Anzac Day 2014 - Remembering Sergeant Charles Stokes
Posted on 30th April 2014 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.
We had some recent guests to No.fifty6 whose trip to The Somme had been a long time in the planning. Geoff Tilley and Naomi Stokes from Bunbury, Western Australia, knew that they had a special connection to The Somme, through Naomi's Great Grandfather, and set about planning a trip which saw them visit Canberra and meet with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to help piece together a special commemoration as part of the Dawn Service on Anzac Day. The final part of their trip was to be in France for Anzac Day.
Naomi’s Great Grandfather is Sergeant Charles Stokes and Charles was commemorated at this year’s Anzac Day Dawn Service for his special role in the fighting to save Villers Bretonneux. This is his story.
Charles Stokes projected onto the tower at the Dawn Service
A little after 10pm on 24 April 1918, after a day of heavy fighting around Villers Bretonneux the village was in ruins and in German hands. In the dark the 13th and 15th Australian Brigades alongside the British were to counter attack on each side of the village.
Charles Stokes was among those waiting for the attack. Known as Charl to his wife Ellen and their children, whose picture he carried with him, he was a tall, dark, 32 year old from Western Australia. Shortly after the battle began, facing machine gun fire between his platoon and their objective, Charles crawled over to his Lieutenent and suggested the machine guns needed to be silenced. Together, the 2 men advanced on the machine gun posts. The Lieutentant, Charles Sadlier, was shot in the thigh as they rushed the first post, but carried on. Hit again he was forced to retire but Charles continued, eventually silencing all of the machine guns. By 26th April, Villers Bretonneux was back in Allied hands. Both men were recommended for the Victoria Cross for their actions that night. Sadlier was awarded the VC and Charles the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Both men survived the war. Charles returned to Western Australia and had a further child and settled on a farm. He is remembered with much love and affection by his family. He passed away aged 84.
Charles and his wife Ellen
In honour of these men, the Australia-France Foundation’s Sadlier-Stokes Scholarship has been awarded annually since 1990 to French students from the local area to further their experience and knowledge through education.
This Anzac Day, Charles Stokes was remembered with honour and Naomi laid flowers in his memory.
Naomi's gift to the Scholarship Winners
Afterward at Villers Bretonneux Village Hall, the annual scholarship presentations were made and Naomi gave out the awards to the French pupils whose work had inspired the scholarship panel. The event and the dawn service were also attended by Julie Bishop, The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Naomi (r) with Julie Bishop
We asked Naomi how she felt about the day and her great grandfather being commemorated. She said that all the planning had been so worth it. Charles has a special place in her family’s history and the family were so proud his story had reached a wider audience. The following day, Naomi and Geoff returned to Villers Bretonneux. They went to the woods where Charles so bravely silenced the machine guns and they took a moment to reflect on the part he played in freeing Villers Bretonneux. Naomi and Geoff said it was difficult to imagine such intense fighting in an area now so peaceful.
Naomi was also interviewed for the Sydney Morning Herald and the article can be found by following the link: