The Great War

After attending Bloxham School he had joined his father in the family business. War broke out in August 1914 when he was 21 years old and he enlisted as a Territorial soldier. He joined the 16th (Public Schools) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, whose part-time training was conveniently carried out near to the family's Victor Jay factory. The photograph is of Leslie as a Captain wearing his MC decoration with bar and also the laurel sprig of his two Mentions in Despatches.

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 9 June 1915 into the 22nd Battalion, County of London Regiment (The Queen’s). He arrived in France on 11 November. He was now a full Lieutenant and was Platoon Commander for the next 15 months. His Battalion was stationed at Allouagne, 10kms west of Béthune. The summary of his service time that follows will give some idea of his very busy war.

On 15 December he went into the front line trenches at Vermeilles for the first time. This section was only 20 yards from the Germans. From then until February 1917 his platoon was involved in battles for Vimy Ridge and the Somme offensive – particularly the attack on High Wood in September 1916 during which, in one company, all the officers and sergeants were killed. He received a flesh wound affecting his ability to sit.

In March he became Acting Adjutant to the 22nd Battalion. Having survived some 16 months at the front, this HQ appointment improved his chances of surviving the war but nonetheless he and his Battalion continued to be frequently in action in the Ypres salient. In July he was gazetted Captain. He had a few days leave in the UK in October but was back in action by beginning of November and was Mentioned in Despatches on 7 November.
The major attack on the Hindenburg Line commenced 20 November. Massed tanks were deployed and an advance of an incredible four miles achieved. Leslie’s Division captured Bourlon Wood in an engagement in which he received the first of his MCs. However, nearly all this ground gained was subsequently lost at a cost to the 141st Brigade of 69 officers and 1939 men. Gas attacks were a particular feature … ‘The Division casualties were enormous. The 19th Battalion suffered particularly heavily. 15 Officers and over 600 men took up position … of these only one officer and between twenty and thirty of the men remained a few days later, the remainder being in hospital from gas.’ At year end they were dug in back on the Hindenburg Line – again.

The pattern continued in the New Year with sporadic attacks and patrols. On 15 March Leslie received the MC he had been awarded at Bourlon Wood. The citation stated that ‘in a wood … heavily shelled and gassed … he went ahead and recce’d the whole position under the most difficult situations. It was largely due to his determination and skills that the Battalion succeeded in occupying the position.’ Fighting was particularly fierce throughout March with attack and counter-attack in the Somme area moving the front line backwards and forwards. The defence of Highland Ridge and the retaking of High Hill stand out. The success of the German offensive led to massive reinforcements being sent from UK – mostly boys of 18.
7 April. For a second time the diary records ‘Capt. Bowler was awarded a Mention in Despatches.’ Shortly after this he became Signals Officer; this was a particularly important and dangerous position as it entailed maintaining miles of telephone wire intact and frequently while under enemy fire.
On 13 June Leslie took over command of B Company. He was 25 years old. The battle for the Somme continued. Records are unclear but it is probable that he won the bar to his MC on the night of 22-23 August when, without orders, he countered a flanking move by the enemy (who had overrun units either side of him) by moving his company to ‘straighten the line’. The citation reads in part ‘... led his company in an attack with conspicuous gallantry and skill, exposing himself under intense fire with a total disregard of danger ...’
In October he was wounded a second time. A bullet passed through both legs leaving a small exit wound but missed arteries and bones. He walked two miles to the regimental aid post. As a consequence he was invalided home and the war finished while he was convalescing.
Post-war he helped his Battalion Commanding Officer form a Territorial Battalion and only resigned his commission in 1921. He married, became MD of the family firm, a keen gardener and, despite his leg wound, an athlete (Ranelagh Harriers) and rower (Vesta RC). At some stage between the wars the family moved to London.


The Second World War


Lieutenant Leslie Bowler (centre front)

In 1940, in order to avoid the London bombing, he took his young family to Deddington where his mother’s family lived. After a brief stay in lodgings they rented the wing of an old house (now demolished) named Boulder Dyke in Clifton. However, he still had to keep the family business running during the week and so only returned to Deddington at weekends. He became the Platoon Sergeant of Deddington Home Guard and was then promoted to Platoon Commander when the incumbent (Lt Morris) was promoted to Major. He used to say that he hoped that if that dreadful man, Hitler, did invade he would do so at the weekend!


More photographs

can be seen in the Home Guard album and in the Leslie Bowler album in the the Gallery 


Return to Bowler & Turner Family Home page