I had always suspected that Fred Cowling's wife had died before he went off to fight in WW1. This was confirmed when I saw Fred's papers in the National Archives last October - he was described as a widower when he enlisted. But what had happened to his wife Lillie? The details remained obscure to me - until this week.
I found death records which showed that there was a Lillie Cowling who had died in Q1 of 1914, but that was in Gateshead. The family had lived in Ferryhill, County Durham so it seemed unlikely to be the same person of interest. However Fred's papers revealed he had been living in Prudhoe when he enlisted so he had in fact moved around further, in this case to the Tyne Valley.
The only way to clarify things was to request a copy of the death certificate for this particular Lillie Cowling. It arrived today and does confirm her as the wife of Frederick Watkin Cowling - so it is the same person.
What do I now know I didn't know before? Well Lillie it seems died on 13th February 1914 of acute pulmonary TB, at an address in Gateshead I had not been aware of previously. She had had TB for 6 months, and she was only 28. Fred was present when she died. At the time, they had two children, aged 1 and 3.
Presumably her TB was aggravated by poor living conditions. The properties they lived in were small. He had been made bankrupt in 1912. Maybe after Lillie died, that's when their two children went to live with their grandfather Richard Cowling back in Scarborough, and Fred continued to try and find work as a journeyman baker.
When Fred enlisted in the territorials later in 1914, on 5th September, he had lived at at least 4 different addresses in as many years. His life was in some turmoil.