PRIVATE STANLEY JOHN BOWLAND
WEST YORKSHIRE REGIMENT
23RD MARCH 1918 AGE 29
BURIED: AUBIGNY COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION, FRANCE
There no definite source for this inscription, which expresses a patriotic culture that venerates the national flag. 'True to the Flag' is best known today as the title of an American marching song, written in 1917. The American flag, the star spangled banner, or Old Glory, is more prominently revered in the United States in the twenty-first century than the Union Jack is in Britain, but in the early years of the twentieth century, especially in the years surrounding the South African War, British poems like this showed the same sentiment:
It's only a small piece of bunting,
It's only an old coloured rag;
Yet thousands have died for its honour,
And shed their best blood for the flag.
After the next sixteen lines that boast of how Britons never yield, and about the number of countries in the British Empire over which the flag flies, the poem concludes:
We hoist it to show our devotion
To our Queen, to our country and laws;
'Tis the outward and visible emblem
Of advancement and liberty's cause.
You may say it's a small bit of bunting,
You may call it an old coloured rag;
Yet freedom has made it majestic
And time has ennobled the flag.
You can see therefore how the four words, 'true to the flag' encapsulate a whole world of patriotic, martial pride, a pride in which Mr Alfred Bowland, baker and confectioner of Norton Malton, Yorkshire, could find comfort in the face of his son's death.
Stanley John Bowland was one of Alfred and Elizabeth Bowland's eight sons: George, Charles, Frederick, Stanley, William, Leonard, Harold and Thomas Octavius.
George served with the RAMC and survived the war; Charles, a reservist with the 1st Grenadier Guards, was recalled immediately on the outbreak and was in France by November 1914. Frederick was a baker like his father and I can't find a medal index card for him, Stanley, who served with the 1st/5th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (The Prince of Wales Own) died of wounds in a Casualty Clearing Station on 23 March 1918, and William was killed in action eight days later. I can't find medal index cards for either Leonard or Harold but nineteen-year-old Thomas Octavius was killed in action on 27 September 1918.
'True to the flag' is a sentiment in which I've just said Mr Bowland could find comfort in the face of his son's death - but the apostrophe needs moving - it should be, in the face of his sons' deaths.