Born in 1897 at Kentish Town, son of Herbert (Clerk) and Rose Annie Cowell. His father died in 1909. The Census for 1911 shows his mother and sister Edith Rose Cowell lodging with Walter James Hunley (Law Clerk) at 2 Francis Terrace, Crescent Road, South Woodford. Ernest is recorded as a Scholar, and inmate at the Infant Orphan Asylum Woodford Road, Wanstead. When he enlisted at Liverpool Street Station his residence was given as South Woodford.
He enlisted in the 3rd Battalion (Royal Fusiliers) of the London Regiment, and served with them in Europe from 12th February 1916 until 16th August 1917. He saw action at the diversionary attack on Gommecourt during 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. His Battalion was also present as part of 167 Brigade of 56 London Division at the Third Battle of Ypres, a series of engagements to advance and secure various ridges to the south and east of Ypres. The Battle of Langemark took place nearly two months into the campaign.
167 Brigade were scheduled to advance through Nonne Bosschen and occupy the north-western part of Polygon Wood. At the north end of Nonne Bosschen, they encountered an impassable tranche of mud which ran to a depth of 4 feet, and this halted their steady progress as they attempted to go round it. The lines of troops following them moved forward too quickly, and had not properly secured the ground already taken. This enabled German troops to remain at large, reorganise and start attacking the British from the rear. Although some men reached positions to the north of the Wood they were exposed, and when the Germans began an organised frontal counter attack on 167 Brigade in the middle of the afternoon, their gains could clearly not be held. In fact such was the ferocity of the German artillery and machine gun response that by the evening most of the British attackers had been pushed back to their starting points.
56 Division suffered significant casualties that day, among whom was Ernest Cowell. He was not recovered from the field of battle, and so is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.
Memorial: Roll of Honour: Holy Trinity Church.
Research by Adrian Lee, Local Historian