The Lonely Soldier | Charles William Murphy

The headstone of Pte. Charles William Murphy.

Those of you who live locally will know the story of the 'lonely soldier' buried in a 'field' behind Glanrhyd Hospital. People say that he died of shell-shock, others say that he was abandoned by his family and that he is buried on his own.

What is the truth? Is he on his own? How did he die?

Charles isn't on his own. That 'field' people speak of is one of three is Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum burial grounds. He is buried with hundreds of men, women and child patients of Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum.

We only remember him because he has a headstone. He is not any more or any less important than the others buried there. Sharing the truth about his death does not tarnish his memory. He was loved. He left behind a wife and three young children.

Who was he? In this blogpost I shed light on the man who is known as the 'lonely soldier.'

The headstone of Pte. Charles William Murphy.

Charles William Murphy born at Cardiff in 1882. He was one of seven children born to John and Caroline Murphy of Canton. 

The 1891 Census tells us that Charles was living with his family at Severn Road in Canton. He lived there with his mother Caroline, three of his siblings and his maternal grandfather. The census also tells us that the family employed two servants.

The 1901 Census tells us that Charles, his siblings and grandfather were living with his parents in Neath. By this time John and Caroline were running 'The Cross Keys Hotel' at St David's Street. Charles is listed as being a Grocers Assistant. Again, the census tells us that the family employed two servants.

A view of Jersey Road, Blaengwynfi.

On the 27th of January 1909, Charles married Maude Eliza Saunders at Merthyr. Born at Cinderford in 1886, Maude was the daughter of William and Ellen Saunders. It is not known why Maude came to Wales but the 1901 Census tells us that she was living with her uncle and auntie at 25 Upper Lime Street in Swansea. 

Charles and Maude had three children 
  • Dora Maud who was born on the 14th of May 1910.
  • Roy William Charles who was born on the 5th of January 1912. 
  • Leslie Charles who was born on the 15th of February 1917. 

The 1911 Census tells us that Charles and Maude were living 11 Jersey Road in Blaengwynfi. Charles is listed as a club steward (and Maude a stewardess) at the Workmens Club & Institute Blaengwynfi. At the time of this census, their daughter Dora was 10 months old. The census also shows that the family employed a servant.

On the 11th of December 1915, Charles enlisted at Porth. At the time of his enlistment, Charles living in Maerdy and working as a colliery repairer which was a reserved occupation. As a result of this, he was put into the Army reserves on the 12th of December 1915.

Charles was mobilised on the 14th of September 1917 and became attached to the 1st (Reserve) Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment as a Private on the 15th of September 1917. 

On the 1st of October 1917, Charles was admitted to Oswestry Military Hospital. The reason for admission is noted as “Delusional Insanity.” He spent 13 days in the military hospital and with no improvement was sent to the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital (Mental Division) at Whitchurch. 

On his arrival at the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital, Charles was diagnosed with General Paralysis of the Insane. 

“Patient is becoming demented - simple facile – restless – has delusions of grandeur.”

"Wasserman reaction: Strongly positive
Nonne Apelt cell count: 252 per mm."

The Wasserman reaction test was the anti-body test for General Paralysis of the Insane. The Nonne Apelt cell test was used to determine the extent of the disease on the central nervous system. Whereas the Nonne Apelt cell test was carried by testing the spinal fluid of the patient, the Wasserman reaction test was carried out by testing both the spinal fluid and blood of the patients.

Charles' discharge documents.

While still in hospital, Charles was officially discharged from the Army on the 1st of January 1918. His discharge record gives us some interesting details about him. This record helps us to build a mental image of what Charles would have looked like. 

Description at the time of discharge: 
Age: 36 
Height: 5ft6 
Chest measurements girth when fully expanded: 37 inches (range of expansion: 2 inches)
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Black
Trade: Colliery Repairer
Military character: Good
Character awarded in accordance with King's Regulations:
His conduct during service has been good.

Statement of Services: 
Attested: 11/12/1915
To Army Reserve: 12/12/1915
Mobilized: 14/9/1917
Posted: 15/9/1917 (1st (Reserve) Battalion, Monmouthshire Regiment)
1/1/1918: No longer physically fit for war service.

On the 5th of March 1918, Maude applied for Charles' war pension. His pension amounted to £25.
The pension application record gives us further insight into his condition. 

It states that he had “Constitutional Syphilis” (advanced syphilis) which was “aggravated” by military service. It also states that he required care and supervision at home.

Charles' death certificate lists his previous address as 'The Dunns, Mumbles' which at that time was the Victoria Red Cross Hospital. This suggests that after his time at the Welsh Metropolitan War Hospital, he was sent to another hospital. Whether this was due to Maude not being able to care for him at home, we do not know.

A view of Angelton Asylum - Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum.

On the 1st of June 1918, Charles was admitted to Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum. His reason for admission is noted as "mental stress."  His was occupation is listed as "Soldier" but at some point, this was changed to his previous occupation as a "colliery repairman."

On the 31st of July 1918, Charles died aged 36 at the Angelton in Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum. He died as a result of General Paralysis of the Insane and Lymphangitis - which is a complication caused by General paralysis of the Insane. His death certificate lists his occupation as "ex-private 1st Monmouthshire Regt" and “Colliery Repairman.”

Charles' death certificate.

When a patient died, and the body was not claimed or in most cases, the family could not afford to bury them, the patient was buried in the asylum cemetery. 

Charles William Murphy was buried in the Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum burial ground at Angelton on the 5th of August 1918. His burial ceremony was performed by Rev. Jones. 

At the time of his burial, he was not classed as a war casualty as he was not an active serviceman. Those who died in Glamorgan County Lunatic Asylum and were classed as war dead at the time of their burial were buried at Bridgend Cemetery on Cemetery Road.

It wasn't until 1921 that Charles and many others all over the world became classed as war dead.

Why is his gravestone still there? Charles' gravestone is still there as it is legally protected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and cannot be removed.

The headstone of Pte. Charles William Murphy.

(Sources: Wellcome Collection - Glamorgan Archives DHGL Series - National Archives)

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