Charles William Rochester was born and raised in Chelmsford, the son of a devoted couple of Salvation Army members. During the war he served in the army in the eastern Mediterranean. He was killed in action in December 1917 near Jerusalem while bandaging a wounded officer. His home was in Friars Place.
Charles was born in Chelmsford in 1898, the son of William Rochester and Louisa Rochester (nee Rolfe). His father had been born in 1852 in High Laver; his mother c1866 in Chelmsford. The couple had married in 1882.
Charles was baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Chelmsford on 4th September 1898. At the time his father was a labourer living at 3 Union Yard, Chelmsford.
Charles’ only sibling was an adopted brother George Rochester (born in 1886 in Epping).
The 1901 census found two year-old Charles living with his parents and brother George at 4 New Street, Chelmsford. Both his father and brother were rag sorters. Strangely the family was also enumerated at 143 Moulsham Street, Chelmsford by the 1901 census.
A decade later the 1911 census recorded Charles living with his parents and a cousin in New Street, Chelmsford. His father, aged 59, was a labourer. Charles’ mother was a sorter for a rag and bone merchants. Meanwhile Charles’ brother George and his wife of five years, Minnie, were living in another property in New Street.
Charles’ father died in late December 1911, aged 59. The Essex County Chronicle of 5th January 1912 reported on his funeral mentioning Charles:
“Salvation Army Funeral - The funeral of Mr. Wm. Rochester, of 15 Upper Roman-road, who died after a long and painful illness at the age of 59, took place at the Writtle-road Cemetery on Saturday. The deceased had been an active member of the Salvation Army for some years, and a short service was held outside the residence before the procession was formed. The cortege was preceded by the Army Band, which played funeral marches en route, and the soldiers of the Chelmsford Corps. At the cemetery the service was conducted by Ensign Wilson, who came to Chelmsford specially for the occasion. A duet and the hymns, ‘Jesu, lover of my soul’ and ‘Abide with me’, were sung, Floral tributes were sent by his sorrowing wife and son Charlie; sister-in-law, nephews, and nieces; George and Minnie; Sullivan; Soldiers of the Chelmsford Corps; and his fellow workmen. The undertakers were Messrs. A. J. Andrews and Son. Memorial services, also conducted by Ensign Wilson, were held at the Citadel on Sunday, and the band played the Dead March in ‘Saul’.”
Charles enlisted at Chelmsford and served as Private 27787 in the 2/4th Battalion of the Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). The battalion had been formed in September 1914 and sailed from Southampton to Gallipoli on 20th July 1915, landing at Suvla Bay on 10th August 1915. In December 1915 it was evacuated from Gallipoli and moved to Egypt and then Palestine fighting the Turks.
Charles was killed in action in Palestine on 17th December 1917, aged 19. Today he lies buried at Jerusalem War Cemetery, in Israel (grave: M. 90).
On 11th January 1918 the Essex County Chronicle included the following message of thanks from Charles’ family:
“Mrs. I. Rochester, 2 Friars Place, Chelmsford, begs to thank all friends the kind sympathy shown in the loss of her only son, Private Charles Rochester, killed in action Dec. 17th, 1917. Jan. 11th 1918.”
On 8th February 1918 the same paper reported:
“Mrs. Rochester, of the Friars, Chelmsford, whose son Pt. Charles Rochester, was killed in Palestine on the 17th Dec. has received a letter from Sergt. F.G. Storey, of the same platoon, expressing deepest sympathy of himself and the platoon with Mrs. Rochester in her bereavement,
ROCHESTER, CHARLES WILLIAM,
Private, 2/4th Battalion, Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
The sergeant adds ‘At the time of your son’s death he was bandaging up a wounded officer, and had left cover to do so. His body was brought in and buried at the foot of the ridge on which he lost his life, The spot where he lies is about two miles east of the Mount of Olives and the garden of Gethsemane. His loss is felt by the whole platoon, who feel that they have lost a good pal and a brave comrade’.”
Charles is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford, and the Moulsham Parish Memorial, St. John’s Church, Moulsham. He was entitled to the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
The 1918 register of electors listed his widowed mother at 2 Friars Place, Chelmsford. The site of the house now lies under Parkway between New London Road and Moulsham Street.
On 13th December 1918 the Essex County Chronicle included the following in memoriam notice:
“Rochester. - In loving memory of my dear son, Pt. C. W. Rochester, killed in action in Palestine, Dec. 17th, 1917, aged 19 years 5 months.
One year has passed since that sad day. When my dear son was called away. The hardest part is yet to come, When the heroes home return; I shall miss among the smiling crowd The face of my dear one.
From his loving Mother, L. Rochester, Friars Place, Chelmsford.
A week later the same paper included another memoriam notice:
“Rochester. - In loving memory of Private Charlie Rochester, who was killed in action in Palestine, Dec. 17th 1917, aged 19 years 5 months.
‘Greater love hath no man that this that he lay down his life for his friend.’
3 Tower View, Beehive Lane, Chelmsford.’
Charles’ adoptive brother George, who was widowed in 1936, died in January 1938 sixteen days before he was due to marry his second wife. Their mother died five months later - two days before her death Commandant Wilson of the Salvation Army brought a leaf from a plant growing on the Mount of Olives, close to where Charles had been killed, to Charles’ mother, but she was too ill to be seen.