The Life of Sergt. Fred Rowlands

The only known photograph of Fred Rowlands (He is the tall man standing on the left)

Those who have been following my blog since 2012 will know that my interest in the life of my great-great grandfather is what pushed me to start writing. Four years later, although being known for my writing about Bridgend, this is still one of my 'main' focuses. My great-great grandfather was the subject of my contribution to the Letter to the Unknown Soldier Project. 

My father was given Fred Rowlands 'Dead Mans Penny' shortly before his passing. The recent discovery of this object within my father belongings has caused me to delve into my family research once more. 

Unfortunately, not much is known about Fred. The following information has been drawn together from various family certificates, newspaper articles and 'tit bits' passed down to my grandmother.

Fred Rowlands' Dead Mans Penny

Fred Rowlands was born on 22nd of February 1889 in Welshpool. Born at 6 Boot Passage, he was one of the ten children of Joseph and Mary Rowlands.

While researching the area where my great-great grandfather grew up, I came across an interesting article in 'Montgomery County Times and Shropshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser'. Dated 17th of November 1900, it tells of Fred being an 'Illegally Employed School Boy'. The article describes Fred as "12 years old, but being delicate, was only in Standard 2". 

Sometime between 1901 and 1911, along with a number of his siblings, Fred relocated to Pontycymmer, South Wales. The 1911 Census tells us that at the age of 22, he was living at 27 Alexandra Road, Pontycymmer. His occupation is listed as a 'Domestic Repairer - Below Ground'. From this and family tradition, we can assume that he relocated to Wales for work.

On 24th of March 1913, at Bridgend Registry Office, Fred Rowlands married Elizabeth Matthews. His brother, William Henry and Lizzie Ford were the witnesses at the wedding of my great-great grandparents.

On 23rd of October 1914, Gwladys Maud Louvain Rowlands was born at 86 The Avenue Pontycymmer. Gwladys was the only child of Fred and Elizabeth Rowlands.

Porthcawl Train Station, 1914. (Peoples Collection Wales) 

A month before the birth of his daughter, Fred enlisted at Porthcawl. He became attached to the 16th (Service) Battalion Welsh Regiment that was formed at Porthcawl in November 1914.

The Battalion entrained from Porthcawl to Colwyn Bay on the 30th of December 1914. It was at Colwyn Bay that the 16th (Service) Battalion Welsh Regiment became part of the 38th (Welsh) Division. The next eight months were spent in training in North Wales before moving to Winchester in August 1915 with other units of the 38th (Welsh) Division.

While at Winchester they undertook Musketry Training at Hazeley Down Camp. Now ready for active service, the 38th Division was inspected by the Queen at Salisbury Plain. After the inspection, the whole battalion made their way to Cardiff for the final visit. The Glamorgan Gazette records that they were given a rousing reception with speeches from the Lord Mayor, Lieutenant-Col Gaskell and Alderman Richards. Then, each solider was given 24 hours leave prior to the Battalions return to Winchester.

The 38th (Welsh) Division embarked to France on the 4th of December 1915: arriving at Le Harve on the following Sunday.

The Glamorgan Gazette notes that Fred was promoted to the rank of Sergeant a few days before his departure to France. 

Up until his death, nothing is known of  Fred's time in France as the letters he sent home to his wife and family are long since gone.

On the 7th of July 1916 Sergt. Fred Rowlands lost his life at the Battle for Mametz Wood.

Below is an extract from the 16th (Service) Battalion Welsh Regiment War Diary written on the day of his death:

“8.30am Bn. under orders drawn up on their own side of slope facing MAMETZ WOOD in lines of platoons with a 2 platoon frontage. 11/SWB in support 10/SWB in reserve. Our artillery ceased firing at wood at 8.30am + first lines of Bn. proceeded over the crest of the slope but came instantly under heavy machine gun frontal fire from MAMETZ WOOD, enfilade fire from FLATIRON COPSE + SABOT COPSE + the German Second System, which now between MAMETZ WOOD + BAZENTIN LE PETIT WOOD, Bn. suffered heavily + has to withdraw to their own side of crest. Bn. made two more attacks but. position was much too exposed for any hope or success + orders were received to cease operation. 11/SWB attempted to approach the wood through a gulley running between CATERPILLAR WOOD, slope mentioned above but machine-gun fire drove them back. Our losses:- 6offs, killed, 6 wounded, 268 OR’s killed, missing or wounded. Weather very wet, this adding greatly to exhaustion of troops Bn. received orders to return to their Bivouac. Moved off 10.30pm Arrived 8/7/16”

The Glamorgan Gazette published on the 21st July 1916 reports the death of Sergt. Fred Rowlands.

Below is an extract of a letter from Driver C. Riggs of the 16th (Service) Battalion Welsh Regiment. The letter is undated but was written after 7th of July 1916 as it mentions the death of Sergt. Rowlands. The letter also mentions the death of Private Richard Shakespeare who was the brother in law of Sergt. Rowlands. 

Sergt. Fred Rowlands is buried at Flatiron Copse Cemetery, Mametz.(Grave Ref: VI. E. 9
He is remembered locally on the Memorial at St. David's Church, Pontycymmer. 

Sergt. Fred Rowlands is remembered at the War Memorial at St. Mary's Church, Welshpool. 
The War Memorial was designed by Aston Webb in 1921. It was erected by public subscription in 1923. 

The War Memorial. St. Mary's Church, Welshpool.

The War Memorial. St. Mary's Church, Welshpool.

(Sources: Peoples Collection Wales - Royal Welsh - Garw Valley Heritage Society -  The Glamorgan Gazette)

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