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Arthur Prowse

(1896-1916) – ‘Gallant lad’ shell victim

Arthur Prowse was killed with Alec Forbes in a shell explosion at the Somme on 3 September 1916. The Forbes and Prowse families became united in their grief and letters reflect their struggle to find the truth. They had to wait 18 months to hear a first-hand account of what had happened to their boys.

Credit: Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance

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On 1 September 1916 Arthur Prowse wrote a letter to his mother asking for ‘a small cake of soap & razor, towel & shaving brush & comb’.  This letter also mentions the awful conditions: ‘very dirty out here, mud up to your knees’.  He sought to reassure his mother about a slight wound in his arm which was not serious enough to keep him out of the action.  After mentioning Edwin, Jack and Dick and asking after friends and family, he signed off.  Two days later he was dead.

Captain Dixon’s letter to Arthur’s father dated 10th October gave no details of Arthur’s fate apart from the fact that he was killed ‘during the attack of Guillemont on September 3rd, and was afterwards buried by a party of men from my company’.  Platitudes about mourning ‘the loss of many gallant lads’ conclude the letter.  The Prowse family had to wait another 18 months before they learned more about their son’s fate. 

On March 6th 1918, Harry Moyle, by then on the quieter Italian front, responded to a letter from the Prowses.  Harry and Arthur had ‘trained together and went into action together’ and liked each other ‘ever so much’.   He wrote that when Arthur

‘went over the top at Guillemont we was together and one of our Officers got wounded and he helped one or two fellows to carry him to the Dressing Station and after carrying him a little way, they stopped to have a rest and a great shell came over and killed poor Arthur and three more’.

According to Harry, Arthur looked as if he had nothing ‘more than a scratch on his arm’ and ‘had a nice little grave and his name on it’.

Stanhope Forbes wrote two letters to Mr Prowse, as his son Alec was the wounded officer killed with Arthur.  These letters are dated the 22 May and 10 December 1919 and, like the rest of the letters quoted, are in Penlee House’s collection.  The first letter contains an extraordinary account of a visit to the Somme battlefield that Forbes made in early May with his brother who was there on official business. While they were successful in finding Alec’s grave near Guillemont, there were just too many white crosses to check to find Arthur’s.   The final letter from Forbes to Mr Prowse seems to be concerned with the making of Arthur’s memorial (the family were Wesleyan Methodists) and there is a reference to a second visit Forbes had made to his son Alec’s grave.  He reassured the Prowse family that all the graves were well cared for.

Key words: casualty, trenches

Credit: Penlee House Gallery & Museum, Penzance