Charles Campbell May


Charles’ parents were Charles Edward May, born 4 February 1858 in Rotherhithe, and his wife, Susan Laura, born about 1864 in Woolwich. Charles and Susan married about 1882 and had 3 children, 2 of whom were still alive in 1911. Charles was apprenticed to Siemens Bros who had a cable factory in Woolwich and he helped fit electric lighting in the Royal Albert Dock. He spent a year in Glasgow with the Electric Light Company and then returned to Siemens. Siemens arranged for him to go to New Zealand where he worked for the Otago and Southland Telegraph Department. The office was destroyed by fire in 1887 and he was inspired to find ways to prevent such disasters. He invented the first automatic fire alarm, patented as the Mays Automatic Fire Ennunciator. With George Oatway he formed the May-Oatway Alarm company and Charles returned to England to run the London office. In 1911 the family were living at 7 Forest Glade, Leytonstone. At that time Charles Edward was 52 and a general manager of the fire alarm company. Charles Campbell lived with his parents and they had a servant.

Charles Edward’s military career is a little vague. For 6 years from the age of 18 he was a member of the 9th Kent Artillery, a volunteer corps. It is not known when or why he joined the New Zealand forces but he became a major. He served in Cairo at some point and gave his house over to wounded soldiers. He was at Rouen hospital when he heard of his son’s death. At some point he was awarded the OBE.

Charles Campbell

Charles was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, on 27 July 1888. In 1911 he lived with his parents in Leytonstone and worked as a secretary for the fire alarm company. In January 1912 he married Bessie Maud Holl in West Ham. Bessie was the third of 4 children of Charles Ernest and Rachel Bessie Holl. Charles Ernest was born about 1858 in Norwich and Rachel was born about 1863 in Woodford, Essex. In 1911 they lived at 142 Hainault Rd, Leytonstone and Charles was a ribbon merchant. The family had a servant. Bessie Maud was born in Leytonstone and was baptised at St John the Baptist church on 6 May 1888.

Charles and Bessie had a daughter, Maude Pauline, born on 20 July 1914 and baptised at Christ Church on 11 October 1914. By this time the family had moved to Manchester and lived at 2 Lyndhurst Rd, Withington.

We do not know what brought the family to Manchester but Charles wrote regular columns for the Manchester Evening News and the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph. He is described elsewhere as an author and poet.

Charles fought with B Company, the 22nd Battalion of the Manchesters. He was a lieutenant from 12 January until 6 February 1915. He became a captain on 7 February 1915. He served in France from 11 November 1915 and was killed in action on 1 July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme. He was leading his company during an attack on the Dantzig Alley trench system. It has been said that the attack was successful but most of the officers were killed or wounded. His colonel wrote that, “Though mortally wounded he gallantly continued to give orders and encourage his men to the last. Had he lived I would have recommended him for the DSO.”

The Manchester Evening News reported their deep regret at his death, saying that he had contributed to their columns for many years and that his robust stories of the trenches were much appreciated. His pen pictures of trench life betrayed a spirit which could jest at dangers and discomforts. The article also states that he had served 6 years with King Edward’s Horse and had founded and commanded the Legion of Volunteers in Manchester.

Charles’ WW1 diaries have been published as a book, To Fight Alongside Friends, edited by Gerry Harrison.

Charles is buried at Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz, reference II. B. 3. He is also commemorated in the Derby Chapel in Manchester Cathedral, which is dedicated to the regiment. His widow bought an oak chair for the chapel in his memory. He left £852 4s 6d. After his death Bessie married again in West Ham in 1919. Her second husband was Captain Francis John Earles. He had made a promise to Charles on the eve of the battle of the Somme to provide for his wife and child in the event of his death. Bessie lived in Paris at one time but died in Folkestone on 15 April 1966, aged 78. Maude Pauline died in 1971 and her death was registered in Chorlton.