December 1917

Charles F McColl was a very bad lad and there is little evidence that we can find to dispute Charles Frederick McCollthis as anything but fact. His antics while serving with the Army led to him being the 'owner' of one of the longest charge sheets we have ever seen. Ultimately, he went one step too far and was shot at dawn, executed, by firing squad, on the 28th day of December 1917.

August 2014

Chatting with friends from Ieper, the topic of Charles McColl's execution crept into the conversation as the only man from Kingston upon Hull to have been executed for cowardice during The Great War. Having previously undertaken some limited research into McColl's case at the National Archive, Kew, we were able to provide a little depth and background to the story. A report was prepared and sent to Ieper with copies of Charles McColl's trial papers.

September 2014

A group of veterans, British and Belgian, sat in the Passchendaele Pub discussing the McColl papers and how he was refused a Christian burial by the padre officiating at his execution. None of them knew of another case in which such a refusal had occurred and, hero or coward, a Christian burial is something to which all are entitled. Overhearing these discussions, and rapidly joining in, was the padre to the Legion Scotland, Passchendaele & District Branch, Mgr Prof John C. Noordermeer. Mgr Noordermeer agreed, everyone is entitled to receive a Christian burial and the officiating padre at McColl's execution was very wrong in denying him a God-given right. Instantaneously, Mgr Noordermeer vowed to put this right so John Sutherland, Branch Secretary of the Ypres & Passchendaele Legion of Scotland and one of those present at the time, sent us an email to discuss the proposal further.

October 2014

Following further research into those who suffered the ultimate punishment, execution, we could not find anyone else who had been refused their last rights. Deserters, rapists, murderers - all received a Christian burial, all except Charles McColl, a ship's plater from Kingston upon Hull. After many hours of searching in Britain, Belgium, France and Holland, no one was able to find a burial which had not been 'celebrated' in the appropriate faith. Even the fields of death were so many men disappeared from the sight of men had been blessed by multi-faith burial services. Was Charles McColl the only British soldier to suffer this indignation? Well, it is highly unlikely when you consider the number of people who died, but this was a wrong that could be righted - all be it 97 years after his death.

Our next step was to try to find any living relatives of Private McColl and, we are pleased to say, it was a search which soon bore fruit. While McColl died without issue he did have a number of Charles McColl's satke at the National Memorial Arboretumnephews and nieces whose families lived in Kingston upon Hull, Spain and New Zealand. All were in agreement that a service of committal would be a fitting commemoration and, due to the distances involved and health matters, invited The Hull People's Memorial to lay a wreath on their behalf.

We decided to approach the City Council inviting them to send a representative over to Ieper to lay a wreath on his grave. This could be the city's final act of commemoration of centenary year 2014. I felt it very important to make it clear that our journey was simply to see a Hull Pal finally laid to rest and not a judgment on his guilt or innocence. The Lord Mayor and her Consort agreed to attend after we had met in her Chambers over a nice slice of cake.

November 2014

With everything in place; permissions granted, and passports checked, all we had to do was find the fair to send Chairman Alan over to Ieper for the committal service. ALL donations to The Hull People's Memorial Fund are saved to pay for the memorial. They would certainly not be used to fund a trip to Belgium, so it was up to Alan to pay his own fare. Being a disabled ex-serviceman, this would be a big strain on his wallet which he could not really afford; especially at Christmas.

P&O to the Rescue

We are very lucky to have so many generous and community-minded companies in Kingston upon Hull and, as soon as they heard of the Charles McColl story and the proposed funeral service, they offered to pay Alan's fare to make sure that he could lay the family wreath. Not only did they pay the fare, an outside cabin and all meals were thrown in along with a visit to the bridge to watch the Pride of York exit the ports of Kingston upon Hull and Zebbrugge. While the sea may have been quite rough on the outbound leg of the journey, the Pride of York was as steady as ever, the meals were sumptuous and the staff incredibly helpful and polite. Thanks to P&O, another problem was solved.

28th December 2014

At 11 am Mgr Noordermeer, wearing 1917 robes, officiated in a service over Charles McColl's grave. Unknown to us at the time, the Cannon had arranged for duplicate services to be held in churches and cathedrals all over Europe, including Belgium, France, Germany England, Holland and Germany. Many other churches would be offering a prayer for Charles McColl too. It is nothing less, after 97 years, than he deserves. The service was as near to that which should have been held at the time of his burial. Mgr Noordermeer, a Royal Marine Commando, vowed to repeat the service in 2015, 2016 and 2017 - the 100th anniversary of McColl's execution. After the service he discussed plans to visit Kingston upon Hull in 2015 and to return during our City of Culture year, 2017. We shall certainly look forward to his visit.

After paying our respects at the Menin Gate, it was time to head back to Zebbrugge to join the Pride of York for a much gentler crossing back to Kingston upon Hull while contemplating those who, during the 1914-1918 war, never got to use the return portion of their ticket to Belgium, France, India, Germany, Africa, Turkey, The Holy Land and so many other places of conflict from where our local boys failed to return.

Bless 'em all...