Charles E Timmins 1902-1917
Served 1916-17

Charles Ernest Timmins was born at home on Sunday 7th December 1902. He was the third son of Amy (nee Hodges) and John Llewellyn Timmins, of 33 Beresford Rd, Gillingham in Kent. Baby Charles was baptised in Chatham Royal Dockyard Church and raised along with his two older brothers: John Edwin and Albert Llewellyn. As a young child, he attended Napier Road School in Gillingham and sang as a treble-voiced member of the choir at St Barnabas’ Church, just a short walk from his home. He then went on to be a pupil at the Royal Hospital School (RHS) at Greenwich. Charles’ father.. himself a Private in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, was killed in action whilst serving onboard HMS Hogue on 22nd September 1914 during the First World War. His ship along with the armoured cruisers HMS Cressy, HMS Aboukir were patrolling an area of the North Sea, just off the Dutch coast and were sunk by a German submarine.. John.. aged just forty-five, was one of 837 men lost at sea from the three ships.

Wanting to inflict revenge on the enemy.. Charles left school and joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry on 6th December 1916, the day before his fourteenth birthday.. the only role available for his age was that of a Boy Bugler. He was posted to the Portsmouth Division and having undertaken nine months training, he went to serve as ships’ bugler on the C-class light cruiser HMS Cardiff (D58).. joining the newly commissioned ship on 26th June 1917.

On Saturday 17th November 1917, the vessel was involved in the Second Battle of Heligoland Bight.. a successful attempt by the British to intercept German minesweeping forces that were clearing British minefields in the North Sea.. Bugler Charles Timmins was stood on the bridge of HMS Cardiff, having just sounded the 'Action Stations' bugle call, when the German High Seas Fleet opened fire on the Grand Fleet. A piece of shrapnel from a shell blew a hole in Cardiff’s funnel, it then pierced his bugle and hit Charles. He was badly wounded in both legs and one of his hands and was killed instantly.. his bugle was found beside his tiny body. Charles was the youngest Royal Marine to perish in the First World War and was buried at sea with full military honours, along with six of his shipmates. Rear Admiral Sinclair wrote to his mother Amy.. “It may be some consolation to you that nearly his last act was to sound ‘Action Stations’.. and he seemed to be enjoying the action himself. I saw him a very short time before the shell hit the bridge. We buried him at sea at night on Sunday and sang ‘On The Resurrection Morning’. In a few days I hope to send you his bugle”. Charles Timmins’ mother was given the battle-damaged bugle and her son’s effects following his passing and at the end of the war she returned them to HMS Cardiff.

Charlie Timmins became a hero to the local school children at Gillingham and his schools’ teachers and scholars raised funds for an oil on canvas portrait by British artist Frank Hyde. Immortalising Charles as ‘The Boy Hero’.. the painting was unveiled at Napier Road School, Gillingham, on the 14th April 1919 by Admiral Sir Frederick Sturdee, who was Commander in Chief of The Nore. Many dignitaries were present including the Mayor of Gillingham and Charles’ mother Mrs Amy Timmins, who remarked that the artist had produced a striking likeness to her little boy hero. Boy Bugler Timmins was representative of the thousands of Kent men and boys who were recruited into the Royal Navy where they served and in many cases, perished. The painting currently hangs at the Maritime Museum at Chatham Dockyard.

HMS Cardiff was in possession of Charles’ bugle until her decommissioning in 1945. Both the bugle and Charles’ two medals were then placed in the custody of veterans in Cardiff, until they were presented to the ships company of the new type 42 destroyer HMS Cardiff in 1979. The ship earned two battle honours for service in the Falklands and Gulf Wars before being decommissioned in July 2005. The bugle was then held in safe keeping by the Royal Naval Association Cardiff Branch. Charles’s bugle was then re-homed on 18th March 2012 onboard HMS Dragon, the 21st century Royal Navy warship that represents Wales today. It was presented by former RN Mechanical Engineer and Association President Gordon Phillips, who had been the bugle’s caretaker for many years.

In 2013, The Royal Hospital School, which had been relocated to Holbrook in Suffolk in 1933, discovered a memorial sixty years after it was lost, naming the former pupils who attended the RHS Greenwich between 1889 and 1918 and who lost their lives during WWI. The memorial of six oak boards was adorned with the words: ‘In Proud Memory of Those Old Boys who fell during the Great War, 1914-1918, ‘Lest we Forget’. The memorial was removed in 1933 when the school moved from Greenwich to the new school. During the 1950’s, the boards were reused as honours boards and the original names were hidden. They were discovered in a disused garage at Holbrook and when a veneer was removed.. ghosted outlines of the names of the fallen were revealed, the youngest boy listed was Boy Bugler Charles Timmins. On Tuesday 11th November 2014, a group of year eight pupils from RHS returned with the boards to the original premises.. The Queens House at Greenwich, where the memorial originally hung in the Great Hall.

The Royal Hospital School (RHS) at Holbrook holds an annual ‘Timmins Bugle Competition’ where pupils compete for a new silver bugle and a golden bugle badge. RHS has a long and proud history of bugling and every morning and evening, a school bugler signals the start and end of each day as the ensign is raised and lowered.. a school tradition seen by thousands of passers-by each year. Around thirty members of the Lower School attend bugling lessons in order to compete in the beginners competition for the silver bugle. There is always fierce competition in the advanced division with the seasoned school buglers.. the winner is awarded the golden bugle badge and is to be worn on their No1 uniform. Amongst the Judges of the competition in recent years have been the Royal Marines Corps Bugle Major and the Corps Bandmaster, Simon Tripp, himself a former pupil of the RHS. The current Bandmaster at the school is Major Rich Harvey RM.

Charles has no known grave as he was buried at sea, but he is commemorated at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (27). He is also remembered on the ‘Roll of Honour’ for the men of the Royal Marines Buglers Branch, who fell in both world wars 1914-45. The Roll of Honour is displayed in the Memorial Room at the Royal Marines School of Music.

RIP Charles

Painting Immortalising Charles as ‘The Boy Hero’.

Original Memorial at Greenwich

Charles’s bugle currently onboard HMS Dragon

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