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Charles Henry Read

Charles Henry Read

Private PO/16184 HMS Odin, Royal Marine Light Infantry
Died 12 June 1917 aged 22
Remembered on Ash War Memorial
Remembered on the Maala Memorial, Aden, Yemen
Buried in North Point Christian Cemetery on Kamaran Island at the southern end of the Red Sea, where the graves can no longer be maintained. The graves can still be seen but are no longer named.
Remembered on the Memorial to the Men of Ash Vale in St Mary’s Church

The upper third of Charles Read's slate gravestone is now in the Military Museum in Liberation Square in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. It bears the engraved badge of the Royal Marines Light Infantry and the inscription "P.O./16184 Private C.H. Read H.M.S. Odin 12th June 1917"

Charles Read was born in Colchester in 1894, the son of Charles Henry and Louise Read. The 1901 census records that the family were living in barracks at Aldershot, and Charles’s father was a Corporal in the Foot Police. The 1911 census records that the family were living at 5 Heather Cottages, Frimley Road, Ash Vale. Charles was a shop assistant, and his father was an Army pensioner and canteen employee.

Charles Read’s Service Record (TNA ADM/159/189) records that he enlisted aged 17 at Southampton on 28 November 1911 (with Albert Lynn). His trade was given as a clerk. He was 5 feet 6½ inches tall, had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair, and a scar on the left side of his forehead. He served on HMS Grafton, HMS Albemarle and HMS Odin. Charles Read “died of wounds”.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that Charles Henry and Louise Read lived at 5 Heather Cottages, Ash Vale; these were in the Frimley Road.

The following information is from "Whose graves can no longer be maintained" by Owain Raw-Rees, 2007.
A copy can be seen in Ash Museum’s History Room.

During the Great War, the Navy blockaded the coast of Arabia, and by the end of 1916, there was much activity to prevent arms reaching the Turkish troops, who were besieging Aden. Kamaran Island is just offshore from Salif which lies on a peninsula on the west coast of Yemen, some 50 miles north of the port of Hodeidah, in the Red Sea.

At Salif there were large rock salt works belonging to the Turkish Government and indeed the mining of salt continues to the present day. Work to improve the pier at Salif was under progress when war broke out and valuable contactors plant was at the site. The Naval Commander in Chief had learnt that the garrison at Salif was only 100 men and a landing party was dispatched. This consisted of approximately 200 seamen and marines from a squadron of small ships - H.M.S. Topaz, Odin and Espiegle, R.I.M.S. Northbrook and Minto, and the armed boarding steamers Suva and Perth. The orders given to Captain Boyle, the Senior Naval Officer, were that he was to hold the enemy whilst the plant was being removed or destroyed, and as circumstances allowed he should capture the garrison. This would prevent further attacks against Kamaran, which was held by a company of Indian native infantry.

The only approach to Salif was through the Kamaran Straits, slightly more than half a cable wide, with the Turkish coast frequently patrolled. However, by the aid of a boat showing a light to seaward from the British side, the ships passed in undetected. The initial dawn landing was a complete surprise and unopposed but further progress met with resistance, and two small Turkish field guns fired intermittently at the ships. The defending forces had two Krupp mountain guns and three one-inch Nordenfeldts and indeed Topaz and Odin ran in so close that the Turks could not depress their guns sufficiently to reach them. Under a barrage from the ship’s guns the advance continued with the attack directed against three sides, the fourth being closed by the Espiegle. The Northbrook’s men landed at the south of the peninsula, and took up position to the right of the town, the others all landed at the pier and extended behind a ridge, which was flanked by a salt mine on the south, and by houses on the north. The Royal Marines were in the centre of the line. The Odin’s seamen entered Salif and captured the condensing plant and the telegraph office. Commander A. R. Woods, D.S.O., R.N., of the Topaz, was in command, with Commander Salmond second in command; there was no Royal Marine officer present. The Turkish forces were completely surrounded, one party having landed on the neck of the peninsula to cut off any retreat to the mainland, and after two hours surrendered. 85 Turkish regulars with 25 Arab Gendarmerie and some civilian officials were made prisoners, against a British loss of one killed and three wounded.

The only British man killed was Private Read, and Conrad Cato’s book The Navy Everywhere gives a detailed review of the action and describes what happened to him. “On the other side we must place the death of Private Read of H.M.S. Odin, who had the misfortune to jump almost on top of a Turk, and to receive a rifle-bullet at point-blank range. It would seem that the Turk fired by accident rather than intent, for all his messmates were on the point of holding up their hands, realising that they were completely surrounded.

Able Seaman Francis George Noble 205234 was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for bringing Private Read in under heavy fire. The citation in the London Gazette 1 August 1917 said "For conspicuous gallantry at the capture of Salif on the 12th of June 1917. When a private of the marines was fatally wounded, and was lying in an exposed position, Noble went out from cover and brought him in. His behaviour throughout was most praiseworthy.

Ash Great War Roll of Honour

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