2nd. Lt. Rowland Townshend COBBOLD RFA

Born1892 Ipswich, Suffolk
Died1915 Killed in Action
FatherAlfred Townshend COBBOLD OBE (1852 – 1934)
MotherAlice Bessie NUNN Mus Bac (1859 – 1928)

Biography and Notes


Born the fifth child and eldest son of a lawyer, Alfred Townshend Cobbold (1852-1934) and his second wife, Alice Bessie née Nunn (1859-1928) Rowland was given the same names as his grandfather. Rowland was educated at Felsted School in Essex, his father's old school, from January 1905 to July 1907, and as far as we know he had a happy childhood but at some stage his father, who as Clerk of the Peace and Secretary to both the East and West Suffolk County Councils was a pillar of civic responsibility, invested nearly all of his money in a South African gold mine which failed. His three sons realized that what might have been their inheritance had disappeared.

Their father’s loss led Rowland to make a pact with his two brothers, Neville (1895-1975) and Mike (1896-1971) under which they agreed to seek their fortunes overseas. Rowland and Mike chose Argentina probably because their cousin Arthur Brandon Chevallier Boutell (1849-1921) was already out there working for a firm of British railway engineers, and Arthur’s brother, Frank (1851-1937) worked for the River Plate Trust & Loan Agency. Neville settled in Australia where his descendents live to this day and very hospitable they are too towards visiting English cousins!

At the outbreak of WWI it would not have taken Rowland more than 30 seconds to decide to give up his job with the Central Argentine Railway and return home to Bramford House near Ipswich so he could do his duty for his country. His brother Neville was already in the Royal Navy, he had spent two years at RNC Osborne and a further two at Britannia RNC Dartmouth. He went on to give distinguished service. Rowland applied for a temporary commission in the Regular Army for the duration of the war. His signed application bears in his own hand the endorsement ‘I wish to be appointed to the Royal Field Artillery.’

His first posting was to the Depot of the Royal Regiment of Artillery at Woolwich. After basic training he went on to the School of Artillery at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain where, on completion he was commissioned Acting/2nd Lt. and posted to 6th Battery RFA, of 40th Brigade RFA in the 3rd Division. His unit, which was equipped with 18-pounder guns, was part of the B.E.F. and had seen prolonged service in 1914 –including participation in the battles of La Bassee, Messines, Armentieres and Ypres.

It seems likely that Rowland joined the unit in June 1915 where he saw immediate action on the 16th with the first attack on Bellewaarde. A month later he would have fought in the great Battle of Hooge, and on the 25th of September came the second attack on Bellewaarde during which Rowland was acting as Forward Observation Officer for his battery. All his telephone wires were destroyed by enemy shellfire and he was killed whilst trying to re-establish communication with the battery by signalling light. His commanding officer reported that he had been hit in the head by shrapnel and that death would have been instantaneous.

News of his death was received at Bramford the same day by the dreaded telegram. It bore the additional sentence ‘Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy.’ Was every such telegram similarly endorsed or was this a special case because Lord Kitchener was a relative? Two days later his father wrote to the Secretary of State for War seeking to know just what every father would crave. ‘I shall be much obliged if you can furnish me with any particulars as to where he was killed, whether his remains have been recovered, where buried and any report as to the action he was engaged in and as to his services. He was extremely careful to refrain from disclosing his movements so we do not even know where he was.’ No record of a reply exists but we do know that he is buried at Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Ypres in grave 1.F.19.

Rowland was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1915 Star. His possessions, returned by registered post amounted to only: 1 watch, 1 knife, 1 purse containing 1 coin, 1 compass, 1 tobacco pouch, 1 pipe, 1 whistle and lanyard, some correspondence and 2 pencils.
He is commemorated on the War memorial in Bramford Church and on the Central Argentine Railway Roll of Honour memorial erected at Retiro Station in 1925 and later moved to Chacarita British Cemetery in 1949.

We do well to remember the sheer enormity of the sacrifices made.

Anthony Cobbold
July 2014.

Life Events


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