Geoffrey Seymour Rowley-Conwy was born on the 14th of September 1877 in Bodrhyddan Hall which lies between the villages of Rhuddlan and Dyserth. Bodrhyddan is a place of great antiquity with connections to families such as the Conwys of Prestatyn, the Shipleys and the Rowleys who were from Ireland. The Hall itself goes back many centuries and has been in the continuous ownership of the same family throughout that time and up to the present day.
Geoffrey Rowley-Conwy was one of eight children born to Conwy Grenville Hercules Rowley-Conwy (known as “the Captain”) and his wife Marion who was the daughter of Captain Frederick Hartford from Windsor.
Following a career in the Household Cavalry, the Captain both retired and married in the year of 1869. In 1870 the first child was born followed by a second son the year after. Sadly these two little boys died of diphtheria on successive days in April 1874. In the meantime, during the preceding month, their mother had just given birth to a third son, Maurice. He and his one year old sister Gwladys were thankfully unaffected by diphtheria. What a bitter sweet time it must have been for the parents.
More children followed; Rafe Grenville in 1875 and Geoffrey Seymour in 1877. The next two children were also lost; Barbara Gwenllian born in 1879 died aged 10 months and Ivor Harford born 1884 died aged 17 in 1901…….not long after his father – the Captain! He was succeeded by Maurice who was a Captain in the Oxfordshire Light Infantry. Maurice returned to live in Bodrhyddan after his father’s demise whereupon he took on the running of the estate only to meet an untimely death in 1913 following an accident. His brother Rafe then succeeded him. Rafe Rowley-Conwy had a distinguished career in the Royal Navy serving in both World Wars and was known by all as “the Admiral”.
Life in Bodrhyddan during Geoffrey’s childhood is wonderfully described by David Delta Evans in his book “Hiwmor, Synnwyr a Hanes”. An accomplished author, journalist and lay preacher who was brought up in Dyserth, Evans’ first job – at the young age of 10 in 1876 – was as a shepherd-lad on the Bodrhyddan estate.
“…in his day Captain Rowley-Conway enjoyed the reputation of being the keenest fox-hunting enthusiast in the county, while as an expert shot of pheasant, partridge and snipe, he had no equal among the sportsmen of the time. Nor were these his only good qualities. Bodrhyddan estate at the time of which I write provided employment for scores of workers old and young – ploughmen, carters, cowmen, farmhands, labourers, gardeners and craftsmen of various sorts, in addition to house servants, male and female, a host of gamekeepers, and an array of expert stablemen in charge of the hunters and carriage horses.
In many respects Captain Rowley-Conway was a rare personality, popular among the sporting gentry and respected by all decent people. A notable characteristic of the Captain was his aptitude in the eloquent use of comminatory words and phrases such as are seldom heard except in churches, public houses and among officers of the Army and Navy. But his bark was bigger than his bite; and despite his outward manner of harshness at times, all who were more or less on intimate terms with him – especially his old and trusted servants who understood his ways and studied his idiosyncrasies – knew that a kind and generous heart was beating within his breast.”
As a small boy Geoffrey was probably schooled at home as the 1881 census shows him aged 13, Ivor aged 7 and a governess all residing at Bodrhyddan. Later he was a pupil at Arnold House School in Llanddulas. We know he went on to study at Exeter College, Oxford from where he matriculated in 1898. His name appears on the college Roll of Honour.
During the course of the war 771 Exeter men saw active service, almost all of them in the army. Of the 141 who perished, most were commissioned officers – five were killed in Gallipoli, the rest mainly on the Western Front.
Geoffrey Rowley-Conwy enrolled with the 2nd Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment which was based in Preston. Prior to the First World War there were just two battalions in the regiment. By the end of the war there were 21.We don’t know when his period of service began, however his battalion served in Malta (1899) Gibraltar (1902) South Africa (1904) Mauritius (1907) and India: Poona/Bangalore in 1910.
It was here in India that Geoffrey met his future wife, Bertha Gabrielle Cochran. When Gabrielle turned 102 years old in 1983 she gave an interview to the Liverpool Daily Post reflecting upon her life thus far! (She died when she was 103)
Her father was an officer in the Royal Navy and she was born in Southsea in 1880, spending the first 20 years of her life on the Isle of Wight. She told the Post; “I was 19 when the Boar War began in 1899. Until then the Isle of Wight had been a delightfully gay place to be brought up in. Cowes was a fashionable yachting place and there was Ryde Week, and always lots of young people, dances, parties, hunting and yachting. But it became very dull during the war.”
In common with young ladies of her station Gabrielle did not work but spent much of her time visiting relatives. In 1907 she went out to India to stay with her brother Alexander who was an officer in the Indian Army. She visited Kashmir then travelled on to Poona “then the gayest station after Simla”. The Post recorded that “young, attractive and unattached, she had a wonderful time and became the darling of the regiment, enjoying a glittering social round”. She enjoyed amateur dramatics and took part in many plays.
In 1908 she met “a dashing subaltern” Geoffrey Rowley-Conwy to whom she became engaged. They married in Portsmouth on the 7th of June 1911 and returned to India where their children Geoffrey Alexander and Rosemary were born.
In August 1914 Geoffrey, by now a Major, was sent to Preston to enrol a new battalion. This was the 6th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment – a service battalion, and part of Kitchener’s Army’s first wave. After a period in the UK, in 1915 it sailed as part of the 38th Brigade of the 13th (Western) Division to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. As part of the 13th (Western) Division, the battalion served in the Gallipoli Campaign. The division landed at Anzac Cove on the 4th of August 1915. After participating in the battles at Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay, the 6th Battalion along with the rest of the division were withdrawn from Suvla and moved to the Helles landing beaches.
Geoffrey’s grandson Owain Rowley-Conwy takes up the story;
“My grandfather did indeed fall at Gallipoli during the battle for Chunuk Bair on 10th August 1915. He was an officer of the 6th battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment- a “new army” battalion which, along with parts of the 5th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment relieved the New Zealanders who had taken and held the ridge of high ground at great cost. Early in the morning of the 10th of August the two battalions were subjected to a furious Turkish counterattack in overwhelming strength under the personal command of Mustafa Kemal. The “Loyals” were killed to the last man – not a single survivor – and the Wiltshires fared only a little better.”
A despatch note written at the time records that:
“The two battalions of the New Army chosen to hold Chunuk Bair were the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and the second battalion the Wiltshires. The first of these arrived in good time and occupied the trenches. Even in the darkness their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel H G Levinge, recognised how dangerously these trenches were sited, and he began at once to dig observation posts on the actual crest and to strengthen the defences where he could; but he had not time given him to do much.
The second battalion, the Wiltshires, were delayed by the intricate country; they did not reach the edge of the entrenchment until 4am, and were then told to lie down in what was believed, erroneously, to be a covered position. At daybreak on Tuesday the 10th of August, the Turks delivered a grand attack from the Chunuk Bair Hill-Q against these two battalions, already weakened in numbers, although not in spirit, by previous fighting.
First our men were shelled by every enemy gun, and then at 5.30am, were assaulted by a huge column consisting of no less than a full division, plus a regiment of 3 battalions.
The Loyal North Lancashire men were simply overwhelmed in their shallow trenches by sheer weight in numbers, whilst the Wiltshires who were caught in the open, were literally almost annihilated. The ponderous mass of enemy swept over the crest, turned the right flank of our line below, swarmed round the Hampshires and General Baldwin’s column, which had to give ground and were only extricated with great difficulty and very heavy losses.
Towards this supreme struggle the absolute last two battalions from our general reserve were now hurried, but by 10am, the effort of the enemy was spent. Soon their shattered remnants began to trickle back leaving a track of corpses behind them and by nightfall, except prisoners or wounded, no live Turk was left upon our side of the slope.”
The battle for Chunuk Bair had ended in defeat but the Turks had lost heavily as had the Allies. Like so many others Geoffrey Rowley-Conwy’s body was never found. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial in Turkey.
In 1925 Gabrielle commissioned a stained glass window in his memory which is in St Mary’s Church, Rhuddlan. He is also commemorated on the Rhuddlan War Memorial.
The Admiral died in 1951 and was succeeded by Geoffrey’s son. Geoffrey Alexander Rowley-Conwy – Lord Langford – passed away at Bodrhyddan Hall in November 2017. The Colonel, as he was known, was in his 105th year. He represented the long lost generation of children who, deprived of their fathers, were also the victims of war.