Sergeant William FOWLES

Sherwood Foresters
(Notts and Derby Regiment)
11th (Service) Battalion
Service Number:
Date of Death:
2 July 1916 - Died of wounds
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
I. B. 6

Personal History:

William was born in the December quarter 1884 at Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, the son of William and Mabel Fowles. The 1911 Census (RG 14/21241) shows William employed as a "Hotel Barman" at The Kings Head, Market Place, Buxton.

In the June quarter of that year he married Fanny Green and they lived at 9 St. James Street, Buxton. They had three children, William, born March quarter 1913 and Ethel, born September quarter 1914. At the time of William's death they were living at 6 Green Lane, Buxton.

Military History:

According to 'The Buxton Advertiser' of 2nd September 1916, William enlisted into the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) on a Short Service attestation at Buxton in September 1914. At the time of his enlistment he was employed as a 'Hotel barman".

As a result of the first appeal to the men of Britain by Lord Kitchener, the 11th (Service) Battalion Sherwood Foresters was formed at Derby on the 17th September, 1914. William must have enlisted almost at the same time in Buxton.
According to William's Medal Index Card he entered France with his Battalion on 27th August 1915 and within the month was engaged in a minor role in the Loos Battle. His Division was attached to III Corps on the 5th September 1915 and moved to the Merris-Vieux Berquin area, where trench familiarisation began. Just 9 days later, on the14th, they took over a front line sector between Ferme Grande Flamengrie to the Armentieres-Wez Macquart road, where they remained for about five months, not being relieved until the end January / early February 1916.

A month later, on the 3rd March 1916 orders were received to relieve the French in the Carency sector. The front to be held was between the Boyau de l'Ersatz and the Souchez River. This location included the posts on the Notre Dame de Lorette Hill, a very exposed position, subject to intense shelling.

It took part in the opening day of the Somme offensive on 1st July 1916 and suffered such grievous losses it was relieved that night. William and his fellow men had moved from Bouzincourt on the 30th June and up to the assembly trenches in 'Glasgow Road', 'Lower Horwich Street', 'Quarry Post' and 'Bamberbridge Street', prior to their attack on the 1st July 1916 (The First Day of the Battle of The Somme). The Battalion was tasked with attacking the Leipzig Salient. Even whilst in the assembly trenches in Authuille Wood, which formed part of 'Blighty Valley', they came under heavy German bombardment and began to suffer the first of their many casualties.

After the first wave of the 8th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment and 8th Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had been beaten back, with heavy losses, the 11th Battalion were ordered forward but came up against withering German machine gun fire as soon as they left the own trenches. Their C.O. (Lt. Col. Watson) was wounded while trying to rally his men and push forward the attack. The second wave, led by Major Bernal, met the same fate as the leading waves and men were cut down in their dozens, but the Companies continued to crawl forward using what little cover there was.

A final attack was attempted by Captain Hudson with 50 men using a sunken road on the
right flank, which ran from the British Front line towards the German lines on top of
'The Nab'. Although this attack proved more successful and the attacking troops managed
to advance within 80 yards of the German second line, they were eventually halted as a
result of heavy enemy machine gun fire, some of which was coming from Thiepval spur
to the North.

'The Buxton Advertiser' reported that William was of those wounded during that first attack
on the 1st July. The strength of the Battalion on the 26th June had been 27 Officers and 710
other ranks. At the end 1st July the number of Officers was 6 and the men were 202.
Many of the casualties lay out during the day and under the cover night managed to crawl
back to their own front line.

Following the Battle many of the casualties were removed to the 3rd and 44th Casualty Clearing Stations at Puchevillers, and it was there that William died the following day and was buried in the Cemetery there. The Battalion History stated that "The whole Brigade had suffered so much it was withdrawn from action. The survivors of the Foresters were collected by Captain Hudson and brought out on the night of July 1st. So decimated had the Brigade become that one train holding normally a single Battalion was sufficient to take it from the scene of the action." William died of his wounds the day after the Battle - on 2nd July 1916.

2/Lieutenant R. Turner wrote to William's wife, Fanny:
"We greatly deplore the loss of so valuable a soldier and NCO from the Battalion." Her brother wrote to the 'Advertiser': "All his platoon thought a lot about him because he was such a fine fellow, not always bullying the lads about. I never anyone give him a bad name."

Commonwealth War Graves records show that 126 Officers and men of the 11th Battalion were killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. 14 more died of wounds during the following week, including Private 21797 Thomas Radford. Thomas was one of the 93 who have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

· "The Buxton Advertiser", 2 September 1916
· I am grateful to Michelle Young for the photo of William's Grave

Link to CWGC Record
Puchevillers British Cemetery c. 1916
Map of 'The Nab'
Trench Map of 'The Nab'
1st July 1916
Sgt. Fowles' Grave
  .... Read more about the 11th Battalion during The Battle of the Somme
  .... Download a Report by Brigadier General Gordon on the attack by the 70th Brigade (incl. 11th Sherwood Foresters)