Remembering Charles Henry Anderson, Kew Gardener, and Bertram Fussell, 14 London Regiment, who both died on 28/ 29 November 1916 due to an accident with a hand grenade.
2326 Lance (Sergeant or) Corporal Charles Henry Anderson died on 29 November 1916 aged 26, serving in France with the 1st/14th Bn. London Regiment (London Scottish). He was awarded the Albert Medal for his actions on 29 November 1916, saving the lives of several of his comrades.
His medal record card states that in addition to the standard Victory and British war medals, he was also awarded the Albert Medal (citation below, also available on CWGC website ).
An extract from “The London Gazette,” No. 30156, dated 29th June, 1917, records the following:-“The King has been graciously pleased to award the Decoration of the Albert Medal of the First Class in recognition of the gallantry of Lce. Cpl. Charles Henry Anderson, late of the 1st/14th Bn. of the London Regt., who lost his life in France in November last in saving the lives of others.
On the 28th Nov., 1916, Lce. Cpl. Anderson was in a hut in France with eleven other men when, accidentally, the safety pin was withdrawn from a bomb. In the semi-darkness he shouted a warning to the men, rushed to the door, and endeavoured to open it so as to throw the bomb into a field. Failing to do this, when he judged that the five seconds during which the fuse was timed to burn had elapsed, he held the bomb as close to his body as possible with both hands in order to screen the other men in the hut. Anderson himself and one other man were mortally wounded by the explosion, and five men were injured. The remaining five escaped unhurt. Anderson sacrificed his life to save his comrades.”
Anderson is buried alongside Fussell at Grave Reference II. K. 3, St. Venant Communal Cemetery in France, just to the side of the cross of sacrifice, amongst 253 WW1 Commonwealth soldier burials. The cemetery is associated with the Casualty Clearing Stations where Anderson and Fussell died.
Anderson’s headstone is shown at: https://www.twgpp.org/photograph/view/3980361
In the Kew Guild Journal staff records Anderson is listed around 1914/15 as a ‘Present Kewite’ (still employed actually at Kew when war broke out) and employed as a ‘Gardener’. You can read more about him and his story at:
Charles Anderson’s “heroic” death, an alternative view:
Interestingly earlier this year (2016) James Wearn at Kew and I were contacted by Mike Thompson, who had a different interpretation of the grenade accident incident:
In Mike Thompson’s words, “Charles Henry Anderson was a fool and a show-off, who got himself killed through his own stupidity and cost the life of another man, as well as five others wounded.”
“He was in an army hut behind the line, kitted up for a trench raid and each man had been issued with two No.5 Mills Bombs. All except Anderson carried them in their gas satchels. He was showing off how he had cut slits in the inside lining of his leather jerkin, to get bombs out more quickly. He was demonstrating this when the pin came out of one of the grenades. He ran to the door but the bomb exploded. The Court of Enquiry concluded that the bomb was not a faulty short fuse but recommended that improvements be made to the actual pin.”
“The Corps Commander, Lt-Gen Sir Richard Haking recommended him for the Albert Medal“.
To Mike Thompson this appears “By modern standards, an absolutely bizarre decision.”
The Court of Enquiry report is in the WW1 service file for the other man killed Bertram Fussell, which can be found on Ancestry. Anderson and Fussell are buried side by side.”
In this alternative interpretation, the Albert Medal recommendation appears today to Mike Thompson “an absolutely bizarre decision”.
I have since read the Court of Enquiry notes and witness statements on Fussell’s service record (available on Ancestry).
In modern times / standards, the medal might appear to be a wartime attempt to hide the awkwardness or embarrassment to his family or regiment and maintain morale and good press for the war effort.
Although the Court of Enquiry held that Anderson was to blame, his self-sacrificing efforts to save his fellow soldiers from the blast by shielding them from the explosion was noted.
Changes to the demonstration, issue and carrying of Mills grenades were recommended in his battalion after this accident, as well as criticism of the ‘malleable’ yellow metal of the grenade pins.
Whether this was accident, mistake or both, both Anderson and Fussell are buried alongside each other.
Fussell’s death is recorded as Bomb Wound (accident) on 28.11.16 from which he died in 32 Casualty Clearing station at 9pm on 29 / 30 November 1916, after the Court of Enquiry had taken place. Only Anderson had died by the time the Court of Enquiry notes were typed up.
Bertram Fussell was a former clerk of the Port Of London Authority who attested as a pre-war Territorial in 1912, living with his brother at 81 Dover Road, South Wanstead. Born in West Ham in January 1894, he enlisted in London on 5 August 1914, transferred regiments to serve with friends and finally embarked for France on 14 July 1916. He was injured by a shell wound on his right shoulder on 6 September 1916 and only returned to his battalion a week before his accidental death.
Headstone photo at https://www.twgpp.org/photograph/view/3980449
Bertram Fussell and Charles Henry Anderson, remembered.
Blog posted by Mark Norris, World War Zoo Gardens Project