CHARLES EDWARD STEVENS

Private, G/19177, 7th Battalion, Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
Killed in Action, 21 March 1918, near Chauny, Aisne, northern France,
during the Battle of St. Quentin. He was 29.
Buried in Chauny Communal Cemetery British Extension: Grave 1. J. 12
 

Private Charles Edward Stevens
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Private Charles Edward Stevens was born in Barming, East Farleigh, Kent, in 1888. He was the son of F. Edward and Rosaline Stevens. In the 1891 census he was recorded as living, aged 2, with his family at Markshouse Lane, Rusthall, near Tunbridge Wells. At some point he lived at White House Farm, Coleman's Hatch.

On 29 February 1908 Charles married Alice Wheatley. They had three children: Alice Cecilia, born 11 November 1908 (she lived until 1987), Emily Rose, born 15 November 1910, and Caroline Annie, born 13 January 1914. At the time of the 1911 census the family lived at 38 Granville Road, Tunbridge Wells, and Charles' occupation was given as bill poster. The Hartfield History Group website gives his pre-war occupation as an employee of Rickwood & Co, Vale House, where he had been for 15 years. By 1914 the family had moved to 23 Upper Street, Denny Bottom, Tunbridge Wells.

Alice Wheatley's father and mother died within a few days of each other early in February 1927. Her brother Jesse died on 18 April 1917.

The Army service records show that he enlisted in the Kent Cyclist Battalion in December 1914. The Kent Cyclist Battalion was formed in 1908 as part of the new Territorial Force, replacing the volunteers to form an effective properly trained and organised part-time army. The battalion was designed to defend the homeland against possible invasion when the regular army was sent overseas. The Kent Cyclist Battalion was one of the ten original territorial cyclist battalions in the country whose main role in wartime was to be in patrolling the UK coastline. This was soon changed when the regular army lost most of its manpower in the first year of the war.

According to the British Army First World War Service Records Charles Stevens served at "Home" (as the Kent Cyclist Battalion was intended to be) from 29 December 1914 to 3 January 1917. He then served with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) from 4 January 1917 to 30 July 1917. He was then serving at "Home" from 31 July to 11 March 1918. He was then listed as back with the BEF from 12 March 1918 until his death on 21 March.

It is likely that Charles Edward Stevens served in 'E' Company as this was established at Tunbridge Wells.

 
 
 
 

(above) Photographs of the Kent Cyclist Battalion
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Charles Edward Stevens was killed during the Battle of Saint Quentin on the Western Front, part of "Operation Michael", which took place between 21 March and 5 April 1918 on the Somme battlefield of 1916. It was one of the first battles of the German 1918 offensive. By mid-February 1918, the Germans had moved many divisions from the now collapsed Eastern Front to the Western Front. The British suffered from possessing incomplete trench lines as a result of an advance after the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line the previous year. In the days prior to the assault, numerous German prisoners alerted the British to an impending attack. While some preparations were made, the BEF was unready for an offensive of the size and scope unleashed by the German Army. The BEF had to undertake a fighting retreat. The German Army pummelled the British lines, the barrage causing 7,500 casualties. The 7th Battalion, Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) fought in the Battle of Saint Quentin as part of the 53rd Brigade of the 18th (Eastern) Division.

Map of the Battle of Saint Quentin

Chauny Communal Cemetery
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Tunbridge Wells War Memorial
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Charles Edward Stevens is commemorated on the Hartfield War Memorial and on the St. James Church Memorial, Tunbridge Wells.

Tablet commemorating the Fallen of the Kent Cyclist Battalions.
Located in Canterbury Cathedral, it was dedicated on 20 May 1950
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The 1st Battalion of the Kent Cyclist Battalion served in India from 1916 to 1920. It was likely that Charles Edward Stevens served with the 3rd Battalion which was disbanded in 1916 and could explain his service overseas with the 7th Battalion, The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment.

Carol O'Driscoll

 

Acknowledgements
Hartfield History Group: Hartfield war memorial details