Albert George Rowley, known as Bert to his family, was the third son of five children born to Thomas Rowley and his wife Annie (née Sarah Annie Beasley). He was born on 20 June 1894 at Williscroft Place in the village of Colton, Staffordshire and baptised at St Mary's Church there on 19 August. In 1911 the family lived in Martlin Cottages, a terrace of houses built in 1904 by the local rector and his sisters to house decent working families in good accommodation at reasonable rents. His father and one older brother both worked in the tanning industry in neighbouring Rugeley.
Rowley was a choir boy at Colton Church, and attended Colton School before gaining a place at Rugeley Grammar School where the 1911 census records him as benefitting from a bursary. The log book of the school contains many references to Rowley’s time as a Student Teacher. In July 1911 he was engaged for one year to work two half days a week with a salary of £45. During this time he gained a second class certificate in Religious Knowledge but failed to be admitted to Saltley Training College. Having failed to secure an appointment he was retained at Rugeley for a further two months until being appointed an assistant at a school in Wombourne, South Staffordshire. On 22 September 1913 the school log book records Rowley calling “to say Good Bye before leaving for Durham Training College”. He would return to Rugeley in 1914 to complete “a period of observation” during which he taught arithmetic, reading and comprehension.
While at Bede College, in common with all his cohort, he joined “B” Company of the Durham Light Infantry’s 8th Battalion under Imperial Service Conditions. At that time this Territorial Force was intended for home defense and did not allow for soldiers to be sent overseas against their will, however, any man could volunteer for the Imperial Service Section and serve abroad in times of war.
Rowley was sent to France with the Bede contingent in April 1915 where he survived the fighting in Ypres despite being posted as missing for five days. He rose through the ranks to sergeant before being sent to an officer training battalion and being commissioned second lieutenant on 28 November 1917, although this wasn’t gazetted until June, two months after he died.
An article in The Bede magazine published in March 1916 describes the village of La Crèche in Picardy, on the France Belgium border, as “a mud lake with mud heaps all around it”, but despite that, it represented a small piece of civilization to men from the front. It was in La Crèche that the writer found Albert Rowley running a battlefield canteen selling cakes, chocolate, tinned fruit, sausages, cigarettes and other items vital for maintaining moral. Perhaps this meeting prompted the concert and reunion of men from Bede College in Poperinge reported that same month.
The April 1918 edition of The Bede magazine reports Rowley was among a group of former students who visited Durham that month, but he was back in France by 14 April, posted this time to 22 D.L.I. Albert was killed only days later in action in Picardy as he led his men into an attack on 26 April 1918. Wilfred Miles in his Durham Forces in the Field (1920) records that 22 D.L.I. and the 2nd Royal Berkshire Regiment were tasked that day to clear out and re-take the village of Villers-Bretonneux, and at the end of the engagement they had together captured over 400 prisoners and several machine guns.
He is buried in the Adelaide Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneux. His sacrifice is commemorated on the war memorial and roll of honour at Colton that stands at the end of Martlin Lane in which his parents were living at the time of his death. He is also remembered on Rugeley Grammar School war memorial (photo), at St George’s Drill Hall, Sandyford Road in Jesmond on a memorial that is said to have originally hung in Hutton Terrace Territorial Army Centre in Sandyford, and on the 1914-1918 Bede College cross, plaque, and roll of honour. His 1914-1915 Star, Victory, and 1914-1918 War medals are now owned by his sister’s grandson.
Both Rowley’s elder brothers became police officers and his younger sister, Kate, married a police sergeant. Reginald served in the Coldstream Guards and survived the war.