13th May 1915

Trooper Percy Edgar Bowen is commemorated on the war memorial at Meriden, which was where he was working when he was called up for active service in 1914.

He was born in Hinckley in 1891, and apparently lived in Hinckley until at least 1911. He was a member of the Leicestershire Yeomanry and was called up for active service when war broke out. It’s known that he first entered a Theatre of War on 2nd November 1914. He died of wounds in Belgium on 13th May 1915 during the Battle of Frezenburg Ridge, the third of six engagements that made up the Second Battle of Ypres. Research by Hinckley Museum indicates that he was initially posted as missing before being declared presumed dead in May 1916.

Percy was the youngest child of John and Eliza Ellen Bowen (née Hall) of Hinckley. John was a tailor and the couple married in Hinckley in 1878. John died in 1893, and his widow carried on working as a stocking maker. Their eldest son, Ernest John (aged 20), was living with his mother and younger brother, Percy (aged 9), in Hinckley at the time of the 1901 census, working as a shoe maker. Ernest married in 1904 whilst working as an insurance agent in Atherstone but, by 1911, he had returned to Hinckley with his wife and appears to have lived in the town until his death on 1st January 1943.

In 1911, Percy was working as an ostler (a stablehand, especially at an inn) and was working at the George Hotel, Hinckley. Presumably, he moved to Meriden sometime between 1911 and 1914. If you have any information about Percy Bowen’s connection with Meriden, please let us know.

The volume of Leicestershire and Rutland Soldiers Died 1914-18 (available on Ancestry free of charge from library computers) gives an account from the battalion war diary for 13th May 1915:

BELLEWARDE FARM. Position of Regiment at midnight 12th/13th May was 700 yards west of road joining ZONNEBEKE ROAD and YPRES – MENIN ROAD, extreme right resting on railway running north east from YPRES, and extending to the farm about 300 yards north, north west of railway. ‘B’ Squadron occupied north, ‘C’ Squadron south part of the front line trenches.

The trenches were bad, 5 feet deep and 2  feet wide at the bottom. Parapets at the front and back slanted very much, and were made of loose soil. There were few sand bags, and no dug outs or other protection from shell fire. ‘A’ Squadron occupied the Support trenches 300 yards in the rear of the advanced trenches and on the left flank of ‘B’ Squadron. Machine gun section in ‘C’ Squadron trench close to the railway. HQ in dug outs on road joining ZONNEBEKE ROAD and MENIN ROAD, 150 yards north of the railway. During the night the trenches were somewhat improved. Heavy shell fire from 3.30am to 6.00am, but few casualties.

The enemy then began to pour over their parapets with the evident intention of attacking, but being met by heavy fire from our men, they retired again to their trenches. A second and more violent bombardment began, and was kept up until 7.30am. Our losses during this bombardment were much heavier, and the machine guns were knocked out and a trench blown in. At 7.30am the enemy attacked and occupied the advanced trenches vacated by the Regiment on our left, from there they gained part of ‘B’ Squadron trenches. They then advanced to within 200 yards of the Support trenches and dug themselves in, having steel shields as a protection. Those of the enemy who had occupied the ‘B’ Squadron trench advanced along the trench, and Major B. R. LIEBERT, Lt. W. S. FIELDING-JOHNSON and Squadron Sergeant Major J. P. SWAIN with what was left of ‘B’ Squadron, retired down the trench and joined ‘C’ Squadron. Here Major W. F. MARTIN ordered barricades of sand bags to be placed across the trench. Some of the trench party fired over this barricade at the enemy advancing from the flank, others at the enemy advancing from the front. Major MARTIN, Major LIEBERT, Lt. C. PEAKE and 2nd Lt. T. E. BROOKS were all killed.

The casualties were so heavy that Lt. FIELDING-JOHNSON, the only surviving officer decided to retire down the trench, to cross the railway and join the 3rd DRAGOON GUARDS on the other side of it. He had great difficulty in crossing the railway, which was swept by the enemy’s machine guns. Finally the crossing was effected by building a sand bag parapet across the railway, and Lt. FIELDING-JOHNSON joined the 3rd DRAGOON GUARDS with Squadron Sergeant Major SWAIN and 14 men, the only survivors of the two Squadrons of LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY who had occupied the advanced trenches. At about 6.00am Lt. Col the Hon. P. C. EVANS-FREKE decided to establish a small advanced post at a building about 150 yards in advance of the Support trenches. He personally placed 2nd Lt. T. H. SIMPKIN with 15 men in charge of this post. While returning to the Support trenches he was shot dead.

The supports held their position until 12.00 noon, when the Brigade Major, Captain D. P. TOLLEMACHE arrived. The enemy by this time were very near at hand carrying shields which appeared to be quite bullet proof, and were digging themselves in. Major W. F. RICARDO displayed great gallantry in holding on to the Support trenches, although wounded four separate time. When the counter attack was made by the ROYAL HORSE GUARDS, the 10th HUSSARS and the ESSEX YEOMANRY, the remains of ‘A’ Squadron, led by Captain TOLLEMACHE and Lt. T. W. BEST, joined in the charge. The counter attack drove the enemy out of the new trenches which they had made near our Support trenches, but did not retake our advanced trenches, consequently the dead and wounded from these were never recovered.

The Regiment was relieved during the night of the 13th/14th May by the ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS, and reached their huts at BRIELEN at about 4.00am on the 14th May. The casualties of the action on the 13th May were as follows:- Killed, Lt. Col. The Hon. P. C. EVANS-FREKE, Major W. F. MARTIN. Major B. R. LIEBERT, Lt. C. PEAKE and 2nd Lt. T. E. BROOKS. Other ranks killed, 47. Wounded Major W. F. RICARDO, Captain C. M. MARTIN, Captain E. R. HANBURY, Captain G. R. CODRINGTON and Lt. T. W. BEST. Other ranks wounded, 90. There were 39 other ranks missing.

He is recorded on the war memorial at St Peter’s Church, Hinckley, and on the Roll of Honour at Leicester Cathedral.

If you have any more information about Percy Bowen, or know whereabouts in Meriden he worked, please let us know.

Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

tel.: 0121 704 6977
email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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