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Officer Alfred Fowler (1865 - 1953)
this article, we acknowledge the generous help of Ms. Fiona Archontoulis
of Brisbane, Australia, and for the use of photographs and documents that
were proudly preserved by her mother, the Kathleen Bryan of this article.
Also for the genealogy information on the life and career of Captain Fowler,
his friends and relatives. Readers who have additional information on Alfred
Bryan or Alfred Fowler are invited to contact this site.
Count Warrant Officer Alfred
Fowler among the legions of unsung heroes without whose services no infantry,
artillery or mechanized equipment could take to the field. These are
the medics, pioneers, sappers, provost, ordnance and service personnel
who outnumber those at the sharp edge of battle by about six to one,
depending of course on the organisation of military formations from era
Alfred Fowler was born at Oadby, Leicestershire, in about 1864/1865.
His father was Joseph Fowler (Mother née Enderby). Alfred’s
uncle, John Fowler, had been a soldier in the 17th Foot, and fought at
the Battle of Sevastopol and was medically discharged from wounds received
in the Crimea War. Alfred joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment in 1884,
transferring to the Medical Staff Corps two years later. His military
career spanned thirty-three years at the conclusion of which he took
his discharge as a pensioner for employment as clerk in the RAMC records
office. At his discharge, he had the rank of Warrant Officer, Class 1.
On the face of it, not a particularly exciting career, but his 33 years
of home and foreign service included time spent in Hong Kong, two years
on the Sudan expedition in 1898 for the relief of Khartoum and the Battle
of Omdurman plus a further two years in the Boer War from 1899 to 1902
and a further four years in Cape Colony. During his service in Home Command,
he spent time in Alderney, the Channel Islands where in 1891, he met Lucinda
Purchase, who was one of three daughters of Edward Purchase, a ex-soldier
living in Alderney and earring his living as a sailing maker. When he and
Lucinda married in Alderney in 1892, he was 27 and she was 17.
In 1911, Fowler
joined the staff of the Duke of York's school in charge of the infirmary.
The post was an administrative one. He had no medical qualifications,
but he did have an Army First Class certificate of education, which
was a considerable accomplishment among rank and file soldiers before
World War I. Letters and notes written later in his life show his writing
style to have been clear and bold.
A photograph Alfred and Lucinda (c 1911) taken on the verandah
of the infirmary show him in his dress uniform wearing his five medals,
his badge of Warrant Officer Class I rank and the red cross of the
Medical Staff Corps on his right sleeve. Commissioned officers of
the Corps did not display the red cross insignia. What little can
be seen of the pebbledash style of finish used on the infirmary shows
that it is identical with the architectural style of other buildings
of the school.
Mr. Fowler was the infirmary's quartermaster until
the outbreak of the First World War, when the War Office took over
the premises for use as a transit point for troops travelling to
and from the Western Front.
Officer Alfred Fowler and his wife Lucinda (née Purchase)
verandah of the Duke of York's infirmary (c1911)
The school was evacuated
to Hutton, near Brentwood, Essex, for the duration of the war, a move
to be repeated in the Second World War. The Fowlers joined in the move.
Alfred, however, was not yet fifty and evidently felt himself still young
enough to rejoin the colours for active service. When a vacancy for a
position of Quartermaster arose for the Liverpool Merchants Mobile Hospital,
he applied. His application included a recommendation over the signature
of Colonel George Nugent, Commandant of the school 1913-1914, who had
returned to active service himself with the rank of Brigadier General.
Not much is known about Nugent beyond his having served in the Grenadier
Guards and Irish Guards. On the outbreak of war, promoted to Brigadier
General, he was given command of the 5th London Infantry Brigade. His
recommendation is dated 19 December 1914, viz:
I certify that Sergeant Major A. Fowler was in charge of the Hospital
of the Duke of York's R. M. School during the year August 1913 to August
1914, during which time I was Commandant of the School.
For the record – and again as a matter of interest regarding a
former member of the school staff – Nugent was reported killed
in action 1 May 1915 while commanding the 141st Infantry Brigade. A memorial
service was held for him at St. Paul's, Knightsbridge, 10 June 1915.
He performed his duties to my complete
satisfaction and I recommend him for the appointment of temporary quartermaster,
Signed: (George Nugent) Brig. General
cmdg. 5th London Inf. Bde.
Alfred Fowler was appointed temporary quartermaster with the commissioned
rank of lieutenant in the Merchant Mobile Hospital. Confirmation
of the appointment came within a letter from the Deputy Assistant
Director of Army Medical Services.
Sir, With reference to your application for the appointment
of temporary Quartermaster, I am directed to inform you that
you have been selected for this appointment, and should report
yourself to the Secretary, Liverpool Mobile Merchants Hospital,
No. B.10 Exchange Buildings, Liverpool, on Monday, 1st March
1915 for duty.
On arrival you will at once inform
the Assistant Director-General. Army Medical Service, War Office,
London, of the fact.
I am, Sir, you obedient servant,
[signature illegible] Deputy Assistant Director
Medical team of the
Liverpool Merchants Mobile Hospital (c1915). Lieut. A. Fowler
middle row, second from the right.
Alfred Fowler's wartime
appointment might well signal a severance of his ties with the school.
It did, although one intriguing aspect of it is missing. In the sense
of being part of school history, the tale of Lucinda's younger sister,
Virtue Purchase, is worth relating. As compared with the groundless myths,
legends and traditions, such as Lone tree hill, repeated without
regard to any known fact in many publications dealing with the history
of school, such human interest stories as that of Virtue Purchase are
In the 1891 census, Edward Purchase was identified as a sail maker, indicating
that he'd left the Army. The family could boast a solid history of military
experience in battle. Four Purchases, for example, were present at the
relief of Lucknow: Gunner Edward (Lucinda's father), Pte John (53rd Foot),
Pte Joseph (Rifle Brigade) and QM Sergeant Nicolas (80th Foot). They may
or may not have been related but, given their unusual name, they probably
were. Regardless of any family relations among them, four Purchases received
the fabled Relief of Lucknow medal for their services.
||The Purchase family L to R: Phyllis,
Mrs. Purchase seated, Virtue seated in front, Edward Jnr., John
Purchase wearing the Lucknow medal, Lucinda
||Relief of Lucknow medal (1857) awarded
to four soldiers with the name of Purchase
Edward died in Guston in
December 1914. It is quite possible that Edward Purchase Snr. moved to
the village of Guston in the care of his daughter Virtue when Alfred
and Lucinda Fowler joined the Duke of York's school. It was then that
Virtue met Sgt Maj Alfred Bryan. Although his identity is not known for
sure, a likely contender for the Alfred in question would be Staff Sgt.
Alfred Bryan of the Royal Fusiliers (a London regiment) who might well
have known Fowler in a Dover Garrison sergeants mess. He must have been
a long-service soldier to have been a staff sergeant at the outbreak
of the war.
Given the strict social conventions of the day, Virtue could not have met
Alfred Bryan other than through her brother-in-law Alfred Fowler. Furthermore,
given that Bryan was a staff sergeant and Virtue 37 when they met, they
would have been about the same age. Whatever the case, they became intimately
involved, for Virtue became pregnant. It is not known definitely where
her confinement was, however in an institution for single women in which
to give birth seems a possibility. The infant, a daughter, was born on
11 December 1915, baptized in Buckland Parish "15 January 1916, Virtue
Kathleen, daughter of Alfred and Virtue Brine, 16 Herbert Street, Sergeant
Major, Royal Fusiliers, and the rector was Turberville Evans." (It
is believed there was a transcription error in recording the name Brine
instead of Bryan). The premises at 16 Herbert St could have been a lodging
house in 1915 because the Street Directory records the head of the house
as a W. Moore. Virtue's death certificate, however, shows her as being
a spinster. It might be thought that Alfred Bryan was killed on the western
front, but evidence shows that he was discharged in 1919 (see medal cards
Alfred Fowler, Quartermaster of the Liverpool Merchants
Mobile Hospital (c1918)
card of Alfred Bryan issued following the end of hostilities at
the close of the First World War
In 1925, discharged from
military service for good, Alfred and Lucinda Fowler emigrated to Australia
and took their niece Kathleen Bryan, then aged nine, with them. They
had no children of their own and raised Kathleen as their own daughter.
Kathleen's mother, Virtue, spent the rest of her days in Dover. She died
in 1953, having had no further contact with her daughter.
Captain Quartermaster Fowler also died in 1953 when he was in his 87th
year. He and Kathleen's Aunt Lucinda were dedicated parents who gave Kathleen
a stable home and devoted care. Many such cases of illegitimate births
occurred in the First World War. They are more frequent in times of war
than during peace time conditions. In this instance, however, it is yet
another example of military families sticking together like glue and caring
for their own.