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Great Uncle Charlie’s WWI Death Plaque Comes Home

Published on: 26 May, 2016
Updated on: 23 Apr, 2020

By David Rose

An amazing item of my family’s history has been returned to me courtesy of a family from Camberley.

Pictured from left Ellie Robinson and her dad David, handing over the plaque to David Rose.

Pictured from left: Ellie Robinson and her dad David, handing over the plaque to David Rose.

It is a next of kin memorial plaque, made of bronze, that was given to relatives of men and women whose deaths were attributable to the Great War of 1914-1918.

The plaque was dug up in a garden in Guildford about five years ago.

Sally Robinson from Camberley emailed me recently asking whether I was a relative of Charles Tubbs, as her husband, David, who is a builder, had dug up a plaque with Charles’ name on while renovating a house in Woking Road, Guildford.

Daughter Ellie had done some research on the internet. She had found military details of Charles Tubbs and discovered he had come from Guildford. Further internet searches by her traced him to a film about Guildford during the First World War made recently by the Circle Eight Film Group, and in which I am featured talking about men from Guildford who enlisted during the war and mentioning my Great Uncle Charlie.

Ellie then traced me via The Guildford Dragon NEWS and that is how I received the email.

I quickly emailed back explaining my family link. A reply came back saying they would like the plaque to be returned to me, being that it is part of my family’s history.

David Rose's grerat uncle, L Cpl Charles Tubbs. Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment. Died October 2, 1918. Pic taken by The Premier Photo Co, Ltd, 3 and 4 High Street, Guildford.

David Rose’s grerat uncle, L Cpl Charles Tubbs. Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment. Died October 2, 1918.
Pic taken by The Premier Photo Co, Ltd, 3 and 4 High Street, Guildford.

Lance Corporal Charles Tubbs was my great uncle. He was my grandmother’s brother on my dad’s side of the family. Charles enlisted with the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment in 1915 and died on October 2, 1918 in a field hospital in Dieppe of mustard gas poisoning. He is buried in the nearby Mount Huon Military Cemetery at Le Treport. My wife, daughter and I visited his grave in 2010.

I have now visited the Robinsons and have brought the plaque home. Of all the many items, pictures and so on I have in my collection as a local historian relating to the Guildford area, this has to be one of my most treasured possession.

The death plaque for Charles Tubbs. It may benefit by a bit of a clean to make it stand out more!

The death plaque for Charles Tubbs. It may benefit from a bit of a clean to make it stand out more!

David Robinson explained how he was working at the house in Woking Road on behalf of its owners Guildford Borough Council, and while digging in the front garden where there was a fish pond, the plaque was found, buried quite deep down in the soil.

I was able to explain that the house was once occupied by the late Les Tubbs, who was my dad’s cousin.

William (Bill) Tubbs. Farher of les Tubbs and brother of Charles Tubbs.

William (Bill) Tubbs. Brother of Charles Tubbs and father of Les Tubbs.

Family history is often somewhat complicated, especially with second marriages, but basicially my grandmother, Eva Rose (nee Tubbs), had among her siblings brother Charlie and another brother William (Bill). Bill’s son was Les, my dad’s cousin.

I knew of Great Uncle Charlie from a young age when my dad pointed out his name to me on the war memorial in the Castle Grounds.

About 10 years ago I started to find out more about him and got in contact with Les Tubbs. He lived at the house in Woking Road where David Robinson dug up the plaque. Les had lived there, first with his parents, for most of his life.

Les Tubbs, was a driving instructor from April 1958 to 1989. He later worked as a security guard at the University of Surrey. In 2005 he was aged 84 and had lived at lived at 69 Woking Road, Guilford for 82 years.

Les Tubbs was a driving instructor from April 1958 to 1989. He later worked as a security guard at the University of Surrey. In 2005 he was aged 84 and had lived at 69 Woking Road, Guilford for 82 years.

Les kindly allowed me to copy a photo he had of Charles Tubbs, pictured in army uniform wearing his cap that clearly shows the badge of the Queen’s Regiment, plus other family photos. He did not mention any other artefacts relating to Great Uncle Charlie.

Les passed away a few years ago. He never married and therefore had no children. I learned of his death in a notice in the Surrey Advertsier, but was not able to attend his funeral.

But how did the death plaque, also known as the Dead Man’s Penny as it features an illustration of Britannia also once featured on our old pennies, ended up being buried? That is a mystery.

I can only think that perhaps Les’ father buried it, but why? Was it to finally to lay to rest a member of our family who had died all those years ago during the First World War?

Interestingly, my aunt Doris Blanche (my dad’s sister and who died in 2008) told me a little about Great Uncle Charlie. She was not born until after he had died, but spoke of him as her mother had done as simply ‘Uncle Charlie’. I do wonder whether my grandmother, who died in 1963 and who I can just about recall, perhaps never came to terms with her brother’s death, and in some way believed he had not actually died and would come home one day?

These are all mysteries that can now never be answered and perhaps it does not matter. I have an image of Great Uncle Charlie and now the plaque. I guess it is too much to enquire where his medals ended up? But I am keen to find out more of his time in the army and where he served during the ‘war to end all wars’.

It is Great Uncle Charlie who has been the inspiration behind my book Great War Britain Guildford Remembering 1914-18, published by The History Press in 2014.

Finally, I cannot thank the Robinsons enough for taking the trouble to find me and presenting me with such a lovely piece of family memorabilia.

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test 2 Responses to Great Uncle Charlie’s WWI Death Plaque Comes Home

  1. Rosie Taylor Reply

    May 26, 2016 at 9:03 am

    How lovely! What a splendid story.

  2. Chris Carroll Reply

    May 27, 2016 at 10:17 am

    My friend now lives in the house. I’m tempted to pop round with a metal detector.

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