Charlie Varcoe was a senior and crucial member of the AE2 crew. Sadly, he did not survive the war.
Born at St Stephens, Cornwall, on 4 August 1879, Varcoe was one of the experienced submariners lent to the RAN by the RN in 1913 to man the new AE2. At that time, aged 32, he was already a chief stoker. As such, he was looked up to by the younger members of the crew, and he was often called upon to act as both mediator and father figure.
In Belemedik prison camp, Varcoe mixed with his fellow CPOs and ratings alike, often joining the group of young tearaways at the Catholic mess run by Corporal George Kerr. In the summer of 1916 a serious outbreak of disease swept through the overcrowded camp, which had been pushed beyond its limits of sanitation and hygiene by huge numbers of forced labour prisoners, mainly from the Russian front. Charlie Varcoe contracted what was thought to be a virulent form of meningitis.
George Kerr wrote in his diary on 18 September 1916:
Charlie Varcoe, who had been ailing for some time, went to the hospital yesterday, and on his way there fell down unconscious. He was picked up by one of our lads, and admitted to hospital. In the afternoon the doctor sent down a message to the effect that Charlie would die in an hour. He had not then regained consciousness. In the morning we were told that he had died at 7 o’clock that morning [of meningitis]. He was buried the same afternoon, Macklin reading the service …
Although first buried in the Belemedik Armenian Christian Cemetery in 1916, Varcoe was later reinterred by the Imperial War Graves Committee in the official Baghdad North Gate Cemetery, where there is a plaque erected in his memory.