Charles Tower Trill was born in Newick in 1894, the youngest of the nine children of Henry Trill, a printer and stationer born in Brighton, and his wife Elizabeth, who was from Suffolk. The family were clearly well-to-do as the 1881 Census shows that while living at an address in Clermont Road, near Preston Park in Brighton, the family had a servant, Elvey Eager. By 1891 they had moved to Duke Street in the town, and their domestic servant was one Sarah Noakes, Not surprisingly, given his unusual middle name Charles’s birth certificate shows that he was born in Tower House, off Allington Road.
Although the family were living in Newick by 1893 when one of Charles’ younger brothers was on the village school roll, and in Tower House in 1894, by the time of the 1901 census the family (and Sarah Noakes) had moved to Keymer and by 1911, the Trills were living at No. 22, Duke Street, Brighton. Charles were still at school despite the fact that he was 16 years old, highlighting the family’s comparative wealth; Sarah Noakes was still in their employment as a servant.
Charles joined up in Hove in August 1914 and following training (and promotion) G759 Lance Corporal Charles Trill sailed for the continent on 31st May 1915. He joined the 7th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, who were in and out of the frontline trenches through much of 1915 and the first half of 1916. By early July, their War Diary states that the battalion consisted of 37 officers and 948 other ranks, an almost full complement.
On the morning of the 2nd July, the battalion were in support trenches in the Albert/Bouzincourt area, where they received details of a forthcoming attack on German positions at Ovillers (now Ovillers-le-Boiselle). Ominously for the Sussex men, the three battalions that attacked Ovillers on the 1st July had suffered over a thousand casualties between them, partially owing to the width of No-Man’s-Land at this point (over 750 yards in places). Clearly the coming assault was not going to be easy. The next few days were spent preparing for the attack, and on the morning of the 6th the battalion moved into the frontline trenches opposite Ovillers.
Following a heavy artillery bombardment, the attack began at 8.28am on 7th July 1916, with the 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in the centre with detachments of Royal Fusiliers to the left and right. The War Diary shows that the battalion came under heavy machine gun fire, and were ‘heavily shrapnelled by Whizz Bang guns and Jack Johnsons’ (the British names for light and heavy German artillery shells respectively; the former fairly self-explanatory, the latter a reference to a contemporary African-American boxing champion, owing to the characteristic black smoke produced by the explosion of a heavy German shell). Despite this, parties of Sussex men penetrated both the German front and support (second) lines.
The confused nature of the fighting in the enemy trenches is vividly described:
‘Germans were in groups, some fighting, some surrendering and there was a good deal of individual sniping and some bomb throwing, which our men had the best of.’
By noon elements of the battalion with some men from the Royal Fusiliers were still holding parts of the German front and support line, having repulsed a counter-attack. At this point it started to rain, filling the trenches ‘with a kind of porridge mud’. Reinforcements with water, ammunition and bombs (grenades) arrived during the afternoon and the surviving Sussex men held their positions all night and most of the following day, strengthening the defences and fighting off German attacks with grenades, the supply of which was deliberately limited, to prevent ‘wasting bombs’.
The battalion was relieved on the evening of 8th July, and by 11.00pm they were in billets in Albert, following ‘tea at Crucifix Corner’ on the way to the rear. The War Diary gives an estimated figure of 20 officers and 508 other ranks killed, wounded or missing for the days 7th and 8th July 1916,
All official records give Lance Corporal Trill’s date of death as 7th July 1916. He was 21 years old.
Charles is buried in Ovillers Military Cemetery, which is situated in a windblown site to the west of the village of Ovillers-la-Boiselle, part of No-Man’s-Land up until the capture of the village on the 17th July. The cemetery was originally started as a battlefield cemetery adjacent to a dressing station, and was used until March 1917, by which time it contained 143 graves.
Lance Corporal Trill’s body was originally buried nearby, but after the Armistice bodies from a number of smaller cemeteries were brought to the existing cemetery as their final resting place. The fragmentary Commonwealth War Graves Commission records do not show exactly when he was exhumed or reburied, but he had been laid to rest by the end of 1920 when the current position of his grave was recorded. The headstone does not have a personal inscription, and despite corrections added to his records, the first initial on his gravestone was still ‘G’ when the site was visited by members of the local Royal British Legion branch in 2018. The cemetery now holds the remains of over 3000 Commonwealth servicemen, of whom two thirds are unidentified. There are also 120 French war graves, a reminder that the area was held by the French army until the spring of 1916. The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.
Charles is not commemorated on either of the two original village memorials, as his family had left Newick when he was a small child, although he is now remembered at The Green. His name and that of his brother Clement are recorded on the Brighton War Memorial, Old Steine Gardens, Brighton, and in St. George’s Chapel in Chichester Cathedral.
Lance Corporal Charles Trill was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. His surviving military records give no family details, although his brother Clement’s records show that their father John had died before the war (in 1911), but that their mother, Elizabeth survived two of her sons. Charles’s pension records show that she moved to Swanley in Kent after the war. She died in 1921.
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