The Great War soldiers who returned from the dead

For nearly two years Mrs Gordon of Brierley Hill mourned her young son Charles, a soldier of the South Staffordshire Regiment, and a victim of the Great War.

Charles Gordon, a Brierley Hill soldier who returned from the dead.
Charles Gordon, a Brierley Hill soldier who returned from the dead.

Or so she had thought.

Because on September 17, 1918, she had received the dreaded news that he had been wounded in action, and a few weeks later he was posted as wounded and missing. And then nothing. Death was presumed a year later, in September 1919.

But in June 1920 Mrs Gordon, a widow who lived at Derry Street, was in for a surprise. She received a letter from him, written from France.

Naturally she was elated by this unexpected turn of events.

"I have never imagined him dead," she told an Express & Star reporter at the time.

Charles had been a Territorial when the war broke out in 1914, but on account of his youth did not proceed on active service until 1916, and then served with the 7th Battalion of the South Shropshire Regiment.

Charles Gordon, a Brierley Hill soldier who returned from the dead.

In hindsight there was a clue that something was amiss, because nine days after he was supposed to have been wounded he sent his mother a field card stating that he was "going on well."

What was the explanation for his return from the dead? We're afraid we don't know – if any reader can shed light on it, do get in touch. But these things did happen, for various reasons. A soldier might have been mistakenly thought dead by colleagues when in fact he was only wounded, there might be a mix-up over identity, or a soldier might be listed as missing presumed dead when they had in fact been taken prisoner.

Another soldier who returned from the dead was Sergeant Bertie Broster, of the 8th Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, who had been a peacetime postman in Oswestry.

Sergeant Bertie Broster, of the 8th Battalion the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, as seen in a picture published in a contemporary Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News.

He was reported as having died of enteric fever on June 10, 1916, in Salonika. Newspapers carried his obituary, and there was even a memorial service held in Oswestry Parish Church.

His case was researched a few years ago by Phil Morris of Shrewsbury, who discovered that he was not on the town's war memorial, nor was his death recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

Sergeant Broster's medal index card revealed that he was sent to the Reserve on April 4, 1919 – proof that he had survived.

Some further digging revealed that Broster, who lived at 38 Jennings Road, Oswestry, and was married with two children, had “come back from the dead” in July 1916.

The Shrewsbury Chronicle, of July 7, reported under the headline “Wrongly Reported Dead” that Mrs Broster had received a registered letter from her husband, dated June 18, which stated that he was merely suffering from a slight attack of the disease, and hoped to return to duty in a few days’ time.

A memorial service was held for Sergeant Bertie Broster of Oswestry – but he turned out not to have died.

As for his Broster's "second life" after the Great War, we can speculate that he returned to his job as a local postman. In any event, he died at the age of 64 on January 20, 1948, and is buried at Oswestry cemetery.

His wife Catherine Jane Broster died aged 82 on January 1, 1989.

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