It is amazing to consider how many soldiers beat the odds to survive so many terrible and infamous battles during the 1914-18 First World War.
One such north Derbyshire hero was Pte Charles Willie Wells, of the Essex Regiment, whose story has been immortalised in Martin Middlebrook’s book First Battle of the Somme.
His proud son Frank Wells, 83, of Lancaster Road, at Newbold, Chesterfield, told how Charles survived the failed Gallipoli landings, The Battle of the Somme and Flanders before he was captured and spent the last few weeks of the war as a prisoner of war.
Frank has been reflecting during this 100th commemorative year since the start of the war in August 1914. He said: “Dad joined the Royal Artillery at Newcastle before joining the Infantry. He landed at Gallipoli and they had to fight their way off the beach head. Instead of digging trenches, he said if they had been allowed to keep going they could have gone all the way to Istanbul. They dug-in in the valley and got flooded before the area was eventually evacuated.”
Frank said his dad was transported with others as if they were animals in cattle trucks and he was thrown into the Battle of the Somme. Charles suffered three bullet and shrapnel wounds and nearly lost an arm.
Following Charles’ recovery he fought at Flanders and survived to be captured by the Germans while he was helping a wounded soldier. Charles’s story was included in Martin Middlebrook’s book after the author tracked Frank with an advert in the DT.
Soldier Charles Wells sadly had to plead poverty before the courts like so many returning from the First World War due to the lack of jobs.
His son Frank said Charles had to go before magistrates and plead for money because there was no welfare or benefits system.
Charles, who married Eva and had four sons, rebuilt his life and worked at Staveley Company, in the building trade and became a bus conductor.
He rarely talked about his ordeal.