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Conker champ Charlie Bray will be sadly missed
A FORMER world conker champion, who had a brush with death on several occasions while fighting for his country during the war, is being mourned by family and friends.
Henry Charles Bray, known as Charlie, was born on January 8, 1919 in Chilbolton, as the eldest of four children. He later moved to Tichbourne Down, near Alresford, where he went to school.
Following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, Charlie left home aged 14 to take his first gamekeeper job on the Portal Estate in Laverstoke.
When the Second World War began, Charlie, already a Territorial, had to report to Overton Headquarters.
As Private Bray of The Hampshire Regiment, he spent the first years of the war in the south, guarding ports, training and marching.
In 1941, the regiment moved to Kent, when, aged 22, Charlie earned his stripes. Charlie married his wife Judy in August 1942, before serving abroad, in countries including North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Greece, eventually becoming a Company Sergeant Major.
His daughter, Wendy, was born in 1943 while Charlie was in Sicily, and she was a month old before the news reached him and three-years-old before he first saw her.
Charlie was wounded five times in active service. At Casino in Italy, he was walking down a mountain and passed a dump of shells. The next thing he knew he was coming round in a medical tent, covered in blood.
It turned out that he had been blown over a hundred yards down the mountain.
On another occasion, also in Italy, Charlie came face to face with two Germans in a trench, and one threw a grenade at him.
Hitting Charlie in the chest, he fell to the ground and shouted for comrades with him to run as he raced a few yards and threw himself to the ground as the grenade exploded.
After the war, Charlie went back to being a gamekeeper, this time on the Lord Ranks’ estate in Micheldever.
In 1948, his second daughter Penny was born. After 10 years, the family moved to Lord Ashburton’s Estate in Itchen Stoke.
In 1978 came a two-year stint in Northamptonshire, where Charlie was propelled into the international limelight as a conker player, winning the World Conker Championship twice.
Charlie appeared on television and even went to New York with a television company to teach the Americans how to play.
One of his favourite stories was how to harden your ‘nut’, in which he described in detail the best way to prepare a conker – by passing it through a pig.
In 1980, Charlie and Judy moved to Cole Henley, where they stayed for 30 years.
When Charlie, a grandfather-of-three, turned 80 he retired, but 24 hours later he was asked back into employment, to take responsibility for gardens in Cole Henley, which is how he spent the last 14-years of his life.
Last year, Charlie and Judy celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
Charlie, who was 94 when he died, is survived by his wife and daughter Wendy, as well as many other family members.