war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




"CHARLES BRADING" by Marilyn Stephenson-Knight

“Don’t raise any hopes. There were no survivors.”  Since October 1943 Catherine Brading’s son had been missing. Now the second World War had ended, and the sergeant on her doorstep had confirmed that Charles Brading, courtesy Fred BradingCharlie would not be coming home.  

Charles Frederick Brading was the odd one out. All his family were seafarers. His father had been in the Navy, so too had been his uncles. Even his brother Fred went to sea. The Bradings were a family with a long seafaring pedigree. They had their own fleet of ships in the 19th century, carrying beer from their brewery. They were even named after a port. Brading on the Isle of Wight is where the family originated.   

Charlie himself was well-acquainted with the sea. Living in Dover, in the Metropole flats just opposite St Mary’s church, he was a brilliant swimmer. He took part in the Breakwater Swim every year. But the army was his calling. Already in the Territorials, he served a new battalion of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), when war broke out. He was soon sent to France, escaping after Dunkirk in a fishing boat. After a brief spell in Wales protecting reservoirs, his battalion went to Malta. There they stayed, undergoing the devastations of the siege as they guarded the island, until 1943. 

It was then that Fred saw Charlie for the last time. Fred was working on the Malta convoy, and his Commander arranged for the brothers to have four days’ leave together. “We had a wonderful time,” smiles Fred. He won £17 on a tombola, and remembers to this day the beers they enjoyed.

a destoyer similar to the one Charles was on, courtesy Mr BradingBut war called. By October 1943, with Malta deemed secure, Charlie’s battalion were racing across the sea. The island of Kos had fallen, and they needed to defend its neighbour, Leros. Charlie never arrived. On the night of the 23rd his destroyer, the HMS Eclipse, struck a mine. She instantly caught fire, broke up, and within minutes was gone. It was Charlie’s 23rd birthday.   

Charlie is one of over 1,300 Buffs who died in the Second World War. Nearly 6,000 were lost in the first. They are remembered daily at Canterbury Cathedral. Their colours hang in St Michael’s chapel, otherwise known as the Warriors’ Chapel. Beneath are the Books of Remembrance. At eleven o’ clock, the time of the Armistice, six bells is rung on the bell from the Great War cruiser HMS Canterbury. The Chaplain leads prayers for Remembrance and for Peace, and then a former Buff turns a page in just one of the books. Short, simple, and very moving, the ceremony has been held forWarriors' Chapel, Canterbury, by Simon Chambers over eighty years.  

Now the Buffs themselves are no more. Sadly apt, 11am was when they marched into memory. After a history spanning four centuries they were amalgamated with the West Kent Regiment, The Queen’s, on 1st March 1972. Further amalgamations followed, and the remains are now The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.  

But Charlie’s fourth battalion died with the second World War. There were, after all, some survivors from the “Eclipse”, and they, along with comrades carried on a second destroyer, fought fiercely at Leros. It was to no avail. Three weeks later the island was surrendered and the remnants of the fourth became prisoners of war. The battalion was never reformed.  

But memories remain. The Green Dragon of The Buffs can still be worn by those who served. In Books of Remembrance, at Canterbury and at Dover, Charles Brading is commemorated.  “Veteri Frondescit Honore”. That is the motto of The Buffs, Charlie’s regiment, and it is a fitting epitaph to his name. It means, "with its ancient honour it is evergreen".   

 This article first appeared in the Dover Mercury, p10, 26th  October 2006, under the title "Don't raise hopes - there's no survivors"

Charles Brading
a destroyer like the "Eclipse"
Warriors' chapel, Canterbury

Copyright 2006 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved