Saturday, 9 July 2016

Family at War: Part 4: Norman James Bowyer

Cap badge of the
Welsh Regiment
It's taken me a while to get around to writing about my maternal grandfather's army service during WW1. The main reason being that we knew very little about what he did. All my mother could remember was that he was in the Welsh Guards, was based in Pirbright and that he did not go abroad. Where and when did he enlist? When was he discharged? Where did he serve?

I had assumed that his service record went up in flames like the majority of them in the Blitz of WW2. But I was wrong. As he was in the Welsh Guards, their records were kept elsewhere and survived intact. Hooray. A couple of phone calls later, and sending off a cheque for £30 to Wellington Barracks in London, his service record came in the post.  I'm not sure what I was expecting to find but it answered some of the questions we had and left us with a few more.

Private Norman James Bowyer (I've got my middle name from his first name), Service Number 1915, enlisted in the Welsh Guards at Caerphilly on 10th August 1915. He was 18 years 6 months old, a miner and was living with his parents at Tynywern Farm in Trethomas (We didn't know this. The farm was demolished to make way for Bedwas Pit in the early 1920s and I used to play in its ruins when I was a child). For the record, he was 5 feet 9 3/4 inches tall, weighed 145 pounds, his chest measurement when fully expanded was 36 1/2 inches, with a range of expansion of 3 inches. His complexion was fair and his hair and eyes were brown.

Grandad enlisted on 10th August and joined the regiment at its barracks in Caterham, Surrey, the next day on the 11th August 1915.  He was placed in the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion and spent all of his subsequent service in the UK. I can't find out what he did but I would presume it was something in support of the frontline 1st Battalion which was serving in France. On 9th January 1917 he was transferred to the Class W Army Reserve and, apart from a short period in early 1918 when he was 'recalled' to active service, he remained Class W until he was transferred to Class P on 16th October 1918. What were Class W and Class P? They were:

Class W was introduced in June 1916 by Army Order 203/16. and was ‘for all those soldiers whose services are deemed to be more valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment’. Men in this class were to receive no emoluments from Army Funds and were not to wear uniform. They were liable at any time to be recalled to the Colours. From the time a man was transferred to Class W, until being recalled to the Colours, he was not subject to military discipline.

Class P was introduced by the same Army Order and consisted of men
- ‘whose services are deemed to be temporarily of more value to the country in civil life rather than in the Army’
- and who were not lower than C iii medically
- and as a result of having served in the Army would, if discharged, be eligible for a pension on the grounds of disability or length of service.
Men in Class P were, for the purposes of pay, allowances, gratuity and pension treated as if they been discharged on the date of their transfer to Class P i.e. they did receive money from the Army. Other terms and conditions were as for Class W.

I've got absolutely no idea why grandad was assessed as Class W. Why did he fall into the category of a soldier ‘whose services was deemed to be more valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment’? Was it anything to do with his occupation as a miner? Strange, as his record does not suggest that he moved anywhere other than the barracks at Caterham. His move from Class W to Class P is explained by a medical discharge note indicating that he was being discharged as disabled due to an 'impediment in speech aggravated by military service'. This note is dated 17th October 1918 and he was finally 'discharged - surplus to military requirements, having suffered impairment since entry into the Service' on 14th December 1918. He left with a pension of 5s 6p per week for 52 weeks.

Grandad did have a stutter but, according to my mother, he had this before he went into the army. Apparently it was caused by the shock of being chased as a young lad by a butcher with a cleaver after he had sprinkled sand on some meat. A nice family story, if true. Who knows? It just sounds like the sort of yarn my grandmother would spin to keep the children quiet.

And that's all we know about the military service of Norman James Bowyer. He did his duty for King and Country and it's a shame that we'll never know the details of how he spent his time at Caterham. I like to think he was involved in something clandestine and Top Secret. Who's prepared to prove me wrong?

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