Charles Edward Duke was born in early 1880, the oldest of three children to George and Charlotte Duke. George was a market gardener, but for all of Charles’ childhood censuses – 1881, 1891 and 1901 – his father is absent. Instead, Charlotte is listed as the head of the household, married and working as a launderess. Given that the censuses were all taken in the spring, it is possible that her husband was working away each time the document was recorded, although this is supposition. In every census, though, it is interesting to note that she had taken in lodgers to help pay the bills.
The family lived in Worthing, West Sussex, in a small house near the centre of town. When he left school, Charles found work as an errand boy for a local stationer, before finding more gainful employment as a gardener in one of the multitude of nurseries surrounding the coastal town.
In 1901, Charles married Lucy Barnes, a carter’s daughter from the town; the young couple set up home in Broadwater, to the north of Worthing town centre, and went on to have four children; Alice, Henry, Dorothy and Margaret.
When war arrived on European shores, Charles played his part. Sadly his military records are all but non-existent, but from what remains it’s possible to piece together something of his military life.
Private Duke enlisted in the Machine Gun Corps, and was assigned to the 16th Company. While it is impossible to place him in any specific location, his company was certainly involved in the Battle of the Somme.
Charles survived the war; the next evidence available for him notes that he died on 31st October 1919 in a hospital in Brighton, although o cause is given for his death. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission give his age as 41, although it seems likely he was a couple of years younger than this, based on when his birth was registered.
Charles Edward Duke was buried in the Broadwater Cemetery, a short walk from where his widow and children were living.