Charles William Abdy, Lance Corporal 15/1, 1st Leeds Pals
Charles William Abdy is not remembered for being an outstanding soldier, though he was clearly a very good, reliable and efficient one, being promoted to Lance Corporal. He is notable, however, for being the first man to be enlisted in the Pals, and being given the number ‘1’.
Recruiting for the Pals was begun on 3rd September 1914, at 9.00, when the Victoria Hall in the Town Hall was opened for volunteers. Hundreds of young men, and probably some older ones, were waiting, some 200 men had already sent their names in, and by 9.00 that evening over 500 men had signed up. (Milner) They were to be listed, and allocated Service Numbers, in alphabetical order. Charles Abdy came first on that list. He was later displaced by other surnames, but no-one could take away his number.
Charles was born in Featherstone on 28th April 1889, the only child of William Abdy and Emma Heath. In 1891 William was working as a butler, but by 1901 he was caretaker and messenger at the London City & Midland Bank in Boar Lane. By 1911 he was a widower, Emma having died, probably in 1907, though there is some doubt here, in that her age as given does not match with that of the censuses. Charles, meanwhile, was listed in 1911 as a shipping clerk, and he worked for Messrs TF Braime & Co. (Ltd), engineers of Hunslet. Three years later he had volunteered for the Pals. (Find My Past & Milner)
After passing the medical, which was on 10th September, Charles was posted to A Company, No.2 Platoon, 4th squad. His record gives him as 25 years and 5 months old, 5ft 9ins tall, with blue eyes and fair hair, later described as ‘sandy’. (Find My Past) Along with the rest of the battalion he began his training at Colsterdale, followed by Ripon and Fovant in Wiltshire, before setting sail, on 6th December 1915, for Egypt. He was by then acting Lance Corporal, having been given the (unpaid) rank at the end of October, and the pay to go with it three days before he sailed. The task in Egypt was to guard the Suez Canal against possible attack by the Turks, which never really materialised, and consequently on 8th March 1916 the Pals sailed again, this time for France. They were to take part in the Big Push, which later became known as the Battle of the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme began for the Pals on 1st July 1916, and by 4th July Charles was on his way back to England, having been quite severely wounded. It was a gunshot wound in his thigh. Initial medical reports said ‘right thigh’, but subsequently it was recorded as ‘left thigh’. He was operated on to remove the bullet, and the wound healed well, but he was left with muscle weakness. The bullet had also damaged his knee, and some cartilage had to be removed, leaving his knee with a tendency to suddenly give way. In consequence of all this, and after a medical which assessed him as being 80% disabled, on 3rd November 1917 he was discharged, as being no longer fit for service, and awarded the Silver War Badge. On his return to England he had been transferred to 3rd Battalion, and it was from there, at Whitley Bay, that he was discharged. (Find My Past)
His leg improved slowly, but by 12th February 1919 he was considered fit for employment, and he returned to his job as a shipping clerk, presumably with Braime’s. Before this, however, he had been struck down with influenza, in the epidemic that swept the world as the war ended, and actually killed more people world-wide than the war had. So Charles was one of the lucky ones.
Towards the end of 1919 he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. (Ancestry) In June 1926 he married Beatrice, but there seems to be some doubt as to whether she was Beatrice M Carr or M Holmes. Both names are given on the record. In 1939 they were living at 34 Tempest Road, Leeds, and Charles was still listed as an order and despatch clerk, pressed steel engineer. (Find My Past) He probably died in Leeds in 1967, aged 78. (Free BMD)
Researcher: Peter Taylor
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
- Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.