Pte. Reginald Ernest Bowen (1899 – 1917)
Four ‘Bowens’ are commemorated on the Platt War Memorial: three from WW1 and one from WW2. The former are often incorrectly assumed to be brothers, however they were in fact cousins, and descend from a family that left Glamorganshire in Wales by foot during the first half of the 19th century. Their forebears’ destination was reputedly the mining community of Betteshanger in East Kent, where it was hoped they might find work, however when they reached Platt, work was available in the brickyards, and the family stayed in the area and never made it further east.
Reginald Ernest Bowen was the youngest of the cousins and born in Platt on 27 September 1899. He was the third child of Thomas and Alice Bowen (née Terry) who were both from Wrotham and living in Platt Common at the time of Reginald’s birth (they later moved to 5 Whatcote Cottages.) He had nine siblings named Arthur, Sydney, Grace, Dorothy, Jack, Herbert, May, Amy and Ethel. He attended Platt School from June 1904, and was a classmate of Harry Stringer Gilbert.
On 19 October 1915, whilst working as a gardener, Reginald enlisted in the Army. His older brother Sydney had joined up in September 1914 and was serving in France with the 7th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and perhaps he inspired Reginald to do the same.
Possibly because he was only 16 years old, Reginald travelled to Dartford to enlist, perhaps in the hope that nobody would recognise him and reveal his real age. On his attestation form he gave his age as 18 years and 30 days, and recorded by the medical officer as being 5’ 3½” tall, which was just over the average height for a working class 15-year-old boy, and the minimum to join the Army. At eight-stone he was also of an average weight for an enlisted man, and his physical development was recorded as being ‘satisfactory.’ He was passed fit for active service and joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and sent for training with the 6th Reserve Battalion at Sheerness on 29 October.
12880 Rfl. Reginald Bowen spent almost two years based in the UK before finally being sent to France on 12 June 1917. On arrival he was assigned to the 12th (Service) Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, however shortly afterwards on 2 July he was transferred to the 11th Battalion, who at the time were based at Pernois and had taken on 90 reinforcements during the month.
By the end of July the battalion were working on tracks east of the Yser Canal and moved up on 7 August to the front lines north of Ypres near Pilkem, where the riflemen were immediately subjected to three hours gas shelling. Reginald’s first (and last) week in the trenches would have been tough. He was almost certainly involved with the various carrying and working parties that operated day and night under constant enemy shelling, and it seems probable that he was killed as a direct result of this on 16 August. His body was never recovered for burial, and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.
The few personal possessions that were returned to his parents included a cigarette case, three photographs, a metal mirror and a French book. Reginald was awarded the British War and Victory Medals. He was just 17 when he died.