Cowley Manor, Gloucestershire: From Gardener to Soldier
William Henry Fisher was working as a Grounds Man at Cowley Manor, the country home of the Horlicks family when war broke out on 4 August 1914. Just over eight months later in the April 1915 he volunteered to serve king and country, becoming Private number 21121 with the 10th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. The 21-year-old would lose his life in the French coal-mining village of Loos.
It began on 25 September 1915, and was the largest conflict for the British Expeditionary Force in the war at that time. In many areas the British artillery had not managed to cut the German wire ahead of the attack resulting in devastating losses as they tried to advance over open fields. Despite the heavy losses the British were able to break through German defenses and capture the town of Loos.
The following day when the battle resumed the Germans managed to stop a further advance eventually forcing the British back to their starting positions with the fighting subsiding on 28 September. The Germans then made further attempts to recapture the Hohenzollern Redoubt with success on 3 October. A final offensive was made by the British on 13 October, which failed.
The Battle of Loos marked the first major engagement involving British New Army units; volunteer troops who enlisted for the duration of the war. It was part of a joint Anglo-French offensive on a wide section of the front. The British Army possessed insufficient artillery for the initial bombardment of the German lines, so this was supplemented by the use of chlorine gas, the first time this weapon was employed by the British.
We can get a glimpse into what it was like for William as he left Gloucestershire and made his way to the battlefield through the letters he wrote home to his parents and sister in the days leading up to his death. Written in pencil on flimsy paper and now held at the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, they illustrate the day to day life of a young man far from home.
June 1915: "They are busy hay making round here, good crops too. We are going to our trenches Monday for 24 hours so we shall have a night in then, we are going to blow them up I think so that will be all right, we shall make the dust fly when we starts."
19 August 1915: “Well I have seen the country a bit since I left home it is rather a dirty place about here. We are not so very far off the firing line now so our time will come to have our revenge on the Germans.”
9 September 1915: “Elsie she sent me a bottle of Horlicks milk tablets that’s the stuff to give them, I shant half get fat out here about as fat as a match.”
And then later in the same letter to his sister he continues, “I have got a job now we have to learn to throw bombs, that’s the stuff to give them.”
William did not take part in the first major battle of Loos on 25 September because he caught mumps, but he wrote that a lot of his battalion had been killed or wounded.
"I daresay you will see it in the paper," he said, adding: "There is not many of our officers left."
Private Fisher died in the final phase of the battle on 13 October, aged 21 years.
Location: Cowley Manor, Gloucestershire GL53 9NL
Image shows Cowley Manor where William Fisher worked before serving in the war
Presented by Lindsey Baker