It was a warm summers day near Richebourg l’Avoué. That was the only redeeming feature of Tuesday 22nd June 1915. The rolling countryside and greenery that usually typified Northern France had been forcibly replaced with sandbags, muddy trenches and battle-scarred fields. Barbed wire stuck out of the ground in angry defiance: no rational man would dare leave the safety of the hastily built trench that sheltered him.
A thirty year old man leant against the trench and looked up wearily at the sky. He was a career soldier who had studied at Harrow and Sandhurst, and a Sir. Joining the Seaforth Highlanders in 1904, his career had seen him posted to Aldershot and Edinburgh, even acting as the King’s personal bodyguard in 1911. Nothing prepared him for the brutality that he’d witnessed in the trenches. ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade fades to nothing compared with what we’ve witnessed in this War’ was an opinion he once shared amongst his colleagues.
If his eyes had worked properly, he’d be in the Navy, he thought to himself. But this was no place to admonish himself on what-ifs and maybes. This was a War zone. The expansive Loch Broom estate where he’d grown up in Scotland was miles away. Fond memories of stalking Stags and fishing Salmon were but distant memories, almost from another lifetime. No sooner had he wondered what would happen, the whistle blew and the call for action registered.
‘Good luck, men.’
‘Good luck, Captain John.’
There was nothing else to say as they climbed the flimsy ladders into the onslaught of shelling, bullets and certain death.
The story continues one week later. Deep in the Highlands the Foich Burial Ground hides amongst dense evergreen trees. A large group of mourners, including members of the Seaforth Highlanders, workers on the estate and local people crowd around a coffin that’s draped in a Union Flag.
Lady Fowler wept as she placed her hand on the bier. She’d lost her youngest son Alan in the same bloody War two months earlier, the victim of a minenwerfer bomb. The clan had lost it’s young men.
This was a fairly typical situation many other families faced. But this is one of the last instances of a deceased soldier being brought back home from the Front to be buried – shortly afterwards the practice was stopped by Fabian Ware, who went on to create the Commonwealth War Graves Commission . Captain Fowler was fortunate enough to have had a family with influence and money, so never mind what the official stance on bringing back the dead was – it was decided his body be brought back to be buried in his private estate. The funeral service, concluding in the magnificence of the Scottish Highlands provided closure to his Mother and Wife: his younger brother’s body was never found. At least with John, they knew they could rest easy knowing he was back in British soil.
That was the end of Sir John Fowler and a direct line from the first Baronet of Braemore. There were no more men to continue the line as Sir John had died without an heir.
However, there was a man in the family the title defaulted to. A middle-aged man who watched the ceremony with tears in his eyes. Observing his nephews turn into gallant young men who fought devotedly for their King and country, he lamented the cruelty which robbed his relative of a long and full life. He himself was protected from the War for his faith and charity work whilst he grieved the death of his wife four years beforehand. The busiest man in Holy orders was now about to become a lot busier.
For the Reverend Montague Fowler, third son of eminent Victorian engineer and Brompton resident Sir John Fowler, was now a Sir.
More information on the life of John Fowler can be read here.