Charles C Stadden 12th June 1919 - 12th September 2002
Part 1 - Early Life
Charles C Stadden (always known to friends and family as Chas) was born in Leytonstone, London on 12th June 1919. His parents were Francis Stadden and Emily James who had been married on 10th February 1912 in West Ham Register Office. Francis Stadden had served in the Middlesex Regiment and the Devonshire Regiment during WW1 attaining the rank of Company Sergeant Major. In peacetime he was employed as a stationers manager for Strakers of London.
Emily had been a Lyons Tearooms waitress. She had three sisters and seven brothers, at least five of whom served in WW1. Here there was a strong connection with the Lancashire Fusiliers. Charles James was a drummer with the 1st Bn. who had served in Malta, Gibraltar, Crete and India up to 1911 being recalled to service in 1915 with the 9th Northamptonshire Regt. Henry James was in the 2n Bn. and later in the Canadian Artillery during WW1. John James too was in the 2nd Bn. and died in a German POW camp on 29th July1915 after being gassed two months earlier at Shell Trap Farm, Wieltje, 2nd Battle of Ypres. Arthur James was in the Royal Army Medical Corps and died when his ship ‘SS Transylvania’ was torpedoed in the Mediterranean on 4th May 1917. Able Seaman Ernest James died at Cromarty in Scotland on 5th August 1916 while serving on HMS Achilles. The youngest, Frank James was also an able seaman in the Royal Navy. Having such a background of military service must have made an impression on the four young Stadden boys. Two of Emilys sisters were married to servicemen, and while Chas was a young boy his mother had taken him on visits by train to Chichester where his Aunt Louise lived while her husband Augustus (in the RAMC) was stationed at the barracks there.
Chas had three older brothers, Frank, Arthur (always known as Gyp) and Victor (Vic) and a younger sister, Pearl. His childhood seems to have been a happy one living in Epsom Road, Leytonstone, close to Epping Forest and then during the 1930’s at Gordon Road, Wanstead. He was educated at Canterbury Road School in Leyton and had an interest in things military from an early age. Christmas presents were usually toy soldiers, and his father used to bring Chas postcards depicting military uniforms when he came home from work. Another lifetime interest was steam trains, which began when Chas and Vic used to play at Snaresbrook level crossing pulling on the railings pretending to be signalmen. Chas left school at 14 despite gaining an Art Scholarship to work as a Liftboy at Martins Bank, 68 Lombard Street, London. He was dismissed within two years for causing £400 worth of damage to one of the lifts while 'larking about' with one of the heavy ledger trolleys. To avoid telling his parents of being given the sack he decided to join the military at Stratford while still underage.
Chas thought he was destined to be a trumpeter in the Royal Artillery and lasted 40 days until his mother Emily managed to retrieve him. His second spell of civilian employment as a switchboard operator also ended in dismissal due to ‘larking about’. At this time Chas was a keen racing cyclist and obtained a summer job building racing bikes which was his introduction to light engineering. Although he enjoyed this work, at the end of the season he was laid off and had to take work as a parking attendant and nightwatchman. In the summer of 1939 he returned to the cycle trade until called up to military service under the Militia Act at the age of 20. He passed the medical A1 fitness but was found to be slightly shortsighted. This meant that he was unable to join the infantry (preferably the Lancashire Fusiliers) as he wanted but was instead sent to restart his military career at the 7th Drivers Training Centre RASC, Luton. As the Second World War broke out Chas was sent to France as part of an RASC unit delivering brand new three ton Bedford trucks via Southampton and Le Havre to a base at Houdain near Arras.
Part 2 - Dunkirk
The RASC unit was stationed in a large red brick school building surrounded by a high wall, the entrance to which was a gateway through the wall. The vehicles were parked on the courtyard. The new RASC drivers were all paired together with more experienced ones. On one occasion Chas’ regular driving partner was sick and he had to take one of the brand new lorries out on his own. On passing through the narrow gates he steered too early and clipped the wall, bringing it down onto the canopy at the back of his lorry. When presented before his commanding officer Chas replied to the effect that he had not wanted to be in the RASC but had desired to be an infantryman, preferably The Lancashire Fusiliers. With typical military efficiency Chas found himself posted with immediate effect to No.1 Mule Pack Transport Company, RASC.
Chas knew nothing at all of mules or horses and was sent back to England to a training school at Aldershot where he learnt to ride including use of sword, lance and revolver on horseback. Another part of his education was learning to drive six horses and two limbers in the manner of the Royal Horse Artillery. Then there followed a month with the Royal Veterinary Corps at Melton Mowbray to learn how to treat animal wounds and complaints such as colic.
At the beginning of 1940 it was back to France, a village named Ecquoviers near Lens, where Chas rejoined his mule pack company, which, for the next few months, was stabled in a brickworks, and now became part of The Cyprus Regiment, a unit comprising British Officers and NCOs with the men being almost all Cypriots.
When the news came that the Germans had broken through in May 1940, No.1 Mule Pack Transport Company at first were moved south through Arras to Baupaume. However, presumably as the Germans circled round towards Bologne and Calais, the mule packs headed back north again towards Lille. At this point Chas and many others like him thought that they were still advancing against the enemy but the retreat to Dunkirk began in earnest in the Forest of Nieppe where the instruction came to turn all the mules loose. All British ranks below Sergeant (armed with rifles and Lewis guns) in the Mule Pack Companies were included in an improvised infantry battalion made up of men who were otherwise detached from their units.The Cypriots (who had all been unarmed while in France) were sent straight back to Dunkirk to be evacuated. The improvised battalion then dug slit trenches and awaited the approach of the enemy. However, there was no sign of the Germans yet in this area and the battalion was sent back into the town of Dunkirk. After more reorganisation by the Town Major they were sent out to the far eastern end of the beaches to dig in once again where they could look back and see the harbour of Dunkirk. After coming under mortar fire they were relieved by the Royal Fusiliers and ordered to make their way back along the beaches to where small boats were coming in to take part in the rescue operation. Orderly queues were forming into the sea under the black smoke from the burning oil tanks in Dunkirk, which gave some protection from the attacking enemy planes. As a non swimmer, standing in the sea up to his chest with his rifle held over his head, and having just missed out on one boat, Chas decided to go back to the beach and try and make his way to the harbour where he could see ships were loading from a jetty. So during the night, having teamed up with a couple of others with the same idea they made their way along the beach. At some point they had found a supply of rum with which they filled their waterbottles, which was later shared with some French soldiers in return for some water. In the morning, towards the harbour, the beach was crowded but still under the cover of the black smoke. At the end of the jetty was the piermaster, who sent groups of men along the jetty at intervals having first shouted through his megaphone “You are now under command of the Royal Navy” which raised a great cheer from those in the queue. Holes had been blown in the jetty which were crossed by walking on wood and metal thrown across the gaps.
They had all been told that if anyone fell in the water there would be no chance of rescue such was the priority for getting the troops on board ship and away. The ship at the jetty was a Royal Navy Destroyer (Chas never knew which one), there was no gangway and everyone had to jump down onto the deck. All weapons were stacked in a pile on deck, Chas didn’t want to lose his own rifle which had been well looked after but there was no choice. He would also have preferred to stay on deck but was sent below which was just as well as the ship was bombed as it left the port and many were killed and injured by shrapnel. The rest of the crossing was uneventful back to Dover and once disembarked all the troops were put straight onto trains to various destinations. Women handed out food and drink as they passed through stations. Chas ended up at Blackdown Camp, Aldershot where he was redirected to Melton Mowbray to rejoin the mule companies of The Cyprus Regiment. He was then given a three day leave to visit his family in London and returned to Melton Mowbray where the Cypriots had all by now been armed and were being trained with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. They also took turns guarding the coastline in anticipation of a German invasion. In July Lord Lloyd the Colonial Secretary inspected the unit. The stay at Melton Mowbray was not to last very long as the order came that the men of the two Mule Pack Transport Companies of the Cyprus Regiment were to travel to Greenock in Scotland to embark on the liner ‘RMS Andes’ which was to sail for Africa on 4th August 1940.
Part 3 - Africa
‘RMS Andes’ was a brand new stabilised passenger liner of 27000 tonnes which had not even had a maiden voyage before becoming a troopship. It had its internal windows and decoration boarded up to prevent damage. The ‘Andes’ headed into the North Atlantic towards Greenland where the decks became covered in ice.It then joined up with a convoy heading south comprising other ships such as ‘Empress of Britain’ and ‘Empress of Australia’. The Royal Navy escort could usually only be seen on the horizon. The long detour was necessary as a precaution against U-boat attacks. The first port of call for supplies only was Freetown in Sierra Leone. The troops were not allowed ashore for health reasons.The voyage then continued southwards along the west coast of Africa and on arrival at Capetown in South Africa the men were allowed ashore on what was to be a stay of three weeks.
The South African people showed great hospitality to the British soldiers. They were invited into homes and taken by car on sightseeing tours including one to Table Mountain. After the three weeks were up the voyage continued round the east coast of Africa and finally through the Red Sea to Egypt where they landed at Port Tewfik near Suez. The destination was the RASC Base Depot at Geneifa Camp alongside the Infantry Base Depot.
Geneifa Camp was a collection of tents, a few huts, a cinema and several canteens in the desert. A spell on leave in Cairo in October 1940 included visiting the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Training was resumed until suddenly the new mules arrived, whereupon it became a frantic race to get the mules shod and break them in to wear Army saddlery before leaving for Eritrea with the 5th Indian Division in January 1941 for the campaign against the Italians.
The first part of the journey from Geneifa was by train along the Nile valley. After a stop at Luxor to feed and water the animals the train continued to the end of the line at Aswan. From here they travelled upstream for three days though Sudan on a Nile boat past Wadi Halfa and Khartoum with barges attached each side for the mules. They finally disembarked at Sennar where they stayed for a few days. One of the jobs here was to shoot crocodiles at Sennar Dam to protect the Sudanese women doing their washing. The mules were then once again loaded into railway wagons. Chas had by now been promoted to the rank of Corporal with No. 1 Company, Mule Pack Transport, The Cyprus Regiment and he was in charge of guarding the baggage on the train. However, this did not stop him taking a turn on the footplate driving the steam locomotive for part of the trip.
Their destination was Kassala, where they left the train and embarked on the 130 mile trek to meet the main body of troops at Akordat in Eritrea, marching from waterhole to waterhole. The longest distance covered in one day was 35 miles with the temperature 120F in the shade. From here Nos 1 and 2 Mule Transport Companies of the Cyprus Regt went along with the rest of the Army into the mountains at Kerren, where the work really started. There were only two mule Companies for two divisions, whereas two mule Companies would normally supply a brigade. The main work for Mule Transport was to take supplies up to the front line, and bring back any wounded. On the way up to the front line, any enemy patrols would be carefully avoided unless they spotted you. On the way back enemy patrols were often engaged, after the supplies had been delivered.In mountain warfare patrols could easily penetrate some distance behind the opposing front line.
The only rations were bully beef and biscuits, no fresh fruit or vegetables were available which led to many small wounds and desert sores becoming gangrenous. Later on tins of fruit juice from South Africa became available which allieviated the situation. Chas was involved along with his unit in the battle for Kerren, many casualties were caused in this campaign by rock splinters, and the difficulty of being able to dig trenches in the rocky terrain. At one point an Italian shell landed about two feet from where Chas and his mates had dug in a Bren Gun, but instead of exploding, it split in half and only covered them all in sand. Chas made it as far as Massawa and then into Abyssinia, but as the campaign finished in April 1941 the two mule companies retraced their route by desert march, train, Nile boat and train again back to Egypt and Geneifa Camp. Mules which had been lost were replaced and the Cyprus Regiment was reinforced with more Cypriot troops, as training recommenced. This state of affairs was not to last for long as Nos 1Mule Pack Company, The Cyprus Regiment, was shortly to be attached to 5th Brigade, 4th Indian Division and begin the journey to Syria where they would join Operation Exporter and the fight against the Vichy French (Colonial troops including the French Foreign Legion).
Part 4 - The Middle East.
So, in May 1941 the mules were loaded into wagons once more. The train crossed the Egyptian frontier and headed into Palestine together with the Royal Fusiliers. From the train the trek commenced from the coast through Nazareth to Tiberias where Chas’ unit was billeted in the Elizabethan Hotel. During the invasion of Syria No. 1 Mule Pack Company were attached to one of the Australian Infantry Divisions but were not involved in the fighting to any great extent. It was probably around this time that Chas sustained his first wartime injury, a broken nose in a bar room fight with an Australian soldier. The ceasefire with the Vichy French came on 12th July 1941, and the British Army came into possession of over 10,000 mules and horses formerly used by the enemy. At the same time the British Cavalry in the Middle East became entirely mechanised and 3,000 cavalry horses were now surplus to requirements. This put a massive burden on the Veterinary and Remount Units in processing and then retraining those animals that could be reused. While in Syria Chas was still involved in training infantry for mountain warfare (probably with a view to what would later be needed in Italy) but suddenly all British Corporals with the Mule Pack Companies were moved to Remount Depots. Chas had to travel via Beirut to Sarafand Depot on the coast where he spent around eighteen months retraining cavalry horses to pull carts. One of the reasons for the retraining was in order to save petrol by having horsecarts carry supplies between the British bases in the area.The rest of the Cyprus Regiment Mule Pack Transport was still in the mountain warfare training school.
Meanwhile back in London, Chas’ family were engaged in a battle with the authorities to find out what had happened to Frank and Gyp (both RASC) following the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942. The British government had made no official contact with the Japanese government to find out the fate of the missing servicemen. Franks wife Rene campaigned with the Leyton Far East POW Society and enlisted the help of the local Member of Parliament. Eventually after some months Rene and Gyps wife (also called Rene) received postcards informing them that their husbands were alive and well in Japanese POW Camps. It was only later that it became apparent what horrors both men would have to endure before the end of the war. Chas would have received the news about his older brothers in letters from home while he was at Sarafand. Vic had joined the 4th Hussars, while Pearl enlisted in the Women's Land Army.
At long last the order came for Chas to rejoin his unit in mid 1943 as the Italian campaign started. The voyage to Italy began at Beirut, where the mules were loaded directly into the hold on a converted merchant ship using slings attached to a crane. The ship called in at Port Said in Egypt, where it joined a convoy which headed across the Mediterranean to Augusta in Sicily. Several mules died during the crossing due to seasickness in a storm. By now the liberation of Sicily was complete, and the Allies were far enough advanced into the Italian mainland to allow Chas’ ship to dock at Bari on the east coast. This must have been towards the end of September 1943. The first part of the journey towards the front line was once again by train to the area around Lucera which, at the time, was ten miles from the front line.
Part 5 - Cassino
Catching up with the advancing Allied Army, the Cyprus Regiment Mule Pack Companies spent November and December working with the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade in particular the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry along the Sangro River.
At the beginning of 1944, it was time to rejoin the 4th Indian Division as the mules were now required in the conflict further west at Cassino. The march across the Apennine Mountains took three or four weeks but Chas arrived in the Cassino area sometime before the bombing of the Monastery on 15th February 1944. The mules were camped between two New Zealand Artillery Batteries east of the Rapido River. From their arrival early in February until after Cassino fell on 18th May the Cyprus Regiment Mule Packs were to spend every night making dangerous journeys up to the front line on Snakeshead Ridge or Castle Hill, supplying food and ammunition to the infantry and returning with the dead and wounded. The days were spent trying to get some sleep in a slit trench, although every now and then the nearby Artillery positions came under fire from the Germans. During the late afternoon, the Troop officer and Chas as Troop Sergeant would find out from the Quartermaster which supplies were to be transported that night and where they were required. Ammunition, barbed wire, blankets, meals packed in hay boxes and anything else the infantry might need had to be carried. As the mules were loaded up it was the Troop Sergeants responsibility to check everything was correct and loaded properly. Under cover of darkness the mule packs then made their way across the valley to the Bailey Bridge over the Rapido River then past the old Italian barracks. They would then either turn left for Castle Hill or right for the much longer route taking the mule tracks up onto Snakeshead Ridge. Whichever route they took, silence was essential, as any noise could attract enemy artillery and mortar fire.
The mules always seemed to know when to be quiet, but although their feet were covered, loose rocks would sometimes give their position away. A dip in the hills known as the ‘Bowl’ was a particularly dangerous place. German mortars were always accurately trained on it as they knew it was a staging post for Battalions going up onto Snakeshead Ridge. Close to the front line the much needed stores would be offloaded, to be replaced with wounded or dead infantrymen. The mule packs then carefully made their way back to camp, a journey just as dangerous as on the way up. At around 3am, the mules were fed, watered and groomed before resting during the day.
Crossing the Rapido Valley on 11th May, Chas was to see the area full of recently arrived Allied Artillery that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. He was on top of Snakeshead Ridge as the fourth battle of Cassino ‘Operation Diadem’ began with an immense artillery barrage. The shells felt like they were just passing over him as they headed for the German positions. During the days that followed, the mule packs supplied the Polish Infantry who were eventually to be successful in taking the Monastery on 18th May.
As the Allied armies rapidly moved on towards Rome, the Cyprus Regiment Mule Packs remained behind for a few days to perform the sad task of collecting the dead from the battlefield, many of whom had been killed in action several months before but could not be reached due to enemy fire.
In the weeks that followed the Mule Packs trekked through Italy, having the chance to visit Rome before heading north to arrive in the Cortona area at the beginning of July. Here they were in the line for one week, however during the next fortnight Chas and his company were effectively on leave touring the countryside south of Perugia. By August they had crossed to the east coast of Italy, preparing to play their part in the battle for the Gothic Line.
Part 6 - The Gothic Line and Home Again (Coming Soon)
During his full time military service he was with the Royal Army Service Corps (Horse Transport), The Cyprus Regiment and the Royal Fusiliers. By the time he was demobilised in 1946 he was a Sergeant in the Royal Fusiliers and had seen active service at Dunkirk, Eritrea, Abyssinia, Crete, Syria, Sicily and Cassino, Italy.
On the reconstitution of the Territorial Army in the post-war period he served as a Sergeant in the Royal Fusiliers T.A. and then the Royal Sussex Regiment T.A., Littlehampton until 1967.
Charles Stadden had been interested like most youngsters in model soldiers, but in 1951 he decided to turn his hand to their commercial
production. The experience gained in light engineering before the war assisted him in revolutionising some of the manufacturing techniques.
Whilst still producing ‘master’ models for manufacturers he allowed his artistic talents to return to drawing and painting and the current
interest in military uniforms made his work much sought after. His name is included with the well known military artists of an earlier era such
as Harry Payne and Richard Simpkin.
Over the years Charles Stadden produced military figurines in 25mm, 30mm, 54mm, 85mm and 90mm sizes as well as larger sculptures and wood carvings. He could produce 54mm pewter master figure from scratch in less than a day and a 25mm pewter master figure in a few hours.
Although most well known for military subjects, he produced many other pieces for the toy and giftware trades including sculptures of film and pop stars. He created masters for Subbuteo sports games, Triang Hornby railways and for Scalextric racing cars.
He was just as productive with his artwork. His oil and watercolour paintings adorn the walls of many military museums, offices and private collections. Others have been available as prints, postcards, first day covers and Christmas cards. He has written and illustrated books on military history.
Although he ceased to make figures around 1995, he was still painting watercolours until a few weeks before he passed away at the age of 83 years.