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First Name: Charles Henry Last Name: MAY
Date of Death: 31/10/1914 Lived/Born In: Sydenham
Rank: Lance Sergeant Unit: Highland Light Infantry2
Memorial Site: Sydenham, St Bartholomew

Current Information:


17, Panmure Road, Sydenham

Hagle Dump Cemetery, Belgium


First Battle of Ypres

Between 21st October and 22nd November, 1914 a desperate fight took place around the Belgium city of Ypres, the first of three major battles that were to be fought there during the course of the war. British troops entered Ypres in October. The 1st and 2nd Divisions plus the 3rd Cavalry Division had made their way up from the Aisne as part of the “Race to the Sea”, whilst the 7th Division came west to Ypres after Antwerp had fallen. The Germans knew that Ypres was the gateway to the Channel ports and that these were vital to Britain’s war effort so they poured reinforcements into the area. The fighting fell into three distinct battles; the Battle of Langemarck, 21-24 October, the Battle of Gheluvelt, 29-31 October and the Battle of Nonne Bosschen, 11 November. Ypres did not fall to the Germans but its defence during these two months resulted in the destruction of much of the old regular British Army.

On 20th October, 1914 the 2nd Highland Light Infantry battalion of 5 Brigade, 2nd Division left their billets in Poperinghe and marched to Ypres where they crossed the Yser canal at Steenstraate bridge and entrenched just beyond it. The next morning they marched to St Jean and supported an attack by the 2nd Worcestershire and 2nd Oxford & Bucks battalions which took them to within one mile of Poelcapelle. Here they came under heavy fire and entrenched. They remained in this position, under continuous artillery and rifle fire until relieved by French troops on 23rd October but any rest they got was short lived. At 11am on 24th October, 2nd Highland Light Infantry and 2nd Worcestershire were in the vanguard of an attack by 5 Brigade that took them to the south-western corner of Polygon Wood.  Here they found 7th Division HQ preparing to make a last stand with cyclists, officers, cooks, any one in fact able to pick up a gun.  The two battalions counter attacked north-east through the wood to restore the line on its eastern edge but the dense undergrowth and the shape of the wood made it difficult to keep direction.  They suddenly came face to face with the enemy to the east of the racecourse and the hand to hand fighting that followed was fierce.  The enemy put up a stubborn resistance but then broke and were hunted out of the woods to British cheering.

Relieved on 26th October, 2nd Highland Light Infantry moved back to bivouacs but their rest was short lived and on the evening of 27th October they were back in the line where they remained, under constant shell fire until they were once again relieved on 1st November. Charles May was killed on 31st October.

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