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Charles Alfred Freeborn

Served with Essex County Constabulary from Nov 9, 1912 and died on Oct 4, 1918.

Charles Freeborn, the son of Mark and Emma Freeborn, was born in Kelvedon, Essex, and baptised at the local church, St Mary the Virgin, on October 2, 1892.

He joined Essex Constabulary on November 9, 1912, and was sworn in as Constable 508. He served at Braintree and lived in nearby Bocking. He was a single man. On May 16, 1915, he went to Chelmsford and volunteered to enlist with the Military, signing up as Private 17383 with 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers.

The 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers was a regular battalion and at the commencement of the war was stationed in India, being moved to France in December 1914, thereafter forming part of the 85th Brigade in the 28th Division. The change in climate had a severe effect on the health of the men, with 25 per cent suffering from acute bronchial and laryngeal catarrh when they arrived at Havre. In February the following year large numbers were evacuated to hospital with trench feet.

In April 1915, the Division were engaged in front line action during the 2nd Battle of Ypres and by May 3 the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers had lost 100 men killed and 363 injured.

In the following months the battalion was strengthened with new recruits who had volunteered; amongst these was Charles Freeborn who saw his first action in the line during the battle of Loos on September 25, 1915. The battalion was engaged in intense fighting in the attempt to secure Hohenzollern Redoubt that had been retaken by the Germans and they faced a number of determined counter attacks. The battalion continued in the action till their withdrawal from the line on October 1, by which time they had suffered 337 casualties. Charles Freeborn was injured in this action. The extent of his injuries are not known but they did not warrant his return to the UK.

After a brief rest near Givenchy the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers travelled by train to Marseilles and, on October 25, embarked for Alexandria. In December they moved on to Salonika and for the first six months spent time in a camp accommodated in tents and dugouts with little to occupy them and the Bulgars some thirty miles distant.

In June 1916, they moved north to reinforce the 22nd Division in the Vardar Valley, marching in intense heat. Many suffered from summer malaria. After a few weeks they moved on to Petkovo on the southern crest of the Krusha Balkans. In August the Bulgarian Army was sighted and a number of minor engagements took place, but for the most part the battalion saw little action and was held in support.

During 1917 the battalion moved position on a number of occasions and was engaged in occasional action but the greatest enemy was malaria which warranted the men being moved from the lower plains to the hills for the summer. A total of 159 cases of malaria were recorded that year.

On February 9, 1918, the battalion was inspected by the King of Greece. In May they had their last engagement at Calki Station where they intercepted a Bulgar patrol of about 50 men.

On July 3 they embarked on the Timgrad for Taranto and then continued their journey by train to France arriving at Dieppe on July 14, 1918. They had been absent almost three years in a theatre where the worst enemy was disease.

On October 1, 1918, with just over a month of the war to run, the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers relieved the 8th Berkshire Regiment at Montbrehain near Peronne. This is billowing countryside of shallow valleys and low ridges well placed for defence and had served the British Army well in resisting the massive push of the German Army in the Kaiser Battle of the previous spring. This time the British were advancing in pursuit of a retreating professional enemy - the roles had been reversed by a superb feat of British arms. In keeping with the more fluid nature of the autumn fighting the battalion was deployed in platoon posts along a canal bank.

The War Diary of 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers records:

2nd October (1918).
very quiet - no casualties.
3rd October.
Morning and afternoon our artillery bombard enemy lines heavily. 19.00 hours the Battalion moves to Bony point, marching all night.
4th October.
Battalion attacked the enemy redoubt at Richmond Copse. The objective was reached at 07.30 hours, but came under heavy enfilade machine-gun fire from Le Catelet and Vendhuile and received many casualties. Battalion had to withdraw to jumping off line as attacking Battalions on both flanks had not been so successful leaving Battalion (3rd Bn Royal Fusiliers) dangerously exposed. Operation in itself was very successful with about 300 enemy, mostly machine gunners, taken prisoner despite the Battalion's withdrawal. Enemy positions were cleaned up and he was prevented from occupying it again, allowing the 4th KRR (King's Royal Rifle Corps.) to advance over same ground that evening with few casualties.
During this action battalion losses were 9 officers killed, 2 wounded, 32 other ranks killed, 103 wounded and 2 missing.

Charles Freeborn was killed in action in this attack on October 4, 1918, just forty days before the end of the war. Apart from his discomfort in the heat and disease ridden area of Salonika he had only seen action on two occasions during his three and a half years with the Royal Fusiliers. In the first, at Loos, he was injured and in the second he was killed.

He is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Gouy, Aisne, France in grave 11 D.2. The cemetery is set in a very rural setting alongside the road linking two villages - Gouy and Beaurevoir. The entrance and walls of the cemetery are constructed from local stone.

Here dead we lie because we did not choose
To live, and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.
A E Housman

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