Family visits World War One soldier on centenary of death

PUBLISHED: 07:13 01 November 2017

Frank Sowden's family at the Menin Gate

Frank Sowden's family at the Menin Gate

Archant

The family of a new recruit killed in World War One visited his grave on the centenary of his death.

The wreath laid to remember Frank Sowden at the Menin Gate ceremonyThe wreath laid to remember Frank Sowden at the Menin Gate ceremony

Their research shows Frank Sowden was born in 1879 and lived in Exeter.

Between 1905 and 1910, he married Alice and they had two children towards the end of that decade. As a married man with children, he was not called up until late 1916/17, when the British Army was desperate for new recruits to replace the dead and injured.

Frank would have received approximately three months’ basic training before he was shipped to Belgium where he joined the 8th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment in Ypres.

He would have lived in the deep trenches and dugouts with short periods of rest behind the lines.

Frank Sowden's great grandson David, grandson David and great granddaughter Lois presenting the wreath at the Menin Gate ceremonyFrank Sowden's great grandson David, grandson David and great granddaughter Lois presenting the wreath at the Menin Gate ceremony

The German and allied armies had at this stage of the war fought to a standstill – General Douglas Haig, the commander in chief of the British Army, wanted to break this stalemate.

His plan to advance and capture the German positions on the high ground East of Ypres near Passhcendaele was scheduled to start in the summer as the better weather would aid movement of men and supplies. Sadly, it was unseasonably wet.

The drainage ditches and gulley’s had been destroyed by artillery fire.

The rain started on the July 31 and the result was a quagmire in which soldiers and horses literally drowned. The start of what is now called the third battle of Ypres, or Passhcendaele, got off to a very bad start.

Frank Sowden, his wife Alice, daughter Hilda and son FrankFrank Sowden, his wife Alice, daughter Hilda and son Frank

Frank would have been one of thousands of Allied troops engaged in a fight with the mud, weather and the Imperial German Army. At 0540hrs on October 26, 1917, Private Sowden and his comrades started to advance in appalling weather.

They followed a creeping barrage from friendly artillery, towards the German positions in the village of Gheluvelt.

After a promising start, the soldiers received incoming fire from their right flank. Enemy shelling, rifle and machine gun fire killed Frank and many of his fellow soldiers on that fateful day.

The battle of Passhcendaele was concluded two weeks later with little ground taken.

Frank Sowden's grandson David and his wife Rosemary at Hooge Crater Commonwealth War Grave near YpresFrank Sowden's grandson David and his wife Rosemary at Hooge Crater Commonwealth War Grave near Ypres

Frank was buried near to where he fell at the Commonwealth Cemetery at Hooge, near Ypres.

His grandson never met him, but his father; also named Frank, married Vera and settled in Sidbury. The Sowden family have had a presence in the Sid Valley for many years.

Frank’s grandson, David Frank Sowden, together with his wife Rosemary, sons Paul and Lee, daughter Lois and eight other family members paid their respects to Private 47746 Frank Sowden at the Menin Gate in Ypres – exactly 100 years after his death in the Great War.

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