Tom Charlish was born in Saxlingham in 1892. He was the son of Joseph and Clara Charlish (nee Barfoot) .He had three sisters, Cissy, born 1893, Ruby, born 1895, and Maggie, born 1903. He lived for most of his life at the West End Public house, Saxlingham Thorpe. His father was a beer retailer but also ran a market garden next to the public house. In 1911 Tom was living at home and worked as a gardener assisting his father. His sister Ruby worked as a dressmaker and Cissy, his eldest sister, was living in East Dereham, working as nurse housemaid for a brewer. Maggie was eight and living at home.
Sometime between 1911 and when he enlisted in the army Tom moved to live in Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire. When he moved or where he worked or what he did is not known. It is known that he enlisted in Bedford and was in the 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. According to probate for his will his address was given as 149, South Street, Bishop’s Stortford.
Tom Charlish was killed on Saturday 23rd March 1918 aged 26 near St. Quentin, in Northern France.
During March and April 1918 the Fifth Army was driven back across the Somme battlefields by overwhelming German forces.
On 21st March the Germans began an offensive, and the exceptionally dry weather made the usually marshy valley of the River Oise easy for them to cross. There was a lot of fighting on 22nd March in which the 7th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment was involved. Their aim was to prevent the Germans from taking the Montaigne bridge over the St Crozat Canal. The Germans eventually managed to cross the canal after some desperate fighting and came within 200 yards of the Battalion Headquarters, resulting in the officers destroying all their documents and maps. However a counter attack in which the 7th Battalion took part drove the Germans back across the canal by the evening.
Unfortunately the Germans attacked again at 7am on 23rd March and managed to cross on the right and left flanks of the Brigade. Orders were given to withdraw to a ridge near Faillouel and again later to the village of Caillouel when the position became untenable.
By the end of the 23rd March the 7th Battalion consisted of only 6 officers and about 200 men. Many men had been killed by the heavy artillery fire and particularly by the mustard gas shells.
It is presumed that Tom was killed during this battle. Tom Charlish was one of 14,000 men, who lost their lives between 21st March and 7th August 1918 in this area near Albert during the retreat, and who have no known grave. He is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial in the British Cemetery near the village of the same name.
His name is also on Bishop’s Stortford’s war memorial.
On his death he left £339 5s 9d to his parents. His parents built a cottage next to the market garden to retire to and called it St Quinton Cottage, after St. Quentin where he was killed. The cottage is still there today.
Tom’s sister Maggie married Donald Wiseman in 1921 and they eventually took over the running of the public house and the market garden. Some of their descendants still live in the surrounding villages.
1891,1901 and 1911 Census Records
Battle Histories: From The Story of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. Published 1988
The 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment War Diary.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards,
UK Soldiers, Died in the Great War, 1914-1919
Data base held in Norwich Local Studies Library of men killed in First World War.
Thanks to Geoffrey Wiseman, his nephew, for family information and photographs.