AFS Fireman Kenneth John Bowles

Killed in the Line of Duty…………

The following extremely detailed research into the life of AFS Fireman Kenneth John Bowles has been carried out by researcher Sharon Grant.

Kenneth John Bowles was born on 15th October 1910 in Beckenham, Kent. He was the youngest son of Alfred Edward Bowles (1879 – 1957) and Minnie Bear (1877 – 1946). Alfred and Minnie were married in Thanet in Kent, in 1904.

In the 1911 Census, six month old Kenneth was with his parents and his older brother, Cyril Alfred Bowles (1906 – 1975) at 49, Clock House Road, Beckenham. Kenneth’s father was a commercial traveller, dealing in china and glass.

Bowles 1911

1911 Census

Clockhouse Road

Clock House Road, Beckenham

The 1921 Census shows the Bowles family still living at 49, Clockhouse Road in Beckenham and living at home are Alfred aged 42, a manager of a paint varnishers, Minnie aged 43, Cyril aged 42 and Kenneth himself aged 10.

Kenneth John Bowles 1921 Census

(1921 Census for Bowles family)

Kenneth John Bowles 1921 Census Address

(1921 Census Address for Bowles family)

Ken Bowles worked at the Stock Exchange and was a keen amateur sportsman. As a young man he was an excellent Hockey player and won medals in both Hockey and Swimming, which are now proudly kept by his son John. In 1938, Kenneth married his sweetheart, Mollie Langford (1909 – 2005), in Bromley in Kent, having met through the marriage of their brother and sister. Two brothers married two sisters. Cyril Alfred Bowles married Eleanor Doris Langford, the sister of Mollie Langford, on 27 July 1935 at St Barnabas Church, Cape Town, South Africa.

We often find extremely unusual coincidences in family history research and in the Bowles family there was an extremely unusual and ultimately extremely sad coincidence. The generation before Ken Bowles, also saw two brothers marry two sisters, which although not unique in itself, is pretty rare for consecutive generations to both do this. What is really unusual and at the same time such a tragic coincidence, is that one of the brothers died in WW1. So, we have two brothers marrying two sisters and one of the brothers dying in the First World War, followed by the next generation, where two brothers marry two sisters and one of the brothers dies in WW2, a truly tragic set of coincidences.

The following year, 1939, Kenneth was living with his in-laws, William and Eleanor Langford, at 27, Beckenham Road in Beckenham. He was a managing clerk with a meat importer but it was noted in the 1939 Register that his employment was terminated. It was also noted in the Register that he was a fireman with the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service), Section 35, his wife, Mollie, was away from home in Hampshire, having been evacuated as part of the governments efforts to protect the civilians from the threat of German bombing. The couple had one child, John Michael Bowles, who was born in Buriton, Petersfield in Hampshire in 1940, whilst his mother was still away in the Countryside.

Bowles 1939

1939 Register

Kenneth joined the Auxiliary Fire Service at the outbreak of war, volunteering ‘to do his bit’ for the Country.

When Ken’s sweetheart Mollie was 87, she still remembered her feelings vividly when she heard that Ken had been killed.

Written in Mollie’s own words:

“I think we were all aware of the danger the firemen faced. The bombs fell virtually every night and the men were constantly on duty tackling fires, saving people. Beckenham was directly on the flight path to London and the planes used to fly over all the time. I remember one occasion when Ken came back covered from head to foot with soot. He was a wonderful father. He was obsessed with John, holding him in his arms. He had plans to teach him how to play different sports.

It was really terrible. I was at home when I heard about it. Somebody from the council was walking up the path. I was standing at the door and he told me what had happened. I was completely devastated.

The community was fantastic. It was very different then. We were all in the war together. I don’t think without them I could have coped. It was that and my Christian faith that gave me the strength.”

Sometimes in the darkest hours you find the brightest lights. When a tragedy such as this strikes and hits an entire community, the strength of knowing that your friends and neighbours have also been so devastatingly affected can give you the courage to make it through each day. It’s a shared pain that brings you together and helps you cope, it’s the realisation that you are not alone in your pain and suffering that can help you try to overcome the grief.

Ken’s son John highlighted a picture of his father, which is shown below and this picture was used in the display panels prepared for a special event that was organised around the unveiling of a special memorial plaque at the site of the Old Palace School in 1997. Both John and his mother, Mollie, attended the event.

firemen p 20

Winifred Peters Plaque

Unveiling of the Plaque Ceremony

The dedication ceremony was a very emotional event and attended by many of the families of those that sadly died on that tragic night.

As John recalls;

I was only a baby when my Dad was killed so obviously there was no question of our bonding. The first time I felt close to him was when my mother and I attended the plaque dedication at the rebuilt School.

In the entrance hall when we arrived was a long noticeboard with many photos of the AFS and the Blitz. Right in the centre was that photo of my Dad. At that moment, standing on the spot where he died, I felt close to him for the first time in my life, it was a highly emotional and special moment.

The WW2 Memorial Scroll from the King, to mark the sacrifice that Kenneth John Bowles gave, can be seen below:



Bowles Civilian Death

Kenneth John Bowles was buried at Beckenham Cemetery and Crematorium, Elmers End Road, Beckenham, alongside all the other Beckenham firefighters who sadly died that night.

Rita Davies 5

Mollie remarried Maurice Vincett in 1943 and they went on to have a son together, Colin Vincett. Maurice sadly passed away aged only 55 in 1973. Eventually Mollie moved away to Cambridge, where she spent the last five years of her life, before she passed away, in 2005.

John having lost his father at such a young age, spent a lot of his youth with his grandparents and his grandfather went on to have a large influence on his life. His grandfather was a jeweller and John followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and went to work for Garrards, The Queen’s Jewellers, but his fathers influences were never far away, John specialised in sporting trophies. After a distinguished career as a jeweller John branched out and set up his own company, again manufacturing sporting trophies and John’s company has the considerable honour and prestige of manufacturing the replica Ryder Cup Trophies, The British Open, US Open Golf, the USPGA Championship Trophy and the USPGA Senior’s Trophy, which is about as high a sporting accolade as one can get and something that his father Ken would have been extremely proud of.

Pictured below are the US Open Trophy, USPGA Senior’s Trophy, The Ryder Cup and Golfer Padraig Harrington proudly holding the British Open Claret Jug and USPGA Championship Trophy, all manufactured by John’s Company.

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