This is one of a series of blog posts about servicemen from our places who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Private Arthur William Bowles was born in Fairford, Gloucestershire in 1892, the son of gardener Albert Bowles and his wife Elizabeth Ireland. He came to the parish of Bratton Clovelly, Devon to take on a fine job as a young man, gamekeeper on the 1100-acre Domesday manor farm at Eversfield, and he settled well into the community in the three years that he worked at the farm. The lord of the manor Major Gill, also Recruiting Officer for Exeter, ensured that his workers were well-supported in answering the call.
Like most of the other soldiers of the parish, Arthur joined the Devonshire Regiment or ‘Bloody Eleventh’. He was part of the 9th Battalion, twinned with the 8th Battalion throughout World War I. From the time these battalions deployed to the Western front in 1915, they were engaged in fierce battles beginning with the Battle of Loos. There, they suffered over 1000 casualties and Arthur must have been one of the new recruits needed to replenish the force when he arrived in April of 1916 only two months before the ‘Big Push’.
Arthur lost his life on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. That morning, the 9th Devons led the attack at Mansel Copse near Mametz, France. Although the German line had been heavily bombarded preceding the attack, the Battalion’s war diaries tell the story of the harrowing conditions under which the men left the trenches. Only six men from the first company made it to the German line. After the 9th had been cut down, two more companies of the 8th were sent to the same fate. Finally, the Commander of the last company of the 8th, Eric Savill, realised what was happening and found another route for his men, enabling them to occupy the German trench. With French artillery support, the remaining 8th Devons were able to capture Mametz, one of the few British units to achieve their objective that day. The cost was the loss of 160 men from the two battalions, including Arthur, along with hundreds more wounded.
The men were buried in their old front line trench and remain there today, in the place named the ‘Devonshire Cemetery’. On the 4th of July 1916, the Padre of the 8th Devons, Captain Crosse, led the burial ceremony and erected a wooden cross which simply said:
‘The Devonshires held this trench. The Devonshires hold it still.’
Although this cross disappeared after the War, it was replaced by a stone plaque in 1986 and the cemetery remains one of the most visited cemeteries on the Somme.
Remarkably, in a recent visit to Mary Palmer Jordan, a resident of the parish whose family had run the Post Office since the mid-1800s, she found an autograph book of Edith May Palmer who had been a teenager at the outbreak of the War. This small book captured the story of the home front where, on the inside of the back cover, there was a sketch of a young man placing a ring on the finger of his girlfriend. The sketch was signed ‘A Bowles’. There had also been a photograph of Arthur inserted in the book, the reverse side reading:
- Pte A. W. Bowles, 9 Batt, Devon Regiment. Killed in Action on July 1st 1916 & was buried at Mansell Copse. The Officiating Clergyman being the Rev E. C. Crosse, Chaplain of the Battalion.
Gone from amongst us, oh how we miss him,
Loving him dearly his memory we’ll keep,
Never till death ends shall we forget him,
Dear to our hearts is the grave where he sleeps.
Oh why was he taken so young & so fair,
When earth held so many it could better spare,
Hard, Hard was the blow, that compelled us to part,
With one so near and dear, to our hearts.
Edith also lost her brother, Private Nicholas Palmer, buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery in 1917. She never married.
Kim Baldacchino Bratton Clovelly One-place Study