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The Man Behind the Medals: Corporal Edward T Bowles

The Man Behind the Medals 

In this blog series, SOFO Museum's Research volunteers look at the stories behind some of the medal sets in the museum's collection, from those that can be seen on a visit in our dedicated Medals display to some of those that are still tucked away in the archive.

While medals will tell you a little bit about a soldier's service, it's only with further research that their full story can be revealed! SOFO's Research volunteers respond to enquiries we receive through our Research Service, helping people find out more about their relatives who served in the county regiments, and raising funds to support the museum in the process. Using a combination of the museum's records and those available elsewhere, they piece together stories like this one.

 Corporal 27982 Edward T Bowles

Edward Thomas Bowles was born in Oxford on the 22nd July 1878, the son of Edward Bowles, a waterman and his wife Harriet. Edward worked as a college servant, becoming a chef by the time he married Louisa Dore in 1900. The couple had six children by the time Edward joined the Army in 1916 at the age of 37. At the time, Edward’s brother Henry was also serving in the Essex Regiment.

It is not known whether Edward Bowles was a volunteer – the first Military Service Act bringing in conscription was passed in January 1916 – or was conscripted, but he was attested into the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on the 17th January 1916.

A billet in Arras, 1916 (from a photo album in the museum collection)

Initially, Private 27982 Bowles was trained at the Oxford Depot and is recorded as having joined the 5th Bn of the Oxf. & Bucks Light Infantry on 19th April 1917. At that time the 5th had just taken part in an attack on a strongpoint known as The Harp as part of the Battle of Arras, having taken 170 casualties in the process. The next month, after some rest & re-building, the 5th Bn took part in another attack near Vis En Artois. The following day on the 4th May 1917, Pte Bowles was transferred to the 2/4th Battalion, Oxf. & Bucks LI on the St Quentin front.

The 2/4th Bn had been moved to the St Quentin area after a very hard year in which they had taken about 390 casualties, so they were allocated a quiet sector which would allow them to consolidate and re-train. Promotions were many to fill the losses, and Edward Bowles was promoted to L/Cpl in December 1917.

Times newspaper clipping from 1918, showing the changing Western Front battle lines, including St. Quentin

However, on the 21st March 1918 the Germans launched their last great offensive of the war – the Kaiserschlacht – in an attempt to finish the war before the vast American manpower could reach the Western Front. The initial assault was in the St Quentin area, and the 2/4th were directly in the way of the German advance, occupying trenches which were still inadequate. The intense artillery bombardment began at 04.30 with heavy use of gas shells as well as explosives, and by the end of the day the 2/4th had virtually ceased to exist as a fighting force having taken around 580 casualties. Of these, some 400 were later discovered to have been captured and were held as POWs – amongst them was Cpl Bowles.

Held initially in the Fayette Camp and then at Langensalza In Germany, Edward was posted as missing initially, but a Red Cross POW report on 30th August 1918 showed he was still alive.

Newspaper clipping with a story about from Langensalza Camp (November 1918)

He was released at the end of the war and returned to the UK at Leith on 18th January 1919. He returned home and resumed his career as a chef at the university, and was recorded in the 1939 Register as still being a chef and still living at 27 Buckingham St, Oxford – the same house he and Louise lived in when they married in 1900.

British War Medal, Victory Medal

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