William Bowers, Private 8604, 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment
Killed in action 22nd October 1914 in France, aged 23
William Bowers was born in 1891, in Macclesfield, the son of Jane Bowers of 8 Waller Street. The 1911 census shows William, then 19 years of age, living with his widowed mother, older brother Arthur and younger sister Emily at 8 Dean Street, Macclesfield and employed as a cotton weaver. In January 1913, William married Celia Herity at St Peter’s Church, Macclesfield, and the couple set up home initially at 34 King Street, Macclesfield. William was employed at the Lower Heys mill. A son, William Aubrey Bowers, was born in April 1913. Celia later moved to 14 Norton Street and, after her husband’s death, received a War Office pension of 15 shillings per week for herself and her son.
William’s service records show that he enlisted into the Army in March 1910, joining the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment as a part-time soldier. He was 5 feet 7⅞ inches tall, weighed 112 pounds and had a 35 inch chest, with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes and dark hair. He was vaccinated in infancy and had four vaccination scars on his left arm.
William was mobilised on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and posted to reinforce the 1st Battalion, arriving in France on 20th September.
The 1st Battalion was stationed in Ireland before the War and landed in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force on 16th August 1914. It was soon deployed in action against the Germans to cover the withdrawal of British troops from Mons. On 22nd October the Battalion was in defensive positions around the village of Violaines. At 5.10 am in the morning, the Germans launched a heavy attack, and took the trenches at the point of the bayonet. Initially ‘D’ Company was forced to retire, which exposed the flanks of ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies, and without troops on their flanks they were also forced to withdraw under heavy enemy fire. At 8.00 pm the Battalion was withdrawn from the front line to a new position further east. Casualties were significant: 3 officers were killed, 20 officers and men were wounded and a further 200 were missing.
It was later confirmed that 53 men, initially recorded missing, had been killed in action – including Private William Bowers. He was officially reported missing on 21 November 1914, and on 1 January 1915 the Macclesfield Times & East Cheshire Observer reported:
MACCLESFIELD PRIVATE MISSING – Mrs Bowers, of 14 Norton St, Macclesfield, has received news that her husband, Private William Bowers, of the 3rd Cheshire Regiment, is missing. Private Bowers has one child, and before going to the front was employed at the Lower Heys. Private W Bowers, of the same regiment, who is a cousin of the missing man, in a letter to his wife stated that he saw him get shot in the action of La Bassee and saw him fall, but on making enquiries at the base he could gain no information, and he thought that his cousin must have been captured by the enemy. Private W Bowers is in hospital at Portsmouth suffering from rheumatism and frostbite.
William’s death was not officially confirmed until March 1916.
Private William Bowers has no known grave, and his name is listed on Panel 13 of the Le Touret Memorial in Pas de Calais, France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private William Bowers, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.