Reginald Bowes was born in Chatham early in 1895. He lived at Fort Pitt Military Hospital in Chatham where his father, Peter Bowes, was a barrack labourer.
Reginald’s father was from Ireland and his mother, Alice from Wiltshire. Peter was himself a retired soldier, having been a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery. He married Alice, a former domestic servant, in London in 1887.
On Census night (31st March) in 1901 the Bowes’ family were in the hospital with several dozen soldier patients (many from the Royal Engineers), some nurses and a few other resident families. In addition to his parents, Reginald lived with three older brothers, aged 13, 10 and 8, and a 3-year-old sister. [The 8-year-old, Victor, also died in the First World War – see Bowes, Victor Harold.] Fort Pitt became a military hospital in the early 19th century and briefly housed the first army medical school in the 1860s. Not long after the First World War the hospital was closed and replaced by a girls’ secondary school on the site.
Reginald still lived at the hospital with his family in 1911, although only he and his sister and their parents were still at home at the time of the census. Now aged 16, Reginald was working as a telegraph messenger. In August 1911 he became an assistant postman for the General Post Office and was promoted to postman in 1913.
Reginald volunteered for Kitchener’s army, joining the Royal Engineers and holding the rank of driver. He was in the 128th Field Company; his service number was 34306. His company joined the 23rd division on the Western Front from April 1915. This division fought on the Somme in 1916 and at the 3rd Battle of Ypres the following year. Reginald died of wounds on 31 August 1917 and is buried in the New Military Cemetery at Reningelst, south of Ieper (Ypres). Reningelst was a field ambulance station, being at a safe distance from the front line.
Reginald’s father died only a few months after him, on 4 January 1918, and is buried in the Fort Pitt Military Cemetery, next to his workplace. Reginald’s mother, Alice therefore was authorised in 1919 to receive the pay her son was owed. Reginald’s age is incorrectly recorded on his gravestone which states he was 26 years of age, when in fact he was just 22.
Free BMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
1881 England Census Class: RG11; Piece: 2143; Folio: 175; Page: 8; GSU roll: 1341517; Class: RG11; Piece: 2435; Folio: 38; Page: 18; GSU roll: 1341586.
1901 England Census [database on-line]. Class: RG13; Piece: 731; Folio: 80; Page: 2
1911 England Census [database on-line]. Class: RG14; Piece: 3926
British Postal Service Appointment Books, 1737-1969 [database on-line]. POST 58; Reference Numbers 105 & 108
National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers’ Effects Records, 1901-60; NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 883001-884500; Reference: 540
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919
London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Martin, Kentish Town, Register of marriages, P90/MTN, Item 016
UK and Ireland, Find a Grave Index, 1300s-Current