No Glory in War, Only Brave Men Wasted

An updated version of an earlier post to honour the valour of men and boys who fought at Gallipoli.

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My Great Uncle Giles (Victor) Rowles left little trace of himself on this earth. There is only this childhood photograph inside my great grandmother’s locket. For one thing he lived so briefly. Nineteen years. For another, he does not even have a grave. He was dropped from a hospital ship into the Mediterranean, two miles east of Mudros Harbour off the island of Lemnos. This happened around 10pm on the 10th August 1915, two days after admission to the ship with gunshot wounds. I know this only from the First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) records that the Australian National Archives have posted on the internet. I thank them for their dedication and care in making these records so freely available.

I have written what little I know of Giles Rowles in two earlier posts, but I have reason to repeat it.

On October 15th 1914, Cheshire born Giles (who at some point and for unknown reasons changed his name to Victor) enlisted in the 14th Battalion AIF in Melbourne, and then went directly for training at Broadmeadows. On 22 December 1914 he embarked for Egypt on HMAT ‘Berrima’, arriving there for further training in January 1915. In April the 14th Battalion took part in the landing at Gallipoli, and so began the hell-on-earth siege that achieved nothing but the pointless deaths of thousands of brave young men – Australian, New Zealanders, French, British and Turkish.

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Landing at Anzac Cove 1915.  Photo: localhistory.kingston.vic.gov.au

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Conditions at Gallipoli were unspeakable; it was a case of death by sniper, grenade or disease. Giles survived long enough to also take part in the August Offensive. This involved the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps moving up the coast from where they had been dug in for months to attack two peaks of the Sari Bair range while the British and French forces defended Helles. It was during this valiant but disorganised offensive that Giles was shot. On the 8th August 1915, and listed as Private Victor Rowles no. 1402, he was admitted to the hospital ship Devanha with gunshot wounds. Two days later he was dead.

There are several mysteries here. The first is how did this English lad end up volunteering with the AIF in Melbourne?

The last certain record I have of Giles on English soil is from the 1911 census. He is listed as 15 years old and working as a junior clerk for a shipping broker, Guthrie, Heywood and Co, in Cardiff. He is living with his widowed aunt, Louisa Rowles of 10, Despenser Gardens, where his older cousins, Beatrice a spinster, and John, a shipping agent also live. He is named after his uncle, Louisa’s late husband, Giles, a mariner. The Rowles family, it seems, have generations of seafaring connections.

Giles’ own father, Charles, was a retired ship’s captain, and thereafter a pilot on the Manchester Ship Canal. He was my great grandmother’s second husband. As a young widow with three small children and a stepson, Mary Ann Williamson Shorrocks (née Fox) ran the Old Red Lion Inn, and later the Bowling Green Inn in Hollinfare (Hollins Green), Cheshire. Her father, George Fox had taken up the license in 1894, a year after selling up the family farm of Callow in Derbyshire. At this time Mary Ann would have still been in mourning for her first husband. He had died in his late thirties, a bankrupt Bolton shuttle manufacturer.

It seems that the Fox family had secured the inn on Mary Ann’s behalf to ensure she had an income. It stood beside a then busy thoroughfare to Manchester, overlooking the new Ship Canal, which doubtless explains how the pretty young widow soon came to catch the eye of one Charles Rowles.

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Mary Ann Williamson Fox at Callow Farm, Hathersage, Derbyshire taken before her first marriage to Thomas Shorrocks, a Bolton spindle manufacturer. Photo taken in the 1880s when Mary Ann was around 18 years old.

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The sea captain was much older than Mary Ann, a widower with two grown-up daughters. They married in 1895, but by 1903, when Giles was only seven years old, Charles Rowles lay buried in Hollinfare’s quiet little cemetery. Six years later, Mary Ann joined him. She was forty six. She had died of heart disease at her stepson’s house in Moss-side, Manchester, where her simple-minded sister, and the three Shorrocks children (including my grandmother) also lived.

Whether Giles went to live with his Rowles relatives before or after his mother’s death is not known. Certainly he would have finished at Hollinfare village school at twelve years old, and the photo in the locket could well date from that time. It seems likely that the chance of a secure career in the shipping business prompted the move.

By the time Giles enlisted in Melbourne, he had changed his name to Victor. On the enlistment papers he calls himself a sailor.

The Broadmeadows medical officer records him as being eighteen years and seven months, 5 feet 5 and a quarter inches, and 135 pounds in weight. His complexion is described as ruddy, his eyes green and hair brown. His only distinguishing marks are two vaccination marks on his left arm. The reason he has given Aunt Louisa Rowles as his next of kin is also a mystery. She was not in fact a blood relative, and I know for a fact that his Shorrocks half-siblings adored him. It must have been they who had the tribute to Giles added to his parents’ gravestone in Hollinfare.

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On his death, records say a brown paper package containing Giles’ few effects – a handkerchief, pipe, cigarette case, manicure-set, letters and photos, was later sent to Aunt Louisa, followed by his three service medals, a memorial scroll and plaque. All these items are now lost. He is nonetheless commemorated in his ill-fated name of Victor at Lone Pine Memorial, Turkey and on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra. On his parents’ and grandfather’s stone in Hollinfare it says:

“Pte Giles son of the above Charles and Mary A Rowles, who died of wounds received at the Dardanelles on August 10th 1915 aged 19. He hath done what he could.”

And why am I posting this story once again? Well surely someone knew Giles Victor Rowles? He must have had mates – at sea, at Broadmeadows, at Gallipoli. Did not some girl love him? Doesn’t his name occur in a fellow private’s letters home? Is there not some diary entry that mentions him? Doesn’t anyone know what happened to his medals?

The photo in his mother’s locket shows a boy with determination. His gaze is direct. He looks cherished. And it is his photo in the locket, and not one of his half-siblings. On the other side of the locket, delicate strands of hair from all five children – Robert (stepson), Mary, Lilian, Thomas Shorrocks and Giles – are woven together. Mary Ann would have been able to identify each child from the varying shades of blond and brown. This small locket, then, contains the only physical evidence of Giles Rowles’ existence.

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POSTSCRIPT

Since writing this post I have tracked down one more scrap of Giles’s brief life: a grainy photocopy image and obituary in a Cardiff newspaper. Here he is then after he enlisted with the 14th Battalion AIF. What a boy he still looks. A good brave boy, like those lost on both sides at Gallipoli in this pointless, bloody, ill-conceived offensive.

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As the firing increased and the boats grounded, the original Anzacs staggered into battle on rocky footings, weighed down with heavy packs and wet clothing. Ahead lay the impossible scramble up steep hills to the heights they would come to know so intimately. Ahead, also, was that deadly dance of bravery, madness and fear that characterised the confused fighting of the first days at Gallipoli.

The story of the next 240 days was heat, cold, disease, flies and death. In all, 8,709 Australians and 2,701 New Zealanders perished. Many more soldiers from Britain, France, India, Ireland and Newfoundland also died, while the number of Turkish dead and wounded across the peninsula is estimated at more than 150,000.

 

Mark Bowers on the landing at Gallipoli 25 April 1915, The Guardian 23 April 2015. See his time-lapse photos of Anzac Cove HERE

 

#nogloryinwar

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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43 thoughts on “No Glory in War, Only Brave Men Wasted

  1. Thanks Tish, for Giles’s story which brings to life the horror and tragedy of war. Though you have little to remember him by, the locket is really precious, especially with the woven hair – a priceless heirloom.

  2. Your post puts to shame all the brouhaha Anzac Day is generating here. There’s none of the empty language, the bravado or the triteness that fills airwaves and public discourse leading up to the “celebration” of Anzac Day today. You’ve valued one life with love and understanding. Thank you.

    1. I’m so touched by your words, Meg. I’ve heard that Anzac Day has been hijacked by politicians. Despicable really. We need to hang on to the people who went out to fight in whatever war, and what that actually meant for them and their families and their communities.

  3. Over the past decade or so I have realised how little I know of my grandfathers. One served with the Light Horse at Gallipoli and died twelve months after WW II commenced. The other whom I know a bit more about served on the Western Front but did live long enough to know me. It brings tears to my eyes when I think of the number of families who lost loved ones in conflicts new and long gone, and pray it never happens again.

    ANZAC Day 2015. Lest we forget

    1. Yes, Woolly, Lest we forget. We need to keep find ways not too. Thank you for glimpses of your own family story. My own way of trying understand Giles’s experience is to read as much from the accounts of men who were there, and try and reconstruct something more that way. It is a bit like having a jigsaw with the main pieces missing.

  4. He looked like a wonderful boy, and even after enlisting he remained so boyish. Such a short life. I hope you can find some more traces of him, maybe someone knew him or heard of him. Keeping my fingers crossed you get more information.

  5. A heartbreaking, lovely post. Only 19 and no grave to visit. It’s almost — in those few sentences — a summary of what’s wrong with war. Of course, I can’t think of much that is right with it.

  6. Thanks Tish for such a moving meditation. You have honoured Giles and introduced us to his poignant, sadly brief life. I remember a poem by Brendan Kennelly saying that it is not the dead who forget the living but the living who forget the dead. You have powerfully remembered. Regards Thom (good luck with the search for more information).

  7. My great uncle was wounded on 8 August 1915 and was buried at sea on 16 August. I also don’t know where his medals are. We have a pocket watch of his, that is all. However, when I went to place a virtual poppy on his Auckland War Memorial Cenotaph record, I found a tribute from a person unknown to me. The person had left contact details. I discovered she was another great-niece. We are going to talk by phone this weekend. I am so excited to discuss family history with her. I looked at various Australian sites to see if they have something similar. The best I can see is this RSL site where you could load the story of Giles. http://www.rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/ This site says Victor arrived in Australia when he was 18. https://www.awm.gov.au/people/rolls/R1666143/ if you check the Roll of Honour Circular pdf. Also tells you when his name is to be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory. Maybe there’s a kind blogger in Canberra who would record it for you on camera? Do hope something comes up. Ancestry.com is offering free access to Anzac records until April 26th. Maybe worth looking there. Not sure. The locket is lovely. How sad the family must have been to lose this dear boy.

    1. You are so very lovely and brilliant to give me all these leads. Can’t say how grateful I am. And what if our great uncles were on the same hospital ship, that’s a real goose-bumps maker.

      1. Sadly they weren’t. My great -uncle was on the hospital ship Neuralia on its way to Alexandria when he died. But they could have crossed paths on 8th August. That’s goose-bumpy enough! I don’t really know enough about the actions of that day. If I learn anything further when I talk to my newly discovered relation I will let you know.

  8. Such haunting, sad photos, and to know there’s so much of a person that can go unknown, effectively vanished without much remaining. Good for you for doing what you’ve done here, for him.

    1. Yes, it’s the vanishing that disturbs me, quite apart from the pointlessness of his disappearing in the first place. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been ancestor hunting lately, because I can at least rebuild a little of the family he came from. Strangely I came across a novel (actually a thinly disguised autobiography) of someone who grew up in his village at the time he would have been there. It includes an episode which I think actually features Giles’s mother, my gt grandmother. Now that is a really weird thing to come across. I mean to do a post about it. The account concerned involves the annual visit of the dancing bear and his man! I know for a fact that, when in the arear, bear and man used to lodge in my gt. grandmother’s barn at the inn cum farm…oh the stories…

  9. I seem to recall reading that Churchill was largely instrumental in this ill-conceived attack?
    Can’t remember …. Not a history buff and way before my time.

    1. You are spot on, Ark. Churchill completely underestimated Turkish people’s desire to protect their own land. The intelligence gathering as to the terrain beforehand was pretty much neglected too. Bad planning all round.

  10. Such a moving story, Tish. There is no glory in war and I have never come to terms with how people can be used as expendable pawns. Giles was such a young fellow – he looks so boyish – my heart breaks at what these boys went through. I wish you much success in your quest.

  11. Anzac Day I learned of three boys from the one family who died at Gallipoli; They were from my husband’s family connections. My maternal great uncle George Dobson was also cannon fodder! He and one of the Curlewis boys are commemorated at the Lone Pine Memorial (and all came from Western Australia)
    I wonder if they knew it each other. Four boys out for adventure and love of the Motherland. What a sad, sad waste of life.

    1. You sum it up so well, Maureen. You can just imagine the lads setting out, thinking it a great adventure, and full of bravado and daring; AND believing it to be the right thing to do. Such a sad loss, and not just for their families, but to the entire community, the world that did not see what kind of men they would become.

  12. What a powerful post, Tish! I love that locket with the intertwined hair. Life was so very different then. (and short!) Thank you for treasuring this young man. The horror of it all and the pure waste…

  13. I thought I would read more about your relative as I obviously missed this at the time, (for which we always blame WP). The first time I was really interested in a war museum was when I visited the Canberra one, and I was horrified about the total slaughter there. Later and again more recently I read about the total cock-ups that sent these poor young men to an inevitable death. And outside of Australia and NZ and some of those who are aware of it, I don’t think Anzacs day and the contribution (however futile in that case) made by our empire countries gains sufficient recognition. To which one would obviously add India, Nepal, Malaysia, Hong Kong, I don’t know about the African ones. I’ve excluded Canada as they share Armistice Day with us.

    And although it’s a sad and poignant post, I have to say I enjoyed reading it, the history, the old photos and what you have researched make for an interesting, and on this topic as ever, thoughtful read.

    1. Thanks very much for reading and your well-considered comments, Kate.I agree that so many of the nations who supported Britain in 2 world wars receive far less than the recognition they deserve. And yes, all the nations you mention. In Africa I believe that some of those who are still alive, and served Britain in WW2 have yet to receive their proper pay. Regiments of the Kings African Rifles were raised from from West and East Africa colonies. They were key in defeating the Japanese as part of the 11th Army. It was assumed that men from the temperate forests of highland Kenya would be ideal combatants in Burma’s tropical jungle. Recruits were paid far less than white soldiers, and were subjected to apartheid conditions re use of lavatories and other facilities. The unmet promises of land to Kenya’s African soldiers after the war, together with the UK’s soldier settler scheme that dished out Kenyan land willy nilly to white officers was one of the unresolved grievances that built into the Land Freedom Army revolt of the 1950s aka Mau Mau. Another example of post war fall out. And as to the all out useless deaths of tens of thousands of dragooned Kenyan porters in WW1 – well how many people even know of them, let alone remember them. They died of starvation and fever along the Tanzanian border, and the British authorities apparently omitted to know enough about them to be able to inform their families of their deaths. Ooh dear. I am having a rant, aren’t I.

      1. No, thank you for the information about Africa as I have zilch knowledge of Africa south of Morocco. It doesn’t surprise me as I remember the campaign to get Gurkhas treated equally, and everyone has heard of the flipping Gurkhas.

        But it’s very bad show on Britain’s part. Fight for us, die for us, and get treated like crap.

        Hardly surprising the natives got restless. (Sarcasm/irony, not a personal choice of words)

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