Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1917, Captain Charles Claude Whitley M.C., 7th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was killed in action during the Battle of Arras.
He was the son of a solicitor who was also an M.P. and who had died when Captain Whitley was four years old. After attending Balliol College, Oxford, he lived on a tenth of the income from a £17,000,000 inheritance. He used the rest to buy land for his old school and erect new school buildings, funded university places and set up free dental clinics for children in Liverpool. Captain Whitley enlisted as a private after the outbreak of the Great War, and in April of 1915 was commissioned in the 7th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He arrived in France two months later and served on the Ypres Salient, being wounded in the attack on Bellewaarde Ridge in September.
A month after being promoted to Captain in July, 1916, he was wounded again while leading his men in the final attack at Delville Wood. For his actions the following month he was awarded the Military Cross, the citation for which reads: “For conspicuous gallantry in action. Though shot through the arm he remained in command of his company, advanced with it and captured and consolidated the enemy's trench. He remained on duty twelve hours after being hit till relieved”.
Early in 1917 he refused an appointment at Headquarters, saying that it was his duty to remain with his men. On the day of his death he was leading his men in an attack at Wancourt. The war diary states that it was an impossible and that the staff who made the order, if they had ever come near enough to have looked at the ground would have realised it too and would never have ordered the attack.
Captain Whitley’s body was found close to the German wire. One account relates how a heavy snow storm made it impossible to bring in the 146 wounded men until after dark, and that they suffered terribly. Fifty more were lost, missing or killed “one of whom was a shy, 28 year old misunderstood philanthropist who knew his men were doomed so stood by himself with a Lewis gun and gave his life to try and protect the men he had already refused to leave”.