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No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

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No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby JaneyH » Fri Jan 24, 2014 5:32 pm

My great grandfather, Oliver William Bowdler, apparently served in WW1 but I have been unable to trace any military records for him. He was born in 1883 in Littledean, Gloucestershire, and was living there in both the 1901 and 1911 Censuses. He was married to Lilian Maude Evans in 1908 and had eight children, the eldest of whom was my grandfather, Roland Dennis Bowdler.

My source of his having served in WW1 is a newspaper article from April 1922 covering a court case, where his wife, Lilian Maude Bowdler, was arrested for "wandering abroad" in Cinderford and refusing to go to the workhouse (she had a long history of mental illness).

The article refers to Oliver being a discharged soldier in receipt of a war pension of £3 17s 6d per week. I have searched the military section of Ancestry, but have found drawn a blank. I'm aware that the main WW1 records are patchy but that the medal rolls index is 90% complete. I have, however, turned up Oliver's brother, Charles Edwin Bowdler, who was a sergeant in the Gloucestershire Regiment, ref no. 36854.

Any ideas of where next to look would be most appreciated.
Last edited by JaneyH on Sun Jan 26, 2014 10:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby AdrianB38 » Fri Jan 24, 2014 11:43 pm

JaneyH wrote:... I have searched the military section of Ancestry, but have found drawn a blank. I'm aware that the main WW1 records are patchy but that the medal rolls index is 90% complete. ...


Medal Index Cards are complete - apart from errors and omissions :) Or to put it another way, they are more than 90% complete. More likely is the case that he was never issued with a campaign medal because he remained within the UK during the War.

You may find he is mentioned on an Absent Voters List for the county (those people with postal votes) - see the county Record Office. AVLs (not the normal electoral register) have number and unit details.

If there is no AVL surviving then his pension may provide a way in - the Western Front Association rescued the cards recently and offer a (paid) look-up service. See http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/ ... cords.html

I am, however, unclear whether the WFA stuff documents all soldiers with pensions.
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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby JaneyH » Sun Jan 26, 2014 7:27 pm

Many thanks for suggesting another line of enquiry, Adrian.

I've spent the weekend with my parents and my Mum says that the family story was such that Oliver William served in France/Flanders and was involved in tunnelling under enemy lines. His background was as a freeminer in the Forest of Dean, so I can at least see that he may have had useful skills in this department. However this is but a story, and the lack of medals points to him having not seen action in France/Flanders after all. I do know that his wife gave birth to two children during WW1 ... which I assumed were his!

I will add the AVL to my "to do" list. While I've been successful in much of my research all the military connections have so far completely stumped me, so here's hoping!

Regards, JaneyH
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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby thingybobby » Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:34 pm

The National Archives don't appear to show him in their military records.


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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby Sylcec » Tue Jan 28, 2014 12:20 pm

If you don't already have them, it may be worth applying for birth certificates of the children who were born during the war years. Hopefully these will provide an exact occupation for their father. (Worst case will be that they just say "soldier"!)
Births Sep 1913
Bowdler Elizabeth M H Evans Westbury S 6a 524
Bowdler Sarah J F Evans Westbury S 6a 524

( assume this one not yours: Births Dec 1913 Bowdler, Daniel G Evans W.Derby 8b 1296)

Births Dec 1915 BOWDLER George G Evans Westbury S 6a 440
Births Dec 1917 Bowdler Charles E Evans Westbury S. 6a 364

If Oliver was indeed the father of these children, then he must have been able to spend significant periods of time at home during the war years.
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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby JaneyH » Tue Jan 28, 2014 1:56 pm

Many thanks for this, Sylcec.

You've correctly identified the children of Oliver William Bowdler: twin girls in 1913, followed by George Godwin in 1915 and Charles Edwin in 1917. (The Derby one is not mine, as you suggest.) I fear another birth certificate request coming on ... GRO are making good money out of me at the moment! Only yesterday I received a birth certificate for one of his other children (by a different partner) and the death certificate of Lilian Maude Bowdler, in a bid to discover other things about him.

Oliver William is turning out to be a fascinating character, and while I've taken a considerable time on him I'm still only scratching at the surface. Every time I find something out about him it leads to further questions. At the rate I'm going I'll be able to write a book about him and his family. For me, family history research is perhaps more about finding out about the lives of my ancestors rather than simply having a list of names and dates stretching back hundreds of years.

Regards, JaneyH
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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby Sylcec » Wed Jan 29, 2014 4:36 am

Janey - finding out about the lives of our ancestors ends up so much more interesting than just a list of names and dates - though we need both to make sure we are claiming the right people! :)
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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby JaneyH » Wed Jan 29, 2014 1:39 pm

Absolutely, Sylvia!

While the name "Bowdler" is relatively uncommon, large numbers of them all come from a small area in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. Add to that the fact that there are several families with anything between 8 and 12 children, and the same christian names are repeated in each generation. It's a recipe for confusion! I can probably go back a couple more generations with this lot, but I'm still working through all the BMD records, Censuses and parish register details for my great-grandfather's siblings.
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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby pbutt » Tue Feb 11, 2014 12:33 am

There is a museum dedicated to the Gloucestershire Regiment, its in The Docks, Gloucester, GL1 postcode. They may be able to give an idea of the life and service of your ancestors from that period.
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Re: No luck tracing WW1 service - any ideas?

Postby JaneyH » Thu Feb 13, 2014 2:51 pm

Many thanks for the link to the Gloucestershire Regiment museum. I've had a quick look on their "find a soldier" page but with no luck, so I'll drop them and email with the information I have and see if they can suggest anything else.
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