Research for this project suggests that Fred’s official date of death is wrong and that a much more likely date would be ten days later on the 28th. A full explanation is given below.
In 1887, Joseph Rowbotham married Elizabeth. She was a widow named Clayton or Etchells (it is not known which her maiden name was). He was also a widower and had two children – Lucy and Fanny. He came from Romiley and they married there at St Chad’s Church but went to live in Hazel Grove, taking up residence at 62 Commercial Road. Over the years, they had at least five children together – Maggie, Sam, Nellie, Arthur and, of course, Fred. Elizabeth died in 1900, aged 48.
The family worshipped at the local Primitive Methodist Church. Fred was a fine bass singer and a stalwart of the choir. He had also furthered his education by attending the Church’s Sunday School. He probably met his future fiancée, Florrie, through the Church.
When he left school he went to work in one of the local hatworks like his father. Not long after War was declared in August 1914, Fred went into Stockport to enlist. His service number suggests this was probably as early as the September. He was assigned to the newly formed 12th Battalion and will have undertaken his initial army training at Winchester before going overseas in the summer of 1915.
Between the 6th and 14th August 1916, Fred and his mates were in the front line near the Somme village of Hebuterne. The Battalion’s War Diary, held at the National Archives, briefly records this tour of duty “Enemy fairly active with rifle grenades and trench mortars but rather inactive with artillery, except for a short period on the evening of the 10th when they bombarded our front system very heavily with trench mortars and shells of every description.”
On the 14th, they were relieved for the front line and marched to Couin, where they were held as a reserve unit for the 20th Division. On the 16th, they went further into reserve to a camp at Amplier, near Doullens, where they remained until the 18th when they marched to billets at Candas.
The 18th is, of course, is the day officially recorded as being when Fred was killed in action. Amplier and Candas are some 30 or 40 kilometres behind the front line of the time – well out of range of German artillery. Even if there had been some freak shot, it is inconceivable that Fred’s body would then have been transported the 30 to 40 kilometres back to Longueval which was then actually on the front line. It is clear from this information that Fred cannot have been killed on the 18th.
A much more likely date is between the 27th and 30th. After the period in reserve, the Rifles moved forward again to start another tour of duty in the front line at Guillemont. Guillemont is the next village to Longueval (where Fred is buried). It’s now a pleasant stroll of only 2 kilometres. The War Diary records the tour thus “After a short preliminary bombardment on 29th, about 6pm, enemy made an attack on our trenches but was easily bombed back. Not a single man reached our lines. He also made another attempt to enter our trenches on the 30th but was easily repulsed by machine gun and rifle fire.” These attacks will have been preceded by a German artillery bombardment and, almost without doubt, this is how and when Fred will have been killed.
Another possibility, although less likely, is that he had been temporarily attached to another Battalion which was in action on the 18th.
Further information about Fred, including a photograph, can be found in the book “Hazel Grove to Armageddon” by John Eaton.