WOOLAVINGTON WWI WAR MEMORIAL (in Woolavington Church) Private Frank (Francis) ROWE
Private Frank (Francis) ROWE No. 6943
Served with 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry (SLI)
11th. Infantry Brigade. 4th. Division
Killed in action 26 August 1914 during the battle of Le Cateau
Buried at Fontaine-au-Pire Communal Cemetery, Nord, France, Plot 1, Row A, Grave 9
F Rowe is actually Francis John Rowe and the surname does not appear in any Woolavington census or church records for several decades either side of 1900. However he is mentioned in the Puriton census of 1911 where he is living, aged 25, in New Buildings with his wife Ellen Jane, together with his father-in-law and a nephew, and he is described as a quarryman - limeworker having been born in Bagshot. At this time Frank and Ellen had been married for just a year and they had had a son (Francis) prior o the 1911 census, but unfortunately he had died soon after birth.
So it appears there is no Woolavington connection, however in the 1910 Finance Act Valuation Survey the property known as Westfield, Woolavington was occupied by W Haggett, but this has been amended to ‘Now F J Rowe’. Unfortunately the exact date of the survey (probably 1912/3) and the amendment are not known but it does indicate that Frank was in the village just before the start of WWI.
It appears he voluntarily enlisted (at Bath for some reason) into the Somerset Light and when war was declared the SLI were stationed at Colchester and they received their orders to mobilise on 4th August. On the 17th they moved to Harrow, camping on the school playing fields. They sailed for France on the 22nd as part of the British Expeditionary Force, reaching Le Harve the next day. Following a march of 6 miles the troops reached a rest camp. On the 23rd the men entrained and headed for Le Cateau, which was reached in the evening of the 24th.
Whilst these men were being brought eastwards towards the front line the French forces and the part of the BEF already in action were being forced towards them by the advancing German army, the latter having been successful in the Battle of Mons. Initially, on the 25th, the SLI were disposed to cover the retirement of troops from the front, but soon they were in the front line themselves. The Battle of Le Cateau developed on the 26th (the day Frank was killed) and at the end of the battle the 1st Battalion had suffered approximately 19 men killed. Frank’s war in France therefore only lasted three days. At least he is commemorated in a specific grave in the Fontaine-au-Pire Communal Cemetery.
Frank's wife Ellen had now lost a child and her husband in the space of four years. Fortunately there appears to have been a happy ending as she remarried Walter Pittey at Puriton towards the end of 1918. A daughter was born 1922 and later at least one grandchild arrived, by which time the family had moved to East Glamorgan.
Contributed by Godfrey Hebdon