Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry
Samuel Albert Rowberry - Private 41049
This page is dedicated to the memory of Samuel Albert Rowberry who died on 21st March 1918 in France.
Samuel Albert Rowberry was born in 1891 in Barking, the eldest son of Samuel Rowberry and Annie Eliza Turner. He died on 21st March 1918 in France, 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 and what happened to him in the war, before his death aged just 26.
Samuel was born in 1891 in the Barking, Essex, to Samuel Rowberry and Annie Eliza Turner, who had married in Barking the previous year. Samuel junior was born too late for the 1891 census, but by 1901 the family were living at Cooke Street in Barking. Samuel senior was working as a labourer at a gas works and by now he had 5 children. Strangely the youngest child, Florence doesn't appear on the census with the rest of the family, so I don't know where she was. Sadly around this time the family seems to have split up. The local newspaper report below from 1904 shows Samuel Rowberry senior being charged for neglecting his children. Image © The British Library Board. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).
By 1911 Samuel senior was boarding with an Edith Hoather (who he eventually married). Samuel junior had also left home and was now working as a brewer's labourer in Watford. His mother Annie Eliza Rowberry and his youngest full sister Florence were living under the name Marr with a Henry Marr in Watford; Henry Marr and Annie Eliza had also had an additional 3 children.
When war broke out in 1914 Samuel Albert Rowberry was one of the earliest to enlist and would have done so of his own free will. He was described as a labourer when he enlisted, so perhaps the army seemed like an offer of something different. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website revealed that he became a Private in the 6th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment, that his service number was 41049 and that he was commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial in France. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here
You can now look at the Medal Roll cards from the first world war online. These show a soldier's name, rank and what medals they were entitled to. Due to copyright issues, I don't think I can reproduce the image of the medal card, so instead I've transcribed it.
|Samuel A.||Lab Corps||"||210830|
|VICTORY||Supp:LC/102 B9||862||Also on F/102 B15 P.1737B.|
|15 STAR||LC/17/C2||93/8|| |
| || |
|Theatre of War first served in||(1) France|
|Date of entry therein||29-7-15|
The index card indicates that he would have been entitled to three medals. The British Medal was awarded to servicemen who served in a theatre of war between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. The Victory Medal (Allied Victory Medal) was awarded for service in any operational theatre over the same time frame. The 15 Star was awarded to all those who served in any theatre of war against Germany between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915.
Fortunately Samuel's army service record is one of relatively few that have survived (many were lost during a bombing raid in WW2). The service record provides a wealth of information and show that he enlisted as a Private on 15th August 1914 and was posted on 30th August. He was part of the Expeditionary Force in France from 29th July 1915 to March 1916. In May 1917 he was transferred to the 297 Labour Corps, with whom he remained for the rest of his life. At this point his service number was changed to 41049 from 10306 and/or 210830 (or possibly the other way around, I've found it hard to tell which one came first). The Labour Corps were required to labour wherever they were required - building roads etc. Samuel may have escaped the civilian life of a labourer, only to end up labouring in the army. The men in the Labour Corps were often those who had been wounded or were unfit in some other way for normal service, but not so bad that they had to be sent home. So Samuel may have been wounded or gassed, for him to have ended up in this group. Unfortunately, Samuel's service records are very faded and almost impossible to read in places (possibly due to the damage from the WW2 raid). I can't see any signs of him being wounded, but it could be that this is noted in one of the more faded bits. It looks as if he had leave in early March 1918 in Havre (Le Havre?).
The service records list all his family, with the details having been completed by his mother. His father is just mentioned by name, but his mother's full address is give (29 Windsor Road, Watford) and the ages and address of his full siblings are all listed. His grandfather and even 2 uncles and an aunt on his mother's side are listed, but there is no mention of his half siblings. By this time both his mother and father had second families, but none of these are listed.
Although I've yet to find a photo of Samuel, his service record does at least give a physical description of him - he was apparently 5 foot 8½, weighed 138lbs, with brown eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion. Ultimately of course the service document records his death. He was reported "missing" on 21st March 1918 - sadly this was later changed to "Died on or Around" for the same date.
You can now download most regimental war diaries from WW1; one major exception seems to be the Labour Corps, for which very few records have survived. I haven't been able to find a war diary for Samuel's Labour Corp, so I don't know exactly how he came to be killed on 21st March 1918. But the 21st March 1918 is considered to be the second worst day for British casualties in WW1 (the worst being the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916). 21st March was the first day of the German's Spring Offensive and there were huge casualties on both sides. Although not normally fighting units, the Labour Corps could be drafted in when necessary to bolster numbers, so Samuel's unit may have been moved to the front line.
With the huge amount of shelling and explosions that happened on 21st March and subsequent days, many men were reported missing and their bodies never found - presumably buried under tons of mud and earth. Samuel Albert Rowberry must have been one of these as he doesn't have an individual grave. Instead he is commemorated on one of the panels for the missing at Pozieres Cemetery. I don't know when his mother would have been informed that he was missing, or how soon after that he would have been presumed to be dead. His mother was sent his medals as his next of kin (probably because her address was given in his service records unlike his father). Initially she only received the 1914 Star medal, so had to write requesting the other two medals. This oversight may have been due to mix ups with his name and service numbers. The last piece of evidence for Samuel is the Army Register of Soldiers' Effects. His mother Annie E. is listed as the sole beneficiary of what little money he had, just £21 which included the War Gratuity. Not much to show for his sacrifice.
Samuel Albert Rowberry is remembered on the Pozieres memorial in France and back home on the Barking War Memorial, where he is listed as S.A.Robery. I don't have photos of either of these yet, so if anyone could supply a photo that would be great.
Researching Samuel has proved more difficult than some of the soldiers I've looked at. It's been made harder by the various spellings and misspellings of his name. His birth was registered as Rowberry, although his father's birth was down as Rowbery. He was baptised as Rowbury and in the 1901 the family was recorded as Robery. His medal roll card and service records call him Robey, although the CWGC lists him as Rowberry. He also had 3 service numbers, 41049, 10306 and 210830. It all makes searching for him quite difficult! I've yet to find any mention of his death in the newspapers and of course I have no photo of him yet, which is the thing I'd most like to track down. So if there are any relatives out there, please do get in touch, it would be lovely to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In researching Samuel'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: email@example.com
© Nicky Rowberry 2018
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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry