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

 

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copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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Thinking of Gallipoli

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Giles (Victor) Rowles

1896-1915

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. 

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Anzac Cove, 4th Battalion landing 25 April 1915. Photo: copyright expired

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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.

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Anzac Cove. Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War

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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

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Frizz’s weekly challenge: TTT

You can see the marvellous full-length film Gallipoli here. It movingly covers both sides in the conflict.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqqFMRcl_Q8