yeovil at War

Charles Percy Larcombe

Killed in action during a trench bombardment

 

Charles Percy Larcombe, known as Charlie, was born in 1889 at Weymouth, Dorset, and was baptised on 15 September 1889 at Melcombe Regis. Charlie was the son of grocer Frederick 'Fred' Larcombe (1864-1946) and Annie Maude née Cawsey (1964-1924). Fred and Annie had four sons; William George Edgar (1887-1949), Charlie, Reginald Frederick (1892-1918) and Francis James Oliver (1895-1966).

On the night of the 1891 census Charlie, together with his mother and older brother William, were visiting his maternal grandmother, toyshop owner Sarah Cawsey at Bideford, Devon. By 1900 the family had moved to Yeovil and were living at 4 Great Western Terrace and presumably at this time Fred had his grocery shop in Sherborne Road on the corner of St Michael's Avenue - which would by known as Larcombe's Corner for generations.

By the time of the 1911 census the family were living above the shop at 153 Sherborne Road. Fred gave his occupation as a grocer and both Charlie and Francis were listed as grocer's assistants.

Charlie was well known in Yeovil for his footballing skills and the Western Gazette would later write that he "was a former member of the Yeovil Town Football XI and figured in the team during its most successful seasons, when the Dorset League, Somerset League, Somerset Charity Cup, and other trophies were secured. He usually appeared at inside left, and was a fast and clever player."

During 1912 Charlie emigrated to Toronto, Canada, where he worked for the Customs Service.

After war broke out Charlie enlisted in the Canadian Infantry. He became a Signaller in the Signal Section of the 21st Battalion, East Ontario Regiment.

Training was carried out through the winter and into the spring of 1915. On May 5, 1915 the Battalion left Kingston, Canada, for Montreal by train. On arrival in Montreal the following day, they proceeded directly to the docks where they embarked on the Troopship Metagama. They disembarked in Devonport England and proceeded to the West Sandling Camp, near Hythe, Kent. Here they continued their training and toughening up process. They sailed for France from Folkestone on September 15, 1915 aboard the steamer St. Seiriol.

Nothing is known of Charlie's time in France before he took part in the famous Canadian action at Vimy Ridge.

The original Allied plan for 1917, agreed at the Chantilly conference of November 1916, was for a second offensive on the Somme, but that plan was abandoned after a change of French leadership and it was decided that the British would attack around Arras and involve troops from three armies. In the north the Canadian corps of the First Army would attack Vimy Ridge.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. The main combatants were the Canadian Corps, of four divisions, against three divisions of the German Sixth Army. The battle, which took place from 9 to 12 April 1917, was part of the opening phase of the British-led Battle of Arras, a diversionary attack for the French Nivelle Offensive.

The objective of the Canadian Corps was to take control of the German-held high ground along an escarpment at the northernmost end of the Arras Offensive. This would ensure that the southern flank could advance without suffering German enfilade fire. Supported by a creeping barrage, the Canadian Corps captured most of the ridge during the first day of the attack. The town of Thélus fell during the second day of the attack, as did the crest of the ridge once the Canadian Corps overcame a salient against considerable German resistance. The final objective, a fortified knoll located outside the village of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, fell to the Canadian Corps on 12 April. The German forces then retreated to the Oppy–Méricourt line.

Historians attribute the success of the Canadian Corps in capturing the ridge to a mixture of technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training, as well as the failure of the German Sixth Army to properly apply the new German defensive doctrine. The battle was the first occasion when all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force participated in a battle together and it was made a symbol of Canadian national achievement and sacrifice.

Just a couple of weeks later, while mending telephone wires in the trenches, Charlie was killed by a German shell during a bombardment of the trenches on 25 April 1917. He was aged 26.

The Western Gazette, in its edition of 4 May 1917, wrote "Townspeople generally and football lovers in particular heard with feelings of deep regret the death in France on or about April 26th of Signaller Charles (“Charlie”) P Larcombe, second son of Mr and Mrs F Larcombe of Sherborne Road. On Tuesday morning, the parents received a letter from a comrade of their son, Lance Corporal Edwin Baker of the – Canadian Battalion, conveying the sad news, expressing sympathy with them in their sorrow and adding that Signaller Larcombe was killed instantaneously. The writer proceeded “He was a good fellow, and the boys will miss him very much, for he was so well liked…He has made many an hour bright for us which would otherwise have been miserable. Charles, my chum Ledbury, and I, have spent many a pleasant hour together since he joined us at the Somme, and, believe me, we shall miss him very much. He died doing his duty, for he and Lance Corporal Leighton (who was badly wounded with the same shell) were mending one of our telephone wires when the sad event happened. He has been brought out of the trenches….and our Chaplain, Captain Kidd will bury him tomorrow.” (April 28th). Deceased was a former member of the Yeovil Town Football XI and figured in the team during its most successful seasons, when the Dorset League, Somerset League, Somerset Charity Cup, and other trophies were secured. He usually appeared at inside left, and was a fast and clever player. He left Yeovil in 1912 and obtained a lucrative appointment in the Customs at Toronto, Canada. Some time after the outbreak of war, he enlisted in a Canadian Battalion and had been in France seven months. Only a short time before his death he took part in the glorious fight for Vimy Ridge. He was 26 years of age, and the sympathy of a large circle of friends of the deceased has been expressed with the parents, who have three other sons serving."

The following week, in its edition of 11 May 1917, the Western Gazette reported "Mr and Mrs F Larcombe, of the Stores, Sherborne Road, have received a letter from Captain Gillman OC of Signals, with reference to the death of their son Signaller CP Larcombe, “Whilst he was with us,” writes Captain Gillman, “he endeared himself to all his comrades by his sunny disposition and cheery countenance. I can only say that he died doing his duty, and I feel I have lost one of the best men in the section, always cheerful under the most trying circumstances, and fearless to a degree. He was on a section near the forward area, and, in company with an NCO, was going out to carry on some visual work. Just as they reached the top of the dug-out, a 5.9 German shell struck about 5 feet away from them, killing Larcombe and severely wounding the NCO. His body was taken out and buried in the military cemetery at Ecoivres….. I join with his comrades of the signal section in extending to you our heartfelt sympathy in your bereavement.” 

Charlie Larcombe was interred in Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont-St Eloi, Pas de Calais, France, Grave VI.G.16, and his name is inscribed on the War Memorial in the Borough

 

gallery

 

Charlie Larcombe photographed by Witcomb & Son at their Triangle studio (with a suitable 'military camp' backdrop) while home on leave during his Battalion's time in England.

 

Men of the Signals Section of the 21st Battalion in England during 1915.

 

The Signals Section of the 21st Battalion.

 

A postcard depicting the Signal Section of the 21st East Ontario Regiment, Canadian Infantry, photographed in France during 1917.

 

Canadian troops repairing trench telephone lines.

 

The view over the crest of Vimy Ridge showing the village of Vimy.

 

Canadians consolidate their positions on Vimy Ridge in April, 1917.

 

A huge crowd gathers to watch the unveiling of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial on 26 July 1936. The two soaring pylons represent Canada and France. Twenty other sculpted figures adorn the structure.

 

The Canadian National Vimy Memorial today.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Charlie Larcombe.

 

Charlie Larcombe's CWGC headstone at Ecoivres Military Cemetery.

 

Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont-St Eloi, Pas de Calais, France.

This cemetery is really the extension of the communal cemetery, were the French army had buried over 1,000 men. The 46th (North Midland) Division took over the extension with this part of the line in March 1916, and their graves are in Rows A to F of Plot I. Successive divisions used the French military tramway to bring their dead in from the front line trenches and, from the first row to the last, burials were made almost exactly in the order of date of death. The attack of the 25th Division on Vimy Ridge in May 1916 is recalled in Plots I and II. The 47th (London) Division burials (July to October 1916) are in Plot III, Rows A to H, and Canadian graves are an overwhelming majority in the rest of the cemetery, Plots V and VI containing the graves of men killed in the capture of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Ecoivres Military Cemetery contains 1,728 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. There are also 786 French and four German war graves. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield