‘My dad never got over it all’ - Great War hero Charles, who survived horror battles, had constant nightmares

A photograph from the Joy Portway collection
A photograph from the Joy Portway collection

CHARLES Portway was in the prime of his life when he went to war with the 10th Royal Hussars.

By the end of the conflict, he’d survived some of the worst horrors that man has ever seen.

He fought at the Somme and Ypres and it never left his dreams, even though he lived to 91 years old.

He had nightmares almost every day and they were disturbingly vivid. He would see the eyes of the dying German soldier who he killed in mortal hand-to-hand combat. It was kill or be killed and he used his bayonet to beat the Hun.

The story lives on thanks to his son Stan, 89, and Stan’s wife Joy, 84, from the Hart Lane area of Hartlepool. Joy remembered: “He would tell us stories of how horrible war was.

“He told us about the nightmares he had of the ‘ginger German’. He bayoneted him but he could never forget the eyes of that German soldier.”

Joy, with a memory which was still as sharp as a tack, recalled that Charles was “one of the old contemptibles”.

It was a reference to Charles role as part of the original British army - the first men to get to the battlefields of France.

Legend has it that Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany issued an order to his troops on August 19, 1914 to “exterminate the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army”.

But the English Army wouldn’t go quietly. And when they survived, they gave themselves the nickname of the Old Contemptibles.

The men came home as heroes but they all had memories that many would never share. It was that horrendous.

Charles was one of the few who could talk about it.

“He would tell us that he had been in the big battles,” said Stan. “He said it was horrible in the trenches.”

Only a fellow soldier would have known what it was like - and Charles had a best friend who’d seen it all just like he had.

That best friend was Sidney Frank Godley who often came to see Charles in Hartlepool. Sidney had a claim to fame.

He was the first private soldier awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War.

No-one knows how they became pals. It might have been when they met at Remembrance Day ceremonies in the Royal Albert Hall years later.

Or the fact that Charles was a Cockney who only came to Hartlepool years later when he met his beloved Frances in Scarborough - and they started a family further north where the jobs were.

Yet no matter they became friends, each knew what the other had gone through.

Sidney was the man who defended the Nimy railway bridge on August 23, 1914, when every other troop retreated.

At first, he was there with his Lieutenant but his Lt Dease was wounded and killed. After that, Private Godley was on his own. He held the bridge single-handed even though he was shot in the head and had shrapnel wounds to his back.

As a reminder of his dad’s pal, Stan still has the memorial booklet which was published to Sidney on his death in June 1957.

And he recalled: “My dad used to say that the pair of them used to march on Armistice Day parades in Hartlepool and Sidney would dress up as Old Bill, but I have no idea who that was.”

Our research showed it was a character created by the artist Bruce Bairnsfather to symbolise the typical British soldier.

But Sidney looked so like the character that he adopted it as his own - and dressed that way when he marched in Hartlepool.