18th Itching To Get To Firing Line
Men More Than Anxious To Go, Writes Corporal Finch.
In a letter received by City Clerk Baker from Corp. C. E. Finch of the 18th Battalion, the corporal, who is well known in East London, declares that the boys of the 18th are itching to go to the front. They want to get to the firing line as soon as possible, and are chafing under (t)he restraint of being kept in England “playing at soldier” as the writer puts it.
“We soon hope to get a smack at the Germans.” he says.
Of himself he says that he is getting fat, and that the arduous route marches and manoeuvres are not too strenuous for the men. They are all being well looked after, he says.
Transcribed by CL
Was a sniper according to a London Advertiser article interview of Sergeant M.H. Lee relating those who were in his sniping platoon.
“HYDRO CHARLIE” QUITS BUSINESS AND GOES TO WAR
A Patriot Who Hears His Country’s Call and Makes Great Sacrifice.
HAS WIFE AND FAMILY AND PLENTY OF MONEY
Mr. Finch, Who Has Joined 18th Battalion, is a Veteran of the South African War.
Why do men go to war? What impels a man to abandon his profitable commercial or industrial activity to forsake home comforts and his family and friends for the hardships of active service? These are the questions that hare heard very frequently from time to time as news lists of recruits to various units in training here are published.
Yesterday the 18th Battalion, which is about ready for overseas service with the second contingent, added to its strength Mr. Charles Finch of 9 West street. Ealing[i], a man who went to South Africa with the first contingent for the Boer war and who there learned by bitter experience the horrors of settling disputes of nations.
A PROSPEROUS CITIZEN
Mr. Finch conducts a profitable market gardening business and has accumulated quite a comfortable independency. He has interested himself in municipal affairs in the township before annexation and since being brought into London has offered himself as a candidate for the Board of Education. Mr. Finch was an ardent Beck man and is the owner of the “Adam Beck” stove that was so much in the limelight during the electrification campaign. He is affectionately known in East London as “Hydro Charlie.”
Some time since Mr. Finch, who is a husky, honest fellow and Canadian born, resolved to offer himself for active service. Since the commencement of the war he had yearned to return to the colors, but as his wife demurred he found himself confronted by a serious obstacle.
However, he arranged his affairs a few days since and applied to Lieut.-Col. E.S. Wigle, commanding officer of the 18th Battalion, for a place. He explained the situation and was given a letter from the colonel to Mrs. Finch, in which the situation was explained and the necessity of sacrifice on her part was made plain. Yesterday Mrs. Finch acquiesced and Mr. Finch was sworn in.
A DANGEROUS POSITION
He chose for himself one of the most dangerous occupations in the battalion and relishes the fact that he is going to have something lively. By his special request he has been attached to the machine gun section.
Source: The London Free Press. March 13, 1915.
[i] The context of this reference is uncertain. It may be a reference to where Finch lived in the London area. On a “Separation Allowance” form under the name and address of the recipient of the allowance it lists his wife, Minnie Finch at an Ealing post office box. Ealing is part of east London now.
SERGT. FINCH COULD NOT PULL TRIGGER AGAINST OLD MAN
London Sniper Allowed Aged German To Go His Way In Trench
SNIPED FIFTEEN HUNS IN A SINGLE DAY
Graphic Story of Man Who Was Decorated For His Good Work
If you, with your rifle ready and trained upon its target, recognized the mark as the white head of a man [passed] his three score years and ten, moving laboredly through the muddy trench of the enemy, from which death spat venomously at you, would you press the trigger?
Or if it pulled against the grain to kill him would you, when the observation man beside you in the sniper’s pit cried “Fires,” squint blankly into the nothing and answer “I can’t see him.”
“Sniping,” said Sergt. Charles Finch, crack shot of the 18th Battalion and proud owner of a military medal for bravery in the field, “is a dirty businesses. But the Germans started that game and we go through with it, meeting him on his own terms.
“You know,” he continued, “when that old man’s head came up, where a shell had flicked the top off his parapet, he was an easy mark. But I didn’t want a nick in my rifle for an old fellow like that, or for a woman or a kid.
KILL YOU QUICKLY.
“He’d kill you quickly if he had the drop on you,” my observation man told me, but that didn’t matter then. Twice while I was at the front I passed up Germans. The second time came one day when a German’s head came up over the parapet. I could hot have hit him that time, but I took a bead on the mark and a second later it came up again, the face of a German boy, not more than 14 years old. He took a good look around, and pulled his head down again, not knowing how near he had been to this finish.”
The sergeant has an established record of having sniped 15 Germans in one day. He pursued his work with skill and science and constantly studied the error of those home he had killed.
The German sandbags are practically all made from old clothes of discarded wearing apparel and present a motley wall of blues, blacks, reds, and varied colors. The knocking of a bag out of place by a passing shell often left openings in the parapet through which the snipers picked off enemy soldiers as they passed to and fro. Finch, he explained, usually got a bead on and object just behind the aperture, and at the word of an observation man peering through a telescope, would fire at times an an object he could not see.
“Man coming from the left,” the observation man would say, and then as he came before the target, at the word I would fire and drop him. The man with the telescope would report the result. There is a vast difference between and controlled and uncontrolled movement, the difference between the ducking of a head that has heard a bullet whiz and the fall of a man who is hit.
“From our post, overlooking the trench to the cookhouse, we watched a file of German soldiers coming. That is where it sometimes tugs at a fellow’s ideas of decent fighting. When a man is looking for fight and meeting you on equal terms it is all right, but sneaking on him, when he does not know of his danger, doesn’t seem always square. I dropped the first man as he reached the opening, and a German behind ran to his assistance. As he stooped over him I knocked him down on top of the dead man, and a third passed out the same way. You know, if you sometimes feel that sniping is a dirty business, how it tugs at your softer notions when you kill a man trying to help a friend.”
“How did you feel about it when you got your first man?” the reporter asked him.
FELT A LITTLE QUEER.
“I killed my first man the first day I was in the trenches. I dropped my gun and a lot of queer thoughts ran through my head. ‘I’ve shed innocent blood.” I talked out loud. I was bothered all through the afternoon until another head came up and I took a pot at that. The second one did not bother me so much, and after that I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t much innocent blood to shed around those parts, and I didn’t worry when I got a Fritz.”
Twenty-seven 5.9 high explosive shells were rained about the sergeant’s sandbag shelter when he revealed himself one day, the last two being fair hits that tore the place to pieces and buried the sniper. He worked his way out and by good fortune was not badly hurt.
Again the Germans turned a machine gun on him from behind a steel armor plate of a type that is used at intervals along the line. Quickly slipping a clip of steel-cored armor piercing bullets into his rifle, he put three shots through the plate, and the barking of the machine gun ceased. It was a fair gues that the man behind had gone.
Source: The London Free Press. Circa 1917.
SERGT. FINCH FAVORS RUM FOR SOLDIERS
No Officer of the 18th Ever Drank to Excess—Misunderstanding Explained.
Sergt. Charles Finch, crack sniper of the 18th Battalion called at The Free Press this morning to explain, for the purpose of clearing up a misunderstanding his remarks of Tuesday evening at Egerton Street Baptist Church.
The sergeant there told some of his experiences at the front and, basing his arguments on experience, strongly advised those who are going overseas to avoid liquor. He, however, favored the rum ration.
The incident of the officer whose lessened efficiency because of drink threatened serious consequences to Sergt.’s Finch’s squad of snipers at St. Eloi did not relate to any member of the commissioned ranks of the sergeant’s own battalion.
NOT 18th OFFICER.
“I was ordered by my commanding officer to report for instructions to an intelligence officer of the divisional staff near St. Eloi,” said the sergeant. “I noticed when I saw him that he was under the influence of drink. The instructions he gave me could not be carried out. When I reported to my own officers they saw that it was a mistake and told me it was a good job that I was sober. The boys spoke of this incident many times since and have said that had I been willing to go myself they would have gone with me. This was the only officer I ever saw under the influence of liquor in France. As for the officers of our own battalion, I have the greatest respect for them and if I were fit I would only be too glad to go back with them at the front. I very much admire Pte. Bellinger’s[i] pluck for defending our own officers’ standing.”
Source: The London Free Press. Circa 1917.
[i] Private Edward Bellinger, reg. no. 54136. 18th Battalion.
39724-26 Charles Edwin FINCH, 51, market gardener, widower, London, London, s/o Henry FINCH b. England & Phoebe CRAYFORD married Janet N. BROWN, 42, housekeeper, widow, Scotland, London, d/o Alexander LOW b. Scotland & Ann STORMONT, witn: Jemina PEEBLES & William McLaren PEEBLES of London, 11 December 1926, London