Charles Stephen Oliver, a WW1 hero remembered
On a grassy corner of Finstock near to the village Post Office stands a stone memorial to the men of Finstock and Fawler who fell for their country during the two World Wars. Included in those remembered from WW1 is Charles S Oliver.
Charles Stephen Oliver was baptised in Finstock on August 5th 1894, the seventh of eight children to Charles and Charlotte Oliver, who were shopkeepers in the village. In 1906, Charles was aged just 12 when his father died.
In 1911, aged 16, Charles was boarding in the Parish of Cogges, near Witney, and was undertaking an apprenticeship in one of the oldest and most respected of crafts of the time, Wheelwriting. 1911 was the pinnacle of the horse and cart age and the wheelwright would have provided an essential service to the community by building and repairing wooden wheels.
The outbreak of WW1 in June 1914, as it did for so many, changed the direction of Charles' life and by June 1915 he was Private Charles Stephen Oliver and he had signed up to service in the 1st/4 Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Charles' date of entry into the war was the 25th June 1915.
Records show that on July 1st 1916 the 1st/4 Ox & Bucks took part in the first day of the Somme battle, this day saw the British Army suffer 60,000 casualties, the largest number of British casualties on any one day of the entire war. Many Ox & Bucks battalions served extensively as the Battle of the Somme continued for 5 long months into November 1916, and proved to be one of the largest and bloodiest battles of WW1.
Charles survived the Somme and later joined the 5th Battalion of the Ox and Bucks.
The Ox and Bucks Regimental Chronicle tells us that in the late summer of 1917 the 5th Battalion, after strenuous exertions and heavy losses in Vis-en-Artois, moved north toward Ypres in Belgium.
In amidst such an incomprehensible environment it is warming to find the men doing their uppermost to do the things that they would have no doubt enjoyed from their lives back home. Notes from the chronicle include, 'July 22nd - The Battalion won the brigade football competition, playing the K.S.L.I (King's Shropshire Light Infantry) for the third time and beating them by 2 to 1'.
The reality was of course that weather could be bad, conditions could be poor and the battalion was constantly on the move at the centre of a fierce battle, for which Charles would pay the ultimate price.
October 15th was a bright sunny day, the corps commander visited the battalion as they prepared to move again and whilst enemy aircraft were busy dropping bombs no damage was recorded. On the 16th the Battalion left Ridge Wood at 11:00am, stopping for lunch at Ziellebeck Road before arriving at Clapham Junction where they were met with a heavy barrage of attack, suffering 40 casualties before finally reaching Inverness Copse. Throughout the night of the 17th, the enemy attack continued, artillery and snipers, and the chronicle records 'the casualties kept coming in'. On the 18th the rain fell hard making the trenches wet and the shelling continued, including High Explosive and gas shells.
On October 19th intermittent shelling continued all day and the chronicle reads 'more rain at midday made the trenches very nasty, and the apology for a communication trench up to the front line is about two and half feet deep in slush, we seem to be keeping up our average of 20 casualties a day'.
Charles' death date is recorded as the 19th October 1917 and its likely that he died in action during the shelling attacks of that day.
Charles is buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery in Belgium along side many more brave British soldiers, some of which were no doubt friends and comrades with whom he had stood shoulder to shoulder throughout the war.
Charles' mother Charlotte died in 1916 and is buried with her husband in Finstock, their burial stone reads 'Also Charles Stephen, their son who was killed in action in France Oct 19th 1917, Aged 23 Years, Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends'.