Lieutenant Charles Pope VC 11th Battalion, AIF

Posted on 16 June 2021

Charles Pope was born on 5 March 1883 to William and Jane Pope at Mile End in London. He attended school in Navestock in Essex before migrating to Canada, where he worked for Canadian Pacific Railways. He returned to England in 1906 and joined the Chelsea Metropolitan Police Force. Later that year, he married Edith Mary Smith, and in the years after, had a son and daughter.

In 1910, the Pope family migrated to Australia and settled in Perth. Charles was initially employed as a furniture salesman but when the First World War began, he was working as an insurance agent.

Charles Pope enlisted for service with the AIF in late August 1915 and was commissioned with the rank of second lieutenant. He was allocated to the 18th reinforcements to the 11th Battalion and embarked aboard the transport ship Suevic from Fremantle in early June 1916.

He trained in England before joining the 11th Battalion in France, fighting in the line near Flers. On Boxing Day 1916, Pope was promoted to lieutenant.

In February 1917, the German Army on the Somme began to withdraw to a strong, pre-prepared defensive line known to the allies as the Hindenburg Line. By April, the 11th Battalion was in front-line positions forward of the village of Louverval. Expecting a German counter-attack, the battalion had placed outposts forward of their main line, and the platoons were told to hold these posts at all costs. Lieutenant Pope and his platoon occupied the centre outpost.

On the night of 14 April, the German forces attacked. During the fighting the right flank of the 11th Battalion was pushed back, and Pope’s platoon was surrounded. What happened next is perhaps best described by Pope’s citation for the Victoria Cross:

“Lieutenant Pope, finding that he was running short of ammunition sent back for further supplies. But the situation culminated before it could arrive, and in the hope of saving the position, this very gallant Officer was seen to charge with his picquet into a superior force, by which it was overpowered. By his sacrifice Lt. Pope, not only inflicted heavy loss on the enemy, but obeyed his order to hold the position to the last. His body, together with those of most of his men, was found in close proximity to eighty enemy dead – a sure proof of the gallant resistance which had been made.”

The bodies of Pope and many of his men were recovered among those of 80 German soldiers. Several other members of Pope’s platoon were later found to have been taken prisoner.

Pope was buried in the Moeuvres Communal Cemetery Extension near Louverval. He was 34 years old. On 8 June, the London Gazette announced that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross.