Gnr John William Bowen (1888 – 1917)

John William Bowen was born in Wrotham Heath on 4 December 1888, the second of eight children and eldest son of William George Bowen, a brickyard labourer, and his wife, Minnie Gertrude (née Heaver.) He attended Platt School, and lived with his family in the Railway Cottages, which were demolished in the late 1930s. On 26 December 1912 in Barming, John married a postman’s daughter from Maidstone named Fanny Hyland, and a son was born the following year. At the time, John was working as a quarryman at one of the local quarries and shortly before the war, he moved with his family to Ivy Cottage in West Farleigh.

John became the second of his four brothers to enlist, signing up with the artillery at Bromley on 6 January 1915. On 26 October, he was sent to Gallipoli, where he joined the 59th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, which formed part of the 11th Division. After the withdrawal from the peninsula at the start of 1916, John was sent to Egypt and became part of a force that took over a section of the Suez Canal defences at Sidi Bishr.

In June 1916, orders were received to proceed to France, and the brigade subsequently arrived on the Somme at the end of July. For the remainder of the year, John, who was a brigade signaller, was likely present at the capture of the Wundt-Werk, The Battle of Flers-Courcelette and The Battle of Thiepval, which were all phases of the Battle of the Somme.

In 1917, his battery took part in further operations on the Ancre before heading into Flanders for the Battle of Messines, after which John was given ten days leave. On arrival back at the front, he joined ‘A’ Battery. John found himself back in action at the Battles of Polygon Wood and Broodseinde before engaging the enemy again at the Battle of Poelcappelle – the last in a series of attacks made by the British during the Third Battle of Ypres and, tragically, the final engagement in which he would take part as he was killed by shellfire on 10 October.

Following John’s death, his wife received the following letter:

Dear Mrs Bowen,

I greatly regret to have to write and tell you that your husband was killed by a shell on the 10th OctoberHe was killed instantaneously. His loss is quite irreparable, and we all feel it very much. He was just one of the very best, quite fearless and absolutely trustworthy in the most hard and unpleasant jobs. As you will know, he was a signaller, and was picked as one of the three best to go forward into the German lines with the infantry as our officer’s signaller a day or two before. The signallers and all of us have lost one of the stoutest and most popular friends, who will never quite be replacedIt is the death of such a man that makes me at times hate the war. I must end now. I cannot say how I sympathise with you in your loss, and everyone joins with me in sending their deepest sympathy with you.

John’s grave is in Bard Cottage Cemetery, close to Ypres on the Yser Canal.