Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry

George Thomas Rowbrey - Private 3310

This page is dedicated to the memory of George Thomas Rowbrey who died on 13th August 1915 at Formby near Liverpool.

George Thomas Rowbrey was born on 20th June 1891 at The Coates, Linley Green near Bromyard, Herefordshire, the second son of George Rowbrey and Harriet Sprague. He died on 13th August 1915 near Formby, one of the many millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life until his untimely death aged just 24.

His great niece tells me that George Thomas was known as Tom to the family, so that is what I'll call him from now on. In 1900, when Tom was just a boy, his father died leaving Harriet to bring up 6 children - the youngest being only 2 years old. Harriet seems to have taken the sensible decision to move back in with her elderly father and in the 1901 census they are all living together on Bringsty Common near Bromyard. The only one missing was the eldest child, Alfred John Rowbrey, who was living with an uncle nearby. This wonderful old photo shows Harriet, with 5 of her children - Tom, Maggie May, Florence, Amy and Albert. The photo was probably taken about 1903/1904. Many thanks to Florence's grand-daughter Alison for sharing it.

By 1911 Harriet's father had died and the family were living at Rhea Pitch, Bromyard. Alfred had moved back home, but 2 of the girls were absent, perhaps in service at one of the big houses nearby. Tom was working as a gardener, again possibly at one of the big houses. The table below gives a transcription from the 1911 census.

Census of England and Wales, 1911Number of Schedule: 45
Name and Surname of every person in this dwelling on Sunday April 2nd 1911Relation to Head of FamilyAge Single, Married or WidowedCompleted years of present marriage Total children born aliveChildren still livingChildren who have diedRank, Profession or OccupationWhere Born
Harriet RowbreyHead48 Widow 66  Linton
Alfred John RowbreySon21 Single    Warehouse man Ditto
George Thomas RowbreySon19 Single     GardenerDitto
Florence Mary RowbreyDau16Single      Ditto
Albert William RowbreySon12      SchoolDitto
 Number of rooms in this dwelling: FourSignature: Harriet Rowbrey
 Postal Address: Rhea Pitch, Bromyard

War broke out at the end of July 1914 and in time all 3 Rowbrey boys enlisted. Alfred was probably the first, but by April 1915 Tom had been recruited too. The local newspapers listed all the new recruits and his name appears in the Hereford Journal of 3rd April 1915.

All 3 brothers joined the Herefordshire Regiment. I have photos of Tom (left) and Alfred (right), but it would be lovely if someone could add Albert.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed Tom was a private in the 3/1 Battalion of the Herefordshire Regiment and that his service number was 3310. It also states that he is commemorated at the Bootle Cemetery. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here. Normally for a WW1 soldier you would also be able to consult the Medal Rolls, which detail what medals a soldier was entitled to. Poor Tom however died before he ever reach Europe, so was not entitled to any of the medals that most soldiers subsequently received.

The 3/1 battalion of the Herefordshire Regiment was only formed in February 1915, so he must have been one of their early recruits. He was sent initially to Abergavenny for training and the family still have a letter he wrote while he was in Wales. The letter is too faint and fragile to scan in, but his great niece has very kindly transcribed it. It shows a son's touching concern for his mother being left all alone, with her sons all away on duty and her daughters probably all in service.

No 1 Platoon A Coy
3/1 Herefords
Abergavenny
Dear Mam
Just a line to let you know I am still alright. I shall be moving from here again next Friday to Altcar, not far from Liverpool for a machine gun course. I expect we shall be there for 5 or 6 weeks. There is 6 of us going. I expect I shall be able to have 3 or 4 days leave when we come back from there.
Have you heard from Albert since you wrote last? I havenít. I had a letter last Wednesday week. I have not answered it yet as I have lost his address. Will you send it when you write again. Have you had the grass cut yet? I donít know what sort of weather you have been having there, we have had some rain nearly every day here. But they say it rains at Abergavenny if it rains anywhere at all. I had a letter from Amy the other day she thought she ought to come home now as you would be lonely by yourself especially when the winter comes on. I think it would be better too. But of course you must please yourself.
The 1st are not gone to the Dardanelles yet. I think they are in Malta now there is no fighting there of course. There is a list in the Hereford Times of all the officers on (?) , and men of the 1st. I saw Fredís name in there S/L (?) A J Rowbrey.
We have had pretty good food here this last couple of days but it was a bit rough and ready at first. Let me have a line as soon as you can as I shall be going away on Friday.
Your affectionate son Tom
PS You donít know when Albert is coming home I suppose.

As he says in his letter, he was selected for machine gun training and was sent up to Altcar in Lancashire to the school of musketry. The intention was for him to become very well trained in the use of the guns, so that he could then train others. The fact that he was selected for this, probably indicates that he was an intelligent lad and well thought of by his officers.

After he'd arrived in Altcar, Tom wrote home to his mother; his final letter. Again the family still have the letter and have kindly transcribed it. He was still worrying about his Mum - this time that she might be hard up.

3/1 Herefords
School of Musketry
Western Command
Hightown
Nr Liverpool
Dear Mam
I am just here last night. It is a very quiet place but it is only a few miles from Liverpool and I think we can go down there every Saturday evening. I am going today anyway so it wonít be so bad. It is right by the seaside so we can have a bathe every evening if we like.
Will you send my things, shirts and socks and that as soon as you can. Iíve enclosed stamps for the postage in case you are hard up. I have got it now. Iím going to see about having my teeth done. I expect I shall have to pay for them. Will write again and let you know how I get on.
Your loving son
Tom

But he sounds quite upbeat at the prospect of going into Liverpool and bathing at the seaside. Tragically it seems that is what he and his friend Private Marston did, they went bathing in the sea. Sadly they both got into difficulties in the water. Marston tried to grab Tom, but the tide was too strong and pulled him away. His friend made it back to dry land and searches went out for Tom. His body was found a few days later.

His death was of course reported in the local newspapers. The Hereford Times carried the following report.

An inquest was held and a verdict of Accidental Death recorded.

His death was reported in newspapers up north as well as those from his home area. The following is taken from the Manchester Evening News (Image © Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) Click: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk to see the full newspaper page.)

The Manchester report suggests that where the boys went swimming was a known danger spot. The inquest advised the local authorities to put up warning signs, so perhaps Tom's death ultimately helped save other lives. His swimming friend was called Marston and Marsden in different reports, with possible first name Harold. I think he was probably Harold H Marston who joined the Herefordshire Regiment about the same time as Tom and who later moved to the Machine Gun Corp. Harold Marston survived the war and hopefully had a long and happy life.

After Tom's death, his mother received the following letter from W H Winter who was a Captain in the Herefordshire Regiment.

The letter from Captain Winter was quite matter of fact, although he did say that Tom was doing very well. Harriet received a second, slightly more empathic letter though two days later, from Major Symonds-Taylor who was still at Abergavenny.

The final documentation of Tom's life is the Army Register of Soldier's Effects. These registers show what monies were owing to the soldier at the time of his death - in the case of Tom it amounted to £3.11s.5d. Most bereaved families also received a War Gratuity of £5, but because he had less than 6 months service this was denied - which seems very harsh by today's standards. So his pitifully small amount of money was sent to his mother. By any standard it doesn't seem much for her son's life.

Tom was buried in Bootle cemetery and is commemorated on the Merseyside Roll of Honour. He is also commemorated on the Bromyard War Memorial, which is inside the church on a set of panels in the side chapel. Many thanks to Polly Rubery for the photo below (© Polly Rubery 2008)

Although Tom wasn't entitled to any of the medals, his mother was entitled to receive the Memorial Plaque that was issued to the families of all men who died as a result of the war. Luckily the plaque with its certificate have survived and are still in the family. The photos below show the plaque and the certificate. The plaque has been set in a mount, probably so his mother could display it on the wall. The certificate describes him as serving in the Shropshire Light Infantry. I think this is probably because Tom's battalion merged with the Shropshire Light Infantry a couple of years after his death. Many thanks to his great niece Alison for sharing these photos.

Tom's brothers Alfred and Albert both survived the war even though they both served overseas.

In researching Tom's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a great site to start with to give you the basic details you would need to then start digging deeper:

The National Archives at Kew now hold a huge number of records, many of which are available online, but it is well worth a visit down there if you can make it:

The British Newspaper Archive holds digitised images of newspapers from all over Britain. New pages are added weekly and it can be a great way of adding to your research:


If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: n.rowberry@btinternet.com

© Nicky Rowberry 2017

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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry