The Old and the Bold

Charles Edward Blencowe

First published in;

The Burnley Express & Advertiser, 25 March, 1916


sent to us by Lieut. Walter Halstead, who says:- “I enclose a few verses, a la Kipling, composed by a private of my company.  They are quite true to life, and give you a good idea of the conditions in East Africa.  Should you consider them fit for insertion in the ‘Express’, which I have sent out to me regularly, I should be obliged.

It is uncertain when Charles returned to England but return he did and enlisted, under an alias, at 16 Cockspur Street, London into the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers on the 4th March 1915.  For reasons as yet unknown he initially gave his name as Arthur Stewart, a 26 year old farmer from Putnam, Ontario with his next of kin detail as his brother, Herbert Stewart, of the same address.  

Issued with service number 13409 and with the rank of Private, Charles proceeded overseas with the battalion on 10th April 1915 aboard the “Neuralia” and arrived at Kilindini in British East Africa on 4th May 1915.

The actual details of his service with the battalion in East Africa are unknown but like the vast majority of men serving in the battalion Charles suffered from malaria and dysentery whilst in theatre.  After serving overseas for a little under two years he was invalided back to the UK on the 6th March 1917 suffering from debility and arrived home on the 26th March 1917.  The following day, as was usual for administrative purposes, Charles was posted onto the strength of the Royal Fusiliers Depot at Hounslow and on 11th April 1917 he was posted to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Fusiliers at Dover.

Whilst with the 5th Battalion Royal Fusiliers Private Charles Blencowe submitted an application for admission to an Officer Cadet Unit with a view to obtaining an appointment to a temporary commission in the regular army.  His application was successful and accordingly, on 7th September 1917, Charles was posted to the 20th Officer Cadet Battalion at Crookham, Hampshire.  Three months later, on the 17th December 1917, Charles was finally discharged from his service with the Royal Fusiliers when he was appointed to a temporary commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment.

According to correspondence in his personal file, Charles proceeded overseas to France, from Folkestone, on 22nd April 1918 but not with a battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment.  Instead he found himself on attachment to the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment and arrived with that unit on 1st May 1918.  Sadly his time at the front was very short-lived and much confusion is apparent amongst the letters in his personal file as to where and when Charles was actually killed. However, after much deliberation the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment confirmed that the date of his death was 3rd May 1918 although the battalion war diary would seem to be at odds with that date.


Location Belgium, N of La Clytte

Entry Bde reserve trenches.  Enemy artillery active at dawn.  Quiet day.  Officers of 3rd Battn, 15 Regt 5 French Div arrived during the afternoon to reconnoitre the positions prior to relief.  The Battn was relieved by 3 Coys of the French, the relief being complete by 12.30a.m. 4th May.  Casualties: OR 1 wounded.

Charles has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel 86 to 88 of the Tyne Cot Memorial.

For his service with the 25th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and subsequent commissioned service with the Royal Sussex and Wiltshire Regiments Charles earned the 1914/1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals.


WO 339/113067: Officers Services, First World War, Long Number Service Papers. BLENCOWE C.

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920

WO 329/2635: 1914/1915 Star, Royal Fusiliers other ranks, Medal Roll

WO 329/2222: British War & Victory Medal, Royal Sussex Regiment officers, Medal Roll.

WO 95/2243/3: 1st Bn. Wiltshire Regiment War Diary.

Roll of Honour, St. Olaves School, Vol. 1.

(Online at

Soldiers Died in the Great War.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

1891, 1901 & 1911 England Census

England & Wales Birth Records

1910 US Census

UK Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960

Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935

Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956

UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960

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If you ain’t a-cursing niggers, you’re a-swearing at the heat,

Or pinching someone else’s boots to ease your blistered feet,

Oh! it’s bully beef and biscuits, and the biscuits [are] cruel hard,

And when you start to eat ’em why it’s ____ you get on guard.


Oh! it’s trek, trek, trek, with your shirt a-drippin’ wet,

Your ’elmet like to burning coals, and eyes bunged up with sweat,

Oh! it’s bush, bush, bush, and shadeless scorching sands,

And thorns that tear your knees to ____ and lacerate your hands.

You’re staring hard at bushes till you swear the ____ things jump,

And what you think’s a German is a blasted thorn bush stump,

You’ve got to speak in whispers, and it’s death to show a light,

While the corporal of the picquet snores like blazes all the night.

Oh! it’s trek, trek, trek, &c.

You see a nigger coming like a bow and arrow toy,

But ’e ain’t no blooming savage, ’e’s a “pukka” I. D. boy,

And ’e’s found the German outpost, and ’e’s got their numbers pat,

And before you know you’ve started, the column’s on the track.

Oh! it’s trek, trek, trek, &c.

And when it’s calm and peaceful, and there’s silence in the rank,

There’s a sudden burst of firing from the van and on the flank,

And you slouch across an opening a-lookin’ out for fun,

Till you hear the grindin’ crackle of a German Maxim gun.

Oh! it’s trek, trek, trek, &c.

There ain’t no need for drill books, nor for n.c.o.’s to swear,

To keep you on your stummick when a Maxim’s on the tear,

But it’s wonderful how soothing is the mountain gun at play,

Tho’ you’re lyin’ kind o’ prostrate wondering how the ____ to pray.

Oh! it’s trek, trek, trek, &c.

There’s trouble in the column, and a blasted Maxim jams,

While a feller chasing niggers fills the atmosphere with “dams”,

The cry is “Stretchers forward”, but the stretcher boys ain’t there,

They’ve beat it thro’ the bushes, with a most “Gawd” awful scare.

Oh! it’s trek, trek, trek, &c.

And then we start for backwards, with the sun a-mountin’ high,

And when we’re just on chokin’ find the water-holes gone dry,

The swearin’ somethin’s ’orrid, and we curse the sergeants stiff,

When they pinch our bloomin’ water, and we can’t get e’er a sniff.

Oh! it’s trek, trek, trek, &c.

But your King and country need you, and it’s there that comes the rub,

Tho’ you’d sell your King and country to be near a decent pub,

But pubs don’t grow on bushes, nor whisky on a tree,

So it’s “Gawd” ’elp Tommy Atkins till we beat for open sea.

Oh! it’s trek, trek, trek, &c.

[Composed by Pte. Blencowe, “B” Company, 25th Batt. R.F., Frontiersmen]

Charles Edward Blencowe

Charles Edward Blencowe was born in West Norwood in the London Borough of Lambeth on 12th April 1889, the third son of John and Isabella Blencowe. John worked as a printers clerk and in 1891 he, his wife Isabella and their six children, Alice, Nellie, Herbert, Frederick, Elsie and Charles, were living at 6 Dagmar Villas, Gipsy Road, Lambeth.

By the time of the 1901 census an eleven year old Charles and the rest of the Blencowe family, with the exception of Herbert whose whereabouts are unknown, had moved to 21 South Croxted Road in West Dulwich.

In September 1903 Charles gained admittance to St. Olave’s Grammar School in Southwark and studied at that establishment until June 1907.

Having left school in the June of 1907 within a month Charles was in Canada.  Describing himself as an eighteen year old labourer, he left Liverpool aboard the “Corsican”, a ship of the Allan Line, on 11th July 1907 and arrived at the port of Quebec on 20th July 1907.

By November 1909 Charles had teamed up with his cousin Sydney Fenner Blencowe and left Canada, the pair crossing over into the United States of America at the Eastport, Idaho border control point.  On 4th May 1910 when his particular piece of the US Census was enumerated, Charles, along with his cousin, were hired men working as labourers on the railroad at Nehalem in Tillamook County, Oregon.

Charles Edward Blencowe

Roll of Honour, St. Olaves School, Vol. 1.


The following text contains words which are now considered offensive in the description of ethnic origin.  I in no way advocate the use of these words to describe ethnicity but as attitudes in 1915/1916 were completely different to those of the present day and in order to retain the historical accuracy and flow of the text I have transcribed the item as printed at the time.