Pearce, Charles Stanley
The only son of James Stanley and Florence Pearce of Tadworth, Surrey, he came to Winchester from Rottingdean School. At Winchester, he was Head of his House, a Commoner Prefect (three years in Sixth Book) and a member of School Committee; he played in O.T.H. XV (standing on Dress for VI) and in both 2nd XIs. He went to Christ Church, Oxford in 1913 with the intention of reading for the Civil Service.
On the outbreak of war he joined the Winchester O.T.C. on Salisbury Plain and received a commission a month later in the 8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment, proceeding to the front in July 1915. A fellow officer was Captain Wilfred Nevill, who achieved fame as the purchaser of four footballs for the men to kick across No Man’s Land during their advance. Nevill was killed in action, like Pearce, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and it is from his letters that much of the information on Pearce is derived. It does not appear that Nevill particularly got on with Pearce; he refers to him as a “rather quaint man, but tolerable”. He also annoyed Nevill by taking over the only bed in their billet at Ribemont, leaving the other six officers to sleep on straw on the floor.
The battalion was in the trenches near Fricourt on 22nd August 1915 where C Company, of which Pearce was Officer Commanding, were not having an easy time. They were subjected to frequent heavy shelling, and on one occasion Pearce was blown into a dug-out. On 20th October 1915, the East Surreys suffered the detonation of a big German mine, which went off under B Company, exactly where C Company had been a short time before. Nevill recorded that it was the biggest mine that had been seen on the Western Front up to that point.
Pearce was granted leave in November 1915, leaving Nevill in command: “Tomorrow Pearce goes on leave, and I shall be in charge of the old Company, which will be great sport”. Pearce had promised to call on Nevill’s family during his absence from the line, but it is not clear if he managed to achieve this. Nevill was himself granted leave in December and on his return found that he was transferred to D Company, so his contact with Pearce was much reduced.
On 20th March 1916 the Germans raided C Company’s positions, with Pearce organising a counter-attack to drive them out, killing two and capturing one.
Although the first day of the Somme campaign was overall a disaster, the objective of 8th East Surreys in taking Montauban, which lay behind the German front line, was achieved. The war diary of the 8th East Surreys records how the British front line was shelled from midnight on, knocking in the trenches and dug-outs in several places and causing 3 killed and 10 wounded. At 5.30 companies reported that they were in position and that all the necessary stores etc had been issued. Both Nevill and Pearce reported to HQ, where the adjutant recalled them being in excellent spirits “Both absolutely radiant and declaring everything for the best”.
At 7.25 came the explosion of two mines by 183 Tunnelling Company, which was the signal for the start of the British advance; it was at this point that the famous Football Charge occurred.
The war diary continues: “…..when the barrage lifted to the second Hun trench, a very heavy rifle and machine-gun fire started from our front and left, the latter coming apparently from the craters and the high ground immediately behind them.”
The distance which Pearce and C Company had to cross to the enemy front line was only 120 yards. Nevill was killed just before the German wire and Pearce died in No Man’s Land. Given the short distance they had to cross, both men can only have survived for a matter of seconds after leaving the front line.
The war diary recounts that shortly after midday the whole of the East Surreys advanced to the road west of Montauban, and that at 12.35 Major Irwin and troops of 55 Brigade succeeded in taking the village.
Besides Pearce, three fellow Wykehamists also died in the Montauban attack that day: 2nd Lieutenant William Kirkpatrick Orford (F1909-1913) and Lieutenant Gerald Maitland Sproat (Coll.1906-1912) were both in 17th Battalion, Manchester Regiment; Lieutenant Wilfred Herbert Everard Nield (H1904-1910) was with 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment).
Nevill lies in the same cemetery as Pearce. Further details of the football charge and of Captain Pearce can be read on the Christ Church, Oxford website: http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/cathedral/memorials/WW1/Charles-Pearce
- Surname: Pearce
- Forenames or initials: Charles Stanley
- House: C
- Years in School: 1907-1913
- Rank: Captain
- Regiment: East Surrey Regiment
- Date of Birth: 14th April 1894
- Date of Death: 1st July 1916
- How Died: Killed in action
- Location in War Cloister: Outer E2
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: CARNOY MILITARY CEMETERY: Grave E.30