Tug of war tragedy one year before the Great War: Territorial Army solider remembered

A Territorial Army soldier died in a tug of war just a year before the outbreak of the First World War and is now buried in Berkhamsted.

Monday, 18th August 2014, 5:12 pm
Funeral procession for Charlie Brewer

The 24-year-old’s story has been released by the recently formed Rectory Lane Cemetery Project.

Charlie Brewer was a member of the F Company of the 1st Battalion of the Hertfordshire Regiment in the Territorial Army. The soldiers went to a training camp at Dibgate Farm in Kent in August 1913.

Into the 13th day, after a morning spent on manoeuvres, he returned to camp for lunch and was looking forward to an afternoon visit to Folkestone.

Charlie Brewer

But first there was a tug-of-war competition. After three successful bouts, Charlie’s team lost the fourth, and had just crossed to the other side when he threw up his arms and fell to the ground.

The Berkhamsted physician attached to the battalion tried artificial respiration but to no avail. In the post-mortem, it was revealed that Charlie had consumed a very big meal just before the tug-of-war. Death was due to an ‘overloaded stomach and the strain of the exercise.’

Charlie had lived in Bridge Street, Berkhamsted, with his young wife Alice and Billy (nicknamed Bibby), their recently born son. Charlie had been working as a bricklayer’s labourer at Coopers’ Chemical Works in Berkhamsted.

His funeral procession was led by the Berkhamsted Town Band from his home to St Peter’s Church on a Thursday afternoon. The young soldier’s cap, belt and bayonet were placed on his coffin, which was covered with the Union Jack.

After a ceremony at Rectory Lane Cemetery, three volleys were fired into the air by the Territorials and the Last Post sounded over the open grave.

Spokesman for the Rectory Lane Cemetery Project James Moir said: “What if he had survived? Would he have simply met the same terrible fate of his younger brother Albert, who was killed on the Somme in 1916?”

A Heritage Open Day will be held at Rectory Lane Cemetery from 2pm to 6pm on Sunday, September 14.

Trails will be led during the day that introduce some of the people buried there, including 14 people who died during the First World War.

The public are invited to submit ideas about how the cemetery should be enhanced and maintained.

The Rectory Lane Cemetery Project is also asking for helpful information about people’s family and friends who are buried there.

The ideas and stories should be emailed to Mr Moir at [email protected]