This is the war grave of Henry Rowles, located at Earlham Cemetery, but not in the main Commonwealth War Graves section. There’s not much information on this gravestone, nor indeed on the Commonwealth War Graves web-site, and I had expected another story of a young life cut short. Instead, I’ve been on an unexpected journey with Henry….. (and I hope I’ve got this story right).
Henry Rowles was born in Witney on 17 February 1857, the son of Henry and Elizabeth Rowles. In 1861, he’s listed as living with his parents and siblings on the High Street in Witney, with his father working as a fuller. Things went a bit awry and at the 1871 census, Henry was listed as residing at Her Majesty’s Pleasure at Oxford County Gaol (which only finally closed in 1996). He had robbed a counting house with a friend called Henry Davis and was sentenced to four months imprisonment with hard labour. A Henry Rowles was executed at the same prison a few years later for murder, but they don’t appear to be linked.
Anyway, by the 1881 census, Henry’s teenage waywardness had been rewarded (or punished, depending on how you look at it) when he was serving Her Majesty in the Dragoon Guards, training in Aldershot. For reasons unknown, he met Emma Jackson in Norfolk and they were married in 1883, being listed as living in Queen’s Road in 1891 along with their only child, Frederick.
By the 1901 census, Henry had moved to 9 St Mary’s Alley in Norwich with his now much larger family, although he had lost two children. Bringing this story forwards to the First World War, it appears that he enlisted in the Royal Defence Corps. This was a unit that had former soldiers in, or soldiers who were too old, who weren’t sent overseas but instead performed guard duty roles in the UK, such as guarding bridges, structures or prisoners of war. It’s likely that Henry was doing the latter, as that’s what most members of the Corps were doing.
When in service for the 155th company of the Royal Defence Corps, Henry died on 8 November 1918 with the flu, with his body being returned to Norwich for burial. Unfortunately, his military records have been lost and so there’s a chunk of the story here that can’t be told. But, I imagine Henry was an interesting character……