Fireman Charles William Punch (centre) photographed at Grafton Street Fire Station, 20 February 1907.

Fireman Charles William Punch of Sandown Fire Brigade passed away on 13 January 1918 aged 56.

 

Charles, who more commonly used his middle name William, was born on 20 November 1861. By the time of the 1871 Census his father George was employed at the gas works and his mother Frances (Fanny) was a launderess. The family, which at that time included Charles's elder sister Helen (or Ellen) and younger sister Kate lived in Sandown's North Street. His parents also had three other daughters before Charles was born, each of whom died before reaching two years of age. Ten years later and Charles remained living with his family at Albion Cottage and was by then working as a shoemaker. 

His life changed when marrying Teresa Amanda Pritchett at Ryde's Wesleyan Chapel on 7 August 1882. By the time of the 1891 Census they were residing at an address in Avenue Road with three daughters and three sons. 

In total Charles and Teresa had thirteen children between 1883-1903. Tragically they too were to lose three children. Mabel Kate died aged five, Elsie Lilian aged two and Charles William junior didn't achieve the age of one. 

I have discovered no record of Charles's appointment to Sandown Fire Brigade but at the time of his death the Press reported that he'd served in excess of 30 years. Given that he was still in service when he passed away in 1918, it can be assumed he was a fireman before 1888. 

In 1903 he was one of a handful of Sandown firemen who travelled to the Earls Court International Fire Exhibition in August. During the visit as guests of Major Seely, Charles with Captain James Dore and three others, were given a tour of the House of Commons which included tea on the terrace with Winston Churchill who they later witnessed in debate from the gallery. 

The 1911 Census evidences that Charles was still making a living from the manufacture of shoes and boots on his own account from the family address of 112 Avenue Road. Captain Dore's brigade Annual Report of 1914 detailed that Charles had retired from the fire brigade.

When the war came everything changed for everybody. The fire brigade was steadily stripped of its younger men and by the time Captain Dore wrote the brigade Annual Report for 1915 he was able to report that Charles was one of several retired firemen who returned in the hour of need under the wartime title of Temporary Active Fireman.

All four of Charles and Teresa's sons that survived infancy departed for service overseas including Harold Leslie Punch who served with the IW Rifles. 

Charles continued to serve his town's fire brigade through the war, no doubt constantly concerned about the safety of his sons. Tragedy struck the family when the news was received that Harold, aged 18, had died of wounds received in Gaza on 23 June 1917. His body was not repatriated and remains interred at the Hadra War Memorial Cemetery in Alexandria.

On Thursday 10 January 1918 Charles was taken unwell and admitted to the County Hospital with peritonisis and perforation. On the following Sunday 13 January he passed away.

Reporting his death the County Press stated; During the past six months he had been troubled over the loss of his youngest son, Harold, who died of wounds sustained in the battle of Gaza last year. He has three other sons serving with H.M. Forces, two in France and one in Mesopotamia. 

This is by no means the first time that I've researched the life of an Island fireman and discovered that death came within months of receiving the notice of a child killed in action during the First World War. It's impossible to state a tangible connection but the proliferation of these coincidences suggests the perhaps unsurprising likelihood that war casualties weren't restricted to the battlefield.

Charles's passing aged 56 left Teresa and eight children. The funeral held at Christ Church on the following Thursday was described as being of an impressive character

The remains were borne to the grave side by four members of the Fire Brigade - Messrs. J. Newbery, F. White, J. Nicholas and C. Clarke. The Brigade attended as a body under Acting Chief Officer Charles Dennett. Members of the Shanklin and Ventnor Brigades were present under Capt. Pearson and the Chief Officer of the Ryde Brigade was also in attendance.

 

Rest in peace Fireman Punch.