James Basil COWAN


COWAN, James Basil

Service Number: 806
Enlisted: 15 August 1914
Last Rank: Driver
Last Unit: Royal Flying Corps
Born: St Kilda, Victoria, Australia, 13 May 1894
Home Town: St Kilda, Port Phillip, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Bank Clerk
Died: Flying Battle, Belgium, 3 October 1918, aged 24 years
Cemetery: Dadizeele New British Cemetery, Flanders, Belgium.
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World War 1 Service

15 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Driver, 2nd Field Artillery Brigade
20 Oct 1914: Involvement Driver, SN 806, 2nd Field Artillery Brigade
20 Oct 1914: Embarked Driver, SN 806, 2nd Field Artillery Brigade , HMAT Shropshire, Melbourne
16 Mar 1917: Discharged AIF WW1, Driver, 2nd Field Artillery Brigade , Discharged to the Royal Flying Corps with rank of 2nd Lieutenant
17 Mar 1917: Involvement Royal Flying Corps

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Biography contributed by Stephen Brooks

Lieutenant James Basil Cowan was born in St Kilda, on the 13 May 1894. Before the war he studied at Queen's College, Melbourne before becoming a Bank clerk. James enlisted in 1914 and served at Gallipoli with the 2nd Field Brigade AIF. Having survived being shot down or crashed on three previous occasions, James was killed in action on the 3 October 1918, in Belgium only a few weeks before the end of the war. Cowan, a 25-year-old from Melbourne, was flying a Bristol F.2b of No 48 Squadron RAF, with Lt Ludlow Norman Jones, an Irishman.

Previously, he had been badly injured in a training during December 1917 and was out of action for almost two months. He was promoted to Lieutenant and joined 48 Squadron in France, flying Bristol fighters in August 1918. On the 31 August 1918, while on an offensive patrol, with observer Sgt R.L.G. White, Cowan was forced to crash land his Bristol F2b after being hit by anti-aircraft fire.

On 2nd September 1918, while on an offensive patrol, flying a Bristol F2b with his observer Lt. T.L. Jones west of Lille, a formation of five Fokkers biplanes dived on them. Lt. Jones fired a red flare to warn the rest of the patrol then opened fire on the nearest enemy aircraft which went into a vertical dive smoking and then burst into flames. On their way home they were attacked by three more Fokkers. Both Cowan and Jones fired at one of the German aircraft which rolled over and fell completely out of control.

On 26th September 1918, Cowan left Hazelbrouck to go on an offensive patrol, with his observer. Near Menin they encountered 8 enemy aircraft and engaged them in combat. Their engine was shot up and they were forced to crash at 12pm.

On 3rd October 1918, Captain F.J.Cunninghame of 48 Squadron was leading a bombing run when a group of 12 Fokkers were spotted to the south and engaged. Two of the enemy aircraft were shot down in the ensuing air battle. Cowan's Bristol F2b was seen to go down in flames by Squadron member 2 Lt. Herbert Thomas at 1750 hours. The group returned to their aerodrome to report Cowan and his observer, Lt. Jones, as “Missing in Action”

Cowan's plane crashed in the vicinity of the “Onlede Molen”, (busy windmill) between Lichtervelde and Gits. The crash site was 15 miles North West from where the air battle had taken place. Cowan probable died in the crash and was buried next to a cross near a farmhouse outside the town of Lichtervelde. Jones was not buried with Cowan so was probably captured by the Germans and taken to a Military Hospital in Lichtervelde were he died the same day from his wounds. The town of Lichtervelde was liberated a few weeks later.

Cowan’s body was initially buried near a cross surrounded by a few lime trees, in the vicinity of a farmhouse, and was well tended by local people. After the war his remains were exhumed and taken to the New British Cemetery in Dadizele. His brother 40186 Gunner William M. Cowan AIF returned home safely to their home in St. Kilda in 1919.