John (Johnnie, Jack) DOW

DOW, John

Service Numbers: Not yet discovered
Enlisted: 12 April 1916
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Last Unit: 3rd Tunnelling Company (inc. 6th Tunnelling Company)
Born: St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 15 April 1882
Home Town: Kalgoorlie, Kalgoorlie/Boulder, Western Australia
Schooling: likely in St Kilda area, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Assistant Surveyor
Died: Lung cancer, Hamilton, Adelaide, South Australia, 8 August 1954, aged 72 years
Cemetery: AIF Cemetery, West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide
Official ACA record. Dow John 00/08/1954 Kendrew Oval, Row 3, Site Number 43 West Terrace AIF Cemetery, Adelaide
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World War 1 Service

12 Apr 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private
1 May 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Sergeant, 3rd Tunnelling Company (inc. 6th Tunnelling Company)
15 Oct 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, 3rd Tunnelling Company (inc. 6th Tunnelling Company)
25 Oct 1916: Embarked Tunnelling Companies, HMAT Ulysses, Melbourne
25 Oct 1916: Involvement Tunnelling Companies
13 Aug 1917: Promoted Lieutenant, 3rd Tunnelling Company (inc. 6th Tunnelling Company)
11 May 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 3rd Tunnelling Company (inc. 6th Tunnelling Company)

John's life before and after WW1

Lt John Dow’s life before and after World War One

School and university
Lt John Dow was born on April 15, 1882 in St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria the son of John and Helen Christina Dow. (Lt John’s father and grandfather were also called John so for clarity I will refer to him as Lt John in the early part of this biography).

Lt John’s father, also called John Dow (1852-1906) and mother Helen Christina (nee Loraine 1860-1892) were married in 1879. John’s older sister and sole sibling Laura Margherita Dow (1881-1942) was born in 1881 in St Kilda.

It is not clear where Lt John or Laura went to primary or secondary school. It is likely that his schooling years were between 1887 and 1899. Melbourne University records have him matriculating in 1899. He gained his military experience as a member for three years of the School Cadets (2nd Battalion).

Lt John’s only son Ian Baird Dow (my father) said in a 1992 interview with me shortly before he died that:

“It is possible that his education was funded by his aunt Helen Leitch Crosbie (formerly Helen Leitch Dow). I think my father was largely brought up by her. Obviously, there was enough money to send him to Melbourne University”.

Helen Leitch Crosbie (nee Dow, 1842-1916) was married to wealthy property owner John William Crosbie (1839-1891). They lived on the Esplanade in St Kilda in the Crosbie family seat ‘Euralla’

It is almost certain that Lt John lived at ‘Euralla’ until he completed his university studies in 1909. In 1916 Lt John was still listing ‘Euralla’ as Laura’s address , when she would have been 35. I think we can safely assume that John’s sister Laura was also brought up by Aunt Helen Leitch Crosby.

The fact that they were living with their aunt might be explained by the fact that their own mother, Helen Christina Dow, died in 1892 when she was only 32 and John was 10 and Laura was 11. Their mother’s death was also the year before Aunt Helen Leitch Crosby’s husband John William Crosby died, so it is possible that the conjunction of these deaths led to Lt John and Laura (who would have been 10 and 11 respectively) moving in with Aunt Helen Crosbie and their cousins Harry Dow Crosbie (1871-1904) and William Thomas Crosbie (1872 – 1934).

Very little is known about Lt John and Laura’s father, the extent to which he was involved in John and Laura’s upbringing, or why he handed the children into the care of his sister.

Although the Crosbies were Roman Catholics, is likely that Lt John went to a Church of England school in Melbourne (he listed C of E as his religious affiliation) but searches with the major schools have so far drawn a blank. Research continues in this area.

Between 1902 and 1909 Lt John studied for a four-year Bachelor of Mining Engineering at Melbourne University. The transcript shows that he needed to repeat subjects, but that surveying was a strength. He achieved honours for first year surveying. Reading between the lines of his university results suggests a young man who might not have been a natural student, but one who was willing to persist and deal with failure until he succeeded. It is also possible that the didactic, examination-based pedagogy of the era may not have suited his learning style.

While he studied for his Bachelor of Mining Engineering at Melbourne University he was cox of the winning 1907 ‘maiden’ eight in the intervarsity competition (‘maiden’ meaning the third eight) and in 1908 he coxed the MUBC first eight to a second place in the intervarsity competition on the Port Adelaide River, with Sydney University winning and Adelaide University third. My grandmother (Ilma Vera Dow 1892-1973), John’s wife, recalled that as a winning cox he was thrown into the river, a tradition that still persists.

For these rowing achievements he was awarded a rowing 'blue’ blazer pocket, which is a proud possession of the family. Ian Baird Dow (1923-1993 (from here cited as ‘Ian’) also recalled that at university John was a fine lightweight boxer, and a handy Australian Rules Footballer.

According to Ian:
“(John) was also very keen on sailing, and he used to sail with his (Crosbie) cousins (probably Harry Dow Crosbie and William Thomas Crosbie) when he was a youth and a young man. They had a boat called Galataea”.

Early mining career
After university he worked in mining in Western Australia and was employed with the Golden Horseshoe Estates in Boulder. The Electoral Rolls for 1916 and 1917 record John Dow, surveyor’s assistant, living at Golden Horseshoe Estate, Boulder. Ian states that he attempted to enlist in 1915 but was ‘sent away because he was too small’ (he was about 5’5”)

On March 14, 1916 at the Goldfields Senior Cadets (Area 84A) Depot in Kalgoorlie, W.A. he applied again to enlist for active service abroad and was successful.

He listed as next of kin Laura Margherita Dow, his sister, who at the time was living in “Euralla” Esplanade, St Kilda, Melbourne, Vic and later of “Erehwon” Yarram Yarram, Gippsland, Vic.

Laura was born in 1881 in St Kilda and died in 1942 in Prahran aged 61.

Ilma Vera Dow and ‘the aunties’

Ilma Vera Dow (always known as Vera) was the daughter of Monica Roach, and youngest of four daughters, Frances, Hilda and Gladys. These remarkable women were to play a major role in John’s, Ian’s and later, my life.

Monica Eliza Roach (1851- 1929) was an impecunious but genteel widow who ran a boarding house for single men in Broken Hill. There were limited economic options for ‘respectable’ women in those days. Hilda and Gladys, and I think Frances, (none of whom married) opened a ladies’ wear shop in Argent St, Broken Hill, known locally as The Misses Roach. According to family legend this shop was a solid success, and the profits funded Ian’s schooling as a boarder at St Peter’s College Adelaide where he was in ‘School House’. The School House master was another WW1 comrade of John’s, John Hill. They’d met in a hospital for officers during the War. Ian believed that his father asked John Hill to keep an eye on him, and in doing so he became Ian’s substitute father figure.

The Misses Roach shop and Vera’s own book shop kept the family afloat during the Depression when John was out of work.

It is quite possible that John boarded with Monica Roach before the War and there met Vera. Anne Eleanor Dow’s book about Vera (called The Bookseller) records that when John was away at the War he would write to the sisters and was making inquiries about ‘the little one’ – a reference to Vera. Anne is Ian’s widow and at time of writing is 96 and the last person alive apart from me who knew John in person.

So clearly John had noticed the vivacious Vera before he enlisted in 1916, although Ian says that there was no formal betrothal at that stage.

Life after the War

Ian says:
“When he returned from WW1 he was a bit of a playboy, I gather from my mother and he was rather keen on horse racing, and used to spend a bit of time at the races with his great friend a fellow called Nigel Kennedy, who came off a station on the West Darling and who was of a similar mind to him. I don’t know whether he and Nigel Kennedy met during the War. It is quite possible that they may have done so. In all events, they were sufficiently close friends for Nigel to be Dad’s Best Man when they were married and my Godfather.”

Ian continues:
“My parents were married in 1921, at the Presbyterian Church in Broken Hill, which is a ‘tin tabernacle’, in Lane St. opposite the Anglican church. And they then went back to the West. When Mum got pregnant, she decided she wanted to have her baby at home as it were, in the company of her mothers and sisters. So she came back to Broken Hill where I was born on the 4th April, 1923, at number 241 Chloride St.”

Like many men of the time John spoke little about his wartime experiences. Most of what Ian knew came from the references to his exploits in the Battle of the Lys recorded Bean’s history of WW1, and the occasional remark.

Ian says:
“After Armistice he stayed on in the AIF cleaning up booby traps and delayed action mines that had been left behind by the retreating Germans for six months or so into 1919, before coming back to Australia. He was a bit sour about (the fact that this work did not attract decoration) because after the War a general - might have been Birdwood – who was in charge of the ANZAC army (ensured that) officers, NCOs and men who’d undertaken these delousing jobs were all decorated”.

Vera was immensely proud of the references in the official history to John’s actions during the Battle of the Lys (also described on and in Damian Findlayson’s excellent book about the Tunnelling Companies, Crumps and Camouflets). She felt strongly that it was an injustice that he had not been decorated for it, but there is no record that John felt that way.

Ian says:
“(John) never talked about it much. I know that Mum bought those two volumes for him at the time they were published so somebody must have known about it and told her that they were to be published and that there would be a mention of Dad”.
(There is an excellent summary of John’s war prepared by which can be downloaded from John’s profile on the Virtual War Memorial of Australia website).

Back to work
After demobilisation John returned to Golden Horseshoe Estate, Boulder WA. Electoral Rolls for 1919/1920/1921 record John Dow, surveyor’s assistant. He received the British War Medal on August 1, 1921. The Victory Medal was not collected at the designated barracks and returned to Base Records on May 5, 1923. John wrote to Base Records on March 21, 1923 from Golden Horseshoe Estates Co. Ltd in Boulder, W.A. requesting any medal due to be forwarded to him there. Records from the Tunnellers’ Old Comrades’ Association (TOCA) also list his address in 1925 as Golden Horseshoe Estates Co. Ltd in Boulder, W.A.

In 1925 Western Argus on Tuesday July 7 reported the following item. “A Lady’s Letter:
Miss Laura Dow, of Melbourne, is spending a few months on the goldfields as a guest of her brother, Mr John Dow, and his wife on the Golden Horseshoe Mine”. There is also some suggestion in the electoral records that Laura also lived for a while at 241 Chloride St, Broken Hill, the Roach family seat.

Laura Margherita Dow was John’s unmarried older sister and according to family legend a ‘modern’ woman who worked in a business, probably as a secretary. According to Ian she ‘scandalised the (Roach sisters) by smoking with an elegant cigarette holder’.

In 1925 John’s address was also listed by TOCA as 87 Lyall Street, Kalgoorlie with the occupation of Mine Surveyor, suggesting that he’d been promoted from assistant surveyor.

In 1926 or 1927 Vera, the three year old Ian and Aunt Frances Roach travelled by boat (the SS Malabar) and train via Singapore to Namtoo in northern Burma to the British tin and tungsten mines for John’s work. John went up to Burma six months earlier. John’s main role was railway bridge building and maintenance.

Ian says:
“The Burma Corporation was a British company. A lot of Australians in it. Frank Espie was the big boss. He was an Adelaide bloke. He lived on a place called Bawdwin which was even further north. And in Namtoo Dad was in charge of the railways. The mine had various railways which were always being washed away. It was Dad’s job to establish the railways and to maintain them”.
The family returned to Broken Hill in 1930 in the middle of the Great Depression but John had no job to return to.

Hard times
Ian says:
“He came back from Burma in 1930 in the middle of the Depression without a job and he spent two or three years unemployed, which would have been very bad. It’s bad enough now, but I think it was worse then for a professional man, in his early 50s. Particularly when he was living in Broken Hill, and all the men he knew were either running their own businesses or in work on the mines or in the local banks, he was living with his wife in her sister’s house, dependent to some extent on their bounty, and when Mum (Vera) started her little business - she always had a good entrepreneurial spirit - he helped her in the shop. But she was the driving force behind it.
He had several other jobs before WW2, one at Tennant Creek on the Eldorado Mine, and he also managed the Lady Chinton (?) Mine which is somewhere north of Kalgoorlie”.

Main Roads Commission in Queensland.
Ian continues:
“In 1939 he got his last and permanent job on the Main Roads Commission in Queensland. He had a friend, who was the Commissioner for Main Roads in Queensland, presumably someone who had been at the university with him, and he got him a job as an engineer with the Main Roads Commission.
I think he was originally in Brisbane and after the [Second World] War he was moved up to Townsville where he was the Main Roads Commission’s professional engineer in the northern part of Queensland, again building main roads, and during the War he built a couple of airstrips, one at a place called Jacky-Jacky, which I think is near Weipa, and on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula and one on Horn Island, which is part of the Thursday Island group.
He was also engaged either during or just after the War in doing some drilling to establish base rock for the big dam they put up the Burdekin River Dam. That was not completed until just a few years ago, but I remember him telling me that he was engaged in drilling to see what they had underneath them, down to base rock.
After the War, it must have been about 1947 I suppose, he was brought back to the Brisbane office, where he stayed for the rest of his time in Queensland. He was living in a pub at Sandgate, which is on the shore of Moreton Bay, an eastern suburb of Brisbane. It was barely a suburb, it was something like Christies Beach (near Adelaide) used to be, and in 1949, when he was still working there, he was diagnosed as having lung cancer. I flew up to Brisbane, where he was in the Brisbane General Hospital, and brought him back”.

There is a poignant reference to his illness in TOCA in 1950.
“Johnnie Dow writes that he has just been through the Valley of the Shadow and his weight was down to 6st 11lbs (43kg), but thanks to the efforts of a young Adelaide surgeon (Darcy Sutherland) who removed half of his breathing apparatus he is now well and about. He especially wishes to be remembered to Clay, Ponty and others of the old Third Company.”
During the 1992 interview I asked Ian about how John felt, as a relatively old man, about living and working in remote places.

Ian says:
“He was doing all his calculations at night by the light of a hurricane light in a tent. Using a slide rule, no computers or calculators. He certainly was (in isolated places), and it wasn’t until about 1946 or ‘47 that he came down from Townsville and back to the metropolis of Brisbane. I don’t think he minded working in those conditions. I think he was indifferent to the conditions that he worked in”.
Too old to enlist in WW2, but he was also a member of the Home Guard in North Queensland.

Ian’s reflections on John’s outlook, and his working life
“Politically, (John) was firmly to the right of centre. He had strong views on Communism. He had strong views on politicians but he was not politically active. He had a lot of admiration for the Brits, and while he was conservative, he didn’t have any admiration for so-called self-made men. I suppose his ideal was the old ideal of the gentleman, who treated people properly and fairly, didn’t profit at other people’s expense. That may very well be the reason behind his lack of economic success. He didn’t push himself, didn’t promote himself at all. Didn’t promote himself to the right people. He rather tended to be the only one in step at times. Didn’t get on terribly well with his employers, largely I think because he wouldn’t kowtow to them. And, not sort of turn the other cheek to what he regarded as unfair or improper behaviour. As a consequence of which, his contracts were frequently not renewed”.

My view on John’s outlook, and his working life
Ian and John were very different men, Ian being much closer to and more like his mother Vera.
His comments need to be put in the context of Ian’s own professional success (he became a senior partner in an Adelaide law firm), his admiration for other high achievers, and like many children of the Great Depression, his deep fear of poverty and unemployment.

Looked at objectively, while John’s career might not have reached great heights, he was employed continuously in an exacting professional position from 1910 to 1949, with a break for WW1 and three years during the Depression. He worked in the Boulder (WA) area between 1910 to 1916, and then from 1919 to around 1926. He spent the last ten years of his working life with one employer, the Main Roads Commission of Queensland. In order maintain continuous employment for nearly 40 years he would have need to have received references and recommendations that pointed to him being at the very minimum a satisfactory employee.

But I suspect that there was another dynamic at work might also help to explain Ian’s perspective on the trajectory of John’s career, and John’s apparent reticence, suspicion of authority, and unwillingness to engage in what he saw as the hypocrisy of organisational politics.

As has been described in dozens of books about the impact of WW1 on the psyche of the men and women who experienced it, it is almost certain that, psychologically, John would have been scarred by experiences that could not really be shared with anyone except old comrades – the chronic sensory overload, terror, death and maiming of comrades, the responsibilities as an officer for sending men into terribly dangerous situations, the constant stress of dealing with high explosives, appalling living conditions, lingering illness and injury – all of which profoundly altered the way that WW1 veterans saw the world they returned to.

This legacy was beautifully described by Garnet Adcock, the former adjutant of the 2nd Australian Tunnelling company, cited in Crumps and Camouflets.

“The war had taken us from our grooves which would have been the safe road to contentment, and perhaps success… we had lost touch with our professions (and) came back to our careers as clumsy amateurs, yet lacking the humility of beginners… We came back to a changed world. Some were installed in ‘steady’ jobs and people wondered, and some condemned, when they did not ‘settled down’. Others did ‘adapt themselves’ at a cost, bearing the burden of the lost years, the changed outlook…To these the struggle was greater, more constant and disheartening than any in a war. The adventure, and most of all comradeship, was lost in peace… The peace following a war is worse than the war”.

John’s final job, gained at 57 years, was with the Main Roads Commission in Queensland. There he was often living in a tent in some of the most remote places in the world, far from his wife and family, apparently unmoved by the harsh climate, discomfort and isolation, possibly even embracing it. To what extent does this indifference to hardship and loneliness speak of a spirit damaged by the horrors of The Great War?

Return to Adelaide
When John’s respiratory illness became serious (he was a lifelong smoker), Ian flew to Brisbane to collect his father and bring him back to Adelaide. In the early 1950s John and Vera built a small cottage at 10 Souter St, North Walkerville, also called Hamilton, and now renamed Vale Park.

The headstone
There are a number of significant errors on his headstone in the AIF Cemetery on West Terrace (Kendrew Oval, Row 3, Site Number 43). The family has now confirmed the position of the stone and is working to have the stone corrected with the support of researcher John Reading of

Final years
My mother, Anne Eleanor Dow, remembers John as a quiet, unpretentious man with a ‘nice Aussie voice’ (as opposed to the ‘cultivated’ BBC-style accents which were considered the ideal at the time). I called him Manny (that is Man – ee) and he used to read me Elephant Bill by J.H. Williams, about an elephant working in the teak forests of Burma while I sat on his lap. I was three when he died.

Despite their marriage being punctuated with long periods of separation, Vera nursed him faithfully at home for over four years until he died on the 8th August 1954 and was buried the next day in the AIF Cemetery on West Terrace, Adelaide. He was 72 years old.

Vera lived until 1973. She was a larger than life, much loved, theatrical personality with a huge circle of friends from all walks of life. She and ‘the aunties’ were major figures in my and my siblings’ lives as children. She became a well-known expert on children’s books and worked for Rigby’s for many years. Anne Eleanor Dow researched her life and wrote a book on it, called The Bookseller.

John’s descendants include four grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren.

Athlete, Soldier, Mining Engineer

Prepared by Dr Alastair Baird Dow, grandson, Feb 2020 v2

From. Victorian Public Records
Lt John Dow born 1882, mother Helen Christina nee Loraine, father’s name John, place of birth St Kilda, reg 12537/1882.

Lt John’s sister Laura Margherita Dow born St Kilda 1881 (mother Helen Christina ne Loraine), father John, Reg number 5841/1881, died Prahran aged 61, 1942 Reg 8623/1942.

Lt John’s grandfather John Dow, son of Jessie Campbell, husband of Janet Dow nee Baird, died 1878, age 72, reg 12745/1879.

Lt John’s father John Dow, son of John and Janet Dow nee Baird, died St Kilda age 54 in 1906. Reg 14987/1906. This suggests he was born in 1852.

Lt John’s father John and mother Helen Christina Loraine married 1979. Reg 3209/1879

Lt John’s mother Helen Christina (nee Loraine) died 1892 at 32. Reg 4232/1892. This suggests she was born in 1860.

Lt John’s Aunt Helen Leitch Crosby (nee Dow), daughter of John and Janet Dow (nee Baird) died at St Kilda in 1916 at 74. Reg 7909/1916. Suggests she was born in 1842.

Lt John Dow’s uncle by marriage and husband of Helen Leitch Crosby (nee Dow) John William Crosby died at St Kilda in 1891 at 52 Reg 12472/1891. Suggests he was born in 1839.

Monica Eliza Roach died at her residence at 241 Chloride St Broken Hill around May 20th 1929 and is buried in the Church of England portion of the cemetery. Report in the “Barrier Miner” May 20th 1929.


Description of John Dow's action on April 10, 1918

Lt John Dow's actions during the Battle of the Lys on 10th April 1918 was recorded by C. E. W. Bean in his official history of WWI Volume 5 on pages 432 and 433. This reference was a matter of enormous pride to John's wife I. Vera Dow, to his son, Ian Baird Dow (a WW2 veteran) and it remains so for John's descendants who now comprise four grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren. Vera Dow felt that his brave and selfless actions should have been recognised with some sort of decoration, but she said that she was told that it was not the Army's policy to decorate soldiers involved in a retreat.

A summary of Bean's description - the actual pages 432 and 433 have been photographed and are included in the images section.

Lt Dow was left in charge (with a group of tunnellers and others) by the commanding officer Campbell to hold a section of the line. It became clear that there was a gap in the line and that they were in danger of being overrun by German troops. Campbell was ordered to withdraw his troops but he wanted to investigate the correctness of the order and left Dow to hold his position with his men. Campbell left and was not seen again by any of his men, leaving Dow to deal with the situation. Dow, as commanded by Campbell, held on to the position but could not keep his men who drifted away, until only four remained and the Germans were only 100 yards away. Dow then withdrew 'himself the last'. After looking vainly for Campbell 'under the nose of the enemy' he collected 29 of his tunnellers, and withdrew to Jesus Farm where he found another Australian, Lieutenant Colonel of the 12th Suffolk (another Australian). From then on Dow and his tunnellers acted for much of the time as the battalion's rear guard.

Submitted by Dr Alastair Dow, grandson of John Dow, 24/01/2020

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