George Leonard FOWDEN
Rank: Sergeant
Number: 1190
Unit: D Company, 37th Battalion Australian Imperial Force
Date of Death: 1 October 1918
Age: 27
Cemetery: Doingt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, France

Alfred Fowden was a successful cloth agent in Manchester's cotton industry. His first wife, with whom he had at least two children, was Elizabeth Burgess, who he had married in 1877. She died in 1886. After four years as a widower, he married again - to Alice Lowther Sandbach and, by the time of the 1901 Census, they had three children - George and his brothers Colin and Bernard.

When the Census was taken, the family was living in Chapel-en-le-Frith and Alfred was wealthy enough to afford to employ a live-in servant. It's thought they moved to the Stockport area fairly soon after this, living on King's Drive, Heaton Moor. George was educated at Stockport Commercial School but it is not known what work he then undertook. In about 1915, when he was 24, he emigrated to Australia to become a farmer.

The call to serve his country was strong and he enlisted into the army on 28 February 1916, giving his address as Parer's Hotel, Melbourne. His service file can be viewed on-line at the Australian National Archives website and this shows him to be a reasonably well-built young man for the time. He was 5' 6" tall and weighed 10 stone with a 35" chest. He had a fair complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair. George had given his religion as Church of England.

After initial training, he left Melbourne on board HMAT "A34 Persic" on 3 June 1916, arriving in Britain on 25 July. After further training, the 37th Battalion left for France on 22 November and was originally based in the Armentieres area, where they conducted numerous dangerous raids on the German trenches opposite. George, however, spent most of January 1917, at 7th General Hospital at St Omer, being treated for mumps. He was promoted to Corporal on 18 May, Lance Sergeant on 18 August and Sergeant on 4 October. His final promotion may have come as surprise to him as he had been away on leave for the last two weeks of September. He was again on leave in England for a few days from 24 February 1918. On his return, he found he had been recommended for the Meritorious Service Medal. This was awarded on 18 June. The recommendation read "This NCO has been with his battalion since its formation and has taken part in every action in which the battalion has been engaged. Through his cheerfulness, bravery, devotion to duty and utter disregard for danger, he has created and maintained a spirit amongst the men of his company which has been invaluable to his superior officers."

In June/July, George seems to have developed on abscess, perhaps on his foot. On 20 June he was treated by the Field Ambulance and, on the 26th, he was again treated at 5th Casualty Clearing Station (the name for a front line surgical hospital). On 1 July he was admitted to 73rd General Hospital at Trouville - his admittance record only notes "ICT - heel". He rejoined his unit on 22 July.

On 29 September, the 37th and 38th Battalions, in conjunction with American troops, attacked part of the German Hindenberg Line as part of a large-scale Allied assault. It was the first major action for the Americans and they suffered heavily through inexperience. It bogged down the advance, although initial objectives had been captured. George and his mates remained in the captured "Duncan Avenue" trench overnight and, in the early morning, orders were received to move forward to a position known as "Doleful Post". This was accomplished successfully by 7am. Shortly afterwards, there was heavy gas shelling which caused a number of casualties including George. He was evacuated from the front line and received treatment by 11th Field Ambulance which evacuated him further to 55th Casualty Clearing Station at Doingt. There, military doctors would have done all they could to save George's life but without success.

George had left a will leaving his belongings to his brother. His possessions, though, were few - 2 hair brushes, 5 books and a matchbox case. There continued to be a dispute about his Meritorious Service Medal which had not been presented to him before he died. As this was not specifically mentioned in his will, it had been sent to his mother (as next of kin), to the family's new address of 1 Lawton Road, Heaton Chapel. It would seem his brother objected to this.

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