John Rowlands was born in Cheshire on 17th June 1887. His parents were John Rowlands, a fellmonger (someone who dealt with animal skins – the skinning and tanning) and Sarah Young. They had married in West Bromwich where her parents lived.
The next time we meet John is in 1901. In the census of that year, he was at 91 New Street, West Bromwich, Staffordshire where he lived with his grandparents. The household consisted of William Young aged 63 a bricklayer’s labourer, his wife Sarah 63, a boarder John Bibb, grandaughter aged 6 years old Rhoda Young and Grandson, John Rowlands who was 13 and a heat minder in a nut and bolt factory.
He joined the army long before the war began. His Attestation papers were completed in April of 1906 in Birmingham when he was 18 yrs old. On these he stated that he was already serving in the militia and was a member of the 2 Bn South Staffs Regiment. He expressed a wish to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. His trade or calling was listed as a ‘glass worker’. He was described as having a fresh complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. We begin to get a climpse of the character that John obviously was as his entry papers include an interesting little exchange between the army and John’s last employer – a glass manufacturer from Birmingham who when asked for a character reference for John, he sent the following reply:
Referring to your enquiry form regarding John Rowlands this youth was knwn to us as John Young. We regret we cannot fill in your form as the youth has not given us proper notice to leave. If he will come back and work his 2 weeks notice we have no objection to his leaving.
The Recruitment staff Officer overcame any difficulties that this raised by writing the following:
From other enquiries I have caused to be made in this lads case I find him to be a decent and respectable youth
John named his Grandmother Sarah Young as his next of kin.
As a professional soldier, John progressed his career. In Cork in 1909 he completed a course of instruction in chiropody. In 1912 in Aldershot he qualified in Physical Training. At some point after that he passed for promotion to the rank of Sergeant but we can’t read the date. He was actually promoted to Sergeant in 1914
He was serving in Ireland in 1911 as a corporal when he was the subject of a Board of Inquiry which was set up to investigate the circumstances in which he sustained a fracture to a bone in his left foot whilst in the gym. His records include a copy of his own statement to that inquiry. He was the 1st witness to the proceedings and he said,
” At Portobello Barracks, Dublin on the 3rd May 1911 I was working in the Garrison Gymnasium while undergoing an Instructors’ course of Gymnastics. After jumping a rope I landed on my right foot which gave way under me and I fell to the ground. I found my right foot was too painful to stand on so I hopped to the hospital and reported sick. I attended hospital for a few days with the injury and was then sent to the Royal Infirmary.”
His medical records indicate quite clearly that there was a broken bone but it was his left foot.
The plot thickens when he was in hospital because his papers include a conduct sheet which details an offence. He broke out of hospital – an offence witnessed by a nursing sister and furthermore he was found to be in possession of civilian clothes! This colourful character was reprimanded a number of times for neglecting his duties when he was a Gymnasium orderly.
Despite all of this Sgt Rowlands went to France at the start of the War. The Battalion diary for the day of John’s death on the 25th October 1914 reads as follows
“25th October Attacked at 1.15 am and 4,00am both attacks driven off. Heavily shelled all morning also attacked several times. Casualties Lt Stone killed R & F 10, Wounded R&F 23 “
One of those 10 rank and file killed was our John Rowlands.
Another eye witness account of what happened on that day reads as follows
“25th They started shelling us early, burst four on the parapet of one section in which I was. Infantry advanced but swung. Shelling at intervals. We downed two or three of their infantry; no casualties. heard that Stone had been killed and Buffalo (Tudor Jones) wounded in the arm. At 6.30 they began night attacking. kept it up till 11.30 then from 2.30 till dawn. An awful night- pouring rain- so muddy could hardly move.”
John’s connection with Mold had been difficult to establish but whilst he was living with his grandparents in West Bromwich and whilst serving in the army, his parents had eventually settled in Milford Street in Mold where their family had grown. Their eldest daughter Sarah had married an Albert Anderson in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. He was killed in the war and is the first named on the Mold War memorial. He has his own page on this website. The second son James Rowlands was also killed in the war and his name appears next to his brother John on the memorial in Mold. James too has his own page on this website There are further details onJJames’s page about the Rowlands family.
John Rowlands the father wrote this very poignant letter to the regiment and it remains in his army records.
Mold November 5th 1914
Dear Sir having heard that my son sergeant john Rowlands No 9083 serving with the 1st Batt Royal Welsh Fusiliers as been killed i should be very thankful to you if you could let me know for truth
It was the father, John Rowlands who completed and signed the details on the Flintshire Roll of Honour card.
Sgt John Rowlands is also listed on the War memorial in Sandbach – his place of birth.
Most of this research was undertaken by Mrs C Senior – a great niece of John Rowlands. She and her husband have meticulously tracked the story of this complex family and it is through them that we have been able to make the connections between Albert Anderson and John and James Rowlands. They have generously shared their findings with us and allowed us to tell the stories on this website. Many thanks to them both. Mr and Mrs Senior have produced a booklet detailing their family history quest. Follow the link to read the chapter entitled ‘Lost but Found’109_rowlands_01 their moving account of ‘finding’ James and John Rowlands
Mrs Senior is very keen to contact any relatives still in the Mold area. Please contact us through our ‘contacts page’ and we will pass on any messages.
The photograph of John Rowlands, the medals, the Death Penny and the hat Badge were supplied by Andy Gray who tells us they were in his father’s collection. Many thanks for sharing Andy