ROWAN, Edward James

Roll of Honour

 

Edward James Rowan was born on 7 September 1921 at Adelaide, SA. He enlisted in the RAAF at Adelaide on 29 April 1940, service number 407009, with his next-of-kin listed as Emily Rowan.  

Rowan’s service records are held at the National Archives of Australia office at Canberra, but at the time of writing were not available on-line. Typically, upon joining the RAAF Rowan would have spent some time at a recruit school near Adelaide then as potential aircrew he would have transferred to an airfield to begin flying as a Trainee Pilot. This would probably have been at Temora in NSW, where he would have started with the DH82 Tiger Moth. Once a satisfactory standard had been reached he would have been posted to RAAF Uranquinty, NSW, where more advanced instruction would take place on Wirraway aircraft and other types. After that he would have been graded as a pilot and posted to another base for further training on front-line aircraft.

Little is known of Rowan’s personal life but about this time a notice appeared in the Adelaide paper “The Mail” of 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, RAAF, only son of Mr and Mrs T. D. Rowan, 261 South Rd, Ashford’.

After some 18 months of training Rowan would have been assigned to a Squadron. At this point we know he joined RAAF 9 Squadron, the Fleet Cooperation Squadron, which operated Supermarine Seagull V and Walrus amphibians on RAN cruisers at sea during WW2.  These aircraft played an important role in reconnaissance, submarine hunting and gunfire fall-of-shot spotting. The aircraft was launched from the cruisers by means of a catapult, and on completion of their assignment they returned to the ship, alighted on the water and taxied to the side of the ship to be hoisted out of the water. To smooth the water the ship often turned 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. 

With the entry of Japan into the war in December 1941, the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia began operations in the Pacific theatre, playing a direct role in the defence of Australia. On 19 February 1942, Rowan was flying an anti-submarine patrol from HMAS Australia in the Santa Cruz Islands area of the South Pacific. According to ADF Serials there is no original note of the identity of the aircraft concerned but a pencilled notation states No ‘L2327’ which indicates it was a Walrus amphibian. The RAAF ORB reports that L2327 struck the side of HMAS Australia and Flying Officer Rowan was killed.  Elsewhere our research indicates the aircraft serial number as W2768. 

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 to land 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 also sent away as a lifeboat.

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 the 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 in the ‘Died on Active Service’ column appeared: “Rowan – On February 19, result of aircraft accident at sea, Flying Officer Edward James Rowan, the beloved fiancé of Peggy Christie. His duty nobly done.”

Memorials

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
RAAF Museum
ADF Serials

Above: Snippets of a life. Newspaper articles of the Engagement and Death of Edward James Rowan. (Trove).