The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - NEWS -

When David Charl­ton was grow­ing up on the fam­ily farm in Pine Lake, Alta., in the 1960s, his grand­fa­ther, Humphrey Charl­ton, would re­ceive an an­nual phone call from a man in the United States, thank­ing him for sav­ing his life dur­ing the First World War. “Grandpa never talked about the war,” says David, who won­ders to this day how, ex­actly, his grand­fa­ther had saved the man’s life. But he knows it wasn’t Humphrey Charl­ton’s only heroic wartime act.

The son of an Angli­can rec­tor from the West Mid­lands vil­lage of Taten­hill, Humphrey Charl­ton stud­ied agri­cul­ture be­fore em­i­grat­ing to Canada in 1910 in or­der to home­stead in Al­berta. When the war broke out, he sailed back to Eng­land to en­list as a pri­vate in the Army Ve­teri­nary Corps.

Later, he was com­mis­sioned as a sec­ond lieu­tenant and was sub­se­quently pro­moted to cap­tain with the North Stafford­shire Reg­i­ment, with whom he fought in key en­gage­ments in the fi­nal months of the war. Among them was an as­sault against the Hin­den­burg Line, a Ger­man for­ti­fied po­si­tion on the West­ern Front that would be breached, through a se­ries of at­tacks, by Cana­dian and other Al­lied di­vi­sions. One of those in­volved the Bat­tle of the Saint-Quentin Canal.

At dawn, on Sept. 29, 1918, de­spite a heavy fog that made it hard to lo­cate en­emy ma­chine guns, the North Stafford­shire troops were able to cap­ture Ger­man po­si­tions and then cross the canal equipped with lifebelts, lad­ders, col­lapsi­ble boats and rafts. At the same time, Cap­tain Charl­ton, us­ing a com­pass to find his way through the fog, led a group of nine men on­ward to the Rique­val Bridge, a cru­cial span for mov­ing troops and sup­plies for­ward.

De­spite com­ing un­der ma­chine-gun fire from a Ger­man trench, they charged for­ward, and killed the Ger­man crew with bay­o­nets. Reach­ing the bridge at 6:20 a.m., they shot the Ger­man sen­tries, and Capt. Charl­ton and a sap­per cut the cords to ex­plo­sives that had been set up to de­stroy the bridge. They then crossed – and rooted out the re­main­ing Ger­mans.

“His prompt ac­tion in cut­ting the leads and dis­con­nect­ing the charges saved the bridge, upon which de­pended the whole suc­cess of the op­er­a­tions, not only of the whole divi­sion, but of the divi­sion which was leap-frog­ging us to a dis­tant ob­jec­tive,” read the rec­om­men­da­tion let­ter by Bri­gadier-Gen­eral John V. Camp­bell.

Capt. Charl­ton was awarded the Distin­guished Ser­vice Or­der and in Bri­tain his name is fa­mil­iar to his­tory buffs and mil­i­tary au­thors, who praise him for his role in a de­ci­sive mo­ment lead­ing to the end of the war. But be­cause he served in the mil­i­tary of his na­tive Bri­tain rather than with a Cana­dian unit, Humphrey Charl­ton is vir­tu­ally un­known in his adopted coun­try. “There are still so many things we are learn­ing about him,” his grand­son David says.

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