Alexander Arthur Bowles was brought up in Springfield. Like his father he worked at Hoffmann's bearings factory in Chelmsford, prior to joining the army at the start of the war. He was sent to the Far East in late 1941, but was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in February 1942. He was one of more than 250 men from his battalion who died while in captivity. He lodged at Haycock's Row.
Alexander Arthur BOWLES, Private, 4th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment
Killed in Burma while a Japanese prisoner of war. Aged 25
Prior to the war Alexander was employed like his father at Hoffmann's and was closely associated with the Essex Cycling Club.
Alexander joined the army at the start of the war and served as Private 6019179 in the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment. His home was still at 9 Haycock’s Row, Chelmsford. He was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in February 1942, an event recorded in the local press as follows:
“Pte. Alexander Arthur Bowles, Suffolk Regiment of 9 Haycock’s Row, Chelmsford, is reported missing in Singapore in February. He is in his 24th year, and was employed at Hoffmann’s in the stores until he joined the Essex Regt. soon after the outbreak of war. Later he was transferred to the Suffolk Regiment, and went abroad near the end of last year. The last letter received from him was dated Jan 11 from Bombay, and it is possible he was in the last unfortunate reinforcements which arrived at Singapore the day before the surrender. A member of the Chelmsford Cycling Club, he won many prizes in races.”
In January 1944 the Essex Chronicle reported:
“Mrs. Bowles has received a postcard from her son, Pte. Alec Bowles, Suffolk Regt., a prisoner of war in Japanese hands, stating that he is in the best of health and spirits and that he has received a letter from her. Pte. Bowles lodged in Haycocks Row, Broomfield Road, and worked at Hoffmann’s.”
However, by then Alexander had been dead for six months, for on 9th July 1943 he had died from a tropical disease whilst a prisoner of war in Japanese hands. Two weeks after his death the Essex Chronicle had reported that confirmation that he was a prisoner of war had finally been received.
Many of the men in the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment suffered appallingly through a combination of brutality, disease and starvation. Alexander was one of more than 250 men from the battalion to die whilst prisoners of war, many while working as forced labourers on the notorious Siam to Burma 'Death Railway'.
The railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma (Myanmar). Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre. The Japanese aimed at completing the railway in 14 months and work began in October 1942. The line, 424 kilometres long, was completed by December 1943.
Where found, the graves of those who died during the construction and maintenance of the railway (except for the Americans, whose remains were repatriated) were transferred from camp burial grounds and isolated sites along the railway into three cemeteries at Chungkai and Kanchanaburi in Siam (now Thailand) and Thanbyuzayat in Burma (now Myanmar).
Today Alexander lies at Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery (grave: B6. B. 5.). The cemetery contains all the former graves along the northern section of the notorious Burma-Siam railway, between Moulmein and Nieke. Fellow Chelmsfordian Reuben Borley, a comrade in the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, lies in the same cemetery.
News of Alexander’s death did not reach home until November 1945. His mother died in 1982.
Aleaxnder was born in Chelmsford in 1918, the son of Arthur Joseph Bowles and Rose Bowles (nee Hale). His parents had married on 24th October 1914 at Chelmsford Cathedral. At the time Alexander’s father was a 28 year-old toolmaker at Hoffmann's ball-bearings factory in Chelmsford, living with his in-laws at 9 Haycock’s Row in Chelmsford (a short terrace off the western side of Broomfield Road, now demolished). Arthur’s bride lived at the same address and was two years his junior.
Alexander was baptised at Chelmsford Cathedral on 6th Aprl 1918. At the time his father was a toolmaker living at 70 Arbour Lane, Springfield (renumbered since).
Alexander was followed by a brother, Norman George Bowles (1926-2011). Their father died at the comparatively young age of 43 in 1930. A Chelmsford newspaper reported:
"The Funerai, took place at Holy Trinity Church on Friday of Mr. A. J. Bowles, 70 Arbour Lane, whose death occurred Chelmsford Hospital Feb. 2. The Rev. V. Genders officiated. Deceased, who was 43 years of age, had been in the employ the Hoffmann Manufacturing Co. for 28 years, being one of their oldest employees, and was highly respected. He leaves a widow and two young children. The chief mourners were: The widow; Mr.A. Bowles, son; Mr. G. Bowles, the Misses E. and A. Bowles, brother and sisters; Mrs. King, sister-in-law: Mr. and Mrs. A. Hale, brother and sisteer-in-law; Mrs. Hale, sister-in-law, and Mr. H. Half, brother-in- law. There were also present Mr. A. Holdout, Mr. J. Bloodworth. and Mr. R. Dligby, representing the Turret Department of the Hoffmann Co., where deceased was employed; Mesdames S. Barnard, Gore. Hornsby, Radley, Rainbird, Wright, Atterbury, Sudderby, Westrip, Warner, Smith, and Miss B. Barnard. The choice of collection of flowers included one from the Turret and Tool Grinding floor at Hoffmann's, and neighbours. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. F. Ward and Sons, Hill Road, Springfield."