Gnr. John William Bowen (1889 – 1917)

John William Bowen was born in Wrotham Heath during 1889, the eldest son of William George Bowen, a farm labourer, and Minnie Gertrude Heaver. The family lived in the Railway Cottages, and by the time the war broke out, had moved to Whatcote Cottages in Platt. In 1912 John married Fanny Hyland from West Farleigh and a son, also named John, was born a year later.

He enlisted in the military at Bromley on 6 January 1915 and became 68310 Gnr. John W. Bowen. He was initially posted to Gallipoli on 26 October 1915, where he joined 59th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (part of the 11th Division), before being sent to Egypt after the withdrawal in early 1916 and was part of a force that took over a section of the Suez Canal defences at Sidi Bishr.

In June 1916 orders were received to proceed to France, and the brigade subsequently arrived on the Somme at the end of July. For the remainder of the year, John, working as a signaller, would have been involved with the capture of the Wundt-Werk, The Battle of Flers-Courcelette and The Battle of Thiepval, which were all phases of the Battle of the Somme.

In 1917 John’s battery took part in operations on the Ancre before heading into Flanders for the Battle of Messines, after which he was given ten days leave. On arrival back at the front, he was soon back in action at the Battles of Polygon Wood and Broodseinde before engaging the enemy again at the Battle of Poelcappelle, which was last in a series of attacks made by the British during the Third Battle of Ypres. It was also the last battle in which John would take part as he was killed on 10 October whilst serving with ‘A’ Battery.

Following John’s death, his wife received the following letter:

Dear Mrs Bowen,

I greatly regret to have to write and tell you that your husband was killed by a shell on the 10th October. He was killed instantaneously. His loss is quite irreparable, and we all feel it very much. He was just one of the very best, quite fearless and absolutely trustworthy in the most hard and unpleasant jobs. As you will know, he was a signaller, and was picked as one of the three best to go forward into the German lines with the infantry as our officer’s signaller a day or two before. The signallers and all of us have lost one of the stoutest and most popular friends, who will never quite be replaced. It is the death of such a man that makes me at times hate the war. I must end now. I cannot say how I sympathise with you in your loss, and everyone joins with me in sending their deepest sympathy with you.

John’s grave is in Bard Cottage Cemetery, which is close to Ypres on the User Canal. He was awarded three campaign medals, The British War and Victory medals and the 15 Star.

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