My Family at War – Part 5: John Palmer Bowes

504226 Private John Palmer Bowes

Private John Palmer Bowes. 2nd Canadian Division Mechanical Transport Company, Canadian Army Service Corps.

Private John Palmer Bowes. 2nd Canadian Division Mechanical Transport Company, Canadian Army Service Corps.

John Palmer Bowes was my wife’s maternal great-grandfather. He was born at Oakwood in the township of Mariposa[1] in Ontario, Canada on 29 March 1869, the second youngest of the five children of Emmanuel and Elizabeth Bowes.[2] The family moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1890, where Emmanuel re-established his business as a grocer. John later moved to St Louis and became a motor mechanic. In 1901 he married Emma Leming (née Young), a widow with three children from her first marriage.[3] Their son, Emanuel Adrian, was born at their home at 4120 Blair Avenue, St Louis on 12 December 1906.

By 1910 John was working as a mechanic for the Underwriter Salvage Corps. The Salvage Corps was created in 1874—it worked alongside the city’s fire patrols and would enter burning buildings to remove valuable items before they were destroyed. Sometime in 1914 John decided to move his family back to Canada. They settled in Edmonton, where they occupied a house at 11257 Jasper Avenue West, and where John went to work as a mechanic for Edmonton Fire Department.

John Palmer Bowes enlisted for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 28 February 1916, declaring his year of birth as 1878—shaving nine years off his age, making him just under 38 and of military age. He joined the Canadian Corps of Royal Engineers (504226, Sapper) and, after a period of initial training, he sailed for England on the RMS Baltic on 21 May 1916, arriving on 30 May. He immediately joined the Engineers Training Depot at Shorncliffe in Kent. The first Canadians had arrived in the spring of 1915 and the Canadian Training Division was based here in five large barracks.[4]

RMS Baltic

RMS Baltic

After training at Shorncliffe for three months his age began to tell and, in early September 1916, he reported sick with muscle pain, and a painful and swollen knee (he had also suffered from rheumatism), at which time he also declared his true age. As a result, a medical board assessed that he was unfit for ‘general service’ but that he was suitable for ‘permanent base duty’, at home and abroad.[5] He was posted to the strength of the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre at Monks Horton, an administrative holding unit for hospitalised soldiers and those not fully fit, from 7 September 1916 and attached to the Engineers Training Depot for duty.

In mid-1917, however, his level of fitness and his previous employment as a mechanic resulted in his transfer to the Canadian Army Service Corps on 26 July. The Army Service Corps was responsible for transportation and supply services and, with an increasing reliance on motor vehicles, needed suitably trained and experienced men. Read more about the Canadian Army Service Corps.

Eastwell Park

Eastwell Park

At about 8.30pm on 1 October 1917, while walking back to barracks, Private Bowes, as he was now, was hit by a car. He was admitted to Moore Barracks Canadian Hospital,[6] Shorncliffe—X-rays on 2 October 1916 showed that he had not, as first thought, broken his spine, ribs or shoulder. He was sent to a convalescent home at Eastwell Park at Ashford[7] and, after treatment and rest, he was discharged on 24 October. While undergoing his convalescence he was posted to the Canadian Army Service Corps Depot at Bramshott in Hampshire, which he joined after his convalescence.

At a medical board on 23 November he was again passed fit for ‘permanent base duty’—based on his age and his old knee injury—but on 8 December 1917 Private Bowes again joined the Canadian Army Service Corps Base Depot at Shorncliffe and six days later was assigned to a draft of men to be sent to France. He arrived in France on 15 December and after a week at the General Base Depot he was posted to the Canadian Corps Supply Column on 22 December as a reinforcement. He remained with that unit until 12 March 1918, when he was posted to the Canadian 2nd Division Supply Column. A month later, he joined the Canadian 2nd Division Mechanical Transport Company on 14 April. It was with this unit that he would spend the rest of the war.

'Battle Flash' of 2nd Canadian Division MT Company

‘Battle Flash’ of 2nd Canadian Division MT Company

The 2nd Canadian Division had been raised in late-1914 and it sailed for England in May 1915. After completing a period of training at Shorncliffe it arrived in France over the period 15-18 September 1915, at which time the Canadian Corps was formed. The Canadian Corps was one of the most highly regarded fighting formations of the war. By the time Private Bowes arrived in France in the spring of 1918, it comprised four infantry divisions. From June 1917, it was commanded by a Canadian officer—Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Currie, one of the Allies’ most effective corps commanders.[8]

Private Bowes first major action was the Battle of Amiens, which began on 8 August 1918 when the Canadian Corps attacked alongside an Australian Corps in the opening offensive of the final phase of the war. Read more about the Battle of Amiens.

There then followed the series of Allied attacks known as the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ that led ultimately to the Armistice. The 2nd Canadian Division’s final actions were the Second Battle of Cambrai, 8-10 October 1918, and the Pursuit to Mons in the last days of the war. John Palmer Bowes finished his war in Belgium near Frameries, south of Mons.

Discharge Certificate for Private John Palmer Bowes

Discharge Certificate for Private John Palmer Bowes

Following the Armistice the Canadian Corps became part of the Army of Occupation and Private Bowes was stationed near Bonn in the Rhineland until the Canadians returned to Belgium at the end of January 1919. The 2nd Division was then based in the area of Auvelais, ten miles west of Namur, but it would be some months before the Canadian Divisions were finally disbanded.

Private Bowes returned to England on 29 April 1919 and sailed for Canada on the RMS Aquitania on 18 May, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 25 May. On his return to Canada, he was taken on strength at No. 2 District Depot, Toronto from which he was discharged on 31 May 1919 and he rejoined his family in Edmonton.  Read more about repatriation and demobilization.

The family remained in Edmonton for the next decade, and John returned to work as a mechanic for Edmonton Fire Department. Sometime before 1930 the family moved back to St Louis, where John continued to work as a mechanic and later as a chauffeur and truck driver. In his later years, he became estranged from his wife and, from June 1939, he spent his final years being cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor at their residence for the needy elderly at North Florissant Avenue in the St Louis Place neighbourhood; he died there on 10 August 1947, aged 78. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery, St Louis on 12 August 1947. His grave is unmarked.

Calvary Cemetery, St Louis

Calvary Cemetery, St Louis

Acknowledgment:
Archive of the Little Sisters of the Poor, St Louis.
Ian Boyle, Simplon Postcards, for the image of the RMS Baltic.


1. (Back) Now part of Kawartha Lakes, Ontario.
2. (Back) His father, Emmanuel A Bowes, a grocer, was born on 19 January 1835 in Ontario, Canada. His mother, Elizabeth Horsley, was born on 5 April 1838 in England. Emmanuel died on 8 March 1903 and Elizabeth died on 7 August 1918—they were buried together in Elmwood Cemetery, Kansas City.
3. (Back) Emma Young was born on 28 July 1865 in Pennsylvania, the daughter of a German immigrant father. She married William Bruce Leming on 20 December 1884 and had three children: Frank Rust (born 24 June 1886), Irene May (born around 1888), and (Daniel) Bruce (born 12 July 1891). William Leming died in 1899.
4. (Back) Ross Barracks, Somerset Barracks, Napier Barracks, Moore Barracks and Risborough Barracks.
5. (Back) The difficulty in employing overage men who were not fully fit (and, indeed, underage boys) placed a considerable strain on the Canadian Expeditionary Force depots in England. On 20 September 1916, Colonel Herbert A. Bruce produced a report on the Canadian Army Medical Service, which studied the fitness of the CEF after 31 July 1916. His findings were critical of the medal examinations being conducted at enlistment. As regards unfit men, he wrote: ‘Unfits in England are a great bother. They take the places on base duty of men who have been at the front and have a prior claim on any soft jobs available. Others clog up the hospitals, increasing the strain on the already overtaxed medical services.’ He wrote about overage men: ‘In the last four months we have had over 1,000 recommended for permanent base duty from over age, with an average age of 49 to 50 years for each man. It is a common occurrence for the men, when questioned as to their given age when enlisted, to make a statement that they gave their true age as 54 or 55 years, as the case may be, and the medical officer said they would call him 41 or 42 years. In one case he was informed by the soldier that, on enlistment, the recruit on giving his proper age was told to run around the block, think over his age, and come back again. …One of the over-age men was found to be 72 years old.’
6. (Back) Later renamed No. 11 General Hospital.
7. (Back) Eastwell Manor is a large country house in Eastwell Park near Ashford in Kent. It was built between 1540 and 1550 for Sir Thomas Moyle—a commissioner for Henry VIII in the dissolution of the monasteries, and speaker of the House of Commons. The building was added to in the 18th and 19thC. It was the home of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second son of Queen Victoria, until 1893. During the First World War it was a convalescent hospital, largely for Canadian troops. After a fire in the 1920s it was rebuilt and it is now a country house hotel and spa.
8. (Back) General Sir Arthur (William) Currie GCMG, KCB was born on 5 December 1875 in Ontario. He served with 5th Regiment, Canadian Garrison Artillery from 1897, being commissioned in 1900. In 1909 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was given command of the Regiment. In October 1913 he was given command of 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders of Canada). Command of 2nd Canadian Brigade followed on the outbreak of war and his sure handling of the Brigade resulted in him being made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB), his promotion to major general and command of the 1st Canadian Division. He was instrumental in the success of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge in April 1917, for which he was knighted, being appointed KCMG. He was promoted to lieutenant general on 9 June and given command of the Canadian Corps.  He was made KCB in 1918 and GCMG in 1919. In 1919, he became the first Canadian promoted to the rank of General. He died on 30 November 1933, aged 57, and was interred in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.

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