No.6124 – Private Charles Fordham – 16th Battalion AIF
Charles Edmund Fordham was born in East Fremantle WA in 1898 to Charles and Jane Fordham. He was one of three children, with the family living at "Invernay” View Terrace East Fremantle. Charlie was educated at Christian Brothers College Fremantle during which time he was also a member of the 86A Cadets of the Citizen Military Forces.
When he was fourteen years old he began employment with D & J Fowler as a Clerk and worked for them for the next four years. As soon as he turned 18 Charlie, with his parent’s signed consent, went to the Fremantle Drill Hall, around the corner from his office, and enlisted in the AIF. He was passed as fit with the medical examiner finding him to be 5 feet 6 inches in height; weight of 112 lbs; chest measurement of 30-32 inches; fresh complexion; blue eyes and brown hair. His religious denomination was Roman Catholic.
Charlie was initially sent to no.60 Depot and remained there until the 1st May 1916 when he was assigned to the Cycling Corps Reinforcements. He remained training in WA with this group until the 4th August 1916 when he was transferred across to the 19th Reinforcements to the 16th Battalion AIF. Three days later he embarked with this group from Fremantle Harbour aboard the H.M.A.T.
"Miltiades”.During the long sea journey Charlie took the opportunity to write to his parents about what he had seen up till their arrival in Plymouth on the 25th September 1916;"Dear Mum and Dad,I hope you and the kiddies are well when this reaches you. I am just it. I must say I have enjoyed this, my first sea trip immensely and have had splendid health all the way bar about 3 days. Capetown is a fine place, but not so big in the town itself as Perth, although there are a few bigger buildings.
The people there treated us real well. On the first day we were not allowed ashore because we were quarantined, but we had a route march on the second, with sports on a ground at sea point, a suburb of Capetown.
After the sports we were marched back through the town and had a sit down tea in a fine hall, which seated about 600 or 650 at a time and after that there was a concert, which wasn’t too bad. On the 2nd day we went for a tram ride, supposed to be the finest in the world, which took us through the town and over the hills to a place called Camps Bay, where we were given a swim in the baths where the water was heated before it was run into the bath.
Our day was cut short here as we got orders to go back to the ship, which we did and the ship went out into the stream and we sailed the next day. I hope you got the postcards and letters I sent you from the Cape. The next port we called into was St Vincent, a Portuguese port at the Cape Verde group of Islands. We are only coaling up a few hundred tons so I don’t think we will stop here long.
We are now in what they call the ‘Danger Zone’ and when we get out of here we will have to carry life belts with us wherever we go and sleep with one alongside us. We were vaccinated just a few days ago and my word it did stir me up. I was nothing but aches and pains for 2 days. Poor old Bill is pretty bad with it now and I am alright because it never took properly.
Bill’s arm is swollen right down below the elbow and he has got 5 sores like on his arm. In fact he has had a pretty bad time on the boat and he is falling away a bit, but I suppose he will be alright when we land. I am writing these a week before we land because I want to write to a few others by the first mail after we land…
We are now nearly at our journey’s end and go ashore tomorrow. We were 3 days at St Vincent and have been out a week from there, and a very uncomfortable week too, as we had to cart lifebelts about with us wherever we went, even when we washed ourselves. We sighted land early on the 25th and entered port at 2pm. We landed at Plymouth at 5 and at 5.30 started our journey to Salisbury Plain.”After disembarking, the men were sent to the 4th Training Battalion on the Salisbury Plains, as described by Charlie;
"We landed at Plymouth at 5 and at 5.30 started our journey to Salisbury Plain. We stopped at Exeter and had a cup of tea and a bun and then we went on.
We got to our station Amesbury at 1.30 the next morning and marched to the camp, a distance of 6 or 7 miles and got there about 4am. All this on a bun and a cup of tea since 12 midday on the 25th. Well we were roused out at 8 o’clock that morning and had some dry biscuits and tinned meat for breakfast (same for dinner too) & were marching all over the show getting blankets and kits and all that sort of thing. In the afternoon we got a very stiff inoculation on the right arm & they’re all swollen and red. We are getting 48 hours rest. Bill has gone into hospital with mumps.
He is very thin and miserable and I don’t think he will see the front although don’t tell Ethel or Alf. I met Lou Bovell first thing after breakfast the morning we got here and I met Mervyn Hicks about 11 yesterday morning (26th). He is fit and well and is now attached to the 28th Battalion although his letters must be addressed the same as before.
I am going to try and find Claude if possible. I got a few letters from some friends of mine in Fremantle and one from Gladys, and very glad I was too. We are getting a few days leave before very long and probably you will have got a cable from me for some money long before this arrives, as the authorities won’t give you leave without you having enough cash to keep you going for 4 days.
On the way between Plymouth and here,(Rollestone Camp Salisbury) we saw some beautiful scenery, riversand green paddocks, fruit trees, dairies etc, and the houses at Plymouth and just out of Plymouth. By jove I don’t think they are more than 30 feet square & 3 stories high, 100’s & 100’s of them in an acre.
We are in tents and are shifting 14 miles to another camp to go into huts about Saturday or Monday. Well, I can’t say much more now, so goodbye for the present and love to yourselves and all the children from your loving son.Charles E FordhamP.S – Please remember me to all my friends.
Charlie trained in Rollestone Camp until December 1916, during which time he was also given leave to see the sights of England. On the 12th December 1916 he proceeded to Folkestone Harbour and was transported across the Channel to France. On arrival at Etaples he was sent to the 4th Australian Division Base Depot, but his stay here was only short as he had joined the 16th Battalion on the 19th December 1916.
The Battalion were then in the vicinity of Flers undergoing the coldest French winter for decades. Charlie spent the next six weeks with his unit but on the 6th February 1917 in the vicinity of Stormy Trench he was severely wounded by shrapnel in the abdomen. Charlie was evacuated back to the 12th Field Ambulance and then to the 45th Casualty Clearing Station.Unfortunately the wounds proved too severe and Charlie died on the 7th February 1917 while at the 45th CCS. He was buried at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension plot V.A.15.