Can you help find descendants of brave Fakenham soldier Cecil Bowles?

Honouring Cecil Henry on the hundredth anniversary of his death, from left - Cdr Michael Healy MBE,

Honouring Cecil Henry on the hundredth anniversary of his death, from left - Cdr Michael Healy MBE, representing the Royal British Legion, Jean Francois Dieterich (mayor), Yvon Milon (1st assistant mayor) Captain Andy Pearson, Captain Thierry Pastor (French armed forces), Lucien Richieri (town councillor). Photo: Andy Pearson - Credit: Andy Pearson

The search is on for descendants of young soldier Cecil Henry Bowles from Fakenham 100 years since his death in the First World War when his troop carrier was torpedoed off the Italian coast.

Cecil Henry's name on the town memoral. Photo: Peter Bird

Cecil Henry's name on the town memoral. Photo: Peter Bird - Credit: Peter Bird

Cecil was a sergeant ambulance driver in the 906 Motor Transport Company of the Royal Army Service Corps. The 22-year-old apprentice draper left the UK in a convoy in 1917 and drove through France to the port of Marseilles.

On the morning of the May 3 he boarded the British troop carrier, HMT Transylvania. The ship, with 3000 troops on board, was bound for the Egyptian port of Alexandria but the following morning tragedy struck off the Italian coast.

At 10am a torpedo from a German submarine struck her port engine room. Two escorting Japanese destroyers, Matsu and Sakali, began taking off crew and passengers but 20 minutes later a second torpedo hastened her end and she sank within 10 minutes.

A total of 404 crew and army personnel died.

Cecil Bowles grave in France. Picture: Andy Pearson

Cecil Bowles grave in France. Picture: Andy Pearson - Credit: Andy Pearson


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Prevailing currents carried Cecil’s body 50 miles away to wash up ashore at St Jean Cap Ferrat, a small French fishing village where he was buried in the cemetery.

Mike Welland, chairman of the Fakenham History Society, received a telephone call from British ex-pat and former merchant navy captain, Andy Pearson, who lives in St Jean Cap Ferrat who said: “I would just like to let Cecil Bowles’ family know that he is not forgotten and is resting in one of the most beautiful parts of France.”

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Mr Pearson organised a special service on May 4 at the graveside, exactly 100 years after Cecil died at sea. But he said the story of Cecil Bowles had been intriguing himself and a few friends for several years and he was hoping the town’s history society might be able to flesh out the results of his research.

Cecil was born in 1895 and before he enlisted, according to the 1911 census, lived with his father Henry, his mother Edith Anne, and sister Doris Anne.

H Bowles draper's shop in Fakenham Market Place. Picture: Fakenham History Society

H Bowles draper's shop in Fakenham Market Place. Picture: Fakenham History Society - Credit: Fakenham History Society

Their draper’s shop was on the south side of the Market Square on the site of the present Westminster Bank and was obviously a major Fakenham business yet research has so far failed to trace any descendants of the family. Cecil’s name can be seen on Fakenham’s war memorial.

Mike Welland can be contacted at wmickann@sky.com.

HMT Transylvania. Picture: Fakenham History Society

HMT Transylvania. Picture: Fakenham History Society - Credit: Fakenham History Society

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