for stories too horrid to tell. Luckily – inexplicably - I came through them all alive. Luck, no doubt. It was on 26th September, 1916, that my luck ran out.
I was attached to the 18th Division. In the days before the attack, we engineers had been busy digging trenches and making supply dumps. On the 26th, however, we were to attack. Our artillery opened up on the German lines. Whilst it was still firing, we crawled out of our trenches into No Man’s Land to close the distance. The whistling artillery, earth-shaking explosions, pings of shrapnel and the screams of the wounded served to drive us on further. After 12 minutes in this hell we reached the German lines. We were overjoyed!
Just a few days later, my mum was sat in our kitchen. There was a knock on the door. She answered, and the postman handed her a letter. It was from my dear friend, Captain Leslie Smith. “Killed in action”, it said. It was Smithy who found me slumped over in the trench – shot twice through the right side by a German machine gun. He desperately tried to save my life as I slipped in and out of consciousness, and it was he who got me to a field hospital. It was he who stood by my side as I breathed my last breath.
My story is just one. Five and a half million of us left home to fight for our country, 700,000 of us never returned.
Charles Heath researched and performed by Charlotte, Wycombe Abbey To see the performance on YouTube click here.