Sapper Francis John BOWDER

Royal Engineers
98th Light Railway Operating Company
Service Number:
Date of Death:
31 December 1917 - Killed in Action (Egypt)
Cemetery / Memorial:

Personal History:

Francis was born in Buxton in the December quarter 1891, the son of John William (Stone mason) and Mary Ann (née Rockley) Bowder. He had three older siblings, Esther, George H. and Edith, and two younger, May and Ernest William (pictured with Francis above).  In 1901 the family lived at 87 London Road, Buxton. (Next door to Manchester Arms) (1901 Census 3269).

Ten years later (1911 Census RG 14/21233) the family had moved to 15 Alma Street, Fairfield, Buxton, and Francis was employed as a "Railway Co. Carriage Cleaner". (The surviving family were at the same address in 1927 when Francis' sister applied for his medals.)

Military History:
Francis enlisted in the Royal Engineers in Buxton. His Medal Index Card indicates that he entered the War after 1915 and unfortunately his Service Papers have not survived. His railway background probably led him to service with the Royal Engineers. Railway Operating Companies were set up to run the trains, with the tracks being laid by Royal Engineers Railway Construction Companies. In total they consisted of about 200 men, with few Officers.The men called up around this time were railwaymen in civilian life who had volunteered in late 1915 under the Derby Scheme and had their call up heavily deferred due to their Reserved Occupation, being finally called up in October 1917.

The 98th Light Railway Operating Company was formed and trained at Longmoor Camp,
Hampshire, and embarked for Egypt on the 17th December 1917 aboard HMS Aragon.
(The Aragon was built in 1905 for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co by Harland and Wolff.

After arriving at Alexandria on the 30th December 1917 with 2,700 onboard she was ordered
back out of the harbour as no berth was available. Immediately having cleared the harbour she
was torpedoed and the German submarine UC 34 and sank with a loss of 610 lives, HMS
Attack a destroyer who came to her aid was also sank.

The following is from Dictionary of Disasters at Sea by Charles Hocking:

"The liner Aragon, Capt F Bateman, was taken over by the British government from the RMSP Co during the First World War. She was employed as an auxiliary transport and in December 1917, was bringing reinforcements to the army operating in Palestine under General Allenby. The ship was full to capacity, having no less than 2,700 persons on board, of which 2,500 were troops.

On her arrival at Alexandria on December 30th, 1917, the ship was ordered out again. She anchored outside without any protection from submarine attack, for which she was an easy target. This piece of indiscretion on the part of the authorities did not remain long unpunished, for the Aragon was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine with a total loss of 610 persons, of whom 19 were crew, including Capt. Bateman."

Whilst a number of the casualties were recovered and subsequently buried, Francis' body was not and he is now commemorated on The Chatby Memorial.

'The Times' reported the losses the following day:                                         .... and also the return of the survivors, 11 February 1918


· Sapper Frank FURNESS, of the same Company, survived the sinking but died in November
  1918 and is buried in Kantara War Memorial Cemetery
· Sapper Arthur KITCHEN, also of the 98th Company, died at sea on the same day and is
  buried in the Hadra Cemetery, Alexandria.
· Sapper George WARRINGTON, 96th Light Railway Operating Company, also died in the
  same action

· I am grateful to British War Graves for the photo of the Chatby Memorial
· I am also grateful to "The Fallen of Fairfield" for the photo of Francis and his brother.
· The Times, 31 January 1917 and 11 February 1918.

Link to CWGC Record
The Chatby memorial
Spr. Bowder's name on the memorial
HMS Aragon
... about HMS Aragon, plus photos of her sinking
HMS Aragon photographed whilst sinking