Percy Hopkin (Pete) BOWEN

Poppy

BOWEN, Percy Hopkin

Service Number: SX1751
Enlisted: 19 February 1940, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 2nd/10th Infantry Battalion
Born: Mannum, South Australia, Australia, 12 September 1917
Home Town: Charleston, Adelaide Hills, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Cheesemaker
Died: Killed in Action, Buna, Papua New Guinea, 26 December 1942, aged 25 years
Cemetery: Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea
C6. D5.
Tree Plaque: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Adelaide WW2 Wall of Remembrance, Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Gumeracha Our Fallen Heroes WW2 Honour Board
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World War 2 Service

19 Feb 1940: Enlisted 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN SX1751, Adelaide, South Australia
20 Feb 1940: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN SX1751, 2nd/10th Infantry Battalion
26 Dec 1942: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, SN SX1751, 2nd/10th Infantry Battalion, Buna / Gona / Sanananda "The Battle of the Beachheads" - New Guinea
Date unknown: Involvement

Red Cross Enquiry

Following is a replication of a hard to read letter written dated 18 March 1943 by the Australian Red Cross Society to Peter’s oldest sister Jean (Jenny)

“Red Cross Bureau For Wounded, Missing & Prisoners of War, 1st floor, Red Cross House, 61 – 63 Gawler Place, Adelaide
Mrs. Jean Rogers
13 Cluney Street, Gilberton

Dear Madam

SX1751 Corporal Percy Hopkin Bowen

As a result of our inquiries on your behalf relative to the abovenamed, we have received some details relating to the death and burial of your brother. The information we are sending you was received by us as a result of a personal interview between of our Red Cross Searchers and a member of your brother’s unit. It should not be regarded as official, and you should take no action consequent upon it until such time as you receive official confirmation from the Army. The report upon which this information is base has been sent to Army who are investigating it and any further information will be conveyed to you by Army.

Corporal Bowen was a member of a unit which was advancing on the enemy with the idea of holding a position. While establishing communications with his Section, it was necessary for him to cross a small clearing, and, while negotiating this open territory, unfortunately an enemy sniper shot him and he died instantly.

Corporal Bowen was executing a very difficult operation, and it is with deep regret that his unit learned of his death. He was well liked by all the members and was considered a very ‘’game’’ soldier. Subsequently a Burial Service was conducted by Chaplain Cray.

In submitting this information, may we, on behalf of this Society, offer our tribute to this brave soldier and extend our sincere sympathy to you in your bereavement.

Yours faithfully

(Mrs. A.E. Simonett)
Director”

A copy of the actual letter is shown in the photos section.

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My Life & Family History

Pete's father (Percival) was the son of Hopkin Bowen an immigrant from Neath, Glamorgan, Wales. Hopkin was a well-known coachbuilder at Kensington, whilst his mother Hannah Norton was a daughter of a Benjamin Dawson Norton who emigrated from Northampton, Northamptonshire, England to South Australia, after his wife Mary Cleaver died and he was declared bankrupt.
Pete's father Percy was himself a returned serviceman from the "fifth South Australian, Contingent, Imperial, Boer War, 1901", serving with the rank of Trooper. His enlistment number was 498. The unit departed on 9 February 1901 and returned on 27 April 1902.

Pete's mother (Marion Maud) was the daughter of a boundary rider William Charles Loxton from Staines, Middlesex, England, and after whom the town of Loxton in South Australia's Riverland is named; and Mary Ellen Goodes who was born at Gumeracha S.A. Mary's parents' were John Goodes from Sawtry, Huntingdonshire, England and Ellen Jane Purcell who was also born at Gumeracha S.A.

Pete's mother died at the age of 41, on 20th May 1930, at Keswick leaving a young family. The two older boys were raised by Maude's sister Clender Lillian Bell who had married a dairy farmer Donald Charles Bell of Charleston. The Bell's had no children of their own. I believe that he youngest son Ivor (Mick) was raised by another of Maude’s sisters.
After attending Primary School Pete became a cheesemaker, working at the Charleston Cheese Factory which was located just north of Charleston on the road to Mt. Torrens. The factory closed in the 1970's, having become unviable due to competition from interstate and overseas imports.
Pete joined the 2nd A.I.F. on the 19 February 1940 and left on the "SS Mauretania" for the Middle East on 5 May 1940. His record and a letter to his Aunt, Uncle & brother show that on or about 25 May 1940 he suffered a burst eardrum whilst diving on board the vessel on route to the United Kingdom. He was admitted to Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, Scotland on 18 June 1940 for treatment, and then moved to Westbury Hospital on 1 October 1940. He mentioned in one of his letters that he missed out on accrued leave and that an infection in the ear complicated things and he ended up having a mastoidectomy. How much sick leave he actually had is unclear. Peter embarked on "H.M.T.L. 13" on 17 November 1940 disembarking in the Middle East on 31 December 1940. He continued to have trouble with his ear and was admitted to the 7 Australian General Hospital several times whilst in the Middle East. Pete returned to Australia disembarking in Adelaide on 29 March 1942. His record and a letter to his Aunt, Uncle & brother show that on or about 25 May 1940 he suffered a burst eardrum whilst diving on board the vessel on route to the United Kingdom. He was admitted to Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, Scotland on 18 June 1940 for treatment, and then moved to Westbury Hospital on 1 October 1940. He mentioned in one of his letters that he missed out on accrued leave and that an infection in the ear complicated things and he ended up having a mastoidectomy. How much sick leave he actually had is unclear.
Peter apparently enjoyed his time in the United Kingdom despite his hospital stays, if the letters to his family and from a couple of girls that he met are anything to go by.
Peter embarked on "H.M.T.L. 13" on 17 November 1940 disembarking in the Middle East on 31 December 1940. He continued to have trouble with his ear and was admitted to the 7 Australian General Hospital several times whilst in the Middle East.
Pete was appointed L/Cprl. on 27 January 1942. He embarked on "H.T. Nieuw Amsterdam" on 11 February 1942 in the Middle East and arrived in Bombay on 21 February 1942. He was transshipped on "H.M.T Nevasa" arriving at the 4th Military District (Adelaide) on 29 March 1942. Pete spent further time in hospital at the 102 Aust. General Hospital and 112 Convalescent Depot before being detached to 29 to join the Infantry Battalion on 14 July 1942.
Pete is one of a group known as the “Rats of Tobruk”. He wrote a letter using a letter-head “Australian Comforts Fund – in conjunction with Y.M.C.A.” On page 3 of the letter (of which the addressee and date are unknown) he said in very general terms how life had been in Tobruk, how he was “a bit sick of army life” and that he was “not afraid of the Japs.” He did not give any detail of military engagements. There is more said about this letter below. I have attached copies of letters in the Document section which were sent to and by Pete whilst he was in the Middle East and the United Kingdom of which the aforesaid letter was one.
Pete had a tonsillectomy in July 1942 and then embarked Brisbane on 6 August 1942 on "Both" which presumably was a troopship. He arrived in Port Moresby on 14 August. I have been unable to locate any further correspondence with Pete. In New Guinea, I strongly suspect that the conditions were just so bad, soldiers were mostly sick and militarily pre-occupied to such an extent that there was no time or will for letter writing.
Pete was killed in action on either 24 or 26 Dec 1942 at Buna. He was originally buried at Buna, then Cape Endaiadere, then Soputa (as is shown on the "particulars of death notice" which was completed by his father); again at Soputa & finally relocated to Bomana War Cemetery, near Pt. Moresby.
A memorial cairn was built at Buna but was later relocated to Popondetta.

Marian's family have a large collection of letters; most of them are unintelligible due to wear and washout. An A.L. Gunn of 21 Westfield Road, Edinburgh, United Kingdom was one of the correspondents. Also a Frances Whillas of 22 Stanley Street, Woodville, South Australia wrote to him; but the letter does not reveal what relationship there was.

Mostly, however, the correspondence is between his family. One in particular being: Page 3 of a letter written by Pete, whereabouts unknown, date unknown, addressee unknown, possibly to his Auntie Clender, Uncle Donald Bell & brother Bill. The original, is very difficult to read but I have deciphered part of it thus:
'The life here at times has been fairly hard but not as hard as it was in Tobruk. Tobruk was our first campaign and before going there we were fresh and fit; but after so much tramping around......... etc, one begins to ... ..makes life much harder to stand up to. Had this been my first taste of hard life it would not have worried me much at all. I am certainly not afraid of the Japs, but just a bit sick of army life.

I think this will be all for now,
best of love
Pete xx '

On Thursday 5 August 2010 I was fortunate to chat with Dudley (Dick) Whittington (who signed the reverse of a card along with other comrades of Pete) about his association with Peter. Dick remembered Pete as a quiet retiring type, although as they were both with the Signals Unit they were sent off in pairs to work within the Battalion, and as he never worked directly with Peter he did not know him very well. Dick was with Peter in the Middle East, England, Scotland, and Papua up until the Milne Bay battle where the Battalion lost many men. Dick then contracted "Scrub Titus" and was hospitalised during the Buna campaign and so was not present when Peter was killed. At 92 years of age Dick had a sharp memory despite having Parkinson's disease.
Copies of Peter's Service & Casualty Records and of the battalion's Commanding Officer's report for the period during which Peter was killed are also held by The National Archives of Australia.
The following records show Pete’s death date as 24 December 1942:
Booklet- "1939-1945, The war dead of the British Commonwealth and Empire, Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Part I (Abb-Guy) New Guinea 4"
Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour Circular signed by Peter's father
Australian War Memorial Nominal Roll records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission records
Marble Cross at Bomana War Cemetery.
The following records show Peter's death as 26 December 1942:
Service & Casualty Forms (3)
Newspaper Notices (see below)
It would appear that Peter could have been killed on either day as both involved heavy fighting for control of Buna strip.
The Officer's report said in part:-
'Buna 24 0430 O group conference, orders to continue advance along strip with 4 tanks, 2 in support, 2 in reserve.
Buna 24 0700 Tanks move to bridge area.
Buna 24 0900 Tank commanders conference with C.O.
Buna 24 0910 Two tanks move up areas ..... coys.
Buna 24 0920 Artillery barrage Z 20 to Z. 12 guns in action.
Buna 24 0930 Two hours C.P. established A. Coy. Old H.Q.
Buna 24 1000 Advance held up by heavy machine gun fire. Heavy casualties. 2 supporting tanks put out of action. Reserve tanks come into operation very shortly put out of action, about 30 yards from tin hut area.
Buna 24 1300 Bn. Advance slowly, Position of Coys. - A. Coy. Level with tin hut astride strip. B. Coy. 300 yards forward of A. D. (coy) stretched along N.E side of strip from T.H. to approx. M/R 27652600.
Buna 24 1400 B. Coy. enabled to advance further owing E. position immediate front & left front.
Buna 24 1800 large pillbox.
Buna 24 2000 5 minute harassing fire on E. position forward of B. Coy.
Buna 24 2030 5 minute harassing fire on same positions.
Buna 24 2100 Fighting patrol U/C Lt. Wissel unsuccessfully raids E. position forward of B. Coy. During this op. A. Coy. relieved B. Coy. & B. Coy. moves up to A. Coy. position as reserve Coy.
Buna 25 0530 C. Coy. reverts back to own command, M/R 283253.
Buna 25 0630 Command Post established C. coy. headquarters at tin hut.
Buna 25 0900 D. Coy. advanced to last bunker on N.E. side of strip. M/R 275526.
Buna 25 1000 B.M. confers with C.O. M3 pounds area forward of D. Coy.
Buna 25 1330 C. Coy. moves around to S.W. side of strip.
Buna 25 1700 C. Coy. advanced through 126th lines to area M/R 272258 arriving night 25th-26th. A. Coy. advanced 200 yards and contact C. Coy. on left flank.
Buna 26 0600 fighting patrol from C. Coy. under command of Lt. Rundall unsuccessfully raids E gun psn. immediate front of position.
Buna 26 0645 Smoke barrage C.P. pillbox. D. Coy. in same position as on 25th.
Buna 26 0700 A. Coy. moved forward to join hands with D. Coy.
Buna 26 0715 Smoke lifted 6500 yards.
Buna 26 0723 Smoke continues for 5 minutes.
Buna 26 0752 Smoke ordered for left of strip in jungle. Position A. Coy. obscure Coy. H.Q. out of communication with Battalion H.Q.
Buna 26 1000 One Zero swoops low over strip later engaged by Wirraway and shot down. C.P. tin hut comm. re-established with A. coy.
Buna 26 1500 Smoke barrage on East position left of A. Coy. by artillery and own 2 inch mortar. One … A. Coy. attacks pillbox M/R 273259 two pln's C. Coy. attacking gun position M/R 272258; former not successful, later successful. A. Coy. objective evacuated later. A. Coy. suffered casualties.
Buna 26 1600 Heavy machine gun fire from D. Coy. right front.
Buna 26 1630 D. Coy. advance, heavy casualties; forced to withdraw to former positions.
Buna 26 1830 C. Coy advanced 200 yards along edge of scrub, meeting no opposition.
Buna 26 1850 one pln . Coy. returns to guard naval A.A. gun captured.'
Notices published in 'The Advertiser' Adelaide, SA, Thursday 26 December 1946, Page 10 read:
'Bowen Peter. - Buna. N.G., December 26, 1942. Loving memories. - Brothers and sisters.'
'Bowen - In loving memory of Peter, 2/10th Battalion. A.I.F., killed, Buna, December 26, 1942
Fondest memories linger ever. - Always remembered by aunt, uncle and Bill.'
It is unclear how the family believed him to have died on the 26th, December 1942.
Many memorial notices were published for several years after Pete’s death. Some of those are:
From "The Advertiser”, Adelaide, SA, Tuesday 19 January 1943, Page 6:
‘Bowen - A tribute of love to Peter Bowen. killed in action In New Guinea on Dec. 26. 1942. "A duty nobly done.' -Remembered always by Aunty Dol (sic) and Uncle Don Bell. Charleston.’
"The Advertiser" Adelaide, SA, on Tuesday 26 December 1944 Page 6, under the heading Heroes of The Empire
‘At the going down of the sun and In the morning we will remember them."
Bowen Peter. 2/10th Battalion. - Killed in action at Buna, 1942. - Ever remembered by his loving family.
Bowen - In fond and loving memory of my dear brother. Peter, killed in action, Buna (N.G.), December 26, 1942 (2/10 Battalion). Deep in my heart a sweet memory is kept. - - Inserted by his loving brother Bill.
Bowen, Peter - Killed in action. Buna, N.G, Dec. 26, 1942. - Ever remembered.........’
"The Advertiser"' Adelaide, SA, Thursday 26 December 1946, Page 10:
‘Bowen, Peter - Buna. N.G., December 26, 1942. Loving memories. - Brothers and sisters.
Bowen - In loving memory of Peter, 2/10th Battalion. A.I.F., killed, Buna, December 26. 1942 Fondest memories linger ever. - Always remembered by aunt, uncle and Bill.’
On 25 April 1994 Percy's brother Ivor (Mick) and his wife and their grandchildren attended a wreath laying ceremony at the Lakes Entrance cenotaph on invitation from the local secondary college. The two grandchildren, Tammy and Des. each wore three of Percy's medals so presumably his medals are held by Ivor’s son Tim’s family.
On Thursday 5th August 2010 I chatted with Dudley (Dick) Whittington a fellow Signaller. He along with other members of his unit signed the reverse of a postcard sent home by Peter. Dick remembered Pete as a quiet retiring type, although as they were both with the Signals Unit they were sent off in pairs to work within the Battalion, and as he never worked directly with Peter he did not know him very well. Dick was with Peter in the Middle East, England and Scotland, and New Guinea up until the Milne Bay battle where the Battalion lost many men. Dick then contracted "Scrub Titus" and was hospitalized during the Buna campaign and so was not present when Peter was killed. At 92 years Dick had a sharp memory despite having Parkinson's disease.

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Biography contributed by Glen Fryar

"...Private (later Acting Corporal) SX1751 Percy Hopkin Bowen, 2/10 Battalion, of Charleston, SA. Pte Bowen was a cheesemaker before enlisting in Adelaide, SA on 19 February 1940. He embarked from Sydney for Scotland for training on 15 May 1940. He then served in the Middle East from late 1940, before returning to Australia, arriving on 11 February 1942. On 9 August 1942 he was promoted to Acting Corporal, and he arrived in New Guinea on 14 August 1942. He was killed in action in Papua on 26 December 1942, at the age of 25." - SOURCE (www.awm.gov.au)

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