Edward James Rowan was born on 7 September 1921 at Adelaide, S.A. He enlisted in the RAAF at Adelaide on 29 April 1940, service number 407009. His next-of-kin listed as (mother) Emily Rowan, 79 South Road, Ashford, S.A. Prior to enlisting he was a salesman with Julius Cohen & Co.
Rowan’s service records held by the National Archives of Australia shows he enlisted in the RAAF at the No 5 Recruiting Centre, Adelaide. He was then posted as a Cadet to the RAAF No 1 Elementary Flying Training School (1 EFTS) at Parafield, near Adelaide.
The RAAF EFTS conducted a 12-week flying training course in two stages, the first four weeks included 10 hours of flying to identify trainees suitable to become pilots. Those who passed received a further eight weeks training including 65-hours of flying.
Rowan qualified for Aircrew 11 (P) training on 27 May 1940 and continued flying Gypsy or Tiger Moths through to 21 August 1940 when he was awarded his flying badge. On 26 August he was then posted to No 1 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) Point Cook near Melbourne where he joined Course 32. At Point Cook he continuing his training flying Tiger Moths and converting to flying the larger twin engine Avro Anson aircraft.
Having completed his SFTS course Rowan was selected for seaplane training and posted to RAAF 3 Operational Training Unit at Rathmines, a major WW2 seaplane base at Lake Macquarie, NSW. On Monday 16 December 1940 he joined the Seaplane Training Flight (STF) where he began a conversion course flying Supermarine Seagull V amphibians. On 17 December 1940 was promoted Pilot Officer.
The Supermarine Seagull V amphibian was a single engine biplane with a strong metal hull with fully-retractable main undercarriage, enclosed cockpit, with a crew of three consisting of pilot, navigator and radio operator air-gunner. The Seagull V was designed for the RAAF by Supermarine for maritime operations including embarkation on Royal Australian Navy cruisers. The RAF Walrus amphibians were later acquired by the RAAF which included some modifications.
The Seagull/Walrus aircraft played an important role in reconnaissance, submarine hunting and gunfire fall-of-shot spotting. The aircraft were launched from the cruiser by means of a catapult, and on completion of their assignment would return to the ship, alight on the water and taxi to the side of the ship to be hoisted onboard. To smooth the sea the ship could turn sharply, producing a ‘slick’ on the surface of the water. This made it easier for pilots to alight, which was a risky operation in rough seas.
On 11 January 1941 Rowan successfully completed the Seagull V course . On 6 February 1941 he was then posted to RAAF 9 Squadron where he continued flying until 20 February 1941. Based at Rathmines 9 Squadron was the Fleet Cooperation Squadron that operated the Seagull V and Walrus amphibians attached to various RAN cruisers during WW2. They served in operational war zones where the aircraft and aircrew were under the command of the ship’s Captain.
Little is known of Rowan’s personal life but about this time a notice appeared in the Adelaide paper “The Mail” on Saturday 8 February 1941, under the heading ‘Engagements’: “Rowan—Christie. The engagement is announced of Peggy, oldest daughter of Mr and Mrs D. S. Christie, Forest Gardens, to Pilot officer Edward James Rowan, only son of Mr and Mrs T. D. Rowan, 261 South Rd, Ashford.”
On 27 February 1941 Rowan travelled to Sydney were he embarked on the cruiser HMAS Sydney and attached to the ship’s RAAF 9 Squadron Flight. The following day HMAS Sydney departed for Fremantle to conduct escort duties off the WA coast. The ship then return to Sydney escorting the troop ship Queen Mary before proceeding to Singapore. Rowan’s last flight on HMAS Sydney is recorded as 9 April 1941. The following day Rowan disembarked from HMAS Sydney and transferred to the heavy Town Class cruiser HMAS Australia.
On HMAS Australia Rowan was again attached to the ship’s RAAF 9 Squadron Flight. On 17 June 1941, while the ship was on patrol duty in the Indian Ocean, Rowan was promoted to Flying Officer. The ship patrolled deep in the Southern Indian Ocean conducting a reconnaissance of the Crozet Islands, returning to Sydney in December ‘41.
With the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941, HMAS Australia became Flagship of the Australian Squadron. Two months later, in February 1942, the ship began operations in the Pacific theatre, playing a direct role in the defence of Australia with Noumea as its operational base. It was while HMAS Australia was cruising in the Santa Cruz Islands area that, on 19 February 1942, Flying Officer Rowan, having completed an anti-submarine patrol flying the ship’s Walrus L2327; when touching down on the water he was killed when his aircraft hit the ship’s stern.
The following description of the accident appears on page 75 of the book ‘HMAS Australia: the story of the 8-inch cruiser, 1928 – 1955’. By Alan Payne, Naval Historical Society of Australia’:
‘On the 19th an anti-submarine patrol was maintained by the squadron’s aircraft. Unfortunately, there were to be casualties among the aircraft that day and the next. Midshipman Smyth recorded the fate of Australia’s aircraft – “Shortly before noon, and after circling until we were ready to pick him up, the Walrus came down on the ‘slick’. Owing to some as yet unknown cause, he came in too close to the ship and crashed head-on into the ship’s port quarter just above the water line, breaking up and bursting into flames immediately. The second whaler as crash boat was immediately lowered, and the first whaler was sent away as a life boat.
A motor surf-boat from USS Chicago reached the spot where the aircraft had sunk first, and succeeded in saving the Observer Sub-Lieutenant Jackson, and the Air Gunner. The pilot, Flying Officer E.J. Rowan RAAF, was not seen.
While the boats were away an air alarm was received and the ship went into ‘Repel Aircraft’ stations. Both whalers were hoisted at 1220, the two survivors having been transferred from Chicago’s boat. Fortunately, no enemy aircraft were sighted.”
Later, an investigation by Rear Admiral Crutchley, Commander of the ANZAC Squadron of ships (which HMAS Australia was part of) concerning the loss of Walrus aircraft L2327 and its pilot on 19 February 1942, indicates that the pilot was rendered unconscious when the aircraft struck the water due to the waist safety belt allowing his head to strike the instrument panel and so prevent his escape before the aircraft sank. In 1942 this led to the introduction of RAAF Type 1 Safety Harness in the Walrus aircraft.
In the ‘Adelaide Advertiser’ on Monday 2 March 1942, the following notice appeared in the ‘Died in Active Service’ column: “Rowan – On February 19, result of aircraft accident at sea, Flying Officer Edward James Rowan, beloved fiancé of Peggy Christie. His duty nobly done.”
Sydney Memorial NSW, Australia
Department of Veteran’s Affairs nominal roll
Rowan’s name is on panel 99, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial
9 Squadron Association Debt of Honour
Compiled by Kim Dunstan using the following references:
National Archives of Australia
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
NAL Trove: ‘The Mail’ Adelaide & ‘Adelaide Advertiser’
‘HMAS Australia 1928—1955’, by Alan Payne, NHSA, SLV
Below: Snippets of a life. Newspaper articles of the Engagement and Death of Edward James Rowan. (Trove).