RIC Constable Charles H. Bowles (aged 22) from Kent (Rosscarbery)
Date of incident: 31 March 1921
Sources: CC, 1, 12 April 1921; II, 1, 23 April 1921; CCE, 2, 16, 23 April 1921; CE, 2 April 1921; Peter Kearney’s WS 444, 9-11 (BMH); Military Inquests, WO 35/159A/14 (TNA); William Norris’s WS 595, 12 (BMH); John O’Driscoll’s WS 1250, 11-12 (BMH); Michael Coleman’s WS 1254, 16-17 (BMH); Timothy Warren’s WS 1275, 15 (BMH); Michael O’Driscoll’s WS 1297, 8-9; Ted O’Sullivan’s WS 1478, 35-37 (BMH); Christopher O’Connell’s WS 1530, 22-25 (BMH); Con Flynn’s WS 1621, 20-22 (BMH); James Doyle’s WS 1640, 21-23 (BMH); Barry (1949, 1989), 142-53; Abbott (2000), 216-17; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 145; Deasy (1973), 260-62; Sheehan (2011), 129; Leeson (2011), 143-44.
Note: In their attack on the RIC barracks in Rosscarbery ‘during the early hours of Thursday morning’, 31 March 1921, the Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade used a powerful mine (it caused ‘a devastating explosion’) as part of the successful effort to bring about the destruction of this RIC stronghold, which was important in controlling access to and from that large part of the county lying to the west of the town. In the attack two RIC men (Constable Bowles and Sergeant O’Shea) were killed or mortally wounded; three other constables were seriously wounded, and six more received minor injuries. In addition, owing to a bomb explosion the next morning, at least three civilians were killed.
The Cork Examiner of 2 April 1921 described the devastation resulting from the bombing of the barracks: ‘The streets of the town were littered by debris of all kinds, broken glass, dislodged slates, etc., whilst scarcely a house but bears palpable traces of the terrible force of the explosion. Roofs were stripped and windows shattered, even in the most distant parts of the village, whilst the interior of the houses opposite the barrack were one mass of wreckage.’ See CE, 2 April 1921.
The Cork County Eagle of the same date published an equally valuable report: ‘About 1:45 [a.m.] a number of explosions took place which were heard in Clonakilty, eight miles distant; Ballineen, ten miles; and even in Baltimore, nearly thirty miles away. The terrific nature of the reports indicate[s] the enomous quantity of gelignite or other explosive substances which had been used to accomplish the downfall of the barrack. These bombs were placed against the front wall, which was blown to atoms, thus showing the coolness and daring of the attacking party, who were present in very large numbers. They also threw a number of bombs, presumably of the Mills type, into the barracks, at the same time keeping heavy rifle and shot-gun fire on the building. The police in the circumstances put up the stiffest possible resistance, though a few of their number were killed outright in the early stages.’ Stationed in the Rosscarbery RIC barracks at the time of this attack were nineteen sergeants and constables. The IRA had mounted partly successful attacks on two previous occasions, but this time they completely gutted the barracks. See CCE, 2 April 1921.
It proved difficult to find the remains of the two dead policemen: ‘Throughout Friday [1 April] a large party of Auxiliaries were engaged in searching the ruins for the dead bodies of Sergeant Shea and Constable Bowles, and after a good deal of excavation, the charred remains of what is believed to be the latter were discovered in the demolished day room. No trace was, however, found of the other body [until later]. The remains of Constable Bowles were removed by the Auxiliaries to Bandon. Whilst the search of the ruins was in progress, the public were not permitted to go near the building, on both sides of the wall of which were posted the following notices:—“Beware. Don’t touch these ruins. There are [unexploded] bombs about.”’ See CCE, 2 April 1921.
According to David Leeson, Bowles was the only Black and Tan or special constable killed in a barracks attack during the War of Independence. He had been a member of the RIC for only eight months; previously, he had been a soldier and a switchboard operator. See Abbott (2000), 216-17. The remains of Constable Bowles were returned to England for burial. See CC, 12 April 1921; CCE, 16 April 1921.