Frederick (Fred) William Bowen was born in Flint in 1886 and baptised 15th June, 1886 at St Mary’s Parish Church, Flint. He was the second of four children to John Taylor Bowen and Mary Elizabeth (Williams).
In Fred’s early years the family lived in Halkyn Street then moved to 25 Chester Street before settling at 54, Feathers Street. He was employed as a baker and was unmarried.
It was reported in the County Herald that on Tuesday the 24th July, 1906 Fred – who was one of the employees at the Holywell Company’s Works, in Holywell Road, and was then living at Chester Street – met with a severe accident. “It appears that in the course of his employment the unfortunate young man tried to turn on a tap, but finding it too tight for his hand, he used his foot, when the whole thing collapsed, and young Bowen fell into a hot vat and was severely scalded.”
He enlisted in the army at Flint, 17th May, 1907, as a Private, with the Army Service Corps, and his service record is as follows: joined at Wrexham, 18th May, 1907, then transferred to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers; posted to India, 8th January, 1908; arrived at Northbrook, 31st January. 1908; Shwebo, 25th February, 1908; Bhamo, 24th February, 1908; hospital suffering from diarrhoea, 17th September, 1908 to 25th September, 1908; awarded 3rd Class Certificate of Education, 14th November, 1908; Shwebo, 25th February, 1909; granted Proficiency Pay, 7th May, 1909; passed classes of Instruction in Nursing Duties, 17th May, 1909; appointed to unpaid Lance Corporal, 6thJuly, 1909; awarded 2nd Class Certificate of Education, 18th February, 1910; appointed to paid Lance Corporal, 3rd February, 1911; Quetta, 31st March, 1911; hospital, 28th August, 1911 to 15th September, 1911, suffering from the effects of parasites; hospital, 27th May, 1912 to 3rd June, 1912, suffering from tapeworm; promoted to Corporal, 1st December, 1912.
In the same month he forwarded a military Christmas greetings card to the Rector of Flint. The card was exhibited in the clothiers’ establishment of Messrs Thomas and Son, Chester Street, and presented a view of a military parade with the ‘Silver Drums’ of the regiments.
His service record continues: permitted to extend his period of army service to complete 12 years with the colours, 29th November, 1913; home based, 10th March, 1914; appointed unpaid Lance Sergeant, 1st May, 1914; landed in France, 11th August, 1914; promoted to Sergeant, 28th October, 1914, for special conduct in the field. On enlistment he was 5 ft 5 3⁄4 in tall, weighed 114lb, chest 32 in, his physical development was fair and had loss and decay of eight teeth, a fresh complexion, brown eyes, brown hair and an irregular scar on front of left leg.
In the first week of November 1914 several letters and postcards were received by relatives of the local soldiers who were at the Front in Ypres. Sergeant Bowen stated that he received the parcels of gifts, which had been forwarded from his home and friends in Flint, and that he had distributed portions of the gift to his comrades, who were, along with himself, extremely grateful for the kindness.
Sergeant Bowen was killed in action in France 14th November, 1914 and buried at Pont-Du-Hem Military Cemetery, La Gorgue, Nord, France (Plot XI, Row C, Grave 3). He is remembered on two war memorials: Flint Town and St Mary’s Parish Church, Flint. He is also commemorated on the North Wales Heroes’ Memorial Arch, Bangor.
He was awarded the 1914 Star, Clasp, British War Medal and Victory Medal.
By the first postal delivery on Friday morning 20th November the sad intelligence of the death of Sergeant Bowen reached Flint and this is how it was reported in the local newspaper:
The deceased was 28 years of age and displayed an especial aptitude for military duties, making excellent progress in the ranks with his promotions. When the Regiment returned to England, and became quartered at Portland, he received a further promotion, and held the non-commissioned rank of Sergeant.
At the time he was expecting a furlough, but by some means it was never accomplished; and then the war broke out. The Regiment and others which were near were constituted as one of the first drafts of the British Expeditionary Force; and the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers arriving in France were with the 1st Battalion engaged in several marches. The positions they held were not definitely known to the general public on this side of the Channel, but letters which occasionally reached friends in Flint were sufficient indications that they were on the line of communication, and that afterwards they had been engaged in some desperate skirmishes. Time proceeded, and eventually it became known that the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welsh had been heavily engaged in the firing line, with serious losses, of which the public had been anxiously awaiting the publication of a casualty list. Then it was also intimated privately by means of other letters that the men of the 2nd Battalion had also been in the thick of the battles in villages and districts not far from Lille. It is believed that it was near this town where Sergeant Bowen was shot, and his remains interred on the 14th instant.
Additional information respecting the death will be found hereunder in a letter received from Colour- Sergeant Thomas Davies, of Flint, who was a close friend of the deceased. As soon as the intimation of the death of Sergeant Bowen was spread in the Borough general expressions of regret were heard, and the heartfelt sympathies of numerous residents were conveyed to Mr and Mrs Bowen in their sad bereavement. The news created a painful sensation inasmuch as Sergeant Bowen was well known in the town; and there was no doubt that the intelligence was also received with much sorrow amongst the men of the Flint Company of the 5th Battalion at Northampton, and of which Company the deceased’s elder brother is a member. At the latter end of last week Mr and Mrs Bowen received a postcard from the Sergeant stating that he was quite well, and asking that he should be forwarded gloves because of the cold weather. The articles were obtained, and were to have been dispatched on Friday morning, when the news of his death was gently broken to the parents. This is a circumstance which tends to make the grief more poignant. Those parents who visited the bereaved parents on Friday saw the splendid gloves on a table. Bowen has died in the cause of his country. When his father wrote to him soon after the hostilities commenced, and when he was reminded of his military work, he wrote a reply, which was received at home, containing the pointed and brief sentence, “I will do my best.” No one can gainsay that he did his best for his King and Country; his name will be revered as one of the country’s heroes; and when the proper time arrives his name should be enrolled on the golden monument of fame. The proprietors of the “County Herald” desire to tender their sympathies to Mr and Mrs Bowen.
We learn that on the day previous to his death Sergeant Bowen had been promoted to the position of Colour-Sergeant.
In the previous two issues of the County Herald the statements had been furnished to provide the friends and relatives of the RWF with the vague information that the battalions of the RWF were in the fighting line, and taking a prominent and gallant part in driving the Germans back. It was stated at the same time that it was understood that the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welsh had suffered many casualties, and that the 2nd Battalion had also been “thinned.” These statements have received verification in several details, and as far as we are permitted to mention them.
Colour-Sergeant Thomas Davies, of the 2nd Battalion RWF, of Sydney Street, Flint, and who is a brother of Sergeant D E Davies, of the E Company, 5th Battalion RWF, at Northampton, in a letter home under date of 15th November, stated that the men of the Battalion had had a terrible time of it, as would be seen from the casualty list; and he was surprised he was alive to be able to write home. They went into the trenches, where they had been until that day. The weather had been very cold and wet, and in addition the Germans had been pouring shells towards their trenches. The continual bursting of the shell and rifle fire had made it a very trying time. The 2nd Battalion had lost, it was said, about 300 men; and one Company had lost many men and their officers. To “cap the lot,” Sergeant Fred Bowen, of Flint, was shot in the head and killed on the spot. The letter continues: “I had him buried last, poor Fred: he was only made full Sergeant the day before, and we were arranging to have such a good time when we got home.” He also says that he himself had some narrow escapes with shrapnel.
One of his ammunition pouches was blown away and a piece of shell went through his haversack. His overcoat had been torn to pieces by a shell dropping on it on the bank of the trench, at the same time wounding one officer and a man who were next to him. So they could guess he had been in a ‘hot shop,’ and he thought himself lucky to have come out safe. They were afterwards placed into billets for a few days, and did not know when or where they would be going next. He believed that the 1st Battalion had had a worse time, for it is said they had lost officers and about 700 men. The 2nd Battalion was only a few miles from [censored] and were giving the Germans “socks.” The Germans were trying to break through the lines of the British, but had found the British too stubborn for them. He had killed several of the enemy in the daytime, and very likely accounted for a good many more at night-time when they had been charging the trenches of the British. It was a sight to see the amount of dead Germans in front of our trenches; they were even hanging dead on our wire fencing like clothes on a line.
Private Morris stated in a letter home that on the 12th November he was speaking with Colour-Sergeant Fred Bowen, when he had taken water to the men in the trenches in the evening; and on the following morning he was sorry to hear he had been killed.
On his return from the Front in early December Sergeant-Major T Davies said, “On the morning of the 14th November he left Sergeant Fred Bowen in order to join the Headquarters, which were at the rear, and about ten o’clock the same morning he was informed that Bowen had been killed with a bullet which entered the right side of the forehead. During the night the stretcher-bearers brought several bodies to the burial ground near the rear of the supports of the Battalion, and amongst the bodies he recognized that of Bowen. In the presence of four members of the Battalion a clergyman read a brief service and the remains of Bowen were interred. Sergeant-Major Davies states that he was the only Flint man present at the time of the interment, as the others were some distance away.”
Fred’s eldest brother, Robert John (see below), served in the war for four years and six months and was a Corporal, No 240188, with the 1/5th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Fred’s father was born in Llangollen and had resided in Flint since he was 10 years of age and until his retirement carried on a confectionery business in Chester Street. He was a founder member of the Flint Borough Working Man’s Club. He died in Manchester 4th December, 1948, aged 86, and was buried in the Northop Road Cemetery, Flint.
Fred’s mother was also born in Flint and was a faithful member of St Mary’s Parish Church, where as a young woman she was a Sunday school teacher. She died 18th September, 1938, aged 76, at her residence, 54, Feathers Street, Flint, and buried with her husband. Mr and Mrs Bowen had been married 55 years and celebrated their Golden Wedding in 1933.