b. 15/06/1920 Rowlands Gill, County Durham. d. 21/04/1945 Wistedt, Germany.
Edward Colquhoun Charlton (1920-1945) was born on 15th June 1920 at 11 Cowan Terrace, Rowlands Gill, County Durham. The Charlton family actually lived in Winlaton and in 1911 Eddie’s father and grandparents are recorded living at 18 Hanover Square, Winlaton. Albert Charlton, Eddie’s dad, was an apprentice butcher at Winlaton Coop when he married Edith Colquhoun who was an apprentice milliner there. In WWI, Albert was with the Army Services Corp and was sent to German East Africa, now Tanzania, where he sourced, bought and slaughtered cattle to feed the army. On his return to Winlaton his second son Edward, brother to John, was born albeit this was actually at his grandmother’s house,11 Cowan Terrace Rowlands Gill, because his mother had chosen to stay at her mother’s house for the birth.
Albert qualified as a health inspector and the family moved to Manchester where their youngest son Alwyn would be born. However, the Charlton family would retain their links with Winlaton as they would return to visit family who still lived there. The last time Edward’s parents and younger brother (his older brother John was serving with the RAF) saw Eddie alive was when they were in Winlaton visiting family and Eddie, who was then stationed at Catterick Camp, came north to meet up with them all before his regiment was shipped out to France.
Charlton was a guardsman in the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards, Guards Armoured Division, British Army during the Second World War. On 21 April 1945 Guardsman Charlton was a co-driver of one tank of a troop that was supporting an infantry platoon. They occupied the village of Wistedt, Germany which the German army then attempted to re-take. The numerically superior German forces consisted largely of officer cadets under the command of experienced instructor officers, supported by two or three self-propelled guns. Three of the four Irish Guards tanks were badly hit, while Charlton’s had been disabled by a complete electrical failure before the attack began. Charlton had been ordered to dismount the turret 0.30 Browning machine gun and support the infantry.
The Irish Guards were in danger of being overrun by the Germans. Charlton, on his own authority, took the machine gun and advanced in full view of the attacking Germans, firing the weapon from his hip as he did so and inflicting heavy German casualties. The lead German company was halted and this allowed the rest of the Guards a respite in which to re-organise and retire. He continued his bold attack, even when he was wounded in his left arm. Charlton placed the machine-gun on a fence where he launched a further attack before his left arm was hit again by further enemy fire becoming shattered and useless. Charlton, now with just one usable arm, carried on his attack until a further wound and loss of blood resulted in the Guardsman collapsing. His courageous and selfless disregard for his own safety allowed the rest of the Irish Guards troop and infantry to escape. He later died of the wounds.
Eddie Charlton was laid to rest in Becklingen War Cemetery, Soltau, Germany. He was awarded the posthumous VC, it was the last Victoria Cross of the European theatre, and the last, so far, awarded to a member of the Irish Guards. Unusually much of the citation was based on German accounts of the fight as most of his later actions were not witnessed by any of the Guards officers or surviving non-commissioned officers. His VC was presented to his parents, and his mother chose to donate his medals to the Irish Guards RHQ. They are now displayed at the Guards Museum, Wellington Barracks, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: IRISH GUARDS RHQ, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BECKLINGEN CEMETERY, SOLTAU, GERMANY.
PLOT VII, ROW F, GRAVE 13
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map
Thomas Stewart – VC Medal Group at the Guards Museum, London.