Sapper Charles Ryan

Charles Ryan

Regiment: Royal Engineers
Service No: 158818
Date & place of birth: 1 January 1891 in Fishbourne, Sussex
Date & place of death: 18 March 1920 (aged 29) in Cocking

Sapper Charles Ryan enlisted in the Royal Engineers in September 1915, serving in France before he suffered from gas poisoning and returned home, where he died in March 1920. His grave stands in Cocking churchyard near the south-west corner of the church.

Family background

Charles Ryan was born in Fishbourne on New Years Day 1891, the eldest son of Charley Ryan (1866–1938) and his wife Eleanor Kate née Staker (1871–1949). His father was born in Chichester and married Eleanor in Portsmouth in the spring of 1889. The couple settled in Fishbourne where Charley worked as a cowman on a local farm. Charles was born about 18 months after they were married, followed by five more children, one of whom died as an infant.

By the time of the 1911 census, the family had moved to North Stoke, near Amberley. Charles had now left the family home and was living at Sharford Cottage, Fernhurst where he was employed as a carter on a farm.

His death certificate gives his occupation as “platelayer”.

Military service

In September 1915, Charles enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a sapper.

He saw two and a half years’ active service in France, during which time he suffered from trench fever. Trench fever was fairly common amongst soldiers in the war, with over a quarter of British troops experiencing it at least once. It was transmitted via the bites of body lice and the symptoms were headaches, skin rashes, inflamed eyes and leg pains, which generally lasted about five or six days.

Death and commemoration

Charles Ryan's grave in Cocking churchyard
Charles Ryan’s grave in Cocking churchyard

In 1918, Charles suffered the effects of gas poisoning, following which he was sent home to his parents.

Charles failed to recover and died on 18 March 1920 at his parents’ home, on Cocking Causeway. The cause of death is given on his death certificate as “morbus cordis” (heart failure) and trench fever. He is buried in Cocking churchyard.

Subsequent family history

After the war, the family moved to Manor Farm Cottage in Mill Lane, Cocking.

Charles’s two brothers and two sisters all survived him. His sister, Olive (born 1903) later married James Cook, the younger brother of William Cook who had been killed in March 1916 and is also commemorated on the Cocking War Memorial.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project