1273 Corporal Matthew Fowler, Royal Engineers, later 21897 Acting Corporal, Royal Flying Corps and 21897 Corporal, Royal Air Force
Born on 24th October 1883 in Holborn, London
Died on 3rd May 1962 in The Grove Hospital, Shardlow, Derbyshire
Matthew Cameron Fowler was born in Holborn, Middlesex, the eldest of the 4 children of Thomas Fowler and Annie Mary née Watts.
His siblings were Bertie Alexander Fowler, born in 1890, Daisy Cameron Fowler, born 26th February 1892 and Margery Fowler, born 4th August 1897.
In the 1891 Census, Matthew (recorded as Mattie), aged 7 and Bertie, aged 5 months, lived with their parents at 3 Half Moon Road, Hemel Hempstead. Their father was a Journalist.
The 1901 Census records Matthew as a 17 year old Cycle Maker, living with his parents and siblings Bertie, 10, Daisy, 9 and Margery, 3, at 1 Heath Side, Boxmoor. Their father’s occupation is shown as “Advertisement Agent”.
By 1911 Matthew (by then known as Matt) was employed by Lord Brownlow at Belton House, Grantham. In the Census of 2nd April, he was a 27 year old Motor Driver. Harold Catt, Footman and Herbert Jacobs, Under Butler are also named on that Census return. He probably worked there by May 1906, as the Grantham Journal of 19th May showed M Fowler as a member of the Belton Park Cricket Team; he was similarly shown in May 1910. However, in 1911, his parents and siblings were still at Heath Side, Boxmoor, where his father was a Publisher’s Agent. 20 year old Bertie was a Garage Motor Engineer and 13 year old Margery at school.
Military Service 5
In common with other Brownlow servants, Matt Fowler, a Chauffeur at Belton, volunteered early in the War. On 23rd September 1914 he attested for the Royal Engineers; he served as a Sapper, Service Number 1273 in the West Riding Division (Territorial Force). His Service Record states that he was 29 years 11 months old. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall with a 39½ inch chest; his vision and physical development were good.
“Very good Chauffeur and Mechanic” 5
Matt’s Royal Engineers Service Record contains a Certificate of Trade Proficiency. On 29th September 1914 he was examined by a Civilian, his employer Lord Brownlow, at Belton House Grantham. Lord Brownlow completed the declaration to read as follows: “I certify that I have tested Recruit Matt Fowler and find him to be a very good Chauffeur and Mechanic.” Signature of Civilian (Tradesman is crossed out): Brownlow. Address: Belton House Grantham.
Then, after training and service at home until 19th June 1915, Matt went to France, where he served until 23rd March 1916.
Matthew’s stated year of birth, whilst consistent across his Birth and Census records and his Royal Engineers’ Service Record, is inconsistent in records from 1916 onwards. His Royal Engineers’ Service Record clearly records his transfer to the Royal Flying Corps, Service Number 21897 in March 1916. His RFC/RAF Service Record then gives his year of birth as 1881, so does his 1939 Register entry. However, his Marriage record adds another inconsistency, giving his age as 40 rather than 36, but that was possibly because his wife was then 45. We have taken the day and month from his RFC/RAF record and the 1939 Register but the year of his birth from his Birth record and Census returns. His Royal Engineers’ Service Record also supports a birth date in October 1883.
Whilst on service in France, on 14th March 1916, Matt Fowler was sent to No. 4 Squadron Royal Flying Corps. for the purpose of being tested as a Motor Mechanic. This was successful and, on 23rd March 1916, he returned to England from No. 2 Company West Riding Division, Royal Engineers to be re-enlisted into the Royal Flying Corps for the duration of the War.
Between 23rd March 1916 and 30th June 1917, Matt served as an Air Mechanic 2nd Class in the Royal Flying Corps, Service Number 21897. His unit is recorded as “33 Stn”, which is believed to be 33 Squadron, based in Lincolnshire. According to the website of the 33 Squadron Association:
The squadron was employed for Home Defence in Lincolnshire, guarding against German airship raids against northern England… Its headquarters were at Gainsborough, with its flights based on three stations: RAF Scampton (A Flight), RAF Kirton in Lindsey (B Flight) and RAF Elsham Wolds (C Flight)… The squadron did not destroy any enemy airships, despite a number of interceptions and was disbanded in June 1919.
Matt’s subsequent service with the Royal Flying Corps was as follows:
- 1st July – 30th September 1917, Air Mechanic, First Class, 33 Station, R.F.C
- 1st October 1917 – 31st March 1918, Acting Corporal, 33 Station, R.F.C
On 1st April 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force. Therefore Matt, based at 33 Station until 4th February 1919, completed his War Service as a Corporal in the Royal Air Force.
On 5th February 1919, Matt was posted to 23rd Wing, R.A.F. and on 3rd March that year he was demobilised and transferred to the R.A.F. Reserve, from which he was deemed discharged on 30th April 1920. For his War Service with the Royal Engineers in France, Matt was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
The Belton Roll of Honour
Matthew Fowler is one of seven men named on the original Roll of Honour for Little Gaddesden and the Roll of Honour in St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Belton. All were servants of Lord Brownlow, who owned Ashridge House in Hertfordshire and Belton House near Grantham. As Lord Brownlow’s Chauffeur, Matt would have travelled between Belton and Ashridge. The other men named on both Rolls are: Harold Catt, Walter Darby, Frank Dove, Herbert Jacobs, Mark Kinchington (recorded Kisington at Belton) and Ernest Moore. Herbert Flowers and Rupert Flowers, whose father was Lord Brownlow’s Coachman, are named on the Belton Roll and have been added to the Centenary Revision of the Little Gaddesden Roll.
Men who have answered their country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper”
Matthew Fowler is named on the Roll of Honour, which hangs in St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden and lists 119 men from Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Hudnall who served in the 1914 – 1918 War. His entry records his service in the Royal Engineers, the corps into which he volunteered and in which he served overseas. He is similarly shown on the Centenary Revision of the Roll.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
Returning to Belton 6
After demobilisation in March 1919, Matthew returned to Belton. The address given in his R.A.F. Airmen’s Service Record is Clematis Cottage, “Bilton” (Belton).
On 6th November 1919, at the church of St Michael and All Angels, Alvaston, Derbyshire, Matt Cameron Fowler married Clara Holmes of Alvaston. She was the daughter of Charles Holmes (deceased), previously a Boilermaker. Matt, of Belton, had returned to his pre-War occupation of Chauffeur.
In 1921 and 1922, Matt and Clara’s address in Electoral Registers was Main Road, Belton and he continued to work as the new Lord Brownlow’s Chauffeur. However, a Certificate of the disposal of a Decoration in his Army Service Record shows that, on 31st August 1922, his medals were sent to him by registered post at 5 Bells Inn, Edenham, Bourne, Lincolnshire.
From 1926, they lived at Party Nook, Alvaston Road, Osmaston, Derbyshire. However, by 1930, that address was recorded as Meadow House, Party Nook, Alvaston Road, Alvaston.
By 1939 they seemed to have moved, to Meadow Cottage, Raynesway, Derby. However, because of the names of nearby properties, this is believed to be the house they had lived in since 1926. Matt was working as a Motor Mechanic and Clara had “Unpaid Domestic Duties”; her brother Edwin, who was incapacitated, then lived with them.
Clara died aged 80, at 67 Raynesway, Derby on 5th August 1953. Her National Probate Calendar entry shows that Administration was granted to her husband Matthew Cameron Fowler, Chauffeur.
On 3rd May 1962 Matthew Cameron Fowler died of heart failure in The Grove Hospital, Shardlow, Derbyshire. He was then aged 79.
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson