WILLIAM OWEN LEWIS
This biography was written by Victoria Doran.
Owen Lewis was from a family which was still Welsh speaking, although the last two generations had all been born on Merseyside. At Liverpool University when war was declared, unlike many contemporaries, Owen decided to complete his degree before entering cadet training about July 1916.
Liverpool University War Memorial, Victoria Building
It is from the Liverpool University War Memorial that we know that William Owen Lewis was known to family and friends as Owen.
Owen came from an intelligent upwardly mobile Welsh Calvinist Methodist family. He was born towards the end of 1894 in Birkenhead. His father, Owen Lewis (1850-1924) was born in Liverpool the eldest of the 6 sons of William Lewis (1825-1880) and his wife Catherine (1825-1892). William was born in Conway, Caernarvonshire, Wales and worked as a porter, latterly owning a cart and operating as a coal dealer. When he died he was buried in a communal grave in Toxteth Park Cemetery, so the family must have been quite poor. After his death, Catherine, who was born in Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales, carried on the business. However she also was buried in a communal grave. William and Catherine must have done all they could to ensure their sons got an education and the chance to improve their circumstances. It has not been possible to trace all six, but John Thomas Lewis (1852-1929) became a book keeper for a paint manufacturer and left several hundred pounds, whilst Hugh Lewis (1856-1894) became a chief engineer and was lost with the rest of the crew of 22 when the SS Kingdom disappeared after 24 December 1894 whilst carrying a cargo of salt from Hamburg to Charleston, Virginia.
Owen Lewis also started as a book keeper, working all his life for a slate merchant. He was nearly 40 years old when, at the end of 1889, he married Elizabeth Ann Davies (1863-1932) in Birkenhead.
Elizabeth was also born in Liverpool and was the daughter of David Richard Davies (1821-1901) and his wife Mary (1832-???). By the time she was 7 years old, the family had moved to Conway Street, Birkenhead where her father worked as a joiner and builder. It was a small family as Elizabeth only had one older brother, who also became a joiner, and one older sister. David and Mary Davies lived with Owen, Elizabeth and their family once David retired. He left no money, so probably worked as a joiner for other people most of his life.
Owen’s elder sister, Catherine Gladys Lewis (1890-???) and his brother, Hugh David Victor Lewis (1896-1914) were also born in Birkenhead, but by 1901 the family had moved to 18 Dunraven Road, West Kirby. This is where Owen’s younger sister, Elizabeth Gwendoline Lewis (1902-???) was born and it remained the family home for the rest of Owen’s life.
Hugh died early in 1914, but the cause is unknown.
Owen was a pupil at Calday Grange Grammar School before going on to Liverpool University to study Law. His sister Catherine obtained a degree in Science from Liverpool University before marrying William John Dakin (1883-1950) at the Welsh Church, West Kirby on 15 January 1913. That month he became a Professor of Zoology at the University of Western Australia and went on to have a very eminent career. He was refused permission to enlist during the war. They remained in Australia for the rest of their lives.
Owen was a prominent member of the Deeside Parliamentary Debating Society and took a full role in the West Kirby Welsh Church. He was a keen old boy of his school and whilst at Liverpool University contributed the ‘Liverpool University Letter’ to the Old Caldeain magazine.
He joined the Liverpool University OTC (Officer’s Training Corps), and on completing his degree he went for cadet training. Since February 1916 temporary commissions had only been granted to men who had served as Cadets in an Officer Training Battalion, so Owen must have spent the next 4 months or so as a Cadet. This is confirmed by the London Gazette entry for his commission showing him being promoted from Cadet.
List of newly commissioned Cadets
He joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Royal Welsh Fusiliers cap badge
It is not known when he arrived in France, but he died on 27 May 1917 at Fontaine-les-Croiselles. This is a village on the Hindenburg Line, the German fortified positions to which the German Army retreated in early 1917. He was known to be wounded, but his body was never recovered. This was part of the small scale operations that concluded the Battle of Arras. He was 23 years old.
After the war his family and congregation put up an alabaster plaque in his memory in the Welsh Church, Grange Road, West Kirby. Sadly it was removed many years ago, and it is not known what happened to it. From the report of its unveiling, the family must have been Welsh speakers as most of the service was conducted in Welsh despite many English friends being present.
He is commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on the Arras Memorial.
Arras Memorial, Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, Pas de Calais, France
Locally he is also commemorated on Grange Hill War Memorial, Calday Grange Grammar School honour board and the plaques in St Bridget and St Andrew churches, all in West Kirby as well as at Liverpool University.
Birth: Oct 1894 at Birkenhead, Cheshire
Death: 25 May 1917 at Fontaine les Croisselles, France; missing
Addresses: 18 Dunraven Road, West Kirby (01) (11)
Occupation: Liverpool University graduate in Law; LLB
Unit: 4th Battalion (attached 2nd Battalion), Royal Welsh Fusiliers
Rank: 2nd Lieutenant
Medals: Victory and British War – entitled to them but medal card not found
Commemorated: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France; Grange Hill War Memorial, West Kirby; St Andrew & St Bridget churches, West Kirby; Calday Grange Grammar School Roll of Honour; Liverpool University War Memorial
Sources: CWGC, Census: 01, 11, BR, DA, WKN, WK, GH, CG, CGB, LG, Prob, www.toxtethparkcemetery.co.uk, Australian Dictionary of Biography