Two local men were killed in action on 24th August 1916 – Sergeant Charles Rowney, 8th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and Lieutenant Harry Weston Webb, 5th Battalion, Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry. Both men have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
Charles Rowney was born in Rowington in 1878 and was the second of seven children of parents John and Eiza. John was an agricultural labourer and was born in Knowle but seems to have lived in Lowsonford, Rowington from at least 1875 until at least the end of the war.
By 1900, Charles was working as a railway porter. On 10th February 1900, aged 21 years and ten months, he enlisted with the Imperial Yeomanry, a volunteer cavalry regiment that had been created on Christmas Eve, 1899. The regiment was established as a result of the need for more troops to fight in the Boer War. As part of the first contingent, Trooper Charles Rowney was posted to South Africa in March 1900 with 119th Company, 26th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry. Returning home with most of the first contingent in June 1901, he was awarded the Queen’s South African Medal, with clasps showing his service in the Cape Colony, Wittebergen, and Transvaal. He was officially discharged from the Army in May 1902, with his service record noting his character and conduct as “Very Good”. The Imperial Yeomanry was disbanded in 1908 as part of the reorganisation of voluntary forces into the newly-created Territorial Army.
With the outbreak of the First World War, Charles, who was then working as a painter, re-enlisted in the Army, joining the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on 20th August 1914 as a Rifleman. Within a week of enlisting, he was promoted first to Lance Corporal and then Corporal the following day. On 13th November 1914 he was promoted to Lance Sergeant, becoming Sergeant on 4th December 1914. On 19th January 1916 he was promoted to Company Sergeant Major.
Just over seven months later, he was killed in action in France. He is commemorated on the war memorial at Rowington.
Harry Weston Webb (listed in some records as Henry, and sometimes with the double-barrelled surname Weston-Webb) was born on 8th August 1894 and was baptised at St John’s Church, Ladywood, Birmingham on 26th April 1911 together with his twin brother, Frank Hardy Webb (apparently known as Hardy). Although the boys’ place of birth on census records is given as Leamington Spa, their births were actually registered in the West Bromwich district, suggesting that their mother was at her family home in Tipton when the children were born. This is perhaps not surprising, as she already had four children under the age of eight.
The boys were the youngest (and apparently the second set of twins) of the six children born to parents Richard, a licensed victualler turned wine merchant, and Ellen (née Turley). The family lived at “Briarwood”, Blossomfield Road, Solihull from at least 1901 until at least 1916. By 1911, Richard had become a bedstead manufacturer, and was being assisted by his 19-year-old son, Victor.
This appears to be Richard’s second marriage – he is recorded as widowed on census records 1881 and 1891. His first wife, Eliza, seems to have died, aged 37, in 1878 and it looks as if the couple didn’t have any children. Richard carried on making a living as a licensed victualler in Birmingham (including at the Greenway Arms, Coventry Road, Bordesley from at least 1881 until at least 1891) living with his unmarried sister, Jane. The 1911 census indicates that he and his second wife, Nellie, had been married for 26 years. However, it looks as if they had actually been married for only six years, having married in London in 1895. Their children – Richard Herbert, Dorothy (who seems to have been known as Dorothea), twins Arthur Victor (known as Victor) and Lillian Kathleen, and twins Frank Hardy and Harry Weston – were all registered with the surname Turley.
Harry entered the Lower Fifth Form of Propert House at Epsom College on 19th January 1909. His twin brother, Frank, also attended Epsom College, whilst older brothers, Richard and Victor, were boarders at Solihull School. Research by Epsom College indicates that Harry didn’t shine academically, and consistently came in 15th place in forms of 20-22 boys. Nonetheless, he entered University College, London in October 1913, having left school in July 1912. However, on the outbreak of war, Harry abandoned his studies and, on 17th September 1914, he enlisted in the 15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (2nd Birmingham Pals) at Sutton Coldfield, serving as a Corporal. He didn’t see any active whilst in the ranks and soon obtained a commission with the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry, being sent to the Front in January 1915.
His twin brother, Frank, was commissioned as Second Lieutenant with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 26th January 1915, having been a student at Downing College, Cambridge. He subsequently transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, which became the Royal Air Force in 1918. At least one of the other brothers also served in the war, being wounded the month before Harry was killed.
Harry is commemorated locally on the war memorial at St James’s Church, Shirley.
If you have any further information about these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977