Old Bedfordian Major Charles Pulley
ONE SOLDIERâ€™S STORY
The War Diary of Major Charles Pulley can be found on the school’s website, should you wish to read it in full. Major Charles Pulley’s name is displayed in commemoration on the First World War memorial boards in the Memorial Hall at Bedford School and in St Andrew’s Church, Bedford.
FOREWORD Remembrance can be a very personal time for reflection as we remember those who are no longer with us. However, we can also take great comfort from shared acts of remembrance: a community gathered, supporting one another, to honour their fallen. The First World War took the lives of an estimated 16 million soldiers and civilians, and the Second World War took a staggering 60 million lives and each left countless others physically and psychologically wounded. The vast human cost of both wars can be quite overwhelming and difficult to comprehend. However, individual stories from the battlefield resonate and help us to understand the realities of war. It is always touching to discover diaries and letters written by soldiers on the front line, and particularly poignant to read those written by the fallen. These personal accounts illustrate the suffering caused by war, as well as keeping individual memories alive and ensuring that their sacrifice was not in vain. This booklet reflects upon the first 11 months of the Great War as told through the eyes of Old Bedfordian Major Charles Pulley who was fatally wounded in action. Thanks to the generosity of Major Pulleyâ€™s family, we are humbled to learn of his story through his wartime unit diary, written from the outbreak of the war until he passed away. We are immensely grateful to his family for sharing the diary. The next few pages of this booklet relive his story. They demonstrate his valour and courage. Please do share his story with others so that the memory of this courageous soldier can live on forever. With special thanks to Upper Sixth Former and local history writer, Harry McPhail, for sharing his insights and contributing to the portrayal of the diary.
Commemoration of Major Pulley in the Memorial Hall at Bedford School
WAR DIARY Old Bedfordian Major Charles Pulley Regiment: 68th Battery, Royal Field Artillery Born: 14th September 1881 School years: 1897 - 1898 Wounded: Near Ypres, Belgium Died: 26th July 1915, aged 33, at Lady Mountgarret’s Hospital, London Buried: St. Mary’s Churchyard, Speldhurst, Kent
Born into a military family, Charles Pulley was the eldest son of Colonel Charles Pulley. He had two younger brothers both of whom also joined the army. Charles went directly from Bedford School to the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich and joined the army on 2nd May 1900. Major Pulley’s first diary entry was written on 30th July 1914 when, during a short spell of army leave, he had been asked to “Rejoin at once”. After hurrying back to Woolwich, where he was stationed, he soon discovered that all officers and men on leave had received the same message. This day marked the start of Major Pulley’s incredible journey, which tragically led to the ultimate sacrifice… 4th August 1914:
Left: Colonel Charles Pulley Right: Major Charles Pulley with his two brothers
“Still waiting at Woolwich but feel certain the order will come today... At 7 pm, order is read to mobilize. Everyone hard to work till night. Mighty glad to get orders at last.”
In the summer of 1914, Major Charles Pulley, like many others in Britain at the time, was optimistic, even enthusiastic for war. Men across the country were preparing to be called up, not knowing exactly what lay ahead. Pulley’s diary takes us on a journey through a soldier’s day-today life during wartime, often while facing unimaginable danger.
his comrades. Referred to as Q.M.S., Pulley claims his friend “had made quite a good shot of it”! Whether it be holding a football game versus officers of the Cavalry, singing Tipperary or giving wine to the horses, Pulley, amidst the terror and danger of his surroundings, was able to describe a number of uplifting stories.
From Woolwich, Major Pulley and his battery travelled to Boulogne, France, the first of many stops in a number of very beautiful French villages, which provided make-shift camps for soldiers known as billets. As an experienced officer, Major Pulley’s diary entries were factual and informative, and you might say that he deliberately refrained from including too much emotion – perhaps this was due to his rigorous army training. The diary, therefore, is a fairly matter-of-fact portrayal of a soldier’s time at war, and especially at the beginning of his time in France, it seems to be somewhat upbeat. A real sense of camaraderie shines through, especially when he writes about his fellow soldiers who he refers to by surname. One of the more light-hearted moments in this compelling diary is the story of when he received a haircut from one of
It was clear that Major Pulley was extremely professional and highly competent in his job of looking after the men in his battery. He requisitioned straw for the horses and food for the men, as well as securing luxury items such as rum and beer as special treats. He also saw to it that billets were found and would go to great lengths to ensure these were as clean and sanitary as possible – even with such limited means. What is remarkable is that he never once complained or questioned his role. As far as he was concerned, he was there to do a job, and to do it in the most efficient way he could. Much of his diary focuses on the routine that many of the soldiers experienced during WWI. Strict, regular and precise, Pulley nearly
always writes ‘reveille’ followed by the early time of 3am. Through the process of billeting*, Pulley was taken into homes in small French and Belgian villages. He made connections with these families, including one where he was looked after by a landlady by the name of Madame Foret in Belgium. Pulley speaks highly of Madame Foret throughout the diary. In his entry on 1st April 1915 he suggests that he is “getting very fat and so is everyone else,” going on to say, “Madame Foret is very good to us.” Major Charles Pulley’s writing offers a degree of clarity in a time when the atmosphere must often have been chaotic and terrifying. Frequently describing the shelling of buildings, the passing away of men he knew or the harsh conditions he was experiencing, Major Pulley’s diary entries hold nothing back. Indeed, there were not many days when Pulley did not describe a German aeroplane flying over the villages, his battalion marching to a new location or preparing to go to the front line. Right from the start, Pulley spoke about a chronic lack of communication and it seemed that critical decisions were made based on rumours only – shocking and in stark comparison to the overload of communication we are bombarded with today.
His entry on Christmas Day 1914 is particularly poignant. Christmas cards were given out and, “All the men were cheery. They ate an excellent lunch”, and in fact, “ate too much!” Perhaps the most heart-warming entry of the diary, he describes how the Germans and the British soldiers put down their weapons, met half-way, and talked.
“Some 2/300 Germans came out of their trenches in the morning and several hundreds of ours did the same. They met half way between the lines unarmed and talked together for about an hour and a half. Barclay says it was a sight he will never forget.” As the diary progresses, he begins to share small insights into his feelings, and over time the tone of his writing changes. Perhaps his diary became an outlet for him as the revulsion of war took hold?
On New Year’s Eve, Pulley says,
“Everyone hopes that the New Year will see the end of the war and of course the allies victorious”. However, the following months saw the severity of battle step up; evidenced by Pulley telling more and more stories of being near the front-line in the trenches, closer to the danger. As Pulley and his men pushed closer to Germany, enemy attacks became more frequent and Pulley describes Ypres in Belgium as particularly ghastly. Upon arrival at Ypres – a central point in the war zone, he wrote,
“Ypres is something awful, dead men and horses lying about and the smell terrible. Cloth Hall and everything else ruined.” This is particularly haunting given what we know about this building today and how the battles unfolded around it.
It is distressing that he develops an uncomfortable normality towards many of the horrific acts going on around him and his fellow soldiers. The diary is testament to Pulley’s character and bravery; to write in such an informative way in the grip of the war is extraordinary. 27th June 1915:
“Canal bank shelled again and a good many men wounded. The flies are now awful, we can’t get rid of them. We did not fire at all today, no targets.” Just one month later Pulley passed away as a result of injuries, including what is believed to be shrapnel wounds to the head. Evacuated to London, he was able to propose marriage to the woman he loved, and their engagement was announced just a couple of days before he died on 26th July 1915. His body was taken by train to Speldhurst, near Tunbridge Wells, where he was buried with full military honours following procession by a horse-led gun carriage, his riding boots with the spurs pointing forward and a volley of shots over his grave.
Life – Not Death There is no Death; those noble lives upon the battlefield So bravely given for King & Right, our Motherland to shield, Live now more truly than in life; this is a truth revealed, There is no Death. ~ There is no Death; ‘tis but a change; promotion from this life To higher fuller life and work; safe from this worldly strife Where human passions dim God’s light, and battle storms are rife There is no Death. ~ There is no Death; but dearest ones are with us now aye For nought can sever love from love, it rests with us alway; Though unseen now, we’ll see them in Eternity’s bright day There is no Death. ~ There is no Death; thank God for that; they’re safe within his care, And with this thought to comfort us, we can all sorrows bear Remembering they are ever near, and we shall join them there In Life – not Death. ~ A poem of condolence written for Major Pulley’s family following his death Author unknown
Old Bedfordian Major Charles Pulley