Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthDecember 26, 1883
Place of BirthDublin
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinNora Nowlan (wife), Moose Jaw, Saskatchwan
Trade / CallingDominion Express employee
ReligionChurch of Ireland
Service Details
Regimental Number6882
Battalion2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
ForceBritish Army
BranchBritish Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentDublin, Ireland
Address at EnlistmentMoose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Age at Enlistment30
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarNo
Death Details
Date of DeathOctober 27, 1914
Age at Death30
Buried AtNo known grave; commemorated on Le Touret Memorial in France

Nowlan, William Thomas Stephen

When Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 there were about 5,000 British army reservists in Canada and six days later they were officially called home for service. One of the soldiers was Lance Corporal William Nowlan of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. William returned to the UK in early September and he was killed in action in France eight weeks later.

William was born on 26 December 1883 in Dublin, Ireland, the oldest son of William John Nowlan and Isabella Jane McIlwain. He had two sisters, Margaret (1882) and Martha (1885), and two brothers, John Henry (1887) and Robert (1889). William’s mother died in 1897 when he was 13 years old. His father, a postal employee, remarried in 1898, had a daughter Marian in 1899 and was widowed again in 1900. He married his third wife Kathleen Perry in 1901 and had three more children. In the 1901 census William was listed as age 17, living at home, and working as a sorter at the post office. A short time later, probably just after his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the British army, joining the Royal Irish Rifles. He served nine years with the regular army and three years in the reserves. Six years of his regular service were spent in India.

While he was still a reservist William immigrated to Canada with his younger brother John. They arrived in St. John, New Brunswick in April 1911 on the Lake Manitoba. For most of his time in Canada William worked for the Dominion Express Company in Kenora, Ontario; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He was married to Nora Eileen Howard on 17 April 1914 in Winnipeg. Nora was also from Dublin, Ireland and she had arrived in Canada just six days earlier, listed on the passenger manifest of the Empress of Britain as going to Winnipeg ‘to be married.’

Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and on 10 August the War Office issued an order calling home all reservists who were in Canada. William and Nora were living in Moose Jaw at the time and they’d been married only four months. William returned to the UK to rejoin the Royal Irish Rifles, leaving from Moose Jaw on 15 August and arriving in Bristol, England on 2 September on the Royal George.

The Royal Irish Rifles had been sent to France in August while William was still in Canada and they fought in the first British engagements of the war, the Battles of Mons, Le Cateau and the Aisne. William joined his unit in time for the Battle of La Bassée (10 October-2 November 1914). On 24 October his battalion was based in the village of Neuve Chapelle when it was heavily shelled then attacked by the Germans. In a second assault on 26-27 October the fighting became hand to hand combat, at times inside the houses, and the Germans were able to capture most of the village. The Royal Irish Rifles were withdrawn but by then they had been reduced to a strength of just two officers and 46 men. William was killed in action the second day, 27 October. Nora learned of her husband’s death in January 1915 when an official notice arrived by mail. She was staying in Winnipeg with his brother John at the time. She also received a personal letter from Lord Kitchener that said,‘The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy of His Majesty and the Queen in your sorrow. KITCHENER.’

William’s final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial near the village of Le Touret in France. The Memorial bears the names of more than 13,000 British soldiers who were killed in the area between October 1914 and September 1915 and who have no known grave. He is also commemorated on the War Memorial of the Dominion Express Company and on page 565 of Canada’s First World War Book of Remembrance. The book is on display in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

By Becky Johnson

The story of the Royal Irish Rifles at the Battle of La Bassée is on their website. William Nowlan’s name is included in the casualty list for 27 October 1914.

Nowlan-William-98 Nowlan-William-Thomas-Stephen-4

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