Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Sapper Charles Spence WR 313671 - Royal Engineers

NAME; Charles Spence
RANK; Sapper
SERV. NO;172990 / WR313671
UNIT/SERVICE;Inland Water Transport Service and Dock Companies
REGIMENT; Royal Engineers
BORN;Ballymena, 19th November 1886
LIVED; Lancasterian Street, Carrickfergus
ENLISTED; Belfast, 20th May 1916 aged 30
FATE; Survived the war
CHURCH; Church of Ireland, St Nicholas
REMARKS; Charles was born in Ballymena on 19th November 1886, the son of Charles and Jane Spence and brother to James and Thomas.  The family moved to Carrickfergus around 1907 and took up residence in Crampton Court.  Charles married Jane Doherty in St Ann's Cathedral Belfast on 29th Janurary 1913 and was father to Ellen, James, John and Charlotte (who died agaed only 20 months in 1917).  Prior to the war Charles was living with his family on Lancasterian Street in the town and working as a seaman on board the ships of Elder Fife and Company of Liverpool he was also a member of the National Health and Seaman's Union.  In 1915 he joined the Mercantile Marine and served for 5 months on the convoys before joining the Royal Engineers on 20th May 1916 aged 30.  He was assigned to the Inland Water Transport Service and Dock company presumably due to his experience as a mariner.  Following army training in 1916 he served as a bargeman on cross channel ammunition barges (1030, 1120 and 1060) between England and Dunkirk or Calais from November 1916 to February 1917 and again August 1918 to November 1918.  

Charles was demobilised from the army on 29th January 1919 in London and returned to his family in Carrickfergus.  He began work after the war with John Kelly Coal Limited and served until the outbreak of World War Two when he rejoined the Mercantile Marine served throughout the war notably on the Russian Convoys with his son John.  After WW2 he returned to working with Kelly Coal well into his seventies and died in Carrickfergus on 12th July 1964.  He is buried in North Road Cemetery.

Charles Spence and his family suffered greatly at the hands of both World Wars, his two brothers James and Thomas were killed during World War One and his own son James was killed during the Battle of El Alamein in 1942.  

Sapper Charles Spence, Royal Engineers


  1. Charles was born 8th November 1886, son of Charles and Sarah:

    Civil Marriage
    Date of Marriage 30 Jan 1886
    Groom Name Charles SPENCE
    Bride Name Sarah WHINNEY
    Church Kilconriola Church of Ireland
    Parish Kirkinriola
    Civil District Ballymena
    County Antrim

    U/1886/20/1004/19/191 Charles Spense 8th November 1886 Male Whinnery Ballymena(pre-1973 Q4)

    Census Years1901AntrimBallymena and Town and Urban District of BallymenaFairhill Lane
    22 in Fairhill Lane (Ballymena and Town and Urban District of Ballymena, Antrim)
    Spence Sarah 45 Female Wife Church of Ireland County Antrim
    Spence Charles 43 Male Head of Family Church of Ireland County AntrimLabourer
    Spence Charles 15 Male Son Church of Ireland County Antrim News Paper Seller
    Spence James 14 Male Son Church of Ireland County Antrim Agricultural Labourer
    Spence Thomas 10 Male Son Church of Ireland County Antrim

  2. By coincidence, my maternal grandfather also lived in Lancasterian Street and was foreman for CJ Brooks. He was also in the Eighth Army Royal Engineers and was at El Alamein. He was mentioned in dispatches for welding supply pipelines ahead of the advance of the British Armour against Rommel. He told me once how much he admired the Scottish sappers who did the mine clearance. When one was blown up another would hand his letters for home and other personal items to the man behind and immediately took the place of his fallen comrade. My grandfather left the army as a pacifist.