Charles Theodore Paynter was born in Derbyshire and went to Springfield when his father became Rector there in 1897. His education included a spell at Chelmsford’s Grammar School. He joined the Royal Navy in September 1908 and remained with the service until his death April 1918 at Zebrugge when his ship was struck by an exploding shell fired by shore batteries. A brother was killed in an avalanche, and another became Chief Intelligence Officer for Bomber Command and later was a director of MI5.
Charles was born in Spondon, Derbyshire in on 1st November 1895, the third of six sons of Reverend Francis Samuel Paynter and Helen Isabel Paynter (nee Cane). Charles’ father had been born on 18th March 1866 in Stoke, Guildford, Surrey, the son of the Reverend Francis Paynter; his mother in 1871 in Weston, Nottinghamshire. She was the daughter of the Reverend John Brettle Cane, Rector of Tattingstone in Suffolk. The couple had married in Suffolk on 25th June 1891. Shortly beforehand Charles’ father had been living in Stoke in Surrey where his own father was the rector.
Charles’ siblings included Francis John Handley Paynter (born on 5th May 1892 in Guildford, Surrey), Hubert Sydney Paynter (born in 1893 in Dittisham, Devon), Noel Stephen Paynter (born on 26th December 1898 in Springfield), Bernard Samuel Paynter (born on 30th August 1904), and Francis Arthur Paynter (born on 8th June 1909).
Charles’ father was a clergyman in Dittisham from 1893-94, Vicar of Spondon from 1894-97, and Rector of Springfield from 1897-1929. Four years after his father took over as Springfield’s rector Charles, his parents three siblings, and five servants were recorded by the 1901 census living at The Rectory in Springfield,.
Charles was educated the King Edward VI’s Grammar School, Chelmsford between September 1906 and December 1907. His brother Francis had also been educated there, between May and July 1902 and September 1906 and July 1907. Their brother Noel went to the Grammar School, between September 1909 and December 1910, before moving on to a preparatory school for Haileybury College in Hertfordshire. Charles was also educated at St. Michael’s School at Westgate in Kent and Osborne and Dartmouth Naval Colleges, joining the latter on 15th September 1908.
Charles’ 15 year-old brother Francis ‘Fritz’ had died on 8th July 1907 after suffering from acute kidney disease.
In 1911 the census found 15 year-old Charles serving as a Naval Cadet at the Royal Navy’s Dartmouth Naval College. Charles was appointed Midshipman on 15th May 1913, then Sub-Lieutenant on 15th September 1915, and Lieutenant on 15th July 1917. He served on H.M.S. Conquerer, H.M.S. Vigilant, H.M.S. Michael (in which he participated in the Battle of Jutland on 31st May 1916) and H.M.S. North Star.
Charles was mentioned in an Essex County Chronicle report of 27th July 1917 concerning another brother:
“Sec.-Lt. N. S. Paynter, Essex R., attached R.F.C., son of the Rev, F. S. Paynter, R.D., rector of Springfield, met with a bad accident on Saturday evening. He was starting his aeroplane from the aerodrome on a scouting expedition, when one of the tyres burst, and the machine crashed into a shed. He was considerably cut about the face and legs, but his first thought was that of his machine, Unfortunately the shock brought on appendicitis, necessitating an operation, but we are pleased to say he is progressing. The Rector’s second son, Sub-Lt. C. T. Paynter, R.N. has been promoted Lieut., and posted to another vessel, while his other son has so far recovered from the severe injuries he received while flying in France as to be in daily service once more.”
Charles was killed on 23rd April 1918 while serving as a Lieutenant on H.M.S. North Star Royal Navy when the M class destroyer was sunk by shore batteries having lost her way in smoke during the famous naval raid on Zeebrugge in Belgium. He was aged 22.
On 26th April 1918 the Essex County Chronicle published the following family announcement, which also appeared in the day’s Essex Weekly News:
“Paynter. - April 23, killed by a shell off the coast of Belgium, Lieutenant Charles Theodore Paynter, R.N., dearly-loved third son of the Rev. Francis Paynter, rector of Springfield, and Mrs. Paynter, aged 22.”
The same edition of the paper carried a further report on Charles’ death:
“Lt. Charles Theodore Paynter, R.N., third son of the Rev. Francis S. Paynter, R.D., rector of Springfield, and Mrs. Paynter, was killed by a shell off the coast of Belgium in the recent naval operations. The deceased officer, who was 22 years of age, was educated at St. Michael’s School. Westgate, and passed from there into Osborne in 1908, proceeding to Dartmouth College in 1910. In 1913 he went on a cruise to the West Indies in H.M.S. Cornwall, and was subsequently gazetted midshipman on board H.M.S. Conqueror, a super Dreadnought, Obtaining the rank of Acting-Sub.-Lieut.
PAYNTER, CHARLES THEODORE,
Lieutenant, H.M.S. North Star, Royal Navy
In 1915, the young officer was gazetted to H.M.S. Vigilant, on board which, he went through the battle of Jutland in 1916. His last ship was the North Star, upon which he became full Lieut., last year, and was No. 1. Although full details are yet to hand, enough is already reported to show that Lt. Paynter acted with great courage and gallantry in the operations undertaken off the coast of Belgium on the morning of the 23rd last. He was personally concerning in the sinking of a German electronically controlled ship off the coast of Belgium, and his destroyer was one which went into the harbour behind the Mole at Zeebrugge, and was blown up. Before this occurred he was able to let off a torpedo which struck the Mole, causing a great deal of damage, Lt./ Paynter was killed while trying to save the life of someone in the water and exposing himself to the danger.”
A fellow officer wrote:
“He was very cool and showed a fine example to his men, showing complete disregard of danger, although he was in a very exposed position. The men whom we rescued spoke in the highest praise of how your son carried on till the last minute. The Service has lost a very valuable officer.”
“A whiter man never stepped this earth.”
On 10th May 1918 the Essex County Chronicle reported:
“The late Lt. C. T. Paynter. A memorial service for the late Lt. Charles Theodore Paynter, R.N., third son of the Rev. Francis S Paynter, R.D. rector of Springfield, and Mrs. Paynter, was held at Springfield Parish Church on Wednesday afternoon. The service was conducted by Canon Lake, and the Bishop of Chelmsford preached. Lt. Paynter was, as reported at the time, killed during the naval raid on Zeebrugge and Ostend. There was a large congregation, which included the Rev. F S. and Mrs. Paynter, Captn. Hubert Paynter, R.F.C., Lt. Stephen Paynter, R.F.C., brothers of the deceased.”
The July 1918 edition of the King Edward VI’s Grammar School’s publication, The Chelmsford Magazine, reported:
“Lt. C. T. Paynter who was killed in the Zeebrugge attack was at one time a boarder here and his is only one of the many fine promising lives cut off so early.”
Charles was mention in dispatches in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 23rd July 1918 for gallant and distinguished service.
Charles has no known grave is commemorated at Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent, on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford, the Springfield Parish Memorial at All Saints’ Church and on a marble memorial on the south wall of the chancel in All Saints’ Church. The marble memorial includes the inscription:
'IN LOVING MEMORY OF/CHARLES THEODORE PAYNTER R.N/LIEUT . H.M.S. "NORTH STAR"/SON OF THE RECTOR OF THIS PARISH/WHO GAVE HIS LIFE FOR ENGLAND ON ST GEORGE'S DAY/APRIL 23RD 1918 IN THE GLORIOUS NAVAL ATTACK/ON ZEEBRUGGE/AGED 22', 'FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH'.
The white ensign from H.M.S. North Star now hangs in All Saints’ Church, Springfield. He left an estate valued at £26,871 4s 3d.
The 1918 register of electors listed Charles’s parents at The Rectory in Springfield. His father subsequently served as Rural Dean of Chelmsford from 1917-1935, Honorary Canon of Chelmsford 1922-1940 and died in 1954. Charles’ mother had died the previous year, aged 82.
Charles’ brother Bernard was killed in a shooting incident in Somerset on 23rd August 1927, aged 22. There he was employed as a farm pupil and his body was found in a plantation with the top part of his head blown away and a shotgun lying across his chest. Chelmsford’s papers reported the incident as an accident.
Charles’ brother Francis Arthur Paynter, who served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, was killed by an avalanche at Mittleberg in Austria aged 27 on 8th January 1937.
Their brother, Noel had a distinguished military career. He served as officer in the Essex Regiment during the First World War and then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and served with the Royal Air Force, ultimately in senior ranks until his retirement. From November 1942 he was Chief Intelligence Officer of H.Q. Bomber Command, with a rank of Air Commodore and after retirement from the R.A.F. in 1947 was a Director of MI5 He died on 16th March 1998 aged 99 in Buckinghamshire.
On 29th June 2018 during centenary commeorations, presided by H.R.H. King Phillip of Belgium, a small boat was named 'Charles Theodore Paynter' at Bredene on the Belgium coast.