COWAN, Duncan Brown

NAME:  Duncan Brown COWAN             







UNIT: 39th Battalion, A Company

EMBARKED:  27 May 1916


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. 050

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.

A GERMAN DUGOUT NEAR MESSINES CAPTURED BY THE 39TH BATTALION ON 7 JUNE 1917 Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

Duncan was promoted to Sergeant on 28 July 1917. He was granted leave from 24 September to 5 October 1917. The battalion was still in Belgium when he returned, located near Zonnebeke. The battalion went to Neuve Eglise prior to Christmas and was still there on 23 January 1918 when Duncan and other NCOs from the 39th Battalion posed for the photo below.

NCOs OF THE 39th BATTALION, NEUVE EGLISE, BELGIUM, 23 JANUARY 1918. Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

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. 

DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL, DUNCAN BROWN COWAN. Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia.

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. 

MURGHA STATION HOMESTEAD c1919. Image courtesy of the Museums Victoria Collections

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



Australian War Memorial – Honours and Awards – Duncan Brown Cowan   

Australian War Memorial- WW1 Embarkation Roll – Duncan Brown Cowan

Discovering Anzacs – WW1 Service Record – Duncan Brown Cowan

Newspaper Articles from Trove – Duncan Brown Cowan

The AIF Project – Duncan Brown Cowan