Remembering Green Turtle Cay’s WW1 Hero: Corporal Lewis Pearson Lowe

On 29 January 1917, E.H. McKinney, a customs officer based on Green Turtle Cay, wrote a brief letter to the editor of the Nassau Guardian. This week, that letter helped unlock the hundred-year-old mystery of Green Turtle Cay’s own World War 1 hero.

Canadian Solders in Courcelette, France (1916)

Canadian Solders in Courcelette, France (1916)

A few months back, a gentleman affiliated with the Bahamian branch of the British legion contacted me. He was conducting research for a special Tribune supplement commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, and asked what information I might have about a Green Turtle Cay man named Lewis Lowe who had served.

I’d never heard of Lewis Lowe, and my attempts to gather information from my usual sources yielded very little. So when Mr. McKinney’s 1917 letter was reprinted in Friday’s Tribune, it piqued my curiosity.

Using the letter as a launching point, I’ve spent the past few days researching the life of Lewis Lowe. What I’ve learned to date has been both fascinating and heartbreaking.

On 28 August 1888, Lewis Pearson Lowe was born to Green Turtle Cay’s Richard and Sarah (Starling) Lowe. Sarah Lowe was the daughter of Sarah (Gates) Starling and Timothy Mark Starling (sometimes written Sterling.) I haven’t yet confirmed Richard Lowe’s ancestry.

When Lewis was just four years old, his mother Sarah gave birth to twin boys. It was a difficult and protracted delivery that, within 24 hours, resulted in the death of 23-year-old Sarah and one of her newborns. Three days later, the second infant also died.

Green Turtle Cay death records for the 4th quarter of 1892 show the death of Sarah Lowe and her two newborn sons.

Green Turtle Cay death records for the 4th quarter of 1892 document the tragic death of Sarah Lowe and her newborn twins.

Losing his mother and baby brothers could not have been easy for Lewis, nor for his father, no doubt wracked with grief and left alone to raise his young son.

It would seem that Richard Lowe did not deal well with the loss. Just eight years later, on 9 March 1900, he died of “venereal disease,” leaving eleven-year-old Lewis an orphan.

Fortunately, Lewis was soon taken in by the Reverend Charles John Thomson, rector of Green Turtle Cay’s St. Peter’s Anglican Church. And later that year, when the Reverend returned to England to marry and to assume the position of vicar at St. Nicholas’ church in the village of Beedon, Newbury, England, he took young Lewis with him.

The Church of St. Nicholas, Beedon, Newbury, England

The Church of St. Nicholas, Beedon, Newbury, England

By 1909, records show that 21-year-old Lewis was employed as a manager’s clerk at the Royal Hotel in Lowestoft.

In 1912, Lewis sailed on the SS Royal George from Avonmouth, England to Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. According to the ship’s manifest, he was headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he intended to work as a clerk.

Lewis Lowe travels from England to Canada in 1912 (source: Ancestry.com)

Lewis Lowe travels from England to Canada in 1912 (source: Ancestry.com)

Though it appears that Lewis did spend some time in Winnipeg, by 1915, he’d made his way to Vernon, British Columbia in western Canada. There, on 28 June 1915, he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF.) He was assigned to the 47th Battalion, which was destined for service in France.

On 13 November 1915, Lewis and his unit sailed from Montreal, Quebec aboard the SS Missanabie, arriving in Plymouth, England on 22 November. One day later, Private Lewis Lowe was promoted to Lance Corporal and, on 12 February 1916, to Corporal. His battalion was stationed near Ypres, Belgium.

Having battled the Germans for nearly two years since the start of the Great War, the Allies had made little progress in pushing them out of France. Hoping to smash the stalemate, French and English forces undertook a major offensive attack on 1 July 1916 at the Somme.

On just the first day of the Battle of the Somme, more than 50,000 British servicemen were lost, their thin, fabric uniforms offering no protection against high-powered German weapons, discharged from behind thick, cement barriers.

Despite suffering the heaviest casualties of any battle in history, the Allied forces persevered, mounting dozens of attacks throughout the summer. By August, with French and British manpower diminished, several Canadian Expeditionary Force divisions – including Lewis Lowe’s battalion – were relocated from Ypres to the Somme.

Canadian troops under fire during the Battle of the Somme, Courcelette, France (1916)

Canadian troops under fire during the Battle of the Somme, Courcelette, France (1916)

Between September and November, the Canadian troops fought in a number of bloody battles. Supported by the first tanks used in Western Front action, they successfully captured Courcelette, Theipval and Ancre Heights. And in November, the Canadian 4th Division helped capture a German stronghold at Regina Trench.

Canadian artillery men - November 1916

Canadian artillery men – November 1916

On Friday, 17 November 1916, the season’s first snowfall blanketed the Somme. In sickening contrast to this beautiful sight, the bloody battle resumed at 6:00 am Saturday morning. All that day, through sleet and heavy rain and in near-zero visibility, Lewis fought with his unit at the front line. Late that evening, a shell exploded nearby, instantly killing Lewis and two other men from his battalion.

That night, realizing they no longer had sufficient manpower to capture and hold new ground, and recognizing that the worsening winter weather would only make their fight more difficult, Allied leaders called off the Somme offensive. They had gained a mere six miles of territory, at the horrific human cost of more than 80,000 men per mile.

Corporal Lewis Pearson Lowe was buried in the Regina Trench Cemetery in the countryside at Courcelette, France.

A 26 February 1917 article in the Winnipeg Tribune commemorates Lewis Lowe in an honour roll listing the men from that city killed during the Great War. Lewis is also among 20 men from the village of Beedon, England honoured on a stone war monument on the grounds of St. Nicholas’ church. “Greater love hath no man than this,” reads the monument’s inscription, “that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Following the 1919 death of Lewis’ grandmother, there were few family members left to remember him. He had no siblings and, having never married, no children to honour his memory. In all the time I’ve spent researching Green Turtle Cay’s history, I’ve never come across any references to him.

Letter to the Editor, Nassau Guardian - January 1917But for a brief letter written to a newspaper editor more than a century ago and transcribed below,  Lewis Pearson Lowe’s story might easily have been lost to time.

Green Turtle Cay, Abaco
29th January 1917

Madam,

As you frequently mention the death of Bahamians who have given their lives for the righteous cause, the following information concerning Corporal Lewis Lowe of the 47th Canadian Infantry Regiment no doubt will be of interest to some of your readers.

Lowe lived with the Rev. C. J. Thompson, then rector of St. Peter’s, Green Turtle Cay, and being an orphan, and having only a grandmother who was in poor circumstances (today she is quite an invalid) with no parents, he was taken to England by Rev. Thompson about the year 1900. Lowe being then 11 years of age, and when he was killed he was about 28 years old. It appears that some years after being in England, he went to Canada and, at the outbreak of the war enlisted.

Lowe never forgot his grandmother and wrote her regularly. News of his death was received by mail and the following is an extract from Rev. Thompson’s letter to his grandmother:

“Mrs. Sarah Sterling,

I got the news this morning (24th Nov. 1916) in a very sympathetic letter from his chaplain. Poor Lewis was killed on Sat. night, 18th November. He was going into the front line with his company. The same shell also killed two of his companions and wounded three more. The chaplain tells me that the death was quite instantaneous. He has been buried where he fell, close to the ruined village of Courcelette, Somme, France.

The Chaplain sends us his deep sympathy and that of the whole Battalion and says of him ‘Corporal Lowe was a grand soldier and a great favourite. He will be sorely missed among us.’”

Yours truly,

E. H. MCKINNEY

May we never forget Corporal Lewis Pearson Lowe, and all those who suffered and sacrificed in service of their countries.

  16 comments for “Remembering Green Turtle Cay’s WW1 Hero: Corporal Lewis Pearson Lowe

  1. Mike Brennen
    November 11, 2018 at 1:02 am

    What s wonderful story. Thanks for capturing the almost forgotten history

    Like

    • November 11, 2018 at 8:41 am

      Thanks, Mike. I’m just fascinated by Lewis Lowe and am so happy to be able to help him get the recognition he deserves.

      Amanda

      Like

  2. Reggie
    November 11, 2018 at 3:50 am

    Amen to that. May we never forget them. Amanda, thank you for uncovering the story of Lewis Lowe. I honestly had believed that no Abaconians had served in the First War. Shows how little I know. When I read of Lewis’s death by shellfire, it reminded me of tales my dad told us, of his time as an infantryman in Europe, during 1944-5. Dad had numerous close encounters with German shells, and saw many men killed and wounded. He said that most exchanges of fire were artillery duels. I wonder, when Lewis was in the mud of France, how much he thought of his boyhood on Green Turtle Cay? Leonard Thompson wrote that after he had been shot down and captured, Hope Town seemed very far away. At least, he made it back home.
    So, as the 100th anniversary of the 11th hour of the 11th day approacheth, let us all reflect on the life of Cpl. Lewis Lowe, and his sacrifice, and all the others who gave so much. I lost relatives in both wars, and think of them often. So many millions killed, and so needlessly. Here’s to no more wars, although that seems like a futile wish.

    Like

    • November 11, 2018 at 8:40 am

      Reggie, I, too, wondered what he must have been thinking while on the front line, and whether his thoughts turned back to Abaco. I will definitely be thinking of Lewis today, and will continue working to bring the full story of his service and sacrifice into the light. Thank you to all who gave of themselves and their loved ones in service of their country.

      A.

      Like

  3. Charlene Saunders McClish
    November 11, 2018 at 5:19 am

    Thank you for your curiosity, time, and love of GTC island history in digging a little further into this story. A true hero whose life was taken too soon.

    Like

    • November 11, 2018 at 8:37 am

      You’re very welcome, Charlene. I am absolutely fascinated by Lewis Lowe, and I just can’t believe that nobody really knew much about him until now. So happy to help bring his service and sacrifice to light, so he can be properly honoured.

      A.

      Like

  4. Ghandi
    November 11, 2018 at 8:55 am

    That was a wonderful piece of history and honoring his memory. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

    • November 11, 2018 at 6:06 pm

      Thanks, Ghandi! I was just so amazed to find out we have a GTC war hero, and so sad that he had no descendants to ensure his story is told. I’m fairly certain we’re probably related to him (haven’t found the connection as yet) but in the meantime, I’ve adopted him. Now to convince Tom that I need to go to France for research. 🙂 xo

      Like

  5. joylowejossi
    November 11, 2018 at 9:42 am

    Thank you, Amanda. How great to have you join the dots of history in the story of Lewis Pearson Lowe. Another of our Green Turtle Cay community of stalwarts in opportunity and legacy. Now we need to discover the LOWE branch where his father Richard Lowe fits.

    Like

    • November 11, 2018 at 6:04 pm

      Thanks, Joy. I’ve done some digging into Lewis’ lineage.. just didn’t have time to get it all into today’s piece. I’ve got more info about Lewis’ mother, Sarah. Still looking for records to confirm where his father fits in. Seems likely, though, that Lewis is a relative of some of us, given his Gates and Lowe roots… Can’t wait to find a connection!

      a.

      Like

  6. Steve Albury
    November 11, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    E. H. McKinney went on to become Comptroller of Customs. Regards, Steve Albury

    ________________________________

    Like

  7. gregory lowe
    November 12, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Interestingly Lewis Lowe would have been a boyhood contempory of my grandfather LuddingtonLowe born 1887.I can imagine them playing and fishing together. It is sad to think that had the good reverend not adopted him he might have lived a long and happy life in GTC and we might find him interred in GTCs little cemetery!

    Like

  8. Joe Bell
    November 12, 2018 at 11:15 am

    Truly an emotional and important story to tell! War is so horrible, it shames mankind that we haven’t been able to rise above it and solve differences peaceably. I am named after my grandfather’s brother who died just before the end of WWI coming out of a trench to attack the Germans. He was hit in the head with shrapnel and took two agonizing weeks to pass.

    My grandfather was one of the first 25 Air Force pilots for the US fighting in France. He was in the same group as Eddie Rickenbacker and fought against the Red Barron Circus. The average length of a pilot’s life in WWI was 20 days! Because the war was fought in trenches it was very valuable to see the troop movements from the air. My Grandfather received the highest Medal from France, the Croix de Guerre and, after many close calls, returned safely to his home in Macon, GA.

    God bless those that gave their life, and their families for suffering such great loss.

    Love your blog!

    Joe Bell
    (new owner of Sea Fan on GTC)

    Like

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