This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in New York.
In the village of Liberty in Sullivan County, New York, just prior to Remembrance Day 1921, a ‘Soldiers’ Circle’ was proposed by Liberty Cemetery Association. It was proposed particularly for ‘those veteran dead who have no families or friends to give them a fitting burial place ’. One of the first soldiers to be buried there was Private Leonard Bowman, an Englishman, who had been wounded serving in France with 116th Battalion in 3rd Canadian Division.
His family name was, in fact, Bouman—his father, Bernard, was Dutch and worked as a ladies’ tailor in London. Leonard was born in West Hampstead on 4 September 1887, the fifth of the seven surviving children of Bernard and his wife Sarah.
By the time he was 13 years old Leonard had left Netherwood Street School and was working as an errand boy. In 1908 he emigrated to the United States where he went into service and became the butler to Arthur Burden at the family estate (later known as ‘Oak Hill’) at Jericho, Long Island. By then he had changed the spelling of his name to ‘Bowman’.
Arthur Scott Burden was the grandson of the Scottish engineer, Henry Burden, founder of Burdon Iron Works. His wife was an English-born socialite, Cynthia Burke Roche, the great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales.
After the United States entered the war in April 1917, Leonard Bowman decided to enlist for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He enlisted at Toronto on 13 June 1917 and joined the 1st Depot Battalion, Central Ontario Regiment; he was allocated the number 2537344. Following a period of basic training, Bowman sailed for England on 26 November 1917 on the SS Scotian, arriving on 6 December. He completed his training in England with the 2nd Reserve Battalion at West Sandling Camp near Hythe in Kent.
In March 1918 Private Bowman was sent to France with a reinforcement draft for the 116th Battalion, which he joined on 11 April. The Battalion was one of four infantry battalions in 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division and had been in France since February 1917. Just after Bowman arrived the 1st, 3rd and 4th Divisions of the Canadian Corps went into reserve and spent the spring and early part of the summer near Amiens.
On 6 July, 3rd Division relieved 2nd Division in the Neuville-Vitasse sector, three miles south-east of Arras. After 17 days the Battalion once more moved into reserve but in early August, after a series of long marches conducted with great secrecy, 116th Battalion was positioned to take part with the rest of the Canadian Corps in the Battle of Amiens, the first phase of the mobile operations that ended the war.
At 2.15am on the morning of 8 August the Battalion was in its assembly area near the village of Hourges. At 4.20am the artillery barrage began and the Battalion attacked with great success. Its objectives were captured by 7.30am but with the cost of 2 officers and 39 other ranks killed, and 10 Officers and 148 other ranks wounded or missing.
On 11 August the Battalion relieved units of the British 32nd Division near Parvillers-le-Quesnoy, slightly farther to the south-east. The next few days were spent in action, in ‘heavy fighting, and many hand to hand encounters’—this included the capture of two small woods by six platoons sent forward on 12 August and an enemy counter attack beaten off the next day. Relieved on the night of 15 August, the Battalion moved into reserve on 16 August. This short but intense period in the line had cost one officer and 13 other ranks killed, three officers and 64 other ranks wounded, and 9 other ranks missing.
After a period resting and conducting training, the Battalion moved forward again on 25 August to the outskirts of Arras and from there to just west of Monchy-le Preux, which had just been captured in the Canadian Corps’ advance on the first day of the Battle of the Scarpe. The 116th Battalion attacked at 4.55am on the morning of 27 August. The attack was met by heavy flanking machine gun fire and over the next 48 hours the Battalion fought an aggressive and difficult action to achieve its objectives at Boiry-Notre-Dame. The cost was high—Major John Sutherland, acting as Commanding Officer, and two other officers and 42 other ranks were killed, seven officers and 220 other ranks were wounded, and 23 other ranks were missing. It was during this attack on 28 August that Private Leonard Bowman was wounded.
He was hit by machine gun bullet from the flank of the attack, which tore through the muscle at the back of his right thigh. Luckily, the bone was not damaged, although there was some damage to his sciatic nerve. He was evacuated via 10th Field Ambulance to the British 6th Casualty Clearing Station and onward to 32nd Stationary Hospital at Wimereux on the French coast, where he spent five days before being evacuated to England. He was treated at 4th London General Hospital for three months before being transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Epsom. Finally, he was transferred to Granville Canadian Special Hospital at Buxton in March 1919 before sailing onthe hospital ship HMHS Essequibo in May to Portland, Maine.
Private Bowman then spent five months in and out of hospital in Canada—including an operation on his sinuses at Brant military hospital in Burlington in August 1919—before he was discharged on 10 October. He travelled back to New York state that day.
Leonard Bowman’s life after his discharge is not documented but on 2 October 1920 he died of myocarditis in Woodbourne, Sullivan County. He was buried in Liberty Cemetery on Wednesday 6 October. The funeral service was held at the premises of McGibbon and Curry undertakers and was attended by 23 members of the local American Legion post, which also provided a wreath.
His burial proved to be temporary and his remains were reinterred in the Soldiers’ Circle. The Soldiers’ Circle is on the left of the main path when the cemetery is entered from the east, from Cemetery Road. Ten years later, the Soldier’s Circle had become the place of burial for 24 World War I veterans. Veterans of later wars were also interred there and, now full, the plot comprises three concentric circles of graves around a central flag staff. A new ‘Veterans Cemetery’ was later established across the road from the main cemetery, which has become the focus for memorial day ceremonies.
Private Bowman is commemorated on page 547 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 19, 20 and 21 November.
His sister, Florence, named her son after him. Sadly, Third Officer Leonard Bouman, died on 27 August 1941, while serving in the cargo steamer SS Saugor, which was sunk by U-557 en route for Freetown and Calcutta; 59 crew members were lost. He is commemorated on Tower Hill Memorial.
The War Graves Photographic Project for the photograph of Private Bowman’s grave.
1. (Back) ‘Honor Place Is Set Aside In Cemetery For World War Dead.’ (11 November 1921). The Liberty Register. p 1.
2. (Back) Bernard Bouman (1852-11 October 1937) married Sarah Denny (1855-12 August 1934) on 13 August 1881 at St George’s, the Parish Church of Bloomsbury: Bernard Richard (1881-29 November 1919); Ada Jane (1882-28 February 1958); Julia (1884-1903); William (21 March 1886-1978); Daisy Mary (later Jepson) (1891-NK); Ethel Sarah (1893-1968) and Florence Edith (later Feetenby) (4 March 1897-1985).
3. (Back) A transcription of the Battalion’s war diary may be found in the museum of the Ontario Regiment.
4. (Back) A detailed description of the attack may be found in the Battalion history by the Adjutant, Captain Allen. See: Allen, E P S. (1921). 116th Battalion in France. Toronto: Hunter-Rose Co. Ltd. Captain Evelyn Prestwood Seymour Allen DSO (14 December 1885-9 October 1972) was the English-born Adjutant of the Battalion from April 1916.
5. (Back) The original flag staff was a gift of the mother of Corporal Russel DeWitt Sprague. He was killed in France on 23 December 1917 while serving with 1st Engineer Regiment, 1st Division—the first soldier from Sullivan County to be killed in action. He is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery. The town’s American Legion post, Post 109, is named after him.
6. (Back) This should not be confused with Sullivan County Veteran’s Cemetery, Sunset Lake Road, Liberty.