The WW1 Letters of Lt Charles Asphar
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With grateful thanks to the Asphar family , and especially Charles’s sons Charles and Philip and nieces Anne and Helen , for giving permission to post these fascinating letters from WW1 here. New transcription and corrections by Marilyn and Peter Agius (grandson of Joseph Agius and Maggie Samut).
Charles Herman Asphar was born in Sliema, Malta, 1 December 1895. 4th child of seven to John Francis Asphar and Mary Vella. The Asphar family lived at ‘Rocklands’, 1 Windsor Terrace, Sliema , on a corner of Tower Road (Fond Ghadir) where many of their close friends resided – the Samut, Muscat, Parnis, Mortimer and Camillieri families in particular. The Agius family in Hampstead, London, was well known to all these families in Malta. Edward T Agius had started in business in London in 1869 , married Maria Concetta Muscat in Valletta in 1873, and produced 15 children in Hampstead by 1896. The family home, 3 Belsize Grove , was open house to any Maltese visiting London especially on Sunday afternoons. By 1914, three of Edward’s daughters had married Maltese and settled on Tower Road, Sliema – Inez married to Salvatore Cassar , Marie married to Frank Denaro and Mabel married to Anthony Arrigo. In 1909 , his son Joseph married Maggie Samut at St Patrick’s Sliema and took her back to 22 Downside Crescent , Hampstead, near to Belsize Grove. And so it was that when Charles was in London in 1917 he was more than welcome at No 3 , and well known to Maggie (Samut) Agius and also the last unmarried daughter , Daisy Agius.
Charles was born into a large family , in which his father and siblings had been raised with their 1st cousins including Dom Maurus Caruana. Maurus (baptised Louis) had been at school at Fort Augustus in Scotland and then joined the monastery there. In 1905 he was briefly secretary to Archbishop Ambrose Agius (Ed T Agius’s brother), when he was Apostolic Delegate in Manila, and in 1915 became Bishop of Malta. Charles refers to him as ‘Bish’ in his letters and clearly knew his ‘uncle’ very well.
In November 1916 Charles was in the OTC (Officer Training Corps) in England looking to get a commission in the British Army. In his first letter home he not only mentions his close relations back home but also all the Maltese friends that he had been meeting in London – Daisy and Richard Agius, Frank & Arthur Samut and Oscar Parnis. In August 1917 he received his commission and became Lt C H Asphar of 12th Machine Gun Company, and ready to be sent to the Western Front. In September he wrote his first letter from the trenches and not much later , 9th October, he received a minor wound that he described in his letter of the 11th October. Invalided back to London, he was looked after by the Agius family and was one of the first outside the Agius family to hear of his friend Richard Agius being killed in action at Poelcapelle (Battle of Passchendaele) on 26th October. In his letter home of 14th November, Charles describes the day he was wounded and how it was near Poelcapelle , not far from where Richard Agius fell just two weeks later.
After a period of convalescence, Charles was at various camps in England and was in Northumberland when he heard news of the death of another great friend ‘PA’ (Lt Percy Alfred Micallef-Eynaud) on 18th March 1918 – the first day of Germany’s Spring Offensive. In August 1918 Charles was posted back to the Western Front in 4th MCG to be involved in the Allies’ 100 day push to victory. The final days leading up to the Armistice are described in a blog on this website. In these days Charles found himself very near his old friends Arthur Samut, Willie Parnis and Charles Muscat.
His final letter is written in September 1919 at the Machine Gun School – British Army of the Rhine.
On leaving the army Charles returned to Malta. A passenger record in January 1922 shows him arriving from the Gold Coast (as Assistant D.C.) and staying at 3 Belsize Grove , where Ed T Agius, Maria Concetta, Alfred and Daisy were still in residence. He later emigrated to Australia where his descendants now reside. Charles died in Glendalough, Perth, Western Australia in 1986 , aged 91.
Those Who Served 1914-1916
Who’s Who in the letters – (Photo Gallery – click here)
The Asphar family of Rocklands, 1 Windsor Terrace, Sliema.
John Francis Asphar – 1864 – 1935 – Father/Pater of Charles
Mary nee Vella – 1865 – 1946 – Mother/Mater of Charles
Their children :-
- Alfred 1889 – ?
- Agnes 1892 – 1984
- Helen 1894 – 1973
- Charles 1895 – 1986
- May 1897 – 1995
- John 1900 – 1940
- Maude 1902 – 1966
Asphar – Caruana – Bonavia Family Tree
The Bonavia sisters, Angelica and Elizabeth, died young and so when John Asphar married Philomena Caruana (Sister-in-law of Elizabeth) he agreed to raise the two families together. And so it was that Charles grew up knowing his Caruana ‘uncles’ very well (actually his father’s 1st cousins). When Charles joined the army he gave Francis Emanuel, a banker in London, as his next of kin and refers to him as ‘Man’ in his letters. He also refers to Bishop Caruana as ‘Bish’.
The Agius family of 3 Belsize Grove , Hampstead , London
Edward Tancred Agius – 1849-1924
Maria Concetta nee Muscat – 1854-1935
Their children :-
8 of 15 – Daisy b 1882
9 of 15 – Joseph b1884 married to Maggie Samut (1909 in Sliema) living at 22 Downside Crescent , Hampstead
11 of 15 – Major Alfred Agius MC b 1887
12 of 15 – Capt Edgar Agius b 1888
15 of 15 – Capt Richard Agius (Dickie/Dick) b 1896 – killed at Poelcapelle 26th October 1917 aged 21
The Samut family of Southsea House , 133 Tower Road, Sliema
Lt Col Achilles Samut (1859-1935)
Enrichetta nee Tagliaferro (1859-1933)
Mary b 1882 m Dr Edgar Ferro 1903 living at 138 Tower Rd
Maude b 1886 m (Sir) Philip Pullicino 1911 living at 136 Tower Road
Maggie b 1888 m Joseph Agius 1909 living in Hampstead
Major Arthur Samut MC b 1889 2nd Wiltshire Regiment
Lt George Samut b 1891 Ordnance Corps
Lina b 1893 ( m John Gatt in 1924) living at 133 Tower Road
Lt Leonard Samut b 1894 KOMR at Gallipoli then Worcestershire Regiment
Lt Frank Samut b 1897 2nd Border Regiment – Italian front
The Parnis family of 84 Old Bakery Street, Valletta
Judge Alfred Parnis (1860-1946)
Helen Ferro (1865-1952) – 1st cousin of Enrichetta Tagliaferro
Their children :- (2nd cousins to the Samut children)
Inez Rose b 1887 m William O’Brien 1908 living in England
Capt Henry Parnis b 1889 RAMC
Oscar Parnis (1880 – 1919) advocate in London 1916-1919
Capt William Parnis MC b 1893 . Lived in London but died in Valletta in 28 Feb 1942.
Eric Parnis 1897-1930 – Judge
Lena (1899-1990) – Lived in Hampstead and died in London