20-year-old Private Charles Edwin Preece died of sickness on 4th January 1917, serving in France with the 1st/8th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. He was born in Solihull on 28th February 1896, and was the third of the four children (two sons, two daughters) born to parents Thomas William (a jobbing gardener) and Mary Ann (née Chamberlain). The couple had married on 20th September 1890 at St Alphege Church.
The family appears to have been in Solihull from at least 1890 until about 1899. When Thomas and Mary married at St Alphege Church in 1890, Thomas, a widower, was living in Shirley, and Mary was in Solihull. On the 1891 census the couple were living in Blossomfield, Shirley.
Sometime between 1899 and 1901 the family moved to St Ewe, Cornwall. By 1911, they had moved to Malvern, where 15-year-old Charles was living in the family home but working as an errand boy for Mrs Need, who ran a dairy and fruit business in the town. The Malvern News indicated that he worked for Mrs Need for seven years before the war. The newspaper also reported that he was formerly a Colour Sergeant and bandmaster with the Malvern Company, Church Lads’ Brigade (information from Malvern Remembers). He was apparently gassed on the Somme on 20th July 1916, and later evacuated to a convalescent depot before rejoining the infantry base depot ready for service at the Front (although it is not known whether he did serve on the front line again before being admitted to hospital at Etaples, where he died).
His entry in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour gives more information about his war service:
Enlisted 6 May 1915; served with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from 4 June and died at Etaples 4 Jan 1917 from fever and cerebro-spinal meningitis, contracted while on active service. Buried in the Cemetery Etaples. His Commanding Officer wrote: “He was a good soldier, and always did his duty well, and we miss him very much.”
A memorial service was held for him at St Mary & St Michael’s Church, Great Malvern, on 21st January 1917 and he is commemorated on the war memorial. Having left the Solihull area by the age of five, he is not listed on war memorials in Shirley or Solihull.
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Heritage & Local Studies Librarian