Bulley, Gloucestershire, England: One of a kind

Bulley is today a tiny hamlet, a little way off the main passage from Gloucester to Huntley. It is a cute gem of a church, more like a chapel. An echo of a former community; based on farming, estates and cottages. People who knew each other probably more familiarly than today.

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The memorial to Charles William Printer lies just off the path.

Charles William Printer

Royal Naval Air Service

Drowned at sea 22nd June 1918

Aged 23 years

“Greater love hath no man”

His name sits on the grave to his father William Isaac Printer of Presbury Farm in Bulley who died in 1899. Charles attended Sir Thomas Rich School in Gloucester, but left aged 16 years to join the Royal Navy. Charles Printer drowned at sea in an airship crash off the coast of Scotland. He was a Chief Petty Officer and coxswain on board the North Sea Airships (NS); designed for use with the Grand Fleet in the North Sea to provide over-sea cover. They were a non-rigid airship filled with gas designed and initiated in 1916; six of the North Sea class were created.

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Charles Printer was a CPO, one of the coxswains on board the NS3. On June 22nd 1918, NS3 left East Fortune Air Station on the east coast of Scotland heading for a patrol when they ran into a storm; strong gusts of wind led to multiple problems on board. The NS3 hit the sea where undoubtedly Charles was killed as it buffeted along the sea. It finally crashed killing some of the crew immediately including Charles but five of the crew survived the crash, crawling on top of the what was left of its envelope where they were eventually picked up the next morning by a destroyer. NS3 eventually sank to the seabed.

It would seem that Charles was probably caught up in the underwater wreckage and drowned in the crash. After the accident, one of the officers wrote to Mrs Lucretia Printer, his mother who was then living in Gloucester about her only son:

“He was a very keen and clever engineer and a very hard worker, never complaining even under the most trying circumstances. It was typical of him that he carried out the orders for the engines up to the last moment with extraordinary promptness, although in imminent danger, and thus probably reduced the loss of life which would otherwise of occurred. It may be some consolation for you in your sorrow to know that your son made the great sacrifice splendidly, which is the best a man can do in this war. His loss will be felt not only by those that knew him, but also by the service to which he belonged. Men such as he are rare, and I know that I for one do not expect to serve with a better engineer.”

His body unrecovered, Charles William Printer was commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial in Southampton. Charles was one of less than fifty men who died in the Great War from the airships. He had received a commission into the RAF as a technical officer from the naval service.

Whilst Charles William Printer had come from a legacy of farming, some young men found a legacy of soldiering thrust upon themselves.

George Ferriers Mansfield Hall was a young 18 year old when war broke out. He gained a commission as Second Lieutenant with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Princess of Charlotte of Wales’s Royal Berkshire Regiment. It was the regiment of his father; Lieutenant Colonel George William Monk Hall.

His father had died when he was young in 1906. But sometimes family, even absent family, can have a profound influence. George attended both Kings School, Gloucester and Ampleforth College in Yorkshire.

The 3rd Battalion was encamped in reserve in Portsmouth when George received his commission in October 1914 but then in May 1915, George was promoted to Lieutenant. Then at some point George was transferred from the 3rd to the 1st Battalion which were in action on the Western Front. He first arrived on the 29th June 1915. George would be dead within three months.

The record states that in the Battle of Loos, 20 year old Lieutenant George Ferriers Mansfield Hall would be wounded, missing, and then presumed dead on the 28th September 1915. The date of his death ranged from the 25th, 27th or 28th September 1915; with accuracy belying the confusion of war. The Battle of Loos began on the 25th September 1915, large casualties fell. George’s body was never identified and his name was written upon the Loos Memorial to the 20,000 who were only ‘known unto God.’

His photograph appears in the Yorkshire Rugby Football Union ‘In Memorium’ 1914-1919 book. A little like Peter Pan, it is an echo of the young men who went away to war and whom never grew old.

His mother must have placed his name upon the grave to her husband which lies in Bulley churchyard in rural Gloucestershire. It is half-covered in moss, the words fading with time.

Lieutenant G. F. M. Hall

Killed in action at Loos September 28th 1915

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Now their memories exist together, father and son, officers of Princess Charlotte’s Berkshires.

These are sons who left mothers, families. Only sons. One of a kind.

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