Private (Service number 14790) Middlesex Regiment

I have not been able to unearth a coherent account of Charles: there are conflicting stories, even about the date of his death.  He was born on 21st September 1889 in Speldhurst, Kent, the first child of Charles Watson Powell and his wife Elizabeth Constance née Drury.  The family was prosperous and land-owning; Charles’ grandfather, another Charles, was a JP in Kent owning an estate of 180 acres and on census day 1881 his father, Charles Watson, was a Law Student.  His parents married in 1888.  I have found no evidence that Charles Watson practised law; on census day 1891 the family was living in Speldhurst and Charles was “living on own means”.  Later that month a second son, Gerald Frederick Watson Powell, was born.

Young Charles first attended a school called The Grange at Crowhurst in East Sussex and then, in September 1903 aged 14, came to Bedales in Steep where he remained until July 1905.  The only information in The Bedales Record for the two years he was in the school is Charles’ name in the School list for the Summer Terms of 1904 and 1905 and the fact that he was in form IIb is recorded in the address list in 1904.  I have no idea why the school was chosen for him unless he was assumed to be less academic than his younger brother (Gerald went from The Grange to St. Wilfred’s Bexhill and then to Harrow before Magdalen College Oxford and beginning to study for the Bar).  This theory gains some support from the fact that Charles went to Wye Agricultural College for a year (1908 -1909) and then, according to The Bedales Roll, became a farmer.  This is contradicted by The Speldhurst Roll of Honour which asserts Charles went from Wye to “The School of Dramatic Art” (RADA?) intending “to follow that profession”.

As early as 1911 Gerald had joined The Kent Cyclist Battalion as a Territorial and by 1914 was already holding the rank of Captain.  Unfortunately I have no detailed evidence for Charles’ date of volunteering after the outbreak of war.  His is one of the many thousands of records of ordinary soldiers which were destroyed by enemy action during World War Two.  However, it would seem that he followed his brother, as a private, into the Cyclist Battalion.  On 18th May 1915 the Mayor and Borough of Islington formed the 21st (Service) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and Charles transferred into it.  For the next year or so the Battalion served on the Home Front, from October based at Aldershot and then from February 1916 at Witley.  In June 1916 the Battalion moved across the Channel, presumably as part of the preparations for the Battle of the Somme: they were part of the 121st Brigade of the 40th Division.

Charles served for two and a half months in France but, so far, I haven’t been able to trace his route.  According to The Bedales Roll he was killed on 16th August,  The Speldhurst Roll of Honour dates his death 13th August and the official CWGC Grave Memorial Register places it on 14th.  It seems to me most likely that he was killed in an action that might have started late on 13th and concluded on 14th August.  He is buried in plot 1 G 20 in the Maroc British Cemetery, Grenay.  CEGC describes it as “a front line cemetery used by fighting units and field ambulances and protected from German observation by a slight rise in the ground”.  There was no reference to Charles B D Powell in the many lists of OBs serving during the war published in The Bedales Record and The Bedales Chronicle until the list in the Record for 1915 – 1916 which states :- “POWELL C. B. D. Pte. Middlesex Regt. killed 16. viii, 1916”.  The entry is in brackets, indicating that he did not spend his whole school career at Bedales.  Uniquely, there is no account of his military career and death in Mr. Badley’s “In Memoriam” tribute for that year.

Charles acquired his second name, Baden, possibly as a tribute to his father’s twin brother who died in infancy, but more probably a remembrance of his grandfather’s elder brother The Rev. Professor Baden Powell (father of Lord Baden-Powell of Scouting fame) or his great grandfather.

Charles Watson and Elizabeth Powell suffered the loss of their younger son Gerald in 1917.  As a Territorial he had immediately become on active service in August 1914: he remained with the Kent Cyclists until early in 1917 he was transferred to the 8th Battalion of The Queen‘s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. In May 1917 he was promoted to the rank of Major.  The battalion was heavily involved in all the major conflicts of 1917.  Gerald was killed on 28th July and buried in plot II F 22 in the Dickebusch New Military Cemetery Extension.

Sources: Bedales Archives: Speldhurst Roll of Honour: ancestry.co.uk: CWGC: Histories of the Regiments online.