Victorian Grave of Charles Wooden VC, St James Cemetery, Dover, Kent, UK

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John Latter on June 16, 2011

This is the headstone of Lieutenant (QM) Charles Wooden, a German in the British Army who rode in the Charge of the Light Brigade on the 25th October, 1854. He won the Victoria Cross the next day for saving the life of a wounded officer "after the Light Cavalry had retreated." The photo was taken at 5.01 pm on Tuesday, 15th of June, 2011.

The inscription reads:


Memory Of


Charles Wooden VC

104th Bengal Fusiliers

Born March 1829

Died 26th April 1876

Deeply Regretted

- bar -

Who Served in the

Inniskilling Dragoons

5th and 17th Lancers

With Which Latter Regiment

He was Present

in the Celebrated

Balaklava Charge

- bar -

This Stone is Erected by his

Brother Officers

A number of books and online sources say Charles Wooden is buried in "Dover Cemetery". His grave is located in the "new" St James Cemetery of Old Charlton Road, Dover, England. This is a Victorian cemetery which opened on the 29th of January, 1855, and not to be confused with that of Old St James.

Charles Wooden was stationed at the Grand Shaft Barracks (1) on the Western Heights at the time of his death. The following makes reference to the The Grand Shaft and the Charge of the Light Brigade, Dover photo to which the commentary was first attached:

The Grand Shaft triple spiral staircase

Writing in 1857, William Batcheller said (2):

Handsome barracks are pleasantly situated above the town, and have a communication with it, by means of a military shaft.

In 1855-1856, a sum of £60,000 was voted for the erection of additional barracks, but as no available site could be found, it was determined to extend the then existing accommodation; and the result is apparent in the present improved and enlarged blocks of buildings that crown the summit of the Grand Shaft. The 93rd Highlanders were the first to occupy these barracks after their enlargement. The officers' mess-room has been entirely reconstructed.

The entrance from the lower part of Snargate-street, is through an arched passage, at the extremity of which, three spiral flights of steps wind round a large shaft or tower, open at the top to admit light, and sunk in the solid rock. One hundred and forty steps ascend the shaft; and the whole forms an ingenious and substantial piece of masonry, such as cannot fail to attract the attention of the curious.

The "handsome barracks" Batcheller refers to are the now-demolished Grand Shaft Barracks, once located on the slope between the upper entrance of the Grand Shaft and the Drop Redoubt embedded into the top of the Western Heights ridge:

The Grand Shaft Barracks provided accommodation for 59 Officers, 1,300 NCO’s and privates, and eight horses. They were also renowned for their light and airy situation. (3)

Charles Wooden, VC

A tragic figure from history who lived in the improved barracks, who once relaxed in the reconstructed officers' mess-room, and who would have been very familiar with the view shown in the Grand Shaft inner tower photo, was Lieutenant (Quartermaster, QM) Charles Wooden of the 104th Bengal Fusiliers.

Earlier in his military career, as a private and non-commisioned officer in the calvary, Wooden had had difficulty integrating into British Army life, a process not helped by his German ancestry and thick accent. He was, however, also something of a character as this example from his time with the 17th Lancers shows (4):

One night, returning to camp the worse for wear after a drinking session, he was challenged by the sentry on guard duty, but could not remember the password. "'tish me," Wooden whispered in a slurred voice. "Who?" asked the sentry. "'tish me, 'tish me!" came the answer. Down came the sentry's lance as he demanded to know just which 'me' it was.

By now in a temper, Wooden bellowed: "'tish me, the Devil!". The sentry, now exercising his better judgement on recognising his Sergeant-Major retorted: "Pass, 'tish me the Devil!" From that moment the nickname stuck and for the remainder of his service with the 'Death or Glory Boys', Wooden remained "Tish me the Devil"

Sergeant-Major Wooden was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant and Quartermaster of the 6th Dragoons in October 1860, and being an ex-ranker in an Officers Mess may have added another dimension to any underlying sense of being "different".

Wooden then exchanged to the 5th Lancers in 1865 before joining his last regiment, the 104th Regiment of Foot (Bengal Fusiliers), in 1871.

On Sunday, 25th of April, 1876, after four or five days of complaining about severe headaches, Lieutenant Hooper (Surgeon Major) was called to Wooden's quarters on the Western Heights to find the roof of Wooden's mouth severely damaged. Two cartridge cases lay nearby, a Colt revolver having been removed by Wooden's wife prior to Hooper's arrival.

Charles Wooden was then attended to by Lieutenant Hooper and Private Kirby (Wooden's servant) until he died at 4 am the following day. The subsequent inquest determined he had shot himself in the head while in a state of temporary insanity, the only verdict whereby he could be given a full Christian burial, a suicide would normally be excluded from such (5) (the insane were thought to be incapable of suicide).

Charles Wooden was buried with full military honours (6) the following Wednesday (7):

His body was conveyed to St James Cemetery in a black upholstered coffin, borne on a gun carriage. His hat, sword, and two bouquets of flowers lay on the coffin. Nearly all the officers from the garrison attended, and all of his men.

There were three marching bands to accompany the procession down Military Hill (North Military Road), and along the Maison Dieu Road. The route was lined with people, and many more were at the cemetery.

The service was begun in the mortuary, but there was insufficient room for all attending, so the men of his Regiment waited outside, heads bared. The coffin was lowered into its final resting place, and three volleys were fired as a final salute.

It was a massive show of respect which, in part at least, stemmed from acknowledgement of Charles Wooden's actions during the Crimean War:

As a Sergeant-Major in the 17th Lancers, Wooden had had his horse shot out from under him in the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October, 1854. The following day, Wooden went back out with surgeon James Mouat to help an officer who was lying seriously wounded in an exposed position, after the Light Cavalry had retreated. According to a contemporary report, "It seemed like certain death to go to him" (7)

Wooden helped to dress the officer's wounds under heavy fire from the enemy, an act for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration, and awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy".

Charles Wooden's Victoria Cross citation reads (4):

HER Majesty has also been graciously pleased to confer the Decoration of the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Non-commissioned Officer of Her Majesty's Army, who has been recommended to Her Majesty for that Decoration, on account of an Act of Bravery performed by him in the Crimea, during the late War, as recorded against his name; viz.:

17th Lancers, Serjeant-Major Charles Wooden

Date of Act of Bravery, 26th October 1854

For having, after the retreat of The Light Cavalry at the Battle of Balaclava, been instrumental, together with Dr James Mouat CB, in saving the life of Lieutenant Colonel Morris CB, of the 17th Lancers by proceeding under a heavy fire to his assistance, when he was lying very dangerously wounded in an exposed situation.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the The Queen's Royal Lancers Regimental Museum (Belvoir Castle, Lincolnshire, England).

Wooden's other medal entitlement: the Crimea Medal (with bars Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman and Sebastopol), the Turkish Medal, the French War Medal, and the Indian Mutiny Medal.

(1) See all Grand Shaft photos

(2) A descriptive picture of Dover; or, The visitor's new guide, by William Batcheller (1857) (Abridged)

(3) White Cliffs Country: The Western Heights (Abridged)

(4) Wikipedia entry for Charles Wooden

(5) Forgotten Heroes: The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Roy Dutton (2007)

(6) Hell riders: the truth about the Charge of the Light Brigade, by Terry Brighton (2004)

(7) Dover War Memorial Project: Victoria Cross Winners (Abridged)

(8) Symbol of courage: the men behind the medal, by Max Arthur (2005)

Click to see all St James Cemetery and other Dover Cemetery photos (Dover Churches,too, if you're interested!).

John Latter / Jorolat

Dover Blog: The Psychology of a Small Town

This is the Images of Dover website: click on any red or blue "John Latter" link to access the Entry Page.

John Latter on July 9, 2011

In 1989, Charles Wooden's headstone was restored by Ivor Spencer of Cleverley and Spencer (Est. 1869), Monumental Masons, 5 Frith Road, Dover.

Also see:

Charles Wooden VC, and Nearby Graves in St James Cemetery, Dover

John Latter on July 13, 2011

Another view that Charles Wooden was familiar with:

Looking into the Depths of The Grand Shaft, Western Heights, Dover

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on June 15, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by John Latter
    • Camera: PENTAX Corporation PENTAX K100D
    • Taken on 2011/06/14 17:01:46
    • Exposure: 0.003s (1/320)
    • Focal Length: 43.00mm
    • F/Stop: f/13.000
    • ISO Speed: ISO200
    • Exposure Bias: -0.30 EV
    • No flash