Charles Riley was born in Royton on December 26th 1888. His parents were John,originally from Co.Meath, and Catherine, who was born in Co.Cork. Both John and Catherine worked in the local cotton industry. Charles had at least four siblings - William, John, Mary and George. At both the 1891 and 1901 censuses they were at 6 Croft Head in Royton and by the time of the latter, Charles at the age of 12 was working as a hairdresser's apprentice.
Charles married Mary Moores on May 1st 1909 at St.Paul's Church. Charles had been brought up a Catholic but evidently Mary was not. Two of Charles' new brothers in law were William & Edward Moores. Together Charles and Mary had three children - Sarah Ann (born 1909), Charles (1910) and John (1914).
By the time war broke out Charles was working as a spinner in one of the town's cotton mills. He joined up in Royton on November 3rd 1914,enlisting with him was his brother in law William Moores who had the preceeding service number in the Lancashire Fusiliers. That same day they were at the Regimental Depot in Bury. The 9th Battalion had been formed on August 31st and it was to this unit that they were sent, on November 11th. They were stationed at Belton Park near Grantham and after that were at Witley Camp near Godalming.
The battalion was then allocated to join the force fighting at Gallipoli, and they sailed from Liverpool on July 5th. They first landed at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos, only 30 or so miles from Gallipoli, where a large force was gathering. The British were going to land at Suvla Bay on the night of August 6th in what was to eventually prove to be a fruitless endeavour.
The convoy waited for dark to fall at about 19:30 before heading off from Imbros.The date had been specially chosen as the moon was not due to rise till after the troops were intended to be ashore.This night though was particularly dark.
The plan for Charles Riley's battalion was to seize Hill 10 which was a half mile east of 'A' Beach on which they were to land in Suvla Bay. The 8th Northumberland Fusiliers and 5th Dorsetshire Regiment were to join them on Hill 10 and then were together to attack Chocolate Hill from the north, advancing not later than 01:30 on August 7th.There was inadequate reconnaissance & maps were both late in arriving and inaccurate. Z Company was to land first and clear Hill 10 with a couple of platoons, the rest of the battalion was to form up on A Beach.
At 22:30 the destroyers anchored a mile from shore and cast off the lighters.The noise from these small vessels attracted some fire from the Turks ashore. The naval craft had been carried away from their proper course so rather than landing at A Beach they were a thousand yards south of it and in an area where the Royal Navy suspected there were shoals. Their suspicions were correct and the Lancastrians ran aground some fifty yards or so from the shore. The Turks at once opened fire on these tempting targets. The shortest officer available, Lieutenant E.H Davies was lowered over the side of one of the lighters and determined that the depth was only about 4 foot 6 inches. The men duly splashed ashore and patrols were sent out to try and determine their position.
Just after 03:00 on the morning of the 7th, an already wounded Colonel Welstead& Major Ibbetson were briefed by Major Ashburner from the 34th Brigade (the 9th LF being one of the four battalions in this brigade). Major Cyril Ibbetson later recalled this & what happened next:
" 'Look, do you see that hill, over there on the left?That is the hill we want - Hill 10.If you can take all the men you have got, and carry that hill between those two trees on the horizon we shall be all right, otherwise we shall probably be driven into the sea!' We started in three lines in extended order, the men going forward splendidly,led by their Platoon Commanders, in the most superb manner imaginable, with shells and bullets coming thicker and thicker, every man being eager to get to the objective. There was a check just before we got to the foot of the hill. Then in one mad rush we carried the hill at the point of the bayonet. A terrific fire was opened on us from a fieldwork facing us, from some trenches on our right which enfiladed our position and from some guns high up in a valley above us. Realising that we could not hold this position, unless the trenches were cleared of the enemy, I ordered an attack on those trenches. There was much confusion, so I was unable to get orders to the whole of my command, but I got a good lot together and soon we took those trenches, but the casualties were very heavy and I was wounded too. I sound found that the fieldwork, which I had ignored, enfiladed to a nicety these trenches and if anybody moved he was immediately hit. I ordered everybody to make cover for themselves and attend to the wounded. Nobody was allowed to show himself. Suddenly, to our horror, we saw Hill 10 evacuated by the troops which had come up to reinforce us and we watched them retire right back in the direction from whence we had come. We were now isolated. Our casualties increased and we made a desperate fight of it for hours until the West Yorks appeared on Hill 10 again. I shall not forget that trench."
Once the West Yorkshires arrived they attacked the fieldwork. The Fusiliers joined in and a lot of Turks were killed as they attempted to retreat. The men then met another party of Turks who were about to launch a counter attack and scattered them. Unfortunately it wasn't even Hill 10. The hill the Fusiliers had attacked was a large sand dune about 400 yards south of the real Hill 10 and defended by only a small Turkish force. The real Hill 10 was captured later that morning by men of the Northumberland Fusiliers & Dorsetshire Regiment.
Over the next two days the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers found themselves both in reserve for and fighting alongside the 5th Dorsetshires before being relieved on August 12th. From the landing up until that point they had lost 76 men killed and many more wounded.
Tragedy struck three days later, whilst the battalion wasn't in action, when Charles' brother in law William was killed along with another man whose name appears on the Royton memorial - Charles Howard. It's most likely that they were killed by an enemy shell.
Three days after the deaths of William Moores & Charles Howard the battalion was to see action again. The British objective on August 21st was to capture W Hill& Scimitar Hill. The 9th Battalion were part of the force tasked with taking the former. They were to take, along with the 5th Dorsets, some Turkish trenches about 450 yards ahead of their positions. As soon as the battalion advanced, at 15:00, they came under heavy rifle and shrapnel fire. Nevertheless by 15:10 the battalion had taken the trenches with all the Turkish defenders either killed or wounded. They then began to consolidate their position but despite repeated appeals for help they received none. The men of the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers clung doggedly to their new positions but after 19 hours were forced to withdraw back to their starting point. They had less than 100 men left and no officers. The shattered battalion was to remain at Gallipoli until they left from Suvla on December 18th but by then Charles Riley was already in hospital in Cairo. On October 12th 1915 he was shot in the elbow and evacuated to hospital in Cairo. His records state that he also had septic hands. It wasn't until 10th March 1916 that he rejoined his battalion, at El-Berdan. The 9th Lancashire Fusiliers having arrived in Egypt at the end of January. Whilst in Egypt they received large drafts of reinforcements to rebuild the battalion after it's destruction at Gallipoli. Another spell in hospital was to come for Charles when he was admitted with "ICT - right hand" - ICT was a general term for suppurating skin diseases and open sores. This spell in hospital was from 18th May until 18th June.
The next theatre of war for Charles was to be France as the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers sailed from Alexandria to Marseille on July 4th 1916, arriving there on July 10th. Shortly after he was to leave the battalion - on July 17th joining the British Expeditionary Force's School of Mortars. After seven days training he joined the newly formed 34th Light Trench Mortar Battery. This was attached to the 34th Brigade - of which the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers were one of the four infantry battalions. Men in Charles' new unit were still badged to whichever of the four battalions they had come from but did not necessarily fight with them,they could be in support of any of the 34th Brigade's units. The 34th LTMB were split into two sections each with four 3" Stokes mortars.
The 34th Brigade were to be pitched into the Battle of the Somme on September 26th in the offensive known as the Battle of Thiepval Ridge. The 34th Brigade were to attack and take two German strongpoints - Zollern and Stuff Redoubts as well as take various other positions and German trenches. The two assaulting battalions were the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 8th Northumberland Fusiliers. Just before zero hour a bombing party from the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers attacked the German held Mouquet Farm and then guarded the dug-out exits there to trap any defenders within. Both battalions got to the German support trench (the first objective) although many were caught by a German artillery barrage with the 5th Dorset Regiment following up in support being particularly badly hit.
The Northumberland Fusiliers became bogged down fighting through Zollern Redoubt and most of the moppers-up were killed. About 50 survivors dug in on the right facing Zollern Trench, while others sheltered to the west of the redoubt. Charles Riley's old battalion, the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers, were caught by machine-gun fire from Zollern Redoubt and Midway Line, which ran from Mouquet Farm to Schwaben Redoubt, north of Thiepval. A few troops reached Zollern Trench and the remnants of the support battalion (the 11th Manchesters) advanced to reinforce them. The battle for Mouquet Farm continued, two attached tanks were forced to be abandoned nearby but the guns from one were removed and the crew carried on. Reinforcements were sent forward (including a pioneer battalion) and at 17:30 the last 56 Germans surrendered, after being smoked out.
The following two days found the men of the 34th Brigade engaged in further confused fighting through the maze of trenches, dug outs and shell craters across the battlefield until at nightfall on September 28th three of the four infantry battalions were withdrawn. The 11th Manchesters remained in the line as support to the 32nd Brigade. Losses for the 34th Brigade had been 51 officers and 1382 other ranks either killed, wounded or missing. The Light Trench Mortar Battery - which at full complement would have had 50 officers and men - had losses stated as 1 killed, 19 wounded and 2 missing. Charles Riley had been wounded in action for the second time. This time it was a hand and his left knee and he was sent back to England. In the same fighting another Royton man William Lupton who, like Charles, had survived Gallipoli with the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers was badly wounded and died on October 1st.
Charles Riley reached England on October 3rd and was not reassigned to another battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers until December 28th 1916 when he joined the 3rd Battalion. This unit was a training and reserve battalion who were stationed at Withernsea as part of the Humber Garrison. It wasn't long until he was deemed fit to return to the war and on February 8th 1917 he was posted back to France. This time he joined the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (serving with which Edwin Hyde, William Baguley & John James Hilton had all already been killed). It was only a short stay though as he was transferred on March 3rd to the Regiment's 2nd Battalion (whose casualties to date included Harry Turner, Thomas Noone, John Rees Butterworth & Owen Regan). March 1917 was a quiet period for the 2nd LF but it wasn't long until Charles Riley was to be sent into combat once again. First though was yet another spell in hospital, he came down with influenza and was away from the battalion from March 20th until April 2nd. Seven days later he was to go into combat.
Infantry preparing to advance from assembly trenches during the opening day of the Battle of Arras, 9 April 1917 © IWM (Q 5118)
The British Army's first major offensive of 1917, the Battle of Arras, began on April 9th.The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers were to be part of the second phase of the opening day's assault.The 9th Division, in the first phase, was to take three lines of German defences (known as "Black","Blue" and "Brown") and then the 4th Division, which included the 2nd LF, was to pass through and take a fourth line and the village of Fampoux before pushing on and establishing themselves in a fifth German line - the "Green Line". The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers allocated role in the scheme of things was first to capture 500 yards of the German fourth system and then to go on and seize about 450 yards of the "Green Line". It was then to dig in but to send strong parties forward to capture any German artillery in the area and to keep in touch with the retreating enemy.
The 9th Division had been unable to keep up to it's timetable which meant the battalion had to wait it's turn out in the open. Under German artillery fire they lost about 150 men in casualties. At 13:30 it finally moved forward, reaching the Brown Line at 14:00. Then under cover of a creeping barrage the battalion went on the attack at 15:13 with B & C Companies reaching the first objective at 15:45 without great difficulty and without suffering many further casualties.
Most Germans encountered at this point surrendered, a few tried to run but most of these were killed by Lewis-gun fire.
At 16:12 it was the turn of A & D Companies as they passed through B & C and advanced towards the Green Line. They came under heavy machine gun fire and at first tried to push on but then coming to an area of ground that was flat and swept by fire had to dig in just east of the road running north of the eastern end of Fampoux. The battalion had suffered 63 casualties by this point. The men stayed in the new position overnight during a heavy snowfall and then throughout April 10th in which a further 73 casualties were suffered under sniper and shellfire. The following day, April 11th, B & C Companies (later joined by D Company) played a minor role in a failed attack by the 1st King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. The battalion's casualties during the day totalled 19.
Charles Riley had been wounded in action for the third and final time. This time his leg had been shattered by a gunshot wound beneath his left knee. He suffered this wound either on April 10th or 11th. At a casualty clearing station his left leg was amputated just below the knee joint. He was then to spend some time in hospital at Boulogne before being sent back to England.
He was to spend time at the Abbey Hey Hospital in Manchester before returning home to Royton and his family. In October 1918 his wife received the news that she had lost another brother to the war, this time Edward. The family's suffering did not end there though as Charles was to be one of the many struck down by the 1918 flu pandemic which claimed many millions of lives around the world. On November 29th of that year, 18 days after the Armistice, he died at home at 9 Dyehouses (an old address of John & Harry Saxon) aged 29. His causes of death were given as influenza & pneumonia. He was buried in Royton Cemetery on December 5th 1918. Charles Riley is not recorded by his nation as being one of the war dead and does not lie in a war grave but Royton saw things differently and his is one of the names on the town's memorial.
Date of Death:29/11/1918
Grave Ref:Section 3M,Grave 4062