Forgotten heroes of the First World War

I am reblogging this post from Historic England’s Heritage Calling blog. A matter of necessity I believe. The service of thousands of non-white personnel, who provided essential labour and more during World War 1, more often than not went unregarded and unrewarded. In East Africa alone 50,000 conscripted African porters of the Carrier Corps lost their lives. Many families who had waved goodbye to their sons never heard of them again, or received their pay, or compensation, or even a thank you from the British Army. That is one story. Here are many others – of the Chinese Labour Corps in particular:

Heritage Calling

The Labour Corps of the First World War comprised mostly of a now largely forgotten multi-ethnic army of tens of thousands of workers (along with British servicemen unfit to fight), without whose manpower the war would have ground to a halt.

These unarmed non-combatants, working under military control, carried out crucial tasks behind the lines on the Western Front and in other theatres of war – building and repairing docks, roads, railways and airfields, manning ports, stores and ammunition depots, unloading ships and trains, digging trenches and constructing camps.

SANLC men round a brazier at their camp SANLC men round a brazier at their camp, Dannes, France, March 1917. © IWM Q4880.

After the Armistice, the Corps undertook the dangerous and difficult work on former battlefields clearing live ordnance and exhuming bodies – reburying them in the great military cemeteries of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

Despite their vital contribution (including the Chinese, Indians and South Africans, many of whom…

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Seeking Silence in the making of BBC Radio’s Soul Music: Remembrance

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Out in the Shropshire fields below Wenlock Edge with Maggie Ayre, BBC Radio 4 Producer of Soul Music, and the Armistice Day 2014 edition A Shropshire Lad

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So what is this all about? What has this writer to do with the making of a Radio 4 programme, broadcast today at 11.30 am? You  may well ask. It is one of those situations where one thing leads to another, and this in itself is apt, given the topic of the blog post that prompted my connection with the programme.

Last November I wrote a piece called  Songs from an Inland Sea: “On Wenlock Edge”.  It looked at the way the work of one artist can inspire the works of other artists. It was also about the place where I live, Wenlock Edge, the twenty miles of upflung fossil sea that features in the poems of A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.

This cycle of 63 ballad type poems, first published in 1896, has indeed inspired other works, in particular the music of composers Vaughan Williams  and George Butterworth. (You can hear excerpts of their works, and download a Guttenberg Press copy of A Shropshire Lad  on the link above.)

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“’’Tis time, I think by Wenlock town/The golden broom should blow…”  ASL XXXIX

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Last spring Maggie Ayre contacted me, saying she had read my post and was struck by the connections I had made with the Shropshire landscape. She said she was researching a programme that would possibly feature George Butterworth’s  Rhapsody, an orchestral work that expands his song version of the Housman poem Loveliest of Trees. She wondered if I would like to take part in the programme should it go ahead. Struck by a fit of ‘writer’s recluse’, I replied rather doubtfully that I might.

Soul Music is a long-standing Radio 4 series. Each programme usually features one piece of music, its performance intercut with the stories of several people for whom the work has special resonance. Today’s broadcast has further meaning, one that touches all of us: it commemorates Armistice Day.

I have written elsewhere about A E Housman and George Butterworth – Quoting Creatively: the “Out of Africa” Connectionbut today, on 11th November, the connections are war-specific. Many of the Housman poems relate to the loss of young men going to war, of promising youth cut short. Indeed, sales of the work took off because of this, first during the Boer War, which in 1901 claimed the life of Housman’s younger brother, Herbert, and again during World War 1 when copies went to the front with many a recruit. Butterworth was one of those recruits. In 1911-1912 he had set eleven of the poems to music, and in 1913 seen the premier of the Rhapsody at the Leeds Festival. But by August 1916 the composer was dead, just another of the millions of casualties of World War 1. He was killed at Pozières, on the Somme, aged 31, his creative promise cut off in its prime.

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But back to Soul Music. I did not hear again from Maggie Ayre until the summer. Then in June, on a hot summer’s day, she came to my house in Much Wenlock and, since the rumble of traffic on Sheinton Street is ever intrusive, she suggested we drive up on to Wenlock Edge, and find a quiet spot to talk about Butterworth’s Rhapsody while looking out across the Shropshire landscape. It seemed a lovely idea.

And so began our pursuit of silence across the countryside – silence, that is, from traffic, aircraft, chain saws and farm machinery. Who would have thought it would be so hard? It was not even harvest time. We drove over and behind the Edge and into the valley you can see in the next photo. We walked along farm tracks, and up and down fields of wheat. It was very hot. Always there was the grind of something mechanical resounding off the hillsides. Of course there would have been plenty of rural noise in Housman’s day – the rattle of carts, shouts of many farm labourers, the blasting of limestone at Wenlock Edge’s great quarries, but by now our pursuit of quietness was beginning to emulate A Shropshire Lad’s most poignant theme: the longing for the unobtainable, “the land of lost content.”

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Finally there was silence, apart that is from a buzzard’s call and the humming of bees, and so we sat down on the sun-baked ruts of a wheat field path, and Maggie put that big microphone near my nose and we began. By which time of course, my mind was in a whirl, and everything I’d thought to say dispersed to the four quarters. But in the end, enough was apparently said for Maggie’s purposes. (I should add that I was only one of several participants who include students from Bromsgrove School, where Housman was a pupil; they had recently been performing the Butterworth-Housman songs for a school concert.)

As we tramped back along the farm lane to the car, the quietness was broken by a bird singing in an ash tree. I think is was a robin. It stopped us in our tracks. We listened as it sang and sang. It was a moment of true remembrance: the notion of peace when the bombardment ceases. It is something we need to hang on to, and hang on to for dear life. It is the best and only reason why all European countries, or all humanity for that matter, should stand together, and stop pursuing pointless, ruinous, life-wasting conflicts.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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Not a Flanders poppy, but a wild poppy nonetheless, and quite extraordinarily it is flowering today, 11th November, in the field behind our house.

Remembering my own Great Uncle, Private Giles (Victor)  Rowles, who died at Gallipoli, aged 19 years and was buried at sea off Mudros Harbour in August 1915.

https://tishfarrell.com/2013/09/15/looking-for-giles-aka-private-victor-rowles-1896-1915/

https://tishfarrell.com/2013/11/11/thinking-of-gallipoli/  

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Soul Music BBC Radio 4  A Shropshire Lad

The Housman Society

#nogloryinwar

did anyone know private victor rowles 1896-1915?

SHOT AT GALLIPOLI, BATTLE OF LONE PINE,  8TH AUGUST, 1915

IMG_0568   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. 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 (he later, 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 Zeleanders, French, British and Turkish. 480_2[1]

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. Giles it seems was hit by a Turkish sniper. In the military records he is listed as Private Victor Rowles no. 1402, 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 an apprentice clerk for a shipping broker 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 farm in Hollinfare (Hollins Green), Cheshire. Her father or brother, (both were named 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 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. IMG_0007

Mary Ann Williamson Fox at Callow Farm, Hathersage, Derbyshire sometime before her first marriage to Thomas Shorrocks, a Bolton spindle manufacturer.

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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. In 1912 there is a passenger list record for one G. Rowles travelling as labour to Halifax, Canada on the SS Hesperian, but there is no conclusive evidence that this is Giles. I could anyway find no evidence of his arrival in Canada, although if he had signed on as crew, he could have sailed onwards to Australia. A comment by a now deceased aunt repeated the family story that he had chosen to settle in Australia, and this line of enquiry remains to be followed up. By the time Giles enlisted in Melbourne, he had changed his name to Victor. On the enlistment papers he calls himself a sailor, and responds to the question of whether he had ever served an apprenticeship, with a decisive ‘NO’. And perhaps this is the reason for the change of name. Perhaps he broke his apprenticeship, and used the knowledge gained in the shipping office to find a ship and run away to sea? 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. DSCF9350 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. 100_6264   #nogloryinwar

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

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Undervalued in his home county? Great War Poet Wilfred Owen – a true Shropshire Lad 1893-1918

“It is fitting and sweet to die for one’s country” Horace, Ode III

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“Dulce et Decorum Est “ 
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie:
Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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Wilfred Owen has been described as the greatest of the Great War poets.  He surely was, although in terms of the brutal brevity of his career,  it is a dubious honour. The young officer who wrote this poem  was killed  as he led his raiding party from the Manchester Regiment across the Sambre-Oise Canal on 4th November 1918. At the time, he was twenty five years old and only four of his poems had been published. One week later the war ended. His mother received news of his death in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, just as bells of the county town’s churches were ringing out in joyous celebration of peace. It is hard to imagine the pain of that moment.

Owen, though, believed it was the duty of a poet to tell the truth, to show how it was for the men – this “Pity of War”. He did not have to return to the front after being treated for shell shock in Craiglockhart Military Hospital in 1917. But  it was while he was receiving treatment here that he met fellow  inmate, Siegfried Sassoon, who became his mentor, and encouraged the young poet to write of the cruel realities of war.

In August 1918  Owen chose to return to the front. In the following October  he won the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on the Fonsomme Line. And of course he did tell the truth, and in stark, excoriating detail.

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Wilfred Owen was born and spent his early childhood in Oswestry, Shropshire on the Welsh border, in a gracious villa, Plas Wilmot, owned by his maternal grandfather, Edward Shaw.  He was the eldest of four children. His father, Tom Owen, was a railway official, a job that took the family for a time to  Birkenhead on the Wirral in Cheshire.

Plas Wilmot, Owen’s birthplace. Photo: Oswestry Family and Local History Group

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In 1906 the Owens returned to Shropshire, this time to the county town of Shrewsbury where Wilfred attended Shrewsbury Technical School, now the Wakeman School. His last years of education were spent as a pupil-teacher as he struggled to study and win a scholarship to university. In this he failed, and although he won a place at Reading University his parents could not afford to send him. Instead, between 1913 and 1915 when he enlisted, he was went to work as a teacher in France.

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The Square in Shrewsbury c 1909

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The house of his birth is privately owned,  and it was only last year, after lobbying by civic groups and historians that it was also given a grade 2 listing by English Heritage; this amid fears of development on the site. In August this year the surrounding gardens were put up for sale with outlined planning permission for the building of seven detached houses on three sides of Owen’s former home. Many have urged that the house and its gardens should be left intact, hoping that one day there might be a museum here. For it is a sad fact that while Wilfred Owen is known of in Shropshire, he is given only scant commemoration.

Yet Wilfred Owen’s words speak to the whole world, for all humanity, a fact recognised at least in France where in the village of Ors, where Owen died,  they have commissioned Turner prize nominee, Simon Patterson, to transform La Maison Forestiere (The Forester’s House) into a wonderful place of contemplation and commemoration of Owen’s work. More than this, it is a place to acknowledge the futility of war. It was in this house on 31st October 1918 that Wilfred Owen wrote the last letter to his mother. A few days later he was dead, joining the millions of others lost in the vicious cull of youthful talent and potential.  Those of us who come after can only wonder if the full cost of this loss has even now been fully reckoned.

You can see more about La Maison Forestiere in the links below, and a brief biography in the short video at the end.

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La Maison Forestiere. Photo: Hektor Creative Commons

© 2013 Tish Farrell

FRIZZTEXT’S ‘UUU’ CHALLENGE

Related:

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

#nogloryinwar

 

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

Looking for Giles aka Private Victor Rowles 1896-1915

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It began with a locket owned by my great grandmother, Mary Ann Williamson Rowles, nee Fox. And it began with a long ago memory of her daughter, my grandmother, Lilian Shorrocks, telling me of a much loved younger step-brother. She said that he had died during the Great War, that he was shot while getting off a boat.

I was seven or eight at the time and did not understand what she was talking about, but I registered the sorrow at a young man pointlessly lost. I pictured him walking down a gang-plank from an ocean-going liner. For some reason I imagined he was wearing a brown suit as someone shot him. Perhaps grandmother had said the word Gallipoli. I can’t be sure, but all my life its utterance has somehow resonated, though without my knowing why.

Recently, I did find out why, and still find myself astonished that I can discover more of this forgotten ancestor’s too brief life by simply trawling the internet. Of course, as Su Leslie so often shows on her excellent family history blog, Shaking the Tree, discovering one nugget of information often raises a dozen other mysteries. But then that only makes the search all the more beguiling.

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The locket is now mine and it contains the plaited hair of all Mary Ann’s five children, including her step-son, Robert Shorrocks. The other children are my grandmother and her two siblings, Mary and Tom, born from great grandmother’s first marriage to Thomas Shorrocks of Farnworth, Manchester. And finally there is Giles, the youngest. He was born in 1896, a year after Mary Ann married widower, Charles Rowles, a master mariner and captain of a pilot boat on the Manchester Ship Canal.

It is Giles’ photograph in the locket. He is an impressive looking boy. The direct gaze, yet self-contained. I find myself wondering if he looked like his father, for we have no photo of Charles Rowles. My grandmother did not care for him, keeping only his big seaman’s chest which I also have. Otherwise, she threw out most of the family memorabilia that came down to her. She kept the locket though, and Mary Ann’s fine collection of miniature Shakespeare’s plays and poets. There is also a single faded photograph of my great grandmother, taken some time before she was married. My own mother always said that she had eloped.

Mary Ann Williamson Fox was a farmer’s daughter, her family having been yeoman farmers for generations. In fact they claimed to have lived on the farm called Callow since the 11th century. Family  mythology  also had it that a Fox ancestor was employed by the Eyre family as steward, the Eyres having been given land in Derbyshire for services rendered to William the Conqueror. Later the Duke of Devonshire from his grand house at Chatsworth became the landlord, and Mary Ann, at seventeen, is said to have opened the Chatsworth tenants’ ball with the Duke, she being the daughter of the oldest tenant-family  on the estate. For a long time the buttons of the dress she wore were fondly kept. Blue silk-covered ones, I was told.  I don’t know what happened to them.

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Mary Ann Williamson Fox in her late teens c. 1880

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Callow Farm, Hathersage, Derbyshire where the Fox family lived from at least the 1700s, and where Mary Ann was born. This photo was taken in the 1970s.

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How it was that country girl Mary Ann came to fall for a spindle manufacturer from Bolton, Manchester is the first of many mysteries. My grandmother said that her mother fell for the first townie she saw in a stove-pipe hat. Maybe he was in the area on business. In any event, Thomas Shorrocks was a widower, ten years older than Mary Ann, and with a young son, Robert. Mary Ann was 22 and they were married by special license at St Michael’s church, Hathersage, with her elder brother, Robert and his wife, Edith, as witnesses.

Thomas took his young wife from the wilds of the Derbyshire peaks where she was used to riding at will, and jumping farm-gates on her pony, to live in the gloomy streets of Farnworth. There, the ever darkly clad mill women regarded  Mary Ann’s country print dresses with deep suspicion.

The Shorrocks lived in a modest terraced house on Kildare Street, although Mary Ann did have a servant, a girl she had brought from Hathersage. Soon there were three more young children, offspring whom Thomas Shorrocks apparently made a point of avoiding, staying out of the house until they had gone to bed. My grandmother said she did not know him. Then disaster struck. In 1893, only seven years into the marriage, Mary Ann was left a widow. Not only that, in the same year, the Shorrocks family company that, in 1861 had employed 32 men and 22 boys, was declared bankrupt. Perhaps it was this that finished off poor Thomas at the age of 39.

It is not clear where Mary Ann was for the next year or so, but in 1895, Warrington licensing records show that she had taken over the running of the Old Red Lion inn in Hollinfare, (also called Hollins Green) a farming village near the Manchester Ship Canal. The inn, as was common in rural areas, had also once been run as a farm. It thus came with pasture, cow sheds and stabling.

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The Old Red Lion today has seen extensive alterations in the 1960s and 1980s. It was one of the oldest inns in the village, and already in existence by the 1670s. Although Giles was born there in 1896, I’m not sure he would quite recognize it today.

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Family legend says that the Fox family arranged for Mary Ann to take over the inn so she would have a roof over her head and an income to support her family. In fact it seems she took over the license from one George Fox who had been landlord there since 1894. This could have been either her father, George Brayley Fox, or her younger brother, George. Her father had sold up the farm stock in 1892 due to a depression in agriculture, and then given up the tenancy on Callow Farm.  After 1893 there were no more Foxes at Callow, a circumstance that made the local and regional press in that year.

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Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald 25 March 1893

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When Mary Ann took over the inn in Hollinfare she called herself Mary Ann Williamson using her Christian names, and dropping the Shorrocks. Perhaps she wanted to escape the taint of bankruptcy. A year later she was getting married to Charles Rowles. Perhaps, when he was not piloting cargo ships into Manchester, he visited the inn. Again, he was considerably older, this time a widower with two grown-up daughters. According to my grandmother, the existence of these two young women was a surprise to everyone. They apparently came and ruled the roost for a time.

In 1901, Mary Ann exchanged inns with another woman licensee, and moved to the Bowling Green Inn at the top of the village. The inn no longer exists, and Hollinfare’s community centre now occupies the site. The reason for such a move is unclear, but perhaps the premises had more living accommodation. By now Mary Ann’s rather simple-minded younger sister, Louisa, was living with her and helping with household duties. It is likely,too, that their father also came to live there at some point, since he is buried in Hollinfare’s little cemetery, along with Mary Ann.

And so we come to Giles. In 1903, when he was seven, his father died. In 1909, when he was thirteen, Mary Ann died. Her death certificate suggests she was by then living with her step-son, Robert Shorrocks in Moss Side, Manchester. He witnessed her death from heart disease. She was 46.

What happened to Giles at this point is another mystery. The 1911 census shows the four Shorrocks siblings living in Moss Side. Robert is head of household and Aunt Louisa is still taking care of household duties. By now Robert is 28 and an insurance agent. My great aunt Mary and grandmother Lilian are in their early twenties and listed as ‘blouse finishers’. The youngest brother, Tom, was 19 and a railway clerk. Giles, though, is not with them. He is now 15 years old and trainee clerk with a shipping broker far away in Cardiff. He is living with his father’s widowed sister-in-law, Louisa Rowles and her two adult children. In 1912 there’s the possibility that he took passage to Halifax, Canada on the SS Hesperian, but there is no conclusive evidence.

When he appears again it is 15 October 1914. He is 18 and 7 months and enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in Melbourne, Australia. He calls himself a sailor (all the Rowles men had sea-faring connections). AND he has changed his name to Victor. The enlistment papers give Louisa Rowles of Cardiff as his next of kin. He specifically denies ever having served an apprenticeship. (Did he run away to sea to escape being a clerk?)

But why the change of name? My own guess is that Giles seemed too soft a name for mariner. His military papers show he was 5 feet 5 inches. Perhaps a little on the short side too, so may be he felt he had something to prove. We’ll never know. There is no one left to ask.

He joined the 14th Battalion AIF and would then have gone to Broadmeadows for training, before embarking for Egypt on the Berrima in December 1914. After further training in Egypt, the 14th took part in the April landing at Gallipoli. So began the gruesome, fruitless, bloody siege. All we know is that he survived to take part in the August Offensive. This involved the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps moving up the coast to attack two peaks of the Sari Bair range while the British and French forces defended Helles.

Giles was presumably wounded while trying to land for the second time in 5 months on this torturous, wretched shore. The next record is 8 August 1915 when Private Victor Rowles no. 1402 is admitted to the hospital ship Devanha with gunshot wounds. He died at 10pm on 10 August and was buried at sea, 2 miles east of Mudros Harbour, Lemnos.

An inventory of his effects was made in 1916. It comprises “one brown paper parcel” which includes a cigarette case, pipe, letters, photos and a handkerchief. These were apparently sent to Aunt Louisa Rowles. Later, in 1919, official records say she received a memorial plaque and scroll. It is not clear what happened to his medals: 1914-15 Star, British War medal and Victory Medal.

Giles is commemorated in his ill-fated name of Victor at Lone Pine Memorial, Turkey and on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra. In the quiet little cemetery at Hollinfare, his passing is marked under his given name of Giles. Perhaps his step-siblings added the inscription to his parents’ and grandfather’s stone.  It commemorates “Pte Giles son of the above Charles and Mary A Rowles, who died of wounds received at the Dardanelles on August 1oth 1915 aged 19. He hath done what he could.”

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But in the end, and despite all the family tragedies, I would like to think that Giles had some happiness in his short life: when he went to sea; or in his early days in Hollinfare. My grandmother adored him, and her older sister Mary was said the kindest soul. I feel sure they would have ‘mothered’ him, probably beyond a boy’s endurance. Step-brother, Robert Shorrocks also appears  to have been everyone’s rock, including his step-mother’s. Certainly in old age he was still very close to my grandmother and grandfather.

Of her childhood days, grandmother told of how they used to raid the inn pantry for tinned fruit, and eat it secretly out in the garden. Then  they would slide down the steep banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, getting their knickers green. There were annual visits by the dancing bear and his man whom Mary Ann allowed to stay in the inn stables.

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I would like to think that this photo of Hollinfare boys around the Coronation Tree included Giles. In the background is St. Helen’s chapel where Mary Ann could well have married Charles Rowles in 1895. These propositions, along with many others, remain to be verified. The search for Giles/Victor Rowles continues…

#nogloryinwar

© 2013 Tish Farrell