Private William Rowley 27082 1st Bn., Leicestershire Regiment
who died on 24 March 1918
William Rowley was born at the end of 1892. His parents were Joseph Rowley, a shoe finisher and his wife Sarah (nee Coleman). The 1901 census shows the family living at 7 King Street, Oadby and at the time William had three sisters, Zillah (1891), Ada (1896) and Emily (1894). At the time of the census Emily was staying with her maternal grandmother Ann Coleman in Stranger’s Row off London Road , Oadby.
By 1911 the family had expanded by a further three children, Leah (1900), Harry (1904), Archibald (1906) and Mable (1907). The family had also lost one (unamed child possibly at birth). Mother Sarah had died in 1908 aged 35years. At this time William and the older boys of the family were working in the shoe industry and the older girls in hosiery.
On 7 March 1915 William married Gertrude Maria Wise, a hosiery machinist from Wigston Magna and the couple moved to Thurnleigh House, Long Street, Wigston and later to 74 Bull Head Street.
Long Street, Wigston Magna
William attested on 11 December 1915 in accordance with the Derby Act and he was placed in the 12th Reserve Battalion Leicestershire Regiment awaiting call up. He was called up on 4 April 1916 and after basic training he left for France on 27 August 1916. He was transferred to the 1st Leicesters three days later.
On 11 February 1917 William received Field Punishment number 2 for an unspecified misdemeanour. This involved the prisoner being placed in fetters and handcuffs but he was not attached to a fixed object and was still able to march with his unit. This was a relatively tolerable punishment but the soldier was also subjected to hard labour and loss of pay.
Between 9 and 23 November 1917 William received a period of leave.
Ruins at Vaulx Vraucourt and Lagnicourt prior to the shelling in March 1918 which razed all the remaining ruins
On 21 March 1918 the Germans launched their Spring Offensive. The 1st Leicesters were stationed in the Vaulx-Vraucourt area, north east of Bapaume. The battalion was ordered to ‘stand to’ in battle positions. Large numbers of officers and men were away on working party duty. So at 4.30am Battalion Headquarters advanced to their assembly point with just five officers and 110 men. A heavy German bombardment opened up at 5am. There was a very thick fog, which prevented both sides from seeing clearly. The working parties from B, C and D companies returned to the firing line, exhausted after their fatigues. The battalion advanced to Vaulx Wood under heavy machine gun fire. German snipers were also very active. By late afternoon it was learned that A Company had been practically wiped out and the positions over run.
William received a bullet wound to the head and was removed from the battlefield by the Germans. He was taken to a dressing station in the vicinity of Lagnicourt, a village which had been recaptured on 21 March and now lay behind enemy lines. William died of wounds on 23 March and was buried by the Germans. He was missing in action until 7 November 1918 when the War Office reported that Private William Rowley’s name had appeared on the official German list of dead POWs.
William Rowley is Buried with Honour at Lagnicourt Hedge Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. The cemetery is the resting place of both German and British troops. He is also remembered on the Oadby War Memorial, The Peace Memorial Park in Wigston Magna and on the Oadby Council Senior School Memorial in Launde Primary School, Oadby.
Lagnicourt Hedge Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France
Oadby Senior School Memorial
William Rowley’s memorial plaque and medals
Other Family Members
On 25 November 1918 William’s widow Gertrude was awarded a pension of 13s6d per week. On 19 June 1919 she was lodging with a Mrs Ward at 72 Bull Head St, Wigston Magna when she signed for William’s memorial plaque. In 1920 she married Albert Edward Vockins, a neighbour and framework knitter, who had served in the 1st Leicesters with her husband. In 1939 the couple were living at 186 Welford Road, Wigston.
The Oadby Remembers 1914-1918 project is grateful to Andy Garford for his assistance with this research and photo of Pte Rowley’s medals, to Wigston Historical Society for the photograph of Long Street and to www.britishwargraves.co.uk for the photo of Pte Rowley’s headstone.