Charles Phillis was born in Winchester in 1892 to Alfred and Harriet Phillis.
Alfred had been born in North Waltham to a family of agricultural labourers. In the 1881 census he is working as a bricklayer and lodging in 45 Hyde Street. A few months later he married Harriett (nee Titheridge) in Alresford and went on to have 5 children.
Ten years later in the 1891 census the family is living at 13 Hyde Street including 4 children: Mabel (8), Leonard (6), Nelly (3) and Ethel (1), all born in Winchester.
In the 1901 census the family is now living at 2 Fairfield Road with the addition of Charles, now 9. Leonard (16) is working as a bricklayer, like his father.
In the 1911 census the family is living at 15 Monks Road. Charles’ father is now a self-employed builder. He and Harriett have been married for 29 years and have 5 children, all still living. Also living with them are Mabel (28, dressmaker), Leonard (26, bricklayer) and Charles, now 19 and working as a carpenter.
In September 1914 at the age of 22, Charles enlisted with the Hampshire Regiment at Salisbury Plain and served with the 1st /4th (Territorial Force) Battalion. His service number of 4/3006 (later renumbered 200907) suggests enlistment prior to the start of the war in the Territorials. At the time he joined, the Battalion was stationed at Winchester; it was part of the Hampshire Brigade of the Wessex Division which then moved to Bulford. On 9th October 1914 Charles embarked from Southampton for India where he was based at Poona undergoing training under the command of Colonel F Bowker. Charles was to fight alongside Indian troops throughout the rest of the campaign.
Around 5th March orders were received to embark at Karachi for Busra (now Basra) where they joined the 33rd Indian Brigade. For the next few weeks Charles’ story mirrors many of the men of the Hampshire Regiment in “escorting convoys to Sheiba, such work entailing marches of some 12 miles through 3 feet of mud and water.” Charles then had his first contact with Turkish troops when he was next engaged in escorting Turkish prisoners and the wounded.
Towards the end of April, the Battalion embarked on a river steamer and proceeded up the Karun River. Much marching and “considerable discomfort from lack of shelter and rations” ensued. One wing of the Battalion was ordered to destroy a village. They then returned to near Busra where they were billeted in “filthy Turkish Barracks” at Asher. The Battalion took part in the arduous work of towing barges by hand through Hammar Lake. Finally, on 24th July 1915, came Charles’ first real engagement with the enemy at Nasiryrah. The action to take the stronghold was successful but at the cost of many lives. Sickness resulting from poor conditions and lack of food further reduced the fighting force.
By November 1915 the Headquarters and one company were moved to the infamous Kut-El-Amara – a small walled town at a bend in the river which was to surrender on 29th April 1916. It appears Charles was with another unit which joined with reinforcements to bombard enemy trenches on 20th January 1916 in the Battle of Umm El Hannah. The History of the TF Association notes that “the enemy’s position was a very strong one having at least three lines of trenches, with their right resting on the Tigris and their left on the large marsh which runs for many miles towards the Persian Hills”. The decision was made to make a full frontal attack. The History records: “The ground was quite flat, with no cover to be obtained, so casualties very soon became serious”. Even worse, reinforcements became disorientated and messages urging reinforcement failed to get through.
Charles was fatally injured on 7th February 1917 (exact circumstances not known), and died of his wounds on 13th February 1917. He is buried at Amara War Cemetery in Iraq. He was 25 years old.
The Winchester War Register includes Charles’ older brother Leonard who joined the Gloucester Regiment in March 1916, becoming a Lance Corporal. He served in France and was wounded, but survived. He married Edith Rattey in Winchester in 1921 and died in Eastleigh in 1932, aged only 47, possibly from the effects of war.
At the age of 36, their older sister Mabel married Thomas Benham in 1919. The following year she gave birth to a son whom she named Charles.
Nellie married Frederick Lawrence in 1935 at the age of 47. Ethel married Frederick Eames at the end of 1917, the year that Charles died. A year later she had twin daughters, Ethel and Mabel.
Charles’ father Alfred died in 1933 in Winchester, aged 75. Harriet died 2 years later, aged 83.