cross logo
Sapper Charles Mitchell
244403 & WR/249943 Royal Engineers

      The Mitchells were the largest of the village family groups, and is interesting that all the various sons had inherited the distinctive ‘Mitchell chin’ which marked them out in a special way. Photographs remaining show a clear indication of this. So numerous were the families and their children, often with similar first names, that special research on our web-site was needed to distinguish those who are listed on the Roll of Honour. Additional information on the Mitchell families in Winkleigh is added to the right of this account.

      Charles Mitchell was born c.1855 in Bideford Old Town, the son of William, a road labourer and his wife Jane, a field worker. The 1861 census shows William as 46 years old, Jane 47. Their eldest child was Emily, 17 years old, already in domestic service as a cook. William was 13, an young agricultural labourer, John 10, at school but soon to leave, young Charles 6, at school. By 1871 the father was dead, mother was still working aged 57 as a fieldworker, but Emily had returned home, John, 20,was a labourer and Charles, now aged 16 was working as a tailor. The family was living in Solferino Place, Bideford, next door to other family members.

      In 1876 Charles, aged 21 married Ellen Baker, aged 27, born in 1849 in Winkleigh. The 1871 census shows Ellen before her marriage living in Threlbridge, near Morton Bishop, just outside Crediton, living with her aunt Mary Baker, a lady of independent means. Mary was 58 and shared the house with her two sisters, Elena and Eileen, with Ellen Baker presumably their housekeeper. After the marriage she and Charles came to live in Winkleigh, Charles now working as a carpenter. They were living at the time of the 1881 census in Red Lane, already with three children, Charles aged 3, Ellen, 2, and Arthur aged 8 months. By 1901 they were at Hilliers with Ellen and two more sons, George, 13, and Frank Albert, 6. By 1911 Charles and Ellen are described as living in a private house just below Court Barton. George had left home, Frank was 17 and a new child, Arthur W. was 5. There was no sign of young Charles who might have been one of the children who died young: the 1911 census reveals that Ellen had 9 children in all, 4 of whom died, 5 surviving.

      The documents available to us contain a mystery. It seems that Charles and Ellen were living apart by 1916, probably before. Two newspaper reports give us the information: first, the Western Times for May 26th 1916 reported that Charles was in court at the Guildhall, South Molton, on a count of cruelty to his wife and ordered to pay her 10/- per week and court costs of £6.10.00. This was not all. On the same day Charles was charged with assaulting his son George and George's daughter Bessie in South Molton, and was sent to prison for 6 months because no-one he knew would offer a guarantee of his behaviour. Then, on 10th November 1916 Charles (now listed as aged 63) was in court again for failing to pay a maintenance order for his wife Ellen, who was now living in Torquay. He pleaded that he was just out of prison with no money, having served 5 of the 6 months original sentence. The court ordered a maintenece payment of 7/- per week, and Charles was bound over to pay this regularly. It must have been then or soon after in 1917 that Charles decided to chance his luck and try to enlist, describing himself as 51 years old, the maximum age it was possible to do so. (The age was reduced to 50 in 1918). We do not know if Arthur survived, but Charles was seemingly left on his own when his son Frank, who had become a Telegraphist in the Okehampton Post Office, joined the Royal Engineers in 1915 (Details of Frank’s military life are on the website.)

      Too elderly for anything like front-line service, Charles was able to use his skills by following his son into the Royal Engineers. His enlistment service number 240403 was replaced with WR/24943, when he was posted to number 355 Railway Construction Company, working in France repairing and laying the light railway lines that brought supplies up to the front. Sadly, the war diary for the Company has not survived so that we have no idea of his movements, and his military records were lost with so many others in the London blitz. Charles was awarded the Victory and British medals and he returned to Winkleigh as a true veteran, no doubt very proud of his extraordinary achievement. He lived until 1932, aged 77, although his death was recorded as aged 79 in the Torrington register. Ellen survived until 1938, aged 86. Her death was recorded in Bideford

26 April 2018



Click on an image for a larger picture

Medal Card