Lance Corporal Ernest William Fower 3410 1/4th Bn., Leicestershire Regiment

who died on 13 October 1915

Family History

On 19 October 2014 two Leicester Lads, James Arthur Fower, age 27, and his younger brother Ernest William Fower, age 25, enlisted in the 1/4th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment.

At the time they were living with their parents, John William a carpenter, and Elizabeth at 3 Mundella Street, off Mayfield Road, Leicester. The boys had a younger brother George Harry and sisters Mary Ellen and Elsie Sarah. In 1911 Ernest was working as an engineer’s clerk for a Mr Oldershaw of Southgate, Leicester.

However, Ernest seems to have been an Oadby lad at heart. Despite living close to the Victoria Park, which was home to several other rugby clubs, he chose to play for Oadby RFC and travelled the couple of miles up the London Road to take part. Ernest starting playing regularly for the senior team in 1907 at the age of 19. He was a big lad standing 5’10½” tall.

He clearly took part in local social events beyond the rugby club for in spring 1912 he married Oadby girl Flora Findley who lived with her elder sister and her widowed mother on London Road.  Flora’s late father, Harry, a framework knitter, had died in 1908 aged 45 years. Tragically Flora died within six months of her wedding at the tender age of 22.

1912-13 season champions. Ernest is fifth from the right on the third row

Despite the loss of his wife Ernest continued to play rugby for Oadby and is seen on the photograph of the 1912-13 Oadby team that won all three of the local trophies on offer. The following season, which was to be the club’s final pre-war season, Ernest took on the captaincy of Oadby RFC. He was obviously highly regarded by his village colleagues.

 

Military Service

The brothers enlisted in the Leicestershire Territorials on 19 October 1914. The territorial battalions had originally established for home defence. However most of those joining after August 1914 would have automatically been considered for overseas service. After basic training Ernest and Arthur, were posted to France in March 1915.

On 22 August 1915 Ernest was appointed Lance Corporal. He was to meet his end less than two months later.

13 October 1915 is regarded as the darkest day in Leicester’s military history. The attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt was the last action fought during the Battle of Loos which was, in the view of the Official Historian, James Edmonds, “nothing but the useless slaughter of infantry”.

The assault involved the 46th (Northern Midland) Division which included the 4th and 5th Battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment. These were Territorial battalions formed during peacetime of part time soldiers drawn from working men from the city and county.  They were commanded by officers who were predominantly graduates of the university and public schools’ Officer Training Corps.

The Hohenzollern Redoubt was a strongly fortified position held by the German Sixth Army. It formed a salient in the German line close to the mining town of Loos in Northern France. The landscape was completely flat and dotted with pit heads, quarries, mining cottages (corons) and slag heaps, which aided those in defence.

The face of the Redoubt was a long curve of 300 yards fortified with barbed wire and supported by machine gun posts, and deep dug outs. It was connected to the main German line by trenches named Big and Little Willie and was overlooked by The Dump, a flat topped slag heap which had been fortified to provide an observation and sniping post 20 feet above the surrounding flat land. The ruins of mining cottages provided further defences to the rear. The whole “fortress” was considered by the British to be one of the strongest defensive works in the German line.

 

The image above, looking towards the Hohenzollern Redoubt was taken in the minutes before the attack and shows the flat and exposed landscape that the Fower brothers would have faced as they waited to go over the top. In the background artillery shells explode over the German front lines.

The 46th Division comprising troops from Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire attacked the Hohenzollern Redoubt at 2pm on 13 October 1915. The artillery bombardment had started at 12 noon.  Gas and smoke was released at 1pm for 50 minutes.  The artillery lifted and the men went over the top.

The 1/4th Leicesters advanced with great gallantry.  The wire in front of the Redoubt was well cut by artillery and the troops swept over the Redoubt.  Two sides of the Hohenzollern Redoubt known as “South Face” and “West Face” were captured. Portions of the communication trenches “Big Willie” and “Little Willie” were also taken. However the men came under fierce attack from the enemy, many being cut down in no man’s land by machine gun fire from Mad Point on the left flank. The 5th Leicesters followed up the assault with hand to hand combat involving bayonets and bombs as they advanced into the German support trenches and ruined cottages, in some cases without an officer in the lead.

A contemporary illustration from The Sphere magazine of hand to hand combat at the Battle of Loos.

L/Corporal H Pexton recalls “We reached the German first line to find nearly all of the enemy dead – we disposed of the live ones and passed onwards to the second line.  Now we came into a veritable inferno of flying death, shrapnel and bombs, high explosives and grenades, and more and more machine gun fire… the enemy’s light field guns had our range to a yard, and ceaselessly sprayed us with shrapnel and other missiles”.

“The firing was murderous; there were thousands of Germans firing rapid rounds, and as soon as we got over they turned about eighty machine guns on us, each of which was firing 600 shots a minute… our fellows were dropping in dozens”. Pte W Hutchinson.

Men returning from the assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Captain Hills saw, “a considerable number of men coming back from the Redoubt: their officers and NCO’s killed, they themselves worn out by the exertions of the past 24 hours, half gassed by the chlorine, shot out by machine guns from every quarter, they had been broken by bombing attacks from every trench they attacked”.

Roll call on 14 October revealed the loss of all 20 of the battalion’s officers and 453 other ranks. It took many months for the battalion to recover from the mauling it received that day. In the following moths replacement drafts were received from other regiments and areas of the UK and the battalion lost much of its ‘Leicester feel’. During the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916 the battalion was held in divisional reserve.

Ernest was reported missing along with his brother on 13 October. News was later received that Arthur was alive but had been taken prisoner.

Sadly in 1916 Ernest was officially recognised as having been killed in action on 13 October 1915.

A section of Ernest’s service record reporting him as missing on 13 October 1915

 

Memorials

Ernest has no known grave and is remembered on the Loos Memorial

Ernest is one of the men with links to Oadby who is not remembered on the town War Memorial

The Loos Memorial, Loos-en-Gohelle, France commemorates over 20,000 men with no known grave

 

Ernest’s obituary appeared in the Illustrated Leicester Chronicle on Christmas Day 1915

 

In 1917 Arthur was repatriated under an exchange of prisoners arrangement and was discharged from the army in November 1917. Their younger brother George Harry Fower also served in the army and survived the war.