b. 16/03/1883 St Pancras, London. d. 27/01/1972 Chatham, Kent.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 02/04/1916 Faversham, Kent.
Charles Thomas Harris (1883-1972) was born on 16th March 1883 in St Pancras, London. He was one of seven children born to skilled labourer Charles Harris and his wife Eliza. His father originated from Bicester in Oxfordshire, while his mother hailed from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. His mother worked as a seamstress prior to her marriage. Little is known about Charles’ early life and schooling, but he did train as an plumber, and as a young man moved to Gillingham where he would spend the rest of his life.
Charles married Ellen Jane Carter at Rainham Church in 1906 and they went on to have four children – Sydney Leonard, Joyce, Jean and Edith. Charles joined the Territorial Army and whilst his parent unit was 1st/4th Company, Kent Fortress Royal Engineers, he was attached to the 45th Anti-Aircraft Company, Royal Engineers.
On 2nd April 1916 there was an explosion in a store at the Faversham Powder Mills, Kent. The store contained 200 tons of TNT, and the factory site some 500 tons altogether. All the buildings were destroyed and a chain of explosions followed. Fires spread rapidly and the dead and injured lay all around. Harris, Lieutenant John Stebbings, Acting Bombardier Arthur Edwards GC, Bombardier Bert Dugdale and Corporal Charles Ashley assisted in the rescue of the wounded, showing great courage, devotion to duty and disregard for their own safety. Not only did they prevent further explosions, but by their splendid example others became helpers when previously reluctant to help.
On the 22nd January 1918 the London Gazette published the announcement of the Edward Medal (Bronze) to Acting Sergeant Charles Thomas Harris, Lieutenant John Morley Stubbings, Corporal Charles Ashley, Bombardier Bert Dugdale and Acting Bombardier Arthur Frederick Edwards. After the war, Charles suffered badly from pleurisy and was hospitalised for many months. Once he had recovered he worked for Gillingham Borough Council as a plumber until his retirement, while he also continued in the Territorial Army. He was also awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and Territorial Force Efficiency Medal.
In 1971, a change to the Royal Warrant offered the opportunity for recipients of the Albert and Edward Medal to exchange their medals for the George Cross. Charles chose to decline the offer to exchange and retained his Edward Medal. The reason he chose to decline was largely due to the fact he had not been contacted about the annuity for GC holders and was overlooked to his annoyance.
Less than six months later, Charles passed away on 27th January 1972 and was buried in Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham with his wife Ellen, who pre-deceased him in 1956. Sadly there is no headstone on their grave. Charles’ Edward Medal, MSM and Efficiency Medal are on loan to the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, Kent from the Harris family.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ENGINEERS MUSEUM, CHATHAM, KENT (LOAN).
(not displayed in 2014).
BURIAL PLACE: WOODLANDS CEMETERY, GILLINGHAM, KENT. (UNMARKED).
Kevin Brazier – Image of the grave plot and the cemetery map in Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham, Kent.