Born on the 8th June, 1893 at Keadby, John was the eldest son and one of the eight children of William and Martha Cowling (nee Mason). His father was from Susworth and mother from Bottesford. His mother died in 1904 and his father, who worked in the Scunthorpe ironstone mines, had remarried by 1911 when the family were living in Ashby.
In 1911 John worked in the Stores Depot of the Grand Central Railway at Scunthorpe. However he had moved to Crowle by 1914 as when enlisting for the army he gave his address as Marsh Road and occupation as stoker. This may have been with the Railway but is more likely to have been at the Gas Works on the corner of Marsh Road. His next of kin address was Mrs J H Cowling, c/o Mr R J Slingsby, Marsh Road, Crowle, who was presumably his brother’s wife, so perhaps John lodged with them? His brother also served in the army during the war.
John enlisted in the Lincolnshire Regiment at Scunthorpe on 4th September 1914. Posted to the 5th (Territorial) Battalion they arrived at Le Harve on 1st March 1915. Once in France they spent a few weeks training before moving to trenches in the front-line near Kemmel. Nothing they had done in their training prepared them for the horror and reality of what they found in the trenches there, disease, vermin and ‘dead bodies are even half exposed in the parados’. Another rude awaking occurred in May when they suffered several casualties when a German mine was detonated under their trenches.
From May 1915 the unit became officially the 1/5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, part of 138th Brigade in 46th (North Midland) Division. The 1/5th Lincolnshire’s did their last tour in the trenches at Kemmel on 21st June and on 29th June marched with the rest of the Division to trenches south of Hoog in an area known as Sanctuary Wood, their first experience of the Ypres area.
The trenches at Kemmel had been in a quiet sector with only odd bursts of rifle fire to consider. In contrast Sanctuary Wood was a much more dangerous area with continual shelling and machine gun fire. There was also a particularly troublesome German sniper who caused several casualties in one area of the trench. So it may have been this sniper who caused the gunshot wound in the neck with which John was admitted to the 13th General Hospital in Boulogne. Unfortunately the wound proved fatal and John Cowling died at the Hospital on 9th July 1917. He is buried in the Boulogne Eastern War Cemetery.
John is not commemorated on the Crowle War Memorial but he is remembered on both of the Althorpe War Memorials and on Scunthorpe Roll of Honour.