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War Memorials

In Memory of
Lance Corporal 266963
2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment)
Who was Killed in Action on Tuesday, 23rd July 1918
Age 23

Buried Plot XV Row B Grave 12
Nine Elms British Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium

Commemorated in Perpetuity
by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Remembered with Honour
Nine Elms British Cemetery

Nine Elms British Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium1

George John Rowland was born in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire in 18942, the second child, eldest son of George Thomas (b. 1863, Wrexham) and Sarah Agnes (b. 1867, Shifnal, Shropshire, née Batemen). George and Sarah had married in 1890 and had first settled in Wolverhampton where George John was born. By 1901, they had moved to live in Nottingham, at 4 Princess Terrace with George Thomas working in the tobacco trade3. By 1901, the family, now including five surviving children, was living at 99 Northumberland Street, Nottingham and George Thomas was working as a tobacconist's traveler. Sarah's brother, John Batemen, remained a long-term resident with the family. George John, now aged 16, was apprenticed as a carpenter4.

In 1914, George Thomas died, aged only 525, leaving his widow with young children to support. Apparently now the main breadwinner, it is perhaps understandable that George John was not amongst those who rushed to volunteer so enthusiastically when war was declared in August of the same year. By 1916, however, the number of men volunteering for service was diminishing and was not meeting the relentless demand from the Western Front and the Government was looking for ways to fill the gap. The Derby Scheme, which introduced canvassing for volunteers had still not persuaded the required numbers and the Military Service Act was now enacted which meant that, from March 1916, all single men aged between 18 and 41 (with some exceptions) would be automatically conscripted. George appears to have enlisted in February 1916 just before that requirement came into effect, joining the Sherwood Foresters for training6.

Although we have no record of the date on which Private Rowland's arrived in France, it appears likely that he left with 2/7th Battalion, landing at Le Havre on 27 February 19177. The winter had brought mud, rain and snow which meant desperately difficult conditions with virtually no fighting. But now that the frozen terrain was becoming accessible, the battalion took part in the Operation in the Ancre, intended to keep the enemy's attention on the Somme in preparation for an intended offensive at Arras in the Spring. In fact, German forces were planning a spring withdrawal to new positions on the shorter, more easily defended Hindenburg Line, about 25 miles narrower and to the rear of their previously held position. During fighting in February and March 1917 - in which 2/7th Battalion was involved8 - the withdrawal was successfully carried out and British patrols probing German outposts found them unoccupied. In preparation for the withdrawal, the enemy had destroyed the abandoned area - railways and roads had been dug up, trees felled, water wells polluted, towns and villages destroyed and a large number of mines and other booby-traps had been planted. This destruction and a well-prepared rear-guard, slowed the possibility of immediate follow-up and allowed the withdrawal to be completed in an orderly way. When it was complete, the British found themselves facing a far more formidable German defensive position than they had after the Somme battles, as the enemy once again occupied all the higher and more strategically important positions, overlooking lower ground on which the Allies had to dig in and attack from during subsequent actions in the area.

On the last day of July, a three-month long series of bitter battles, in terrible conditions, began. These made up the Third Battle of Ypres - also known as Passchendaele - with 2/7th battalion taking a full part in both the Battle of Menin Road and the Battle of Polygon Wood towards the end of September.

On 21st March 1918, the German Army launched its Spring Offensive from the Hindenburg Line with the objective of ending the war before American troops and resources could tilt the balance towards the Allies. The objective was to smash through the Allied lines, push the British forces into the sea and to cut off their supply lines by seizing the ports. In February, the battalion had amalgamated with 1/7th battalion to form 7th Battalion. When the enemy attack began, 7th Battalion was defending the line at Noreuil, north-east of Bapaume in the Pas de Calais department of France. Following an extremely heavy bombardment, initially by gas shells, the battalion was overwhelmed in bitter fighting in which only 45 other ranks survived and it was forced to withdraw to Courcelles and then to Bavincourt. By the end of the month it had suffered casualties totaling 26 officers and 629 other ranks. Sadly, in May, the battalion was reduced to cadre9 with most of its remaining men distributed to other units. George who, it seems, was by now promoted to Lance Corporal10, became attached to 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters, part of 71st Brigade of 6th Division.

During May, June and July, 2nd Battalion took part in routine trench duties with occasional, relatively small-scale actions, in the Ypres Salient. On 23rd July, it was positioned at Dickebusch, south-west of Ypres when its D Company - which appears to have included Lance Corporal Rowland - carried out a successful small raid on enemy positions. However, soon afterwards a shell which dropped onto the Company position resulted in 16 casualties amongst its NCOs and men11. It seems that Lance Corporal Rowland was killed in this incident.

Lance Corporal Rowland was buried in Nine Elms British Cemetery which is located to the west of the Belgian town of Poperinge. The cemetery was begun and used by the 3rd Australian and 44th Casualty Clearing Stations when they moved to Poperinghe (now Poperinge), from Brandhoek and Lijssenthoek respectively, in September 1917. Nearly all the burials in Plots I to IX came from these Casualty Clearing Stations, whilst they operated in this area during the 1917 Battle of Ypres, up until December 1917. Plots X, XI, XIII, XIV and XV cover the dates between the beginning of March, 1918 and the 12th October, 1918, the period of the German offensive in Flanders, the British counter attacks and the final advance of August-September. The burials in these cases were carried out almost entirely by fighting units. The cemetery contains 1,556 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and 37 German war graves from this period. There are also 22 Second World War burials in the cemetery, all dating from the Allied retreat to Dunkirk in 1940. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield12.

Lance Corporal Rowland was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal13. His financial effects of 9 17s 5d, were paid to his mother, as his sole legatee, on 15 November 1918 and she also received his War Gratuity of 11 on 23 December 191914.

Around this time, and certainly by 1921, Sarah and her remaining family had moved to Beeston where she was to live at 19 Styring Street15 until after her family had married and left home. By 1939 she was living with Thomas Rowland, her youngest son, and his wife Phyllis (née Lee) at 3 Wallett Avenue, Beeston. She died in Beeston in 1961, aged 94. Both her surviving sons, William Henry (b. 1900) and Thomas (b. 1909) worked for many years at Beeston Boiler Company, William as a furnace man and Thomas as a maintenance fitter. Sarah's eldest daughter, Agnes May, had married Charles George Green, a blacksmith, in 1918 and. by 1939, they had also moved, with their family, to live at 8 Wallett Avenue Beeston, almost opposite where her brother, his wife and her mother were living. William Henry and his wife Edith were then living nearby at 7 Farfield Avenue, Beeston16.

1The photograph of the Nine Elms British Cemetery is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
2His birth was registered in Wolverhampton Registration District in Q4/1894 (Ref 6b 584).
3Nottingham, 1901 Census, Piece 3174 Folio 19
4Nottingham, 1911 Census, Piece 20554 RD430 SD3 ED14 Sched 61
George John's then surviving siblings were Agnes May (b. 1893), William Henry (1900-1969), Elizabeth (b. c1903) and Thomas (1909-1999). Two others had died as infants.
5His death was registered in Nottingham Registration District in Q2/1914 (Ref 7b 334).
6As his Army Service Record has not survived, his enlistment date is calculated from the amount of his War Gratuity.
7His original attachment to 2/7th Battalion is recorded in the Medal Rolls. No date is available for his transfer to 2nd Battalion so his actual service on the Western Front may differ in detail to this account. Between April 1916 and January 1917, 2/7th Battalion had been deployed to Dublin in response to the Easter Uprising. Given that George would not have completed his training when they left, it seems unlikely that he was part of that deployment.
8This outline of the deployment of 2/7th Battalion Sherwood Foresters during 1916, 1917 & 1918 is based on the Robin Hoods' history website (www.therobinhoods.org.uk/orbat2.shtml) and the battalion's War Diary.
9That is, reduced to its core strength without fighting capacity. In this state, for a short period, the battalion provided a training facility for arriving American troops
10Although his memorial entry in Beeston Parish Church states that he had received this promotion, other records, including his Commonwealth War Graves detail, record him as a Private.
11This outline of the deployment of 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters from May-July 1918 is based on the battalion's War Diary.
12This description of the Nine Elms British Cemetery is based on that on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. (http://www.cwgc.org)
13Details from George's Medal Card and Medal Rolls - available on ancestry.com.
14Details of the payments are from the "Army Register of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929" - available on ancestry.com.
15Sarah Agnes Rowland is listed at this Beeston address in the 1921 Electoral Roll.
16Details of the family are derived from standard genealogical sources, notably the September 1939 Registration for Beeston.

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