By Alan Provan
Lance Corporal Charles Alfred Jarvis VC
No. 3976. 57th Field Company Royal Engineers
Jarvis was born in Fraserburgh on 29th March 1881, in the Admiralty Buildings, Saltoun Place; his father, also Charles Alfred Jarvis, was serving with HM Coast Guard. His mother was Mary Jane Byth. Soon after he was born, his father was transferred to Rattray Head Coastguard Station where the family stayed for eight years while Charles went to Crimond School. The family then moved to North Berwick where his father received the Royal Humane Society medal for bravery for rescuing two boys.
The Elie connection. The 1891 Census shows an entry for No.1 Coast Guard Cottages, Wadeslea, Elie as Jarvis Snr stationed in the Coast Guard Station serving as Chief Boatman. Jarvis Jnr was attending school in Elie.
His father was then transferred to Carnoustie around 1894 where young Charles completed his education in Carnoustie School (where his father later became janitor).
It is not clear why he went south and enlisted. He was serving an apprenticeship in Carnoustie and was well thought of by his employer Mr J McAndrew. Both parents died late 19th century, his sisters (not sure about the brother) went to stay with an aunt in London.
Jarvis enlisted in the Royal Engineers (RE) in 1899 at Cheltenham. The 1901 Census has him in the RE Milldam Barracks, Portsmouth as a soldier aged 18. He served in Singapore for a number of years, thus missing the Boer War. After his seven years’ service, he was placed on the reserve list and became a Telegraphist in London (probably a skill learnt in the RE, who were then responsible for posts and telegraphs)
On the 4th August 1914 the 57th Field Company Royal Engineers, while at Bulford Camp, received the order to mobilize. All reservists were called up, Jarvis included, and he joined 57th Company RE. They left Amesbury on the morning of 16th August and embarked at Southampton that evening, arriving in Rouen early on the 18th. They disembarked and travelled to rest camp at Champs de Bruyere, arriving in the afternoon.
57th Field Company was attached to 3rd Division (under command II Corps commanded by General Sir H.L. Smith-Dorrien), which was part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Four Divisions crossed to France with two Field Companies RE to each Division.
II Corps moved up to the Mons-Conde Canal on the night 22/23 August with the intention of crossing the canal and moving further into Belgium. This didn’t happen as the German 1st Army were to the north and advancing towards the canal.
Jarvis and Sapper Neary were given the task of blowing the Bridge at Jemappes, a bridge across Lock No 2 on the Mons–Conde Canal. This was one of the many bridges that were to be destroyed when the BEF retreated. In charge of the whole operation was Captain Theodore Wright RE, Adjutant of the RE Companies.
Jarvis won the Victoria Cross for his actions that day, 23rd August, and succeeded in blowing the bridge, one of the few successes. Captain Wright also won the VC for his actions that day. He fell on 14th September and is buried in Vailly British Cemetery.
Jarvis escaped as part of the Retreat from Mons with a mixture of troops and members of Royal Scots Fusiliers, who had been guarding the bridge and repulsing the attacking Germans to allow Jarvis and Sapper Neary to lay the charges. This collection of soldiers, now under command of Lieutenant Boulnois RE, made their way south and after a few escapades rejoined their units on the 25/26 August in time for the Battle of Le Cateau on the 26th.
57th Field Company was heavily involved in the retreat, blowing bridges, etc, and making life difficult for the pursuing Germans. The Company was subsequently involved in rebuilding work when the BEF turned north as the advance got under way.
It is not known if Jarvis was still with the 57th when they moved from the Chemin des Dames, along with 3rdDivision, detraining at Abbeville on 8th October. They transferred to Flanders (near Ypres) on the left flank of the long line of trenches, which was to stay more or less in place for the next four years.
We next hear of Jarvis in the Dundee Evening Telegraph of 17th November 1914 and the Manchester Courier of the same date, advising that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross. He is reported, when lying in his bed in the London Hospital, as knowing nothing about it till he read it in the paper.
He is listed as being single and discharged from hospital on 5th December, having been a patient for 32 days, date of admission 3rd November. In 1915 he returned to Britain and attended Buckingham Palace on the 13thJanuary 1915 to be presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V. He was later promoted to second corporal and corporal before being discharged from the Army in 1917.
He was by now something of a celebrity and was fêted everywhere he went, especially back in Angus and Fraserburgh. He did not go back to the Front in France but travelled the country training recruits and on a recruiting drive. He eventually found himself, along with his ex-school friend and fellow Victoria Cross winner George Samson, landing at Gallipoli 26 April 1915 disembarked from the SS River Clyde.
He went on to work at the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth as a skilled worker. He returned to Dundee in 1941.
He died in 1930 aged 57, at the Adamson Hospital, Cupar; usual residence Nicholson Cottage, Cupar. He was a Golf Ballot Superintendent.
In 1940 Jarvis married Janet Grace Bowden (ms Black) in Priory Church in the Parish of Mark Shelborne, Hampshire and both with the address listed as Charter Ley. He was 59 she was 65. Janet’s second marriage. Charles’s first (see footnote).
A really interesting fact is that when Jarvis was living in Carnoustie with the family before he went to London, Janet was living with her mother three doors away from the Jarvis household, so they must have known each other. Fifty-odd years later they meet and marry, which gives rise to some conjecture.
In 1943 they moved to 24 West End St Monans, Fife (reason unknown). Both began to suffer ill health and Janet was in the Gibson Hospital St Andrews and then in the Queensbury House Hospital, Canongate, Edinburgh. Where she died in September 1952.
Jarvis died in Dundee Royal Infirmary on 19th November 1948 and was laid to rest alongside Janet’s first husband in Cupar Cemetery. Janet was also laid to rest there. Jarvis didn’t leave a will; Janet did, but with no specific mention of his VC. Most of her estate went to a neice who had lived with Janet for a while.
There are Streets in Fraserburgh, Carnoustie & Cupar named after Jarvis.
Alan Provan, June 2019 (revised Feb 2023).
Janet Grace Black married Edgar Bowden 8 December 1921 in Cupar, Fife. She was 42 and listed as Housekeeper, Hope Cottage, Ceres [a village near Cupar].
Edgar Bowden. Bandsman Royal Welsh Fusiliers. No. 3337. His wife’s first husband. b. about 1873. Age enlisted – 18. Enlisted Guildford 18 September 1891. Documents year 1891. Joined Wrexham. Musician. Tattoo on right forearm. Served in India, South Africa, Malta, France [entered 3.10.1914]. Signed up in 1902 to extend service to 12 years. Queens South African Medal & 4 clasps. Discharged 18 June 1919 LCpl at Shrewsbury. Usual 3 medals. Was a POW in Germany 7/8/1915 [not know for how long].
From Pension info [ancestry]