Giles (Victor) Rowles
Ninety nine years and one month ago, my great uncle, Giles Rowles enlisted with the 14th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force in Melbourne. He was an English sailor, born in the Old Red Lion Inn, Hollins Green, near Manchester. He was eighteen years old. By the time he enlisted, both his parents, Charles and Mary Rowles were dead, and for reasons unknown he had changed his name to Victor. When he enlisted he gave his next of kin as Aunt Louisa Rowles of 10, Despenser Gardens, Cardiff. She was his dead father’s widowed sister-in-law.
This photo from his mother’s locket is the only known photograph of Giles. He was the only child of my great grandmother’s second marriage to Manchester Ship Canal pilot, Charles Rowles. There were four older step siblings. He was thirteen when his widowed mother died, and it seems he then went to live with Aunt Louisa in Cardiff. The 1911 census return lists him as a trainee shipping clerk. His older cousin John, who was still living at home, was a shipping agent. The next record I have of him is when he enlists in Melbourne in October 1914.
The National Australian Archives have made all the war records available on line, and it was from these that we have been able to piece together a little of Victor Rowles’ last year on earth. It is noteworthy that he writes his signature on the enlistment form with a confident flourish. It is the clear hand of someone who has been a clerk. But the details are sparse, and all the more disturbing for that. The Medical Officer at Broadmeadows, where initial military training took place, lists the following: he was eighteen years and seven months, 5 feet 5 and a quarter inches , weighed 135 pounds. His complexion was ruddy, his eyes green and his hair brown. His only distinguishing marks are two vaccination marks on his left arm. I don’t know why I find it upsetting to know that his eyes were green.
On 22 December 1914 he embarked for Egypt on the HMAT ‘Berrima’, arriving there for further training in January 1915. On the 25th April the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed at Gallipoli together with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. This began a campaign that ended with the evacuation of troops on 19 and 20 December 1915.
Anzac Cove, 4th Battalion landing 25 April 1915. Photo: copyright expired
The Australian and New Zealand forces held out for months on the narrow beachhead that became known as Anzac Cove. Quite apart from the sniping and shelling from the hills above, conditions there were terrible. From the start, it was a quite pointless campaign with much digging in, and little or no ground gained. Then on 6th August, having survived one nightmare, the 14th battalion took part in the final British attempt to wrest control of the Gallipoli Peninsula from the defending Ottoman Turks. This involved the Anzacs moving up the coast to take Hill 971, a beetling, rugged ridge known to the troops as The Sphinx. From an account in the official war diary, the advance uphill and across impossible terrain that only gave great advantage to the enemy was courageous if chaotic; there were many casualties.
Anzac Cove. Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War
On 8th August Victor Rowles was taken aboard the hospital ship Devanha where he died of gunshot wounds. He was buried at sea on the 10th August, two miles east of Mudros Harbour on the island of Lemnos. His few effects, including a handkerchief, manicure-set, letters and photos, were later sent to his Aunt Louisa, as were the memorial scroll and plaque. All these items are lost now, along with his three medals. Nonetheless, now that I have found out these few fragments of his life, I will surely remember him, along with the many thousands of brave, but needlessly lost ones on both sides of the Gallipoli campaign.
© 2013 Tish Farrell
Related post: Looking for Giles AKA Private Victor Rowles
You can see the marvellous full-length film Gallipoli here. It movingly covers both sides in the conflict.
25 thoughts on “Thinking of Gallipoli”
Not sure if I mentioned this before Tish but I have a postcard detailing the landings at Suvla (Anzac Cove?) & the 5 other beaches known as Y, X, W, V & S on 25th April. Ironically, the notes/propaganda that I can just about read seem to suggest that everything was going to plan.
Hm. That’s an interesting artefact. I think some of the earliest landings in April did happen without much scathing, but basically, they were sitting ducks down there on the beach. Their commanders simply told them to keep digging themselves in.
You can see it here but not very clearly and I have my dates wrong: http://windbacktime.co.uk/Life%20Book%20Gallery/index.html#005-gallipoli.jpg
Yes Suvla was August 6th, but you’ve helped me sort this out. The landings then were by British forces, and Suvla is north of Anzac Cove. The Anzac attack on the ridge to the south was a diversion to cover the Allied landing. They were trying to break out from the beachhead.
I have just watched the Gallipoli film and I’m in tears. It is a truly wonderful documentary – so well done in every respect – and presented with so much compassion for both sides. This programme must come high on the list of those that show us the pity of war. The letter from the Turkish soldier to his family two weeks before he died was so agonisingly beautiful.
Hi Kate, yes it is a very exceptional film, respectful in every way.
you made me thinking with your detailed tribute! “…Then on 6th August, having survived one nightmare, the 14th battalion took part in the final British attempt to wrest control of the Gallipoli Peninsula from the defending Ottoman Turks. This involved the Anzacs moving up the coast to take Hill 971, a beetling, rugged ridge known to the troops as The Sphinx…”
Thank you for this moving and fascinating story….it’s so important that we remember the young men and women who gave so much for our freedom. Janet.
Thank you for reading, Janet.
Very interesting to read about your great uncle. I think you mentioned him before on another post. And I admire your steadfast research into family history. But tying it into world history makes this post a document that many will find thought provoking and moving. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you for telling the story so well.
Thank you, Shimon, for (as ever) your very thoughtful observations.
Enjoyed reading this post very much. It is good that you have your Great Uncle’s story to remember. It is even better that you have shared it. I have always said that we live on the sacrifices our ancestors made in our behalf.
Thank you for your comments, and yes it is important to share these stories whenever possible, isn’t it.
From the facts you’ve been able to find it seems his life was not an easy one, and so short, but you have saved his story and that is kudos to you. Stumbling across something as simple as ‘eyes: green” can help us to see our lost ancestors as real people,
Yes, you are so right, Lynne. Thank you.
I am a bit late reading this Tish, but I did. I think as I age my interest in The Great War increases. My maternal grandfather was also at ANZAC Cove and some diary entries had been preserved until about thirty years ago. With moves and passing of parents much has been mislaid or sold off by relatives…without consulting blood relatives.
Gosh, that is such a shame to lose the diaries. Have you had a look at your National Archives? They have posted the original official battle diaries. Not the same as family documents of course, but at least something. I got ‘The History of the 14th Battalion, AIF’ for Christmas – by Newton Wanliss a reproduction of the official battalion Great War history from Imperial War Museum http://www.iwm.org.uk
What a sheer waste, Tish. The thought of my son in the armed forces has me in a cold sweat. Amazing the details you’ve been able to pull together. I read the previous post too, with it’s beautiful locket.
Thank you for reading the posts. Yes, the sense of waste is appalling. The more I read of WW1, the more it seems a complete piece of idiocy which sacrificed millions of brave young people for absolutely no good reason.
Sadly, Tish, we don’t seem to have learned too many lessons.
Hi Trish, I came across your page whilst searching for my Fox ancestors from Callow Farm! Your Robert Fox, who is George Brayley Fox’s father, is the brother of my William Fox and they are sons of George Fox and Mary Timm. The newspaper cutting from 1893 about selling the farm backs up the family legend about links with the Eyres passed down to me by my father. Presumably you know about the Fox House Inn being named after George. I still live less than 10 miles from Callow. Best wishes, Richard, Sheffield.
Hello, Richard, it’s wonderful to hear from you, and to know another Fox descendant. I had been trying to find more down the William line, and then was overwhelmed with the number of entries for Fox in local records. I dare say they were all related through time. My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org I had abandoned family history for a while, but it would be good to swap notes. I was at uni in Sheffield many moons ago. Best, Tish
I’ll be in touch soon via private email to send you what I know, there are some Fox family anecdotes but we haven’t got back far with the ancestors yet, only about 1660 so far. Your photo of Callow Farm helped me to identify it yesterday when we had a drive through the Abney area and past Highlow Hall. Best Wishes, Richard.