Navigation links at the bottom of this page

Warrant Officer Alfred Fowler (1865 - 1953)

For 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 to 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.
Warrant Officer Alfred Fowler and his wife Lucinda (née Purchase) on the
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.
     He performed his duties to my complete satisfaction and I recommend him for the appointment of temporary quartermaster, RAMC.
     Signed: (George Nugent) Brig. General cmdg. 5th London Inf. Bde.

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.
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 compelling.  

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 below).

Captain Alfred Fowler, Quartermaster of the Liverpool Merchants
Mobile Hospital (c1918)

Medal 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.

Delta Tech Systems Inc
Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Wellington on Waterloo
Related Links

© A. W. Cockerill 2011

Site Map    Contact me