Private John William Richardson Cowell



John William Richardson Cowell was born on 8 June 1887 (some records suggest 1884 or 1885) at Blyth, Northumberland, one of at least five children of coal miner John Cowell and his wife Dorothy. By 1901 he was living at 204 Back Row, Durham, with his widowed father and three younger siblings and working as a putter in a coal mine. (A 'putter' was the man who brought empty coal tubs up to the coal face and took loaded tubs to the pit bottom.)

Cowell was a talented footballer who played for Castleford Town, Rotherham Town and Bristol City, before joining Sunderland in October 1910. By the time of the 1911 Census he was living at 23 Dinsdale Road, Sunderland, with his wife Edith (née Shaw) and their twin children, Ralph and Clara. In May that year he signed with Belfast team Distillery, later joining Belfast Celtic. The article below appeared in the Northern Whig of 19 October 1914:



The Sports (Dublin) Newspaper of 19 December 1914 described Cowell as "the best centre in Irish football. Full of dash and carries a team along."

Cowell enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 13 and 19 May 1915 (No.1554 – later Corps of Hussars No.71439). On 29 May the Sport newspaper (Dublin) noted:

Jack Cowell, the Celtic centre, has joined the North Irish Horse at Antrim. ... On Monday last Anesley [sic], the Glentoran back, and Wilkin, the Cliftonville outside left, forsook civilian life and joined the North Irish Horse at Antrim. Of course, both the latter are amateurs, so that the only pro to join since the close of the season is the Celtic centre.

While training at the North Irish Horse reserve camp at Antrim he turned out for the regimental cricket team at two local matches. On 30 June 1915 he scored 106 not out in a game against a Royal Engineers team at Muckamore, and on 10 July, batting at No.7 against Cliftonville, he was dismissed without scoring.

On 22 September that year Cowell embarked for France, where he was posted to A or D Squadron, probably the latter – the war diary for that squadron records the arrival of a sergeant and eight other ranks on 5 October and a corporal and nine other ranks six days later.

In May 1916 A, D and E Squadrons came together to form the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to VII, XIX and then V Corps.

On 7 January 1918 Cowell was part of a draft of thirteen men from the 1st Regiment transferred to the Tank Corps (No.305504). He remained with that regiment for the duration of the war, though whether he saw any further overseas service is not known. On 31 July 1919 he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.


Image of Cowell sourced from