NAME: Duncan Brown COWAN
SERVICE NO: 88
YEAR OF BIRTH: 1884
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hamilton
DATE OF ENLISTMENT: 22 March 1916
PLACE OF ENLISTMENT: Hamilton
AGE AT ENLISTMENT: 32
UNIT: 39th Battalion, A Company
EMBARKED: 27 May 1916
TROOPSHIP: HMAT A11 Ascanius
FATE: Returned Home – 19 February 1919
AWARDS: Distinguished Conduct Medal
Duncan Cowan was born at Hamilton in 1884, a son of Duncan Cowan and Eliza Swan. Duncan Sr was an actuary with the Hamilton Savings Bank. He had previously worked as a clerk at his cousin Thomas Brown’s butchering business. The Cowan family lived at Gilmour in Clarke Street (below) just around the corner from the Brown family. Duncan Sr died in October 1891 when Duncan was seven.
Duncan attended the Hamilton Academy and the Presbyterian Sunday School and when older played tennis for the Presbyterian Club. He was also a handy cricketer, representing Hamilton on several occasions. Like his father, he worked as a bookkeeper. Around the early 1910s, Duncan went to Keeroongooloo station in Queensland but returned by 1916 when he enlisted at Hamilton aged thirty-two. He went into camp with the newly formed 39th Battalion at Ballarat.
The 39th battalion left Australia on 27 May 1916 for England arriving almost two months later. Duncan was promoted to Corporal on 19 August 1916. After a few months of training, the 39th were off to France on 23 November At home, Duncan’s brother George enlisted on 17 October 1916. , He was hospitalised in December with mumps but on his recovery, he returned to the battalion and was appointed Lance Sergeant in January 1917. He wrote home,
Tell them I am quite well, and still “boxing on” with the business. At present, I am enjoying a bit of a spell. Our regiment is out for a little time and we needed it, because we have been in the trenches, and at it solid ever since we came over here last November. Our lads are all in great heart though and will uphold.the name of “Anzac” to the finish. (Hamilton Spectator 26 May 1917)
In June 1917, Duncan received a comfort box from the St Arnaud branch of the Australian WomensNational League. Since the 39th Battalion had just been through the Battle of Messines in Belgium in early June, it would have been a nice surprise.
On 10 and 11 August 1918. the 39th Battalion was near Proyart, east of Amiens preparing to capture the village. Duncan’s platoon faced a heavy machine-gun barrage from the enemy and there were several casualties including the platoon commander. With coolness and courage, Duncan took charge, rearranged the platoon and returned to the wounded and arranged for their care. Duncan’s devotion and gallant conduct saw him awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Just over a week later, back in Hamilton, a tree each was planted for Duncan and his brother George along the Clarke Street Memorial Avenue. Meanwhile, Duncan was granted leave from 26 September 1918 and rejoined the unit on 11 October the day after he was awarded his medal. A month later the war ended and Duncan was transferred to the AIF Kit Store in England in December 1918. He remained there until he left for Australia on 19 February 1919.
Getting back to some sort of normality, Duncan got work bookkeeping at Murgha station near Deniliquin.
He married Hazel Silke at the station on 4 May 1928 and they remained in residence there. A daughter Margaret was born at Echuca in May 1929. Duncan died suddenly on 26 December 1934 at Murgha station aged forty-nine. He was buried at the Deniliquin Cemetery.
Duncan’s war service is remembered on the Borough of Hamilton WW1 Honour Roll.