By Paul H. Vickers, Friends of the Aldershot Military Museum
On Farnborough Road (A325), around 200 metres north of the junction with Pennefather’s Road, is a small stone drinking fountain dedicated to the memory of Captain Charles Beresford of the Royal Engineers. Although one of the busiest roads in the area, few who drive along Farnborough Road will be aware of this inconspicuous memorial which can only be appreciated if on foot, and even then many may not be aware of the tragic story of this young officer who lost his life in a terrible accident.
Charles Claudius de la Poer Beresford was born 4 October 1879, the eldest son of Colonel Charles Frederick Cobbe Beresford of the Royal Engineers. The Beresfords were a large military family - in 1910 there were ten members of the extended family serving as officers in the Army and Lord Charles Beresford was an Admiral in the Navy and an MP. Charles Claudius was commissioned into the Royal Engineers on 23 March 1899 and saw active service in the South African War (Second Boer War) from 1901 to 1902, for which he was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with five clasps. Beresford was promoted to Captain in March 1908, and was stationed in Aldershot as commanding officer of 1st Field Troop RE.
A few minutes after 6 o’clock on the morning of 30 May 1910, Captain Beresford led his troop out of their barracks and on to the Farnborough Road, beginning a journey to Christchurch, where the troop was to take part in exercises. They had only gone between two and three hundred yards when one of the horses at the back of the troop, ridden by Driver Perry, bolted and raced out of control. Beresford heard the noise and, turning in his saddle, saw the runaway dashing towards him. There was no doubt that Driver Perry was heading for a serious and possibly fatal accident.
Immediately Beresford took action to try and stop the bolting horse and rode forward to block the runaway’s path with his own horse. Unfortunately Perry’s mount was too out of control to stop and horse and rider crashed into the side of Beresford. Down went both horses and men in a confused tangle on the ground. Members of the troop rushed forward, but with the panicked horses thrashing around it was some minutes before they could reach the men and try to extricate them. Diver Perry had bad cuts and damage to an eye, but it was clear that Captain Beresford had suffered much more serious injuries and was unconscious. Medical aid was summoned and within a few minutes Captain Bridges of the Royal Army Medical Corps was at the scene. Bridges quickly diagnosed that Beresford had a fractured skull and damage to the spine, and ordered that both men were to be taken to the Cambridge Military Hospital.
Perry’s injuries were treated and he was soon making good progress, but Beresford’s case was regarded as hopeless and a telegraph was sent to the family. His father arrived at the hospital and was with his son when he died a few minutes after 5 o’clock, having never regained consciousness. “A gloom was cast over the whole of the corps of Royal Engineers, and indeed throughout the camp generally, when the sad intelligence became known”, reported Sheldrake’s Aldershot Military Gazette.
The following afternoon an inquest was opened in the Library of the Cambridge Hospital. There was little doubt about the facts, although no-one could give any reason why Perry’s horse has suddenly bolted. Only three witnesses were heard before the Coroner and jury agreed on a verdict of accidental death and expressed their sympathy with the family for the “death of so gallant a young officer”. The King sent a telegram to say “how deeply His Majesty sympathises with the family in their sorrow”.
Because of his selfless sacrifice in giving his life to save one of his men, Beresford was given a full military funeral on Friday 3 June at Saint George’s Church (now the Church of Saint Michael and Saint George). As well as family members, the mourners included Brigadier Scott-Moncrieff representing the King; Lieutenant-General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, General Officer Commanding in Aldershot; all the Divisional and Brigade Commanders; 120 Regimental Officers representing every unit in the Command; and 50 Royal Engineer officers. The local newspaper described the scene:
“The rays of the sun shone through the stained glass of the chancel and enveloped the flag-covered coffin, and a moment or so before the service commenced the mother left her seat and placed a laurel wreath upon her son’s coffin. It was a last tribute of motherly love and affection, and not one in that church but was moved by a profound feeling of pity and sympathy.”
After the service the coffin was taken to the military cemetery. The impressive procession was led by the bands of the 3rd Dragoon Guards and the Royal Artillery. The coffin was borne on a gun carriage, followed by the principal mourners on foot and in carriages. After this group came the senior military officers and representatives of all units in Aldershot, while crowds lined the route. At the cemetery NCOs of the Royal Engineers carried the coffin to the grave, where men of Beresford’s troop fired the salute. Over a hundred wreaths were laid on the grave, from officers, men and units from all parts of the garrison.
To commemorate Captain Beresford’s brave and selfless act, his fellow officers subscribed to the memorial which was erected in April 1911 near the spot where he stopped the runaway horse. It was in the form of a horse’s drinking fountain, with suitable inscription. It still stands today in the same location and was designated a Grade II listed monument by English Heritage in 2010.
Article originally published in the The Garrison, Winter 2021
Copyright © Paul H. Vickers. This article, including the accompanying pictures, may not be reproduced or republished, in whole or in part, either in print or electronically, including on any websites or social media sites, without the prior permission of the author.