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Menin Gate, Ypres Menin Gate, Ypres
First Name: John Last Name: BOWDEN
Date of Death: 31/07/1917 Lived/Born In: Alperton
Rank: Private Unit: Royal Fusiliers1
Memorial Site: Menin Gate, Ypres

Current Information:

Age-40

2, Mount Pleasant, Alperton

 

Third Battle of Ypres

This was a campaign fought between July and November 1917 and is often referred to as the Battle of Passchendaele, a village to the north-east of Ypres which was finally captured in November. It was an attempt by the British to break out of the Ypres salient and capture the higher ground to the south and the east, from which the enemy had been able to dominate the salient. It began well but two important factors weighed against them. First was the weather. The summer of 1917 turned out to be one of the wettest on record and soon the battlefield was reduced to a morass of mud which made progress very difficult, if not impossible in places. The second was the defensive arrangements of concrete blockhouses and machine gun posts providing inter-locking fire that the Germans had constructed and which were extremely difficult and costly to counter. For four months this epic struggle continued by the end of which the salient had been greatly expanded in size but the vital break out had not been achieved.

Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31st July-2nd August)

This was the opening attack of Third Ypres and began at 3.50am on 31st July when British and French troops launched their offensive to break out of the Ypres salient. The day had mixed results. To the north the Pilckem Ridge was captured but there was less success further south along the Gheluvelt Ridge, where a combination of stiff German resistance and low cloud, which hindered observation, meant that only the first objectives were captured. Further attempts to push on were stopped in their tracks by specialist German counter attack divisions and resulted in a 70% casualty rate among the British troops. Then in the afternoon, the rain came and under the weight of shells falling on it, the battlefield soon became a quagmire. Over the next two days, suffering the most appalling conditions in the mud and the rain, the troops had to fight off numerous German counter attacks.

On 31st July, 1917, 24th Division were on the southern end of the attack with the objective of forming a defensive flank between the Second Army to their south and the other divisions of II Corps who were attacking the Gheluvelt plateau. All three brigades of 24th Division were used with 17th Brigade on the right, moving forward from Klein Zillebeke. At 3.50am the 1st Royal Fusiliers battalion led the attack, keeping close to the protective artillery barrage which meant that there were no casualties resulting from the enemy’s retaliatory barrage. However they soon came under heavy machine-gun fire and the casualties began to mount especially as they crossed a small valley in which there was a sunken road. They reached the first objective, the Blue line, where they joined in the attack by 73 Brigade on their left, on the Lower Star post, a German stronghold in Shrewsbury Forest. This was captured after heavy fighting and new positions were consolidated despite the ever present dangers of enemy snipers. At this stage the 12th Royal Fusiliers and 3rd Rifle Brigade battalions passed through and continued the attack towards the second objective, the Black Line. Among the many casualties suffered by 1st Royal Fusiliers was John Bowden.

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