Nothing is known of John's life other than Regimental records indicate he was born in Stockport and enlisted in the town. His medal entitlement record, at the National Archives, notes his first name as Jonathon, although it has not been possible to find other records to substantiate this. A boy named John Bowen is listed in the 1901 Census, living in Stockport, then aged 13 and working as a cotton doffer. This is probably him.
It is possible that he is listed twice on the Memorial. The name of W Bowen is also inscribed and it has not been possible to identify any appropriate soldier serving with the Cheshire Regiment. It may that that different groups of friends or family knew him as John or William (perhaps to distinguish him from, say, a father also named John).
John's original service number, 4045, indicates he originally enlisted into one of the Regiment's Territorial Battalions, probably at the end of 1915 or early 1916. The above number suggests he transferred to the 1st Battalion towards the end of 1916.
On 26 June 1918, John and his mates were in front line trenches at Le Sart, a small hamlet south west of the French town of Bailleul. "D" Company was ordered to attack enemy trenches in front of them to the north west of Merville. There was a few minutes barrage of the enemy by rifle grenades and then 13 platoon, led by 2nd Lieutenant J Harper, and 14 platoon, led by 2nd Lieutenant A Robinson, left the protection of their trenches.
The report on the attack reads "At zero, 2nd Lt. Harper led his platoon along the hedge running along Roussel Farm - School Road and 2nd Lt. Robinson led his platoon along the canal bank. On reaching a position about 30 yards from the objective, both parties deployed into two lines and rushed the hedge. 2nd Lt. Robinson rushed at least 10 yards ahead of everybody else and got into the trench first, Unfortunately, he jumped right into a party of 2 or 3 Germans, who immediately seized him and hurried him back along the communication trench before the (illegible) could get in."
"2nd Lt. Hooper then led the whole party.... He got in (to the trench) through a gap where a German machine gunner was and wounded the gunner. Meanwhile the remainder of the party broke through the various gaps in the hedge and the Germans retired up the communication trench (leaving 2 machine guns) and throwing bombs as they went. Lance Corporal Moses immediately organised a bombing party and drove the enemy right across the road to the other side of the Shrine. He then went back and turned his Lewis gun on to them. Sergeant Harrison seeing that there was no officer or NCO on the left of the line (all having become casualties) immediately organised this platoon, got the captured machine guns into position for firing and eventually blazed away."
"The Germans subsequently made two more bombing raids along the trench, but were driven back each time by bomb and Lewis Gun fire. 2nd Lt. J Harper was killed later in the day. Casualties - six O.R.s killed and 10 wounded."
John was one of the 16 casualties. Records indicate he was killed outright, but he is buried some considerable distance from the action. This perhaps suggests that he was badly wounded and was in the process of being evacuated to a military medical facility when he died.