Battle of the Aisne

Military Monday – Dent Stowell (1882-1948) – part 1

Military Monday is a daily blogging prompt used by many genealogy bloggers to help them post content on their sites.

We all have ancestors who have served in the military. Military Monday is a place to post their images, stories and records of their service in various branches of the military.

Dent StowellThis is the first of a three part series about Dent Stowell, my 2nd cousin 3x removed. He was born on 14 July 1882 in Burnley, Lancashire to parents Thomas Stowell and Ann Wroe. Our common ancestors are John Stowell and Ann Riddeoff (my 4x great grandparents).

As far as I can tell Dent was the last of nine children to be born to Thomas and Ann Stowell. He was baptised on 20 August 1882 at St John the Baptist church in Burnley.

On 30 March 1900 Dent took himself to the army recruiting office in Burnley and signed up for “short service” of three years in the military. The next day he passed his medical examination and was signed fit for the army. He was appointed to the 2nd Royal Highlanders Regiment with a service number of 7778.

He joined his regiment in Perth, Scotland on 4 April 1900.

I can see from his service records available online that Dent was promoted to the rank of Corporal on 28 February 1902. Then two months later on 24 April 1902 he was posted to South Africa.

He completed his three years “short service” on 30 March 1903 and was transferred to the Army Reserve for nine years.

Back in civilian life Dent married Rose Ann Cairns on 5 January 1907 at St Matthew the Apostle, Habergham Eaves, Lancashire. Dent was 24 years old and Rose Ann was 19.

Over the next five years Dent and Rose Ann had four children:-

Mary Ann Stowell – born 16 December 1907
Dent Stowell – born 1 March 1909
Clifford Stowell – born 25 June 1910 (died December 1913)
Albert Stowell – born 20 May 1912

In the 1911 census the family are living at 2 Zion Street, Burnley. Dent is working as a “plate moulder” and Rose Ann as a “weaver”.

At the outbreak of WW1 Dent rejoined the army and was mobilised at Perth on 5 August 1914. He had several postings to France over the next three years. He was wounded in action in November 1917 and then posted home from 27 November 1917 until he was demobbed on 24 March 1919.

Here is an account of Dent’s experiences in the Burnley News of 3 October 1914.

Burnley News 3 Oct 1914 - 1WOUNDED BURNLEY SOLDIER

IN THE FIRING LINE AT THE AISNE

A thrilling narrative of incidents which have taken place at the Battle of the Aisne has been told to a Burnley News reporter by Private Dent Stowell, of 2 Zion Street, who has returned home to recuperate after having been wounded. Private Stowell is a Reservist in the Black Watch.

“I reported myself at Perth Depot, Nig Camp, Cromarty,” he said, “and from there I went to Southampton, where we embarked for France. After a short time in camp at St Lazaire, we had a four days’ journey on the railway, and then we marched for four days, at about thirty miles a day, up to the firing line, about forty miles from operations at the Aisne, where there is a firing line of 150 miles.

“We thought then that there were no Germans about, but we could see dead horses, pieces of legs, heads, and other gruesome objects. On Sunday night, September 13th, the German bullets and shells began flying over our heads. At five o’clock on the following morning, we marched out on to a hill, and laid in a trench from about 6 o’clock to 3 in the afternoon. The Germans were shelling the position all the time, Burnley News 3 Oct 1914 -2and it was not safe for anyone to lift up his head. My mate did so, and he was shot through the brain.

“At 3 o’clock, someone said ‘Retire,’ and we had almost forty yards to run to the edge of the hill. During the run a German shell burst, sending me down the side of the hill. I remained unconscious until between 2 and 3 o’clock on the following morning, I was wounded by a bullet which went into my left knee, and when I recovered consciousness my shoe was full of blood.”

STRETCHER BEARER SHOT

“While they were carrying me, one of the stretcher bearers was shot; consequently another fellow carried me down to the hospital. When we got there the bullet was extracted.”

After describing his further passage from the scene of conflict by Army Service Corps and motor wagons, and how he was conveyed via temporary bridges of boats and planks, Private Stowell retuned to his experiences in the operations against the enemy. “I eked out existence on one biscuit on the previous Saturday night,” he remarked. “In the fighting a bullet went in my bully-beef tin on my back. Much havoc was caused to my equipment. I could not get a chance to fire back. It was an artillery battle, not an infantry one. Men were mowed down like grass under the terrific fire of the Maxims.

“I was conveyed to Le Mons, where the wound was dressed. Then we went along to Nancy, where I was again attended to. Subsequently I was taken to St Lazaire. I left there last Wednesday, and landed at Southampton on Friday morning. I was treated at the Southern Hospital, Birmingham, which I left yesterday (Wednesday) morning.

“It is indeed a sight for anyone to see which confronts you where fighting operations are going on,” Private Stowell continued. “The Germans had no ‘grub’ for four days. On Monday morning, the 14th, they were reinforced with 40,000 troops, and provisions to last them six months. Every place we got into we found they had looted. We could get nothing.”

Speaking about the French people, Private Stowell remarked enthusiastically that they were very good. “They will give anything to the English troops. We lived on nothing but fruit. The Germans took all the bread obtainable. Tobacco and cigarettes were sent out, but we never got it.

“Oh, yes, we wanted it,” he continued, smilingly. “If you saw one of your men with a cigarette, you would have ‘killed’ him for it.

The massacre is awful. There are thousands of Germans now in the trenches who cannot be buried. Our men cannot go up the hill to bury our dead. Many a hundred bled to death on that hill where I was. The men are healthy enough, but they cannot get any ‘grub.’ Marching to the firing line, we average between 20 and 30 miles a day. At night we try to get into a village. We find the villages have been looted, but there are barns and haylofts we can sleep in. It is not very comfortable to be sleeping 200 in a hayloft that really only accommodates about 10. After about three hours there, we are called to march again.”

Asked as to whether he had met any other Burnley men during his experience at the front he said, “I bade good-bye to my pal, J W Hurst, of Padiham, on Monday. He belonged to the C Company. We went out together. Then his Company went one way and mine another. On Monday night 200 came in out of 1260 at roll call. There were about 30 left out of the 200 on Tuesday. As I said before, they mowed us down like grass, chiefly with Maxim guns.

“I can tell you that I did say my prayers when I got up in the morning with bullets flying round. You think any morning that before long you may be a ‘gone-er’.”

“One of the 16th Lancers was on horseback when a shell burst close to him, and left only his legs in the stirrup, carrying his body away! It is nothing to see a horse getting blown in two.”

“You get used to it,” summed up the soldier laconically. “I shot one German that I know of. I was two years and eight months in South Africa, but that was a picnic to this.”

Look out for the second instalment of the trilogy next Sunday.