By jonathanruffle, Jul 11 2013 02:25PM
It is quite common for most British people in my age group to have had both their grandfathers serve in WW1.
Nowadays of course, the talk is of four great-grandfathers serving, and soon it will be sixteen great-great grandfathers.
But before we get lost in that genealogical soup (and what about all those grandmothers?), I wanted to do some research on my three grandfathers. My father’s father - Horace - served in the Royal West Surrey’s and my mother’s father - James - served in the Essex Regiment.
But that wasn’t the end of it. My grandmother on my mother’s side was married twice, and her first husband was killed in WW1. (She met and married James soon after, my mother and her siblings all a product of this second marriage.) In total, then, I have three WW1 grandfathers.
So who was Grandfather Number One? By some irony, it is his WW1 medals we have, rather than any of the others. And on the rim? Lieut Percy Leonard Fowler, 29 Bn AIF.
Medal rolls haven’t been privatised in Australia, so it was not only speedy but also free to discover more about my new Australian grandfather over the internet.
Son of Alexander Robert and Irene M Fowler of Avoca, Tasmania, he was born in 1891. It seems to be a mining area so he was unsurprisingly an assayer before joining up in 1915, embarking as a sergeant in the 29th Battalion for France on 10th November of that year.
He has a fascinating war career - I bet your grandpa does too, so I won’t bore you with it - but perhaps the thing I found most striking was the number of times he was wounded (requiring hospitalisation - five times) and the number of times he had PUO, or pyrexia of unknown origin, the wartime stab-in-the-dark for what was commonly known as trench fever. Not only did he get it seven times (though I may be re-admitting him for some cases twice) but he was sent to recover in England rather than France. He was also sent here on bombing courses.
At some point he met and married my grandmother who was working as a waitress at the Strand Palace Hotel in London. Percival Fowler was killed on 8th August 1918 in an attack near Corbie, by a shell, instantaneously. Who know what that might mean in reality? He is buried in Plot 2, Row F, Grave 2 of the Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension, France, and remembered on panel 115 of the Australian War Memorial.
Writing this makes me inexplicably sad for a man to whom my connection is fleeting, to say the least. But he needs someone to remember him from what would have been his new family, as I am sure he is commemorated by his family down under. He rests a long way from home: I shall go see him the next time I am over there.
Had he lived, as they say, I might have been speaking Australian. On another day I will trace the movements of his battalion and that of my other maternal grandfather and see if Percival and James could have met -- before either met my grandmother.