Commander Rowland Griffiths Bowen

Rowland Griffiths Bowen was born on 14 January 1879 at Taggerty, Victoria, the seventh child of David Bowen, farmer, and his wife Margaret, née Hughes, both of whom were natives of Wales. His father died when he was seven and the family moved to Petrie, Queensland, where Rowland attended the local state school and during 1895-1911 he worked in Brisbane as a railways clerk.

He also served in the Queensland Naval Brigade, became a Sub Lieutenant in 1900 and then in 1911 he joined the RAN as a Lieutenant.

He was District Naval Officer (DNO) at Thursday Island until February 1914 and assistant DNO in Melbourne until the outbreak of war. On 14 August, at All Saints Anglican Church, East St Kilda, he married Agnes Grace Mary Bell.

On 19 August Bowen sailed with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF), in the troopship Berrima, which had been hastily raised to capture German New Guinea. In the force's first operation, at Rabaul in German New Guinea, he led a party of 25 naval reservists in an attack on the radio station at Bitapaka.

The party was put ashore at Kabakaul on 11 September and, while pushing forward through dense jungle, was ambushed by a patrol of native soldiers led by three German officers. In the skirmish that followed one of the Germans was wounded, and surrendered. Bowen ordered him, under threat of shooting him, to call on his comrades to surrender, for 800 Australians were advancing. Soon afterwards Bowen was shot in the head by a sniper and evacuated to Berrima for treatment; he was later mentioned in dispatches for gallantry and promoted to Acting Lieutenant Commander in November 1914.

His action in coercing a prisoner to act as a decoy was later described by the official historians as an apparent infringement, through ignorance, of the rules of warfare. Legal or otherwise, the incident had unforeseen consequences: the false report of the strength of the Australian troops reached the acting Governor of German New Guinea who ordered his small force to abandon the defence of the coastal belt. The military occupation of the German colony followed without opposition.

Bowen resumed duty on the Melbourne naval staff in April 1915, but six months later his wife died, leaving him with an infant daughter to care for. In 1916 he became first State President of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia.

In 1917 he was posted to Perth and on 22 November married Corinne Elizabeth Bruce-Nicol in St George's Anglican Cathedral. He was promoted Commander in April 1919 and was DNO in Tasmania in 1919-23 and in Western Australia in 1923-35.

He left the Navy in 1936 and settled in Sydney, holding a number of offices with the Order of St John. He retired to Canberra in 1957 and two years later was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on the civil list. Survived by a son and a daughter, he died on 21 October 1965 and was cremated with Presbyterian rites.

Tall and distinguished in appearance, brisk in manner and speech, conscientious and inflexibly high-principled, Bowen probably commanded respect more readily than he inspired affection. At ease with his friends, he was a man of considerable charm and had a fund of amusing stories.