Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own)
Place of birth:
St Pancras, Middlesex
Errand Boy - Surgical Instrument Maker
Date of death:
Cause of death:
Killed in action
Grave or panel reference:
Name of father:
Name of siblings:
Elizabeth, Mary Ellen, Clement
Name(s) of children:
Date of birth:
Place of enlistment:
France and Flanders
Age at death:
Cemetery or memorial:
Serre Road Cemetery No. 2, France
St Mark's Church, Tollington Park
Name of mother:
Elizabeth Bowell (née Thompson)
Name of spouse:
8 Charteris Road, Finsbury Park
Richard Bowell was a soldier of the Rifle Brigade who lost his life in a devastating action for his Battalion, the Battle of Le Transloy Ridge in northern France, in October 1916. He was 23 years old.
Richard was born in St Pancras, central London, in 1893, the son of Richard Bowell, a railway worker, and his wife Elizabeth, née Thompson. He had three siblings: Elizabeth, Mary Ellen and Clement, though it seems Elizabeth died quite early in life. The family moved north in London and by 1911 were living at 8 Charteris Road, close to New Court Church and the Boys’ Club and Mission it ran in Lennox Road. Richard is listed in the census as an errand boy for a surgical instrument maker.
On 11 November 1915, Richard enlisted as a Rifleman (equivalent to Private) in the 12th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own) at Holloway. He was approved for appointment on 12 June 1916 in Winchester, presumably after training, and went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.
In October 1916, 12th Battalion were part of the final British Fourth Army offensive of the long drawn-out Battle of the Somme in northern France, which had begun on 1 July. On 7 October, with other regiments, they mounted an attack with the intention of capturing the ridge overlooking Le Transloy. The leading companies left their trenches in dead ground, but as they advanced out of this comparative safety they found themselves in front of virtually uncut German wire being machine-gunned and shelled. All five Battalion officers were killed as were 33 other ranks; 193 other ranks were wounded or missing.
Richard was among those who died in the action, but as so often, it must have been difficult for those surviving to be sure what had happened to their comrades and to identify the bodies on the battlefield. On 24 November, Richard was listed as missing, and his family would have been notified of this. It would seem that only much later did they receive confirmation of his death.
When the Army compiled the entry in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects for Richard, they could record only ‘on or since 7 October. Death presumed.’ The Army paid £2.19s.11d, the Service Gratuity Richard was owed, to his father in October 1917. A later entry on the page shows that Richard also became eligible for the War Gratuity, with £3 paid to his father in October 1919. This was the minimum war gratuity, as he had less than 12 months’ qualifying service.
Some years after the war the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) exhumed burials from smaller cemeteries, which were difficult to maintain, and concentrated them in the larger ones. The records from April 1932 show that a body of an unknown British soldier was exhumed from a grave with no cross in a small cemetery near the site of the battle of Le Transloy Ridge. On this occasion, it proved possible to identify the body by the General Service [i.e. Army] uniform, titles, and ‘2 pieces boots stamped 5 RB 21800’. Titles were the metal badges attached at the shoulders of uniforms to signify the regiment – RB for Rifle Brigade – and 21800 was Rifleman Richard Bowell’s service number. Remarkably Richard’s body could finally be identified, and his death confirmed.
Richard was reburied – with due ceremony and honour – in Serre Road Cemetery No 2, Plot 36, Row K, Grave No 15. His family chose a personal inscription for the white headstone: At Rest. Richard is commemorated at St Mellitus Church and St Mark’s Church, both in Tollington Park.