First World War Centenary - ‘10,000 went to war, only 9,000 came back’

John Gowan who was Ilford Urban District Council treasurer was killed in the war. Picture: Redbridge

John Gowan who was Ilford Urban District Council treasurer was killed in the war. Picture: Redbridge Local Studies and Archives - Credit: Archant

“10,000 troops went from Ilford and surrounding areas in the First World War – only 9,000 came back,” said chairman of Ilford Historical Society, Jef Page.

A soldier at an Ilford camp before being sent to Europe. Picture: Taken from A Century of Ilford by

A soldier at an Ilford camp before being sent to Europe. Picture: Taken from A Century of Ilford by Brian Evans - Credit: Archant

During the centenary year, we can learn more about the thousands of people who helped in the war efforts.

One man who did not survive was Captain John Grave Gowan, who was treasurer of what was then the Ilford Urban District Council.

His job was protected and so he was not up for conscription.

He, however, wanted to go off to war and resigned from his position, leaving a man named Thomas Randell to take his job.


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“He [Gowan] arrived on August 12, 1915, in Gallipoli and he was killed on the 16th,” said Mr Page.

“It was the first that people locally knew about the death of a local man.”

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His obituary appeared in the Recorder on August 27 and he is buried in Sulva Bay where the landings took place.

“Gowan left and was killed, Randell stayed and lived,” said Mr Page.

“The landings were a disaster due to the lack of leadership, and confusion, incompetence, a horrendous casualty rate, and generals with little field experience.

“The commanding general, too old at 61, was dismissed at the height of the Sulva Bay landings as he fell asleep as the men waded ashore.”

One Ilford soldier who did make it out alive was Alfred Gibbins.

He was awarded the last posthumous medal from the war, but did not tell his family he had fought.

He never told his wife and son the real reason he was forced to walk with a stick, instead blaming his missing toe on an accident he had in his youth.

Long after his death, his son Peter, from Bristol, researched his life and found that his father had been severely injured, spending five days in No Man’s Land during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 after he was struck with shrapnel.

Alfred was born in 1898 and in 1917 was just 18. He was conscripted as a private and sent to the trenches in Ypres, Belgium.

Peter discovered that, due to an official error, his father never received the Silver War Badge which was handed to all veterans discharged after sickness or injury.

Tragically, some did not make it as far as the battle.

Lt Alexander Boardman, of Woodford Green, who attended Bancroft’s School, died in training. He, too, was 18.

“He went as an observer,” said Mr Page. “It was said that the life expectancy of an RAF flyer on the Western Front was just six weeks.

“Because of his young age, they held him back before going overseas. He went on a bombing course and was in a training flight when his plane collapsed mid air.

“It was a tragic accident.”

Mr Boardman is buried at Chingford Mount cemetery.

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