Robert Oliver BOWNESS


BOWNESS, Robert Oliver

Service Number: 2383
Enlisted: 30 March 1916, Brisbane, Queensland
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 4th Pioneer Battalion
Born: Brisbane, Queensland, 3 January 1896
Home Town: Brisbane, Brisbane, Queensland
Schooling: Norman Park State School
Occupation: Grocer/Railway porter
Died: Killed in Action, France, 5 July 1918, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery
His grave finally identified in 2018 after having "No known grave" for over a century
Tree Plaque: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

30 Mar 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 2383, 4th Pioneer Battalion, Brisbane, Queensland
8 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 2383, 4th Pioneer Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
8 Aug 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 2383, 4th Pioneer Battalion, HMAT Itonus, Brisbane
8 Jun 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 2383, 4th Pioneer Battalion, Messines
4 Jul 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 2383, 4th Pioneer Battalion, Le Hamel - Blueprint for Victory

Help us honour Robert Oliver Bowness's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Elizabeth Allen

Robert Oliver BOWNESS was born on 3rd January, 1896 in Brisbane, Queensland

His parents were Edward Harrison BOWNESS and Henrietta Evangeline SHAW

He had previous service in the Cadets and the Citizens Military Forces in Queensland before he enlisted on 30th March, 1916 & embarked from Brisbane with the 4th Pioneer Battalion, 4th reinforcements on the HMAT Itonus on 8th August, 1916

Robert was killed by german artillery fire while digging a support trench at Hamel on 5th July, 1918 - he was buried nearby in a field three quarters of a mile west of Hamel but the cross marking his grave was lost and subsequently he had no known grave & his headstone was marked as 'Unknown" until 100 years later he has been identified (see details below)

His name is memorialised on the Australian War Memorial and the Australian National Memorial in Villers Bretonneux in France

The inscription reads:


Medals:  British War Medal & the Victory Medal


Information from the Commonwealth War Graves

Please note that this casualty was previously commemorated on the Villers Bretonneux Memorial, his name will be removed when the appropriate panel is next replaced


"Unnamed 'soldier of the great war' identified by great niece in Brisbane. By Phil Williams and Gwen Griffith 6 Jul 2018

Nearly 18,000 Australian soldiers are lying in unmarked graves in France and Belgium. Now, there is one fewer. One-hundred years after his death, Private Robert Bowness finally has a name on his gravestone — and it's thanks to his great niece's efforts to find him. Kristine Broadway had grown up hearing stories of the uncle she never met. She knew the 22-year-old soldier from Brisbane had been killed by a German artillery shell the day after the Hamel victory in Northern France, and that no-one knew the location of his grave. "My great aunts spoke of Robert all through my childhood, all through my adulthood," Ms Broadway said. "He was greatly missed and a much-loved family member." He became so much a part of the family's story that Kristine vowed she would find him.

As a history teacher in Brisbane, she introduced her great uncle's story as part of a history project for her students, and started to search for his grave. Two friends helped her piece together all the clues to find out exactly what happened to him. Robert Bowness was a 20-year-old grocer when he enlisted in the first RAF in Brisbane on March 30, 1916. He joined the 4th Battalion in northern France in 1917, helping to construct railways and tramways. Later, he was wounded in the battle of Messines in Belgium but remained on operation before moving back to the Somme. The Army had always known when he was killed. It was the night following the battle of Hamel on July 4, 1918. He and Private Amor and Andersen were part of a seven-man company tasked with digging a communication trench from the newly established front lines. But they never finished their task. A German artillery shell fell on their party, and the three soldiers were lost. The task of recovering their bodies was not easy. Their sergeant major couldn't find a trace of them, and in a hay crop, under heavy shelling — searching was difficult. The three were found two days later by the 43rd battalion. At the time, they had had difficulty recognising Bowness. Even though a fellow soldier recognised his tattoo, he had no disk and no papers on him.

In September 1919, the grave registration unit exhumed and re-interred the remains of Private Amor and Andersen and an unknown soldier from the fourth battalion. All three were interred in the Villers Bretonneux Cemetery. Private Amor was in row C, Andersen in row D, and the unknown soldier's grave was also registered. By now there was no record he was Robert Bowness. But, as a beloved son and brother, his family back in Brisbane had always kept his memory alive. 'A soldier of the great war' now named Together with her two friends, Kristine pieced together all the information they needed to find where he had been buried. The unrecovered war casualties' unit at the Australian Army's headquarters and former diggers association confirmed their findings — which led to a special service in his honour and a re-dedication of his gravestone at Villers-Bretonneux.

"It's overwhelming," said Kristine Broadway at her Uncle's graveside. "The fact that Robert's been lying here the whole time with a tombstone that said, 'A soldier of the great war'. "His family back in Australia not knowing all those years where he was, and then having him found and the very special ceremony today. The emotions have been overpowering." At the service, Kristine listened with tears in her eyes as Private Bowness's service history was read aloud. Now, Private Robert Oliver Bowness has his name on his gravestone. His ultimate sacrifice, fully acknowledged, and the Chief of Army moved by his story. "This is very special, 100 years later, to finally recognise and give peace to Robert Bowness is very special," Lieutenant General Rick Burr said. 

Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester also came to pay his respects. "It's amazing that people like Kristine take the time to research their ancestors and help provide some closure," he said. "I'm sure if Robert was here today, he'd say, 'Stop your blubbing, minister', but it's a moving service, and it's fantastic to have closure for the family." Private Bowness's parents died without knowing where their son had been laid to rest. For Kristine, this was a special moment in memory of her Grandmother. She had not only lost her son that winter, but also her two-year-old daughter, Olive Mary, to pneumonia. "I think of his mother and particularly his sisters," Kristine says. "I know how much he meant to them. Grandma Bowness is who I thought about through that entire ceremony, and the fact that we found her boy." - from ABC Online (


"Century-long wait over as unknown soldier is identified

An Unknown Australian soldier who fought and died in the Great War has been identified and hailed in a re-dedication ceremony in France. Private Robert Oliver Bowness was fighting on the front lines when he, along with two other soldiers was buried by the blast of an exploding shell at Hamel.  He was just 22 at the time of his death. However his identity remained a mystery for over a century with the three soldiers names as Private Peter Anderson, Private Edgar Armour and an Unknown Australian Soldier. That was until his identity was unveiled by the Australian Armys Unrecovered War Casualties unit. The Minister for Defence Personnel, Darren Chester said it was an honour to pay tribute to Private Bowness at his grave in the Villers Bretonneux Military Ceremony. "It is as important as ever to remember the sacrifice soldiers like Private Bowness made on behalf of Australia during WW1" Mr. Chester said. "Now his previously unmarked headstone can be replaced with one bearing his name and service particulars". Mr. Chester hailed the UWC - A for its never ending quest to put a name to a soldier who put his life on the line for his country "To be able to identify a soldier who lost his life in the service of his country is a great achievement for which they should be rightly proud". "Their tireless work was supported by submissions from the public, culminating in the official identification of Private Bowness. A rededication service for Private Robert Oliver Bowness of 4th Australian Pioneers took place at Villers Bretonneux Military Cemetery on 4th July, 2018." - from the Gladstone Observer 05 Jul 2018 (



BOWNESS - Sacred to the memory of our dear son and brother, Private Robert Oliver Bowness, killed in action at Hamel, 5th July, 1918

"The family chain is broken but will be closer linked in heaven"