BOWES Thomas William 1881 – 1916


14709 Private Thomas William Bowes, 15th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry died 6 October 1916, aged 33.  He is buried at Bishop Auckland (Escomb) Cemetery, County Durham[1] and commemorated on the Witton Park War Memorials.

Family Details

Thomas William Bowes was born 1881,[2] at Coundon, probably the son of Ann Bowes, who was the daughter of Richard and Ann Bowes at Tottenham Square, Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham.  In 1881, Thomas’ grandfather, 69 years old Richard was recorded as a coal miner and head of the household at Tottenham, Coundon.  Thomas’ mother, Ann, (22 years old) lived with her parents and brothers William (aged 19) and George (14) and her daughter Elizabeth.  She was recorded as granddaughter and would be Thomas’ older sister.[3] 

By 1891, Richard and Ann Bowes lived at Woodland with their daughter Ann (now aged 32), sons William (aged 30) and George (22) and granddaughter Elizabeth (now 12) and grandson Thomas William aged 9.   William and George worked as coal miners.[4] 

By 1901, Thomas William (now aged 19) and Elizabeth (22) lived with their uncle, 39 years old William Bowes at Escomb.  William worked as a coal miner (hewer) and Thomas as a putter.[5]

By 1911, Thomas (now aged 29) lived with his sister Elizabeth, who was now married to David Walton.  They lived at 16 Maude Terrace, St. Helen’s Auckland together with their uncle, 49 years old William Bowes.  All the men worked as coal miners (hewers).[6]

Annie Chapman, Thomas’ mother was recorded as his next of kin.  She lived at Walmgate, York.  This name is struck through and replaced with the name of his sister Elizabeth Watson, of Black Road, Witton Park.[7] Cemetery details record the name, Mr. D. Watson, 16 Phoenix Row, Witton Park as Thomas’ brother-in-law.[8]

Thomas may have had an illegitimate child, Sarah Jane and Mrs. Anderson, of Jane Pit Row, Witton Park was recorded as the guardian of the child.[9]

Military Details

9 September 1914: Thomas W. Bowes attested when his recorded age was 32 years 1 month.  He joined the Durham Light Infantry, 15th Battalion, “B” Company[10] and was given the service number 14709.  He stood 5’ 7¾” tall and weighed 131 lbs and having been medically examined 9 September 1914, was considered “fit for the Army”. [11]

He served a total of 1 year 208 days, home and abroad was as follows:

  • Home: 9 September 1914 to 10 September 1915: 1 year 2 days
  • France: 11 September 1915 to 25 February 1916: 168 days
  • Home: 26 February 1916 to 3 April 1916: 38 days

Private T.W. Bowes suffered gunshot wounds to the right hand and left foot.

3 April 1916: Private T.W. Bowes was discharged as no longer physically fit for service.

The 15th (Service) Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry (15/DLI) was formed at Newcastle in September 1914 as part of K3 Kitchener’s New Army and came under orders of 64th Brigade, 21st Division The following units served with the 64th Brigade: [12]

  • 9th Battalion, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
  • 10th Battalion, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
  • 14th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (left November 1915)
  • 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry [15/DLI]
  • 1st Battalion, the East Yorkshire Regiment (joined November 1915)
  • 64th Machine Gun Company
  • 64th Trench Mortar Battery

11 September 1915:  The Division landed at Boulogne, France.[13] Private T.W. Bowes landed with the Division and the 15/DLI.  The Division’s first experience of warfare was truly appalling.  Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought it into the reserve for the British assault at Loos.  GHQ planning left it too far behind to be a useful reinforcement on the first day, but it was sent into action on 26 September, whereupon it suffered over 3,800 casualties for very little gain. [14]

The Battle of Loos:  25 September – 8 October 1915 [15]

The Battle of Loos formed a part of the wider Artois-Loos Offensive conducted by the French and British in autumn 1915, sometimes referred to as the Second Battle of Artois.  The Artois campaigns comprised the major allied offensive on the Western Front during 1915.  Along with the attack against Loos by the British, French troops launched offensives at Champagne (the Second Battle of Champagne) and at Vimy Ridge near Arras. [16]

The strategy involved:

  • A four-day artillery bombardment of the German positions
  • Full scale infantry attack in the area between Loos and the La Bassee Canal
  • Diversionary attacks to the north at Bois Grenier and Pietre (between Armentieres and La Bassee Canal). 
  • Once the German positions fell, reserves aided by cavalry, would pass through the gap and attack the German second line.  

The following British units took part in the battle:

  • The I Corps: 2nd Division, 7th Division, 9th Division, 28th Division
  • The IV Corps: 3rd Cavalry Division, 1st Division, 15th Division, 47th Division
  • The XI Corps: Guards Division, 12th Division, 21st Division, 24th Division
  • Indian Corps: 19th Division, Meerut Division.

Subsidiary attacks 25 September 1915


  • Indian Corps: Meerut Division

Bois Grenier

  • III Corps: 8th Division

Second attack on Bellewaarde

  • V Corps: 3rd Division
  • VI Corps: 14th Division

Subsequent action of Hohenzollern Redoubt:  13 -19 October 1915

  • IV Corps: 1st Division, 47th Division
  • XI Corps: Guards Division, 2nd Division, 12th Division, 46th Division

Two “New Army” Divisions, the 21st (which included 15/DLI) and 24th were the reserve forces.  They had only recently arrived in France, had not seen the trenches and were untested in battle.

20 September: The Divisions started moving from St. Omer with marches of over 20 miles throughout successive nights and finally, moved by a night march into the Loos Valley.  Progress was slow and exhausting.  They had been on the move constantly for several days.  The ground was unfamiliar, roads and tracks were jammed with transport going in both directions and communication trenches were flooded and packed with men.  

25 September: The Loos offensive began following a 4 days’ artillery bombardment in which 250,000 shells were fired including 140 tons of chlorine gas discharged from more than 5,000 cylinders. 75,000 British infantry made the initial attack.  The southern section of the attack, conducted by the IV Corps made significant progress, capturing Loos and moving forward towards Lens.  However, the need for supplies and reinforcements brought the advance to a halt at the end of the first day.  Delays whilst travelling meant that the reserves arrived at night time. Fortunes on the first day of battle were mixed, to the north, the I Corps made less progress than the IV Corps but the 7th and 9th Divisions managed to establish a foothold on the Hohenzollern Redoubt. There was some “bad luck”, for instance poison gas released with smoke into light winds before the infantry went forward, hung between the lines and in some places blew back at the British forces!  Along the length of the front advancing masses of troops emerging from the smoke screen were met with devastating machine gun fire.  Losses were appalling and the worst yet suffered by the British Expeditionary Force – there would be 8,500 dead by the end of the first day.   The delay in bringing up the reserves was a critical failure as the Germans were able to pour in their reserves and counter-attack the following day.  Thus, any realistic chance of success had been lost on the first day. The 21st and 24th Divisions saw action in front of the formidable second line defences at Hulluch and Hill 70.  The British infantry advanced without any preliminary artillery bombardment and were decimated by German machine gun fire.  The inexperienced New Army divisions, already exhausted by their long march, fought hard but were driven back.

27 September: The arrival of the Guards Division stabilised the line thereafter the offensive disintegrated.   After several days of sporadic fighting, the British eventually were forced to retreat and Fosse 8 and the Hohenzollern Redoubt were lost in the following days. 

13 October:  The Loos attack was renewed and further heavy losses, more than 2,000 killed, combined with poor weather caused the offensive to be called off.

19 October: The offensive was called off.

During the battle the British suffered 61,000 casualties, (20,000 dead) 50,000 of them in the action between Loos and Givenchy and the remainder in the subsidiary attacks. Many New Army units, rushed into the battle area for the first time only a matter of days after landing in France were devastated.  German casualties were estimated at half the British total. 

15/DLI: in action.[17]

12 September: train to the St. Omer district, 14/DLI went to Nielles-les-Ardres and the 15/DLI to the Ardres-St. Omer road.

19 – 24 September: 15/DLI also marched at night through Houchin and reached their destination on the 24th and 19 – 25 September: 14/DLI marched at night through Arques, Lambres, Esquedecques to Noeux-les-Mines then bivouacked on the afternoon 25 September. 

“The concluding march of both battalions was particularly wearisome by reason of the frequent delays at level crossings.”

25 September:  7.15pm, 64th Brigade moved off through Mazingarbe and Vermelles, in support of the 63rd Brigade.

“The men were wet, tired and hungry, for all had been sacrificed to get the division into battle with the least possible delay.”

25 September:  9.00pm, 64th Brigade prepared for their advance into the line – unloading of Lewis guns, ammunition, bombs and tools.  There was no time to reconnoitre the ground.  At midnight, the 64th moved forward – 14/DLI and 15/DLI leading the column.

26 September: 1.00am, the rain stopped, trenches could not be jumped or bridged by planks – further delays!

2.00am – “Now and then shells burst near…. Patrols went out in search for the 63rd but could find no trace of them…The 15th settled down in a trench about a quarter of a mile in rear but there was not room for all of them so one company fell back to the la Bassee road on the northern outskirts of Loos…The whereabouts of the enemy and the dispositions of the British troops in this portion of the field was as yet unknown.

Daylight: The congestion of traffic during the night was the cause of the delay and when the sun dispersed the morning mists the German shell fire stopped all movement on the road.  The enemy batteries soon began to take their toll of the brigade, casualties including Lieut. V.B. Odhams, of the 15th, who was mortally wounded about this time…Orders had been issued for an attack by the 21st and 24th Divisions.

11.00am – the 24th Division advanced …the 15th Battalion in support now linked up the right of the 63rd Brigade with the troops advancing from Loos…the Durhams were pulled round towards Hill 70 and suffered heavily through enfilade machine-gun fire from Chalk Pit Wood.  Lieut.-Col. E.T. Logan had already fallen, mortally wounded, while gallantly leading the 15th…Soon the troops on the right of the Durhams began to retire.”

12.30pm:  the whole line was in retreat.

2.00pm:  another advance by the survivors of the Durhams and the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry of the 64th Brigade.

“Heavily punished in flank by shrapnel and machine-gun bullets and unsupported by the British gunners…the infantry had no chance of success.  The inevitable retreat was conducted under intense shell fire and the German bombardment continued till dusk…Many of the severely wounded had to remain where they fell.  The exhausted survivors suffered torture from thirst – they had no chance of refilling their water bottles – remained in the old German trenches till they were relieved by the Guards in the early morning of September 27th.”

“The losses of the Durhams were very heavy…Besides the officers already mentioned the 15th Major R.B. Johnson; Capts.  L.A. de V. Carey, H. Wardell and G.T. Fitzgerald; Lieut. E.M. Carter; 2nd Lieuts. J.W.L. Birbeck, E. Partridge, H.A. Boulton, C.H. Readman and Putron wounded.  There were no less than 450 casualties in the ranks.”

15/DLI suffered 462 casualties including Lt-Col. E. T. Logan, Officer-in-Command.  Later research records that 1 officer and 69 other ranks were lost including 3 local men who are commemorated on the Loos Memorial, namely: [18]

  • Private William Brown of West Auckland
  • Serjeant Edgar Towers of Evenwood
  • Private Fred Thompson of Butterknowle

Between 25 September and 8 October, 15/DLI lost 3 officers and 100 other ranks, killed in action or died of wounds. [19]

The New Army units had taken part in an offensive action for the first time and suffered heavily.  The typical attacking strength of a battalion at the time was 650-750 men, casualties were approximately 66%.

The battle witnessed some significant “firsts”:

  • the first “Big Push.”
  • the first blooding of Kitchener’s New Army.
  • the first use of poison gas by the British army.

It had been a costly failure and consequently, Field-Marshal Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force resigned 10 December 1915.  General Sir Douglas Haig was appointed as his successor.  Little operational analysis was carried out and regrettably, many lessons of the failure at Loos were not learned.  Many mistakes were repeated with uncanny similarity on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. 

Trench Warfare October 1915 to March 1916 [20]

Private T.W. Bowes survived the Battle of Loos.  The 21st Division was then posted to the north into the trenches around Armentieres until March 1916.   

29 September: 15/DLI entrained at Noeux-les-Mines and headed for Berguette before moving onto Caestre and Armentieres which was reached by 10 October.[21] The men of 15/DLI were distributed amongst battalions of the 50th Division for instruction in trench warfare.  B, C and D companies worked with the 9th, 6th and 8th DLI.

10 November: 15/DLI relieved 8/DLI and 9/DLI and thenceforth were in and out of the line between the Lille road and the river Lys.  The sector was relatively quiet and the opposing Saxons were not inclined to be too aggressive however Armentieres was shelled frequently.  Casualties for the period up to 22 January 1916 numbered 3 Officers and 17 Other Ranks.[22]

23 – 25 January 1916:  The tour passed quietly until 23 January, when the Germans retaliated to a trench raid conducted by 10/KOYLI with a heavy bombardment which fell on the trenches held by 15/DLI.  Lieut. N.F. Smith and 10 men were killed and about 40 others were wounded.  Later research records that in total 1 officer and 19 ORs were killed in action or died of wounds between 23 and 28 January, 2 on the 23rd, 1 officer and 5 ORs on the 24th, 3 on the 26th, 3 on the 27th and 6 on the 28th.

February:  15/DLI held part of the line which contained a crater known as, “the Mushroom”.  Snow fell on 3 successive days and patrols went out in white. It is recorded that 5 ORs were killed in action or died of wounds during this period.

25 February:  Private T.W. Bowes was home by this date and discharged from the Army about 5 weeks later, 3 April. 

There is no recorded date to confirm when he received his wounds but given the above, it would seem highly likely that he was wounded during the fierce bombardment of the trenches in late January.  It is likely that he was treated at a Casualty Clearing Station, an Army hospital abroad before being despatched home for further treatment in the UK.  Private T.W. Bowes was discharged from the Army in April and within 6 months, finally succumbed to his wounds. 

Medals and Awards

Private T.W. Bowes was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory medals.[23]

Medal Roll card index

Death and Burial

6 October 1916: The cause of Thomas W. Bowes’ death was recorded as: [24]

  • Pulmonary Tuberculosis
  • Cardiac failure

He is buried at grave reference UD.302, Bishop Auckland (Escomb) Cemetery, County Durham.[25]

Private T.W. Bowes’ headstone


Private T.W. Bowes is commemorated on the Witton Park War Memorials, his inscription being W. Bowes.


Thomas William Bowes lived with his close relatives particularly sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law, working in the local pits at St. Helens, Witton Park and Escomb.  He enlisted into Kitchener’s New Army as a volunteer, joining the 15th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry.  His first experience of warfare was truly horrific as the Allies’ big push of late September 1915 hit the full force of German defence – artillery and machine gunfire.  The Battle of Loos sustained severe casualties and the British commander in chief, French was sacked and replaced by Haig. 

Private Bowes survived and his battalion was posted to Armentieres, to take up duties in the trenches.  It was a relatively quiet sector.  In late January 1916, it is believed that he suffered wounds to the hand and foot during German shelling of the trenches.  He failed to respond to treatment and was discharged from the Army.  He finally succumbed to his wounds and died 6 October 1916, aged 33.  Private T.W. Bowes is buried at Escomb cemetery.  


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.167 Auckland 1881 Q4 (Most Likely)

[3] 1881 census

[4] 1891 census

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] Army Form B.9065 Military History Sheet

[8] CWGC and also given as 20 Phoenix Row

[9] Army Form Dependant’s Pension card index

[10] CWGC

[11] Army Form B.9065 Note: He was probably a year older.




[15] “The Great War: a History – Volume 1” F.A. Mumby et al p.52: CWGC 1915: The Battle of Loos leaflet


[17] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” 1920 Capt. W. Miles p.20-24

[18] CWGC

[19] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[20] Miles p.36 – 38

[21] Miles p.24

[22] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[23] Medal Roll card index

[24] Army Form Dependant’s Pension card index

[25] CWGC and England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.10 p.230 Auckland 1916 Q4