Arthur Rowbotham, Private 203702, 1/5th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment
Killed in action 29th October 1917 in Somme, France
Arthur Rowbotham was born on 22 June 1895 and baptised on 14 February 1898 at the same time as his brothers Frank and Walter at the Trinity Wesleyan Methodist Church, Macclesfield, the son of Hannah and John Rowbotham, a silk weaver of 108 Bond Street, Macclesfield.
In 1901, five-year-old Arthur was living at the same address with his parents and siblings Clarence (11), Frank (8), Walter (4) and baby Albert Leonard (7 months); ten years later in 1911 the family had another two children – Florence Muriel (born 1902) and Oswald (born 1910).
Arthur was admitted to St John’s Church School on 8 October 1900, leaving on 31 July 1905 after passing Standard Grade IV, after which he attended St George’s School, Sutton, South Macclesfield. After leaving school, Arthur was employed as an office boy at Hewetson’s London Road Mill, then found work at Smale’s King Street Mill. Arthur was later employed as a clerk at Armstrong and Whitworth’s in Manchester, where he remained until he joined the Army.
Arthur enlisted with the 5th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment in Manchester in March 1917. He was sent to Oswestry for training and found to be a good shot – in addition to gaining the cross-guns, he was only two points short of winning the battalion prize.
In 1917 the 5th South Lancashires, also known as the 5th Prince of Wales’s Volunteers, came under the command of the 166th Brigade in 55th (West Lancashire) Division.
The Battalion War Diary records that in October 1917, the 5th South Lancashire Regt was near Tincourt in France. At 5.30pm on 22 October the battalion marched out of Tincourt and boarded a light railway at Hamel, travelling to a forward area where they relieved the 1/6th (Rifle) Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment in the right sub-sector of the left brigade front. The entry for 29th October reads:
10am: Enemy carried out a concentrated [attack] on this subsector between 10 and 11am using all calibres 5.9s, 4.2s, 77mm, also heavy art[illery], light trench mortars on our front systems. A barrage was also put down on EAGLE QUARRY, SNIPE and QUAIL QUARRY with heavy trench mortars, and BIRD LANE with 5.9 shells. 1 OR[other ranks] killed, 1 died of wounds, 2 OR wounded.
The man killed in this attack was almost certainly Arthur Rowbotham, who was reported in the Macclesfield Times as having lost his life at about 10.30am on 29th October 1917. According to the Commonwealth War Graves commission, Arthur died on 28th October 1917 but the battalion war diary for that day reports just one man wounded, and no deaths.
Arthur’s death was reported in the Macclesfield Times of 9 November 1917:
TRENCHES HEAVILY SHELLED – A FIRST-CLASS SOLDIER FALLS
Mr and Mrs John Rowbotham, 108 Bond St, Macclesfield have received news of the death of their son, Private Arthur Rowbotham, South Lancashire Regt. The sad intelligence was conveyed in letters from the chaplain and second-lieutenant. The former wrote as follows:- “You will be receiving one of those sad telegrams from the War Office which have become so painfully familiar in English homes. I can do nothing to soften the blow… I was near at hand when your son made the great sacrifice and performed the sad task of preparing the body for burial. Your son was on duty in the front line trench when the enemy suddenly and without the least warning opened fire on our trenches. Your son was spared any suffering for he could not have known when he was hit. A stretcher-bearer and I went to him and we did all we could to prepare the body for burial, not forgetting to pray for those at home on whom the blow falls so heavily. As your son was a Wesleyan we are communicating with the Wesleyan Chaplain who, I think, would like to officiate at the funeral. But if he should be prevented by anything, I should count it a great privilege to take his place. The cemetery is a beautiful one, well-kept and under the care of the military authorities. May God in his mercy strengthen you to bear this loss and help you to look forward to re-union at the coming of our Lord.”
In a later communication the chaplain stated:- “You will like to know your son was buried this morning (Oct 31st) in a pretty and well-kept cemetery. I tried to get the Wesleyan chaplain to take the funeral, but failing in that, I took it myself. A cross will be put up to mark the spot and the grave will be well taken care of. Again let me express my deep sympathy for you in this grievous loss. He was a dear lad and much liked in the battalion.” The letter from Second-Lieut C S Gillespie stated:- “I have the painful duty to inform you, as commander of your son’s platoon, that Private Arthur Rowbotham was killed in action this morning. He, with two other men, while working in the trench, were seen and fired upon by the Germans. Your son was instantaneously killed, dying about 10.30 this morning (Oct 29th). As a soldier, he was first-class, and grasped things far more quickly than other men in the platoon. He was always clear and smart and was therefore well-liked by everyone. I assure you the platoon will miss him very much, and we as a body send our heart-felt sympathy to you. I hope this will comfort you a little in your terrible sorrow.”
The late Private Rowbotham was a native of Macclesfield and was born in the house where his parents now reside twenty-two years ago. As a boy he received his education at St John’s school and afterwards under Mr A Salt at St George’s. On leaving, the private was employed at the London Road Mill of Councillor A W Hewetson, being afterwards engaged at Messrs Smale’s King Street Mill. From the latter place, the deceased soldier went as a clerk to Messrs Armstrong and Whitworth’s, Manchester, with whom he remained until joining the Army. He was a good shot and in addition to gaining the cross-guns, was only two points short of winning the battalion prize. He was connected with Trinity Wesleyan Chapel and Sunday-school.
Private Arthur Rowbotham is buried in Grave Ref. I. E. 20. of the Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private Arthur Rowbotham (but states his date of death as 28th October 1917).
Clarence Rowbotham, a textile designer born in 1889, married Jessie Jackson, a textile machinist in 1917. They lived in Roe Street and later lived in Clarke Lane, Bollington; Clarence died in 1965.
Frank Rowbotham, a silk dyer born in 1892, married Laura Gaskell in 1913; they lived in Peel Street and Frank died in 1967. Frank was a part-time siren attendant during the Second World War.
Walter Rowbotham, born in 1896, was a grocer’s assistant and died at his home in Bond Street on 18 January 1916, aged 19.
Albert Leonard Rowbotham, a textile fitter born in 1900, married Elsie Austin, a silk fringe cutter, in 1924; they lived in Buxton Road and Albert died in 1967.
Oswald Rowbotham, a maintenance engineer at a silk finishing mill born in 1910, married May Kelly, a silk machinist in 1938. They lived at Plunge Brook, Rainow, and Oswald died in 1985.
Florence Muriel Rowbotham and her parents John and Hannah were still living at 108 Bond Street in 1939. Florence, who was born in 1902, was a textile sample hand and she died, still unmarried, in 1979.
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births
Cheshire Non-Conformist & Roman Catholic Registers (Baptism) 17th Century-1910: Macclesfield Trinity Wesleyan Methodist Church
National School Admission Registers & Log-Books 1870-1914: St John’s Church School, Macclesfield; St George’s School, Sutton
Census (England & Wales): 1901, 1911
WWI British Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects
WWI British Army Medal Rolls Index Cards
WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium, Germany), 1914-1920: 5th South Lancashire Regt
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Macclesfield Times: 9 November 1917, 28 January 1916, 23 Sept 1921
The 1939 Register (FindMyPast)