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Letter of condolence to the mother of Captain Alan Bowles from Captain Walter Scobell, 28 April 1916

Bowles was killed in action at La Boiselle near Albert on 10 April 1916 while serving with the 1st Battalion of his regiment. Scobell was an old school friend of Bowles' who served in the same unit. His letter states:

Dear Mrs Bowles,

I should have written before, but delayed as I thought we had probably had your wrong address. Dashwood came over and looked me up, and told me he had had no letters from us here. I am afraid they must have been delayed.…In case you have not got all the news I will answer the questions you ask, and also tell you anything else that would be likely to be interesting. I think that most people like to talk about what they have lost, and to hear all about it. It was nothing but the ordinary trench warfare when Alan and Davis were hit.

A Company was in support some hundreds of yards behind in a fort. Alan had walked down the communication trench to C Company lines partly to call on Major Allfrey and partly to show Belcher round the front line. The Germans started heavily shelling - almost a bombardment. There were very few casualties, and it was only one of those bits of bad luck that a shell or probably a trench mortar happened to pitch on the very edge of the trench where two officers were sitting. The dugouts here are very large and very deep. They were sitting on the top step of C Company's Officers dugout which lies a little back from the front line. There is a flight of 27 stairs down into the chalk ground to it. I remember Alan told me only a day or two before, that he didn't like these deep dugouts as it takes the men so long to get out of them; and he also said that if he was going to be killed he'd rather be killed above ground than buried alive... I expect the others have told you about it.

There couldn't have been found a more beautiful spot, or a more wild and beautiful setting to these sad last respects. Bare trees with the moon shining through, owls hooting, the stillest of still nights, three or four hisses like a gushing mighty wind followed by a thundering explosion from a shell not 500 hundred yards off; the sound intensified by the stillness of the night and the cradle of the hills all around. It brought us near to realities, and we all felt for you. He was the last link but one to the old Portsmouth days. So many have gone, so many have taken their place, and yet one can't help feeling that he was one we couldn't afford to lose - and that there were many that might more easily have been spared. Three days afterwards I was having tea with Headquarters when they'd got back to billets, and Major Allfrey said to me "He was the best officer we had in the battalion." And it was true. Yet he was so modest. Only a few days before he had said to me "Scobs I am not fit to command a company - I am not old enough. I should do all right with a platoon; I think I could make a success of it." And that was what he felt I am sure.

He sometimes put up little - shall I call it artificial barriers between himself and others because he felt the difficulty of being a little man of 20 being in authority over men of over 30. Yet in spite of it he made his company a great success: in spite of both great and imaginary opposition. And yet the was something tragic about it. Mrs Bowles I think you would like to know these little things about him. He felt lonely at times I know, and I feel almost certain that he felt that something was going to happen. He was a different chap somehow from what he used to be. It's impossible to say quite how he was different except that he wasn't so cheerful and smiling. It was a subtle indefinable difference. But since things have turned out as they have it makes one think that he might have had a feeling of warning at the back of his mind. This may be fanciful, but I don't think so. I cannot think of any more anecdotes or anything else that would interest you now, but if there are any more questions you want answered I do hope you will write and ask them, and if I can I will answer them. Yours most sincerely,

Walter Scobell

From a collection of papers relating to Captain Alan John Bowles, 2nd Battalion Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire Regiment).

NAM Accession Number

NAM. 1994-04-106-180


National Army Museum, London


National Army Museum, Study Collection

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