Researched and written by Anne Wright
2/Lt C F I Bethell
70th Field Company, Royal Engineers
Killed in action, 22.2.1916
Charles Francis Ithell Bethell was only 19 years old when he was killed in action. He was the only child of Charles Ithell Vychen Bethell and Louisa Bethell (nee Hart Dyke). This was a second marriage for his father who also had one son, Wilfred Philip, with his first wife. Wilfred embarked on a military career which ended prematurely with his death aged just 25 at Pigeon House Fort in Dublin on 25 September 1895. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire Light Infantry. Perhaps his example inspired Charles to pursue a life in the army.
Charles and Wilfred’s father and grandfather were not military men; the former being a solicitor and the latter, in turn, a timber merchant, a business manager, a private secretary and lastly a land agent. Charles Snr became a widower in 1890 and remarried in 1894. Charles Francis Ithell was born in Cobham on 25 January 1897. Emlyn Cottage in Cobham had been his father’s home since at least the late 1880s. Charles Snr died on 12 November 1898. In 1901 Charles, his mother and a governess were at Albany Villas in Hove.
He was educated at Wellington College in Berkshire, followed by the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich; he passed in fourth and achieved a much prized cadetship. He was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant, Royal Engineers on 24 April 1915. He served in France from September 1915 with the 12th (Eastern) Division. They arrived at the Loos front on 29 September, four days after the Battle of Loos began and went into the Hulloch Quarries sector. On 8 October they repelled a heavy German attack and after a brief respite out of the line took over the Hohenzollern Redoubt where they spent a wet and miserable month.
On 19 January 1916 they moved to Busnes (near Bethune) for open warfare training and were then sent back to the Loos trenches (close to Lens) at the Quarries, and by 15 February they were holding the line from here to the Hohenzollern Redoubt. This was an area of underground mine warfare and the division set off explosions on 2 March. In the intervening period Charles was killed. There were many casualties in what were regarded as ‘quiet trench holding’ periods; between December 1915 and January 1916 Charles’ division lost 102 officers and 670 other ranks, killed, wounded or missing. Shell fire or sniper fire was often the cause or as an engineer he could well have met hid death whilst involved in mine warfare.
He was buried at Vermelles British Cemetery (II E 1), 10 km north-west of Lens. Charles had served in France for five months and was one month past his nineteenth birthday when he was killed. His final home address was Goodacre, St. George’s Avenue, Weybridge. Charles’ mother only remained there until 1919.
The British Army in the Great War, 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Royal Engineers, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858 -1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914-1924, www.ancestry.co.uk