Genealogical Ponderings

the Professional Family History Blog

Professional Family History Blog
  1. Missing But Not Forgotten – Men of the Thiepval Memorial


    Regular readers of this blog will remember the story of my great x 2 uncle, Cyril Frank Cowling (1892-1916). Cyril enlisted in London with the 1st/15th Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles, part of the London Regiment, with a group of friends in around June 1915. He died on 15th September 1916 in the “Battle of Flers-Courcelette” at High Wood during the Battle of the Somme. He is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial.

    The Thiepval Memorial commemorates over 72,000 men from the British and South African regiments and corps who lost their lives on the Somme Front between July 1915 and March 1918 and have no known grave.  Of those over 90% fell during the Battle of the Somme between July and November 1916. Most of those remembered were in the Army but there are also those from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

    Missing But Not Forgotten

    I was recently given the opportunity* to review a new release from Pen and Sword books, Missing But Not Forgotten – Men of the Thiepval Memorial Somme, from Pam and Ken Linge.

    The book represents part of a huge undertaking by the authors to provide the stories of all the missing men commemorated at Thiepval and provide them with a fitting memorial. It does not aim to provide the history of the First World War at the Somme but, rather, provides the personal stories of a sample of the men who fell. To avoid the volume becoming unwieldy only 200 of the over 72,000 biographies are included. It is must have been almost impossible to decide which individuals to include but an attempt has been made to include examples from each battalion and regiment represented at Thiepval.

    What is demonstrated is the range of social backgrounds, educational levels and ranks of those who were killed at the Somme. George Leonard Jenkins, a Private in the East Surrey Regiment, was the son of a manager to a metal merchant. Alexander Young, a Lieutenant in the South African Infantry, was educated at Model School , Galway and was awarded the Victoria Cross for services during Boer War. Claude Theodore Church, a Sergeant in the Norfolk Regiment was a footman serving in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace.

    The biographical entries for each serviceman contain details of parents, wives, siblings, extracts from letters home and extracts from the letters sent to grieving parents and wives by superior officers and comrades notifying them that their loved one was missing or dead. There are comments about the individual’s disposition “always so cheery”, “I considered him a friend” and so on that bring to life the faceless names on the memorial. There are many tales of a number of brothers who died within a short time of one another. One particularly poignant story is the entry for Frederick William Bennett and his friend William Bentley. Both lived in Burton Street in Tutbury near Burton-on-Trent and worked at the local Nestle’s Condensary. They enlisted together and served in Gallipoli, Egypt and France. On 30th September 1916 they were both killed by the same shell in fighting near Thiepval.

    My relative, Cyril Frank Cowling, is unfortunately not one of the ones included in the book. There is, however, a biography of one of Cyril’s battalion, Charles Bertram Stalley, Private 2812 of the 1st/15th. Like Cyril, Charles died on 15th September 1916 at High Wood. Charles was one of at least six children of Alfred and Sarah Stalley (formerly Hardy) of Romford, Essex. Charles worked for the Great Eastern Railway and whilst he was on active service some of his letters and sketches were published in the staff magazine. Part of one of these, published in the book, is reproduced below:

    I’ve seen a few ruined towns but none to equal this – its desolation struck me more forcibly than ever. Picture those marches to the trenches… We do not look like the smart soldiers you see at home. We move off in fours, and as we approach the fighting zone drop to two deep, later to single file. No smoking, no talking. By the time we approach the trenches we are fatigued….

    In summary the book provides a fitting memorial to a number of those who fell at the Somme and even where an individual is not included it is possible to gain from the stories of those in the same battalion and regiment.

    The Centenary of the Battle of the Somme commemoration will take place at the Thiepval memorial on 1st July 2016. Tickets are available by ballot until 18th November 2015. Click here for more information.

    * Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book in exchange for providing a review.

  2. The Tower of London – the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”

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    In my last post I wrote about the military career of my great x 2 uncle, Cyril Frank Cowling.

    Many of you will have seen pictures of the poppies being installed at The Tower of London in commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of the First World War, the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

    The anniversary may now have come and gone but you can still dedicate a poppy to your own relatives here:

    or even buy one of the poppies to be sent to you when the display is dismantled:

    10% of all funds raised will go to a number of selected charities including Help for Heroes and Combat Stress.

    Until 10th November the Last Post will be played at the Tower of London at sunset each day and the names of a number of those in the Commonwealth forces who were killed in the First World War read out during the ceremony.

    To have your own relative included in the  ceremonies visit the nomination website:

    I have dedicated a poppy to Cyril Frank Cowling already and last month nominated his name to be included in one of the ceremonies.

    Of course it would be lovely to be there in person to hear the dedication read out but not everyone is able to get into London. By popular demand the ceremonies are now filmed and made available online. Cyril appears here, around halfway through the recording:

    I was not able to get to London on 2nd September but was lucky enough to be able to visit the poppies at the Tower of London the next day:


    Other ways of Remembering

    If you do still want to commemorate someone who died in the First World War in this centenary year there are a number of options in addition to those mentioned above. The British Legion have their own Every Man Remembered campaign in association with the CWGC.

    Local Projects

    Locally there were lots of initiatives timed to coincide with the centenary, notably a number of projects conducting research on the individuals named on local memorials. If you have a relative who was killed in the First World War carry out an internet search for projects in the town or village in which he resided at the time of his death. There may well be more information about your relative. Cyril Cowling is remembered both in Sawston, Cambridgeshire where he was born and in Cambridge where he lived when he enlisted.

    A couple of examples of excellent publications arising from recent local projects, written and contributed to by colleagues of mine are:

    Simon Last & Michael Good’s Aldeburgh War Memorial – the Men Behind the Names 1914-1918 available from a number of bookstores including Amazon:


    and Barlborough Heroes, a Heritage Lottery funded project, available from one of the team of family history researchers involved, Linda Jackson, HERE


    There are undoubtedly many more…

  3. Remembering Cyril Frank Cowling (1892-1916)

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    As today is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War it seems an appropriate time to remember my great x2 uncle on my paternal grandmother’s side: Cyril Frank Cowling.

    Cyril was born on 18th March 1892 in Sawston, Cambridgeshire, the son of John Cowling, a printer’s compositor, and Agnes Mary Cowling formerly Cornwell. Cyril is recorded in the Cowling family Bible as having died at “High Wood”, France in 1916.

    Cyril Cowling's death recorded in the Cowling Family Bible

    Cyril Cowling’s death recorded in the Cowling Family Bible

    At the time of the 1911 census, Cyril was single, working as a clerical assistant at a postal engineering branch and living in Birmingham.

    Service records for Cyril Frank Cowling have not survived but it has been possible to piece together information regarding Cyril’s military career using a number of documentary sources including the records of the CWGC, military memorials, Soldiers died in the Great War 1914-1919, GRO death records, medal records, WFA pension records, soldiers’ wills, war diaries, published regimental histories and newspaper reports.

    In fact, prior to joining the army, Cyril Frank Cowling had worked for the Civil Service in London, Birmingham and Cambridge. At the time of the outbreak of the First World War Cyril was working at the Post Office Engineering Office in Hills Road, Cambridge. He enlisted in London with the 15th Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles with a group of friends, during or shortly after June 1915, as Private 4110 in the 1/15th battalion.

    When Cyril enlisted he would have gone to Hazeley Down near Winchester for thirteen weeks training before being liable for overseas service. At some point Cyril was stationed at Chelsea Barracks and, whilst there, became a Signalling Instructor. When he returned to Winchester he discovered that his friends had been drafted to France and Cyril put in a request to also be sent to France. On arrival in France Cyril would have undergone final training at a divisional base before going “up the line”.

    The 1/15th Battalion spent the first part of September 1916 on training at Franvillers, France and suffered no casualties between the 1st and the 14th September 1916. At 6pm on 14th September 1916 the 1/15th Battalion relieved two companies of the 21st London Regiment at High Wood. On the same day Cyril, mindful of the fact that his battalion were going to the frontline, wrote a brief will in which he left all of his possessions to his mother, Agnes Mary Cowling.

    On 15th September 1916 the Battalion took part in the “Battle of Flers-Courcelette”, a general attack by the IV Army on High Wood. By 11am the IV Army were in possession of the whole of High Wood and Switch Line. However, at 6pm the 21st London Regiment were attacked from High Wood and were “practically annihilated by artillery and machine gun fire”. The severe losses observed at High Wood have been attributed in part to the fact that the battle was the first use of British tanks and the tanks were unable to move forward as intended due to the terrain and conditions.

    At some point during the 15th September Cyril was with others in a captured German trench and was sending a message to the rear when he was hit in the neck by shrapnel. An artery was severed and the wound proved fatal. He left behind a girlfriend, a Miss N. Parker of Birmingham.

    Cyril was awarded the British War and Victory medals for his active service. He has no known grave but is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial, also known as the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme on pier 13, face C. The information recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)’s Register of War Dead is as follows:

    CWGC record for Cyril Frank Cowling (

    CWGC record for Cyril Frank Cowling (

    Cyril’s name is also included on the war memorial in Sawston, Cambridgeshire and on the memorials within St Mary’s Church, Sawston and St Paul’s Church, Cambridge.

    War Memorial, Sawston, Cambridgeshire (author's photograph)

    War Memorial, Sawston, Cambridgeshire (author’s photograph)

    Cyril’s mother died shortly after his death but a dependents’ war pension was claimed for a time by his father, John Cowling. Cyril’s death was recorded in the local Cambridge newspapers, from which the following photograph was taken:

    Cyril Cowling (taken from the Cambridge Independent Press, 15th December 1916)

    Cyril Cowling (taken from the Cambridge Independent Press, 15th December 1916)


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