2nd Lieutenant Edward Owens D.C.M.

Edward Owens. Biography. Tannay.

Edward Owens (1887 - 1918)

A brief history of his life by his great grandson Don Owens

The early years

Edward Owens was born in Victorian Birkenhead in the county of Cheshire on the 10th of August 1887. The second son of John James and Martha Owens, Edward had one brother, Joseph, born three years earlier in 1884 and two sisters, Catherine who was born in 1890 and Winnifred who was born in 1894.

In 1891 the family where living at no.1, Penkith Street in Birkenhead, a street of terraced houses off Turner Street which was in turn off Balls Road East, This was a very busy part of the developing Birkenhead with the shops and businesses of Borough Road, Oxton Road and Woodchurch Road in close proximity and Charing Cross only a short distance away. Edward's father John James was born in Manchester in 1855 as was Edward's elder brother Joseph; Edward's mother was born in Greenfield (Maes-Glas) close to Holywell Flintshire in 1852. The family moved from Manchester to Birkenhead some time between 1885 and 1887. John James' occupation, as recorded on the 1891 census return, was a bricklayer/labourer so it is possible that he moved with his family from Manchester to find work as Birkenhead at this time was enjoying great success and was expanding rapidly.

Little is known of Edward's childhood but life in Birkenhead at the turn of the century must have been tough for a young working class boy. He probably attended the church school of Christ Church on Borough Road the nearest school to is home. The church at this time was the main provider of education for the children of the working classes. Education however wasn't free; unless you were very poor a small sum of money was paid at the beginning of each week for the pupil to be given religious instruction and to be taught the 3 R's. This was a time of expansion and development in the town that had been granted borough status in 1877. Major developments at around this time included the opening of the under river rail link with Liverpool in 1886 and the new Birkenhead Town Hall in Hamilton Square in 1887. In 1871 the population of Birkenhead was 42,997, which dramatically increased to 99,857 by 1891. With this increase in population came a great deal of industrial and commercial development as well as the building of new homes, churches, theatres and public houses. By the early 1890's the church schools were unable to cope with the growing number of children so In 1893 school boards were set up in towns to build council schools and within five years a further four schools had been built in the Birkenhead area.

We don't know when Edward left school, it was common in those days for children to leave school as early at eleven and twelve years old in order for them to go to work and contribute to the family income. We know that by the age of 13 Edward was already earning a living as an errand boy for a local grocer. By 1903, when he was 16 years old, he was working for the London & North Western Railway as a loader in their Birkenhead goods depot. The L&NWR had a big presence on the busy and rapidly expanding Birkenhead Docks so it is possible that this was where Edward worked. It was around this time that he obtained one of the symbols of manhood - a tattoo - of clasped hands on the back of his right forearm. When Edward enlisted in the army in 1904 he put down his occupation as "blacksmiths striker" but little is known about whether he had this job between working as a loader for the railway company and joining the army.

Read More The Life of a Young Soldier

J J  Owens